You can often tell a lot about what was going on in society by its art – the 70s were no different. Bookcovers offer a double dose of culture since the covers reflect both the subject matter of the books and the prevailing art style at the time. Speculative fiction in particular tends to provide a dramatic snapshot. So what did we see in the 70s? The occult, killer science, killer animals, technological wizardry, and a lot of sex.
The following is a representative cover from each year. I’ve listed the artist where its available. Many don’t list the artist.
This is pretty typical of the 60s style. Little surprise here as its the first one up. Machinery gone mad was a popular theme. Note the people fleeing in terror. The tiny people dwarfed by technology was a popular theme in the 50s and 60s, but the 70s offers its own twist later in the decade.
Heeeeeeellllo 1960s style psychedelic artwork. This style persist into the mid-70s and then fades out of the mainstream. The girl eating the rocket is just a hint of what’s to come later. Cover art by Gary Viskupic.
It’s not just the actual art that tells you about the book. The typeface and title choice tells you a lot as well. This high impact title with an exclamation point was very common. Pick a word, put it in a big type face and add an exclamation point and you’ve captured a subgenre. This persisted well into the 80s where you’ll find books like SLUGS! This also showcases the 70s love affair with cryptozoology and the occult.
To modern eyes this looks rather slapdash since we’re used to this sort of trick being done with a few minutes and a computer. Complex photographic trickery like this still required a lot of work with raw film, knives, and chemicals. This sort of complex assembled image was briefly popular, then fell out of style for a long time. Now it’s one of the most common styles you’ll see used. Cover art by Stan Burns.
Speaking of photos… What scared the Brits? SCIENCE!!! Science is going to kill us all is a recurring motif through much of the 20th century. Science gone wrong in this era tended to feature a lot of these “bad drug trip” type covers with people screaming and melting, a theme you also found in cinema of the time. This is the only foreign cover in this series. Cover art by Keef.
And if science didn’t get us, nature would! The 70s saw a lot of “animal eat people” books, Jaws obviously being the most well known. Note the style of the title is very similar to Cryptozoic!, it’s just lacking the exclamation point. The 70s also featured a lot of sexual imagery. The swimmer is in fact naked. The shark is also rather… suggestive.
Not only is nature going to kill us, the occult is going to kill us. This one is a particularly interesting one since the man appears to be being hugged to death and the yeti has a rather …interesting expression while doing so. It fits well with many of the stories in the volume which is filled with things that seem good turning out horrible and horrible things turning out well. Cover art by Richard Corben.
No matter the era, there’s always quite a few covers featuring this architectural style with lots of buildings. Typically this indicates a book that has a very broad plot with a large sprawling setting. This one is interesting in not only does it look like an architect’s concept sketch, one of the figures is holding what looks a lot like a blueprint! In earlier decades it wasn’t uncommon to see these architectural landscape covers with NO people on them, or people so small they were dwarfed by the buildings. Here it’s reversed for the “me decade” with the individuals dwarfing the buildings. Cover art by D.K. Stone.
This hits the 70s trifecta of the occult, terror, and sex. Women being menaced by Satanists (or other occult forces hellbent on having sex with them) were very popular. Brides of Satan were a dime a dozen. Compared to the other sexual covers in this set, this is odd in that there’s nothing phallic in the picture, just a woman looking terrified during sex. Cover art by Charles Moll.
Image of the Beast. This is from Playboy Press, so the cover art is a little over the top. This is actually a mass market reprint of two explicit books from 1968 and 1969. Two books that were too explicit (it features vampire snuff films) to find a wide following at the beginning of the decade get a reprint with sexy art at the end of it.
After that little trip through the 70s pretty well seems to sum consist of a decade of terror. If science didn’t get you, nature would. Or sex would kill you. Or Satan. Maybe it’s safest to just stay home with a good book…like some vampire fiction