Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Toy Shop Tragedy

Have you ever felt sorry for a book? -- or a book's hard working author?

I have.

I still feel sorry for The Toy Shop and its author J. Robert Janes.

Take a good look at this cover. Study it and learn... learn how not to sell a book.

Pretty fuckin appalling, isn't it? It's another winner from Paperjacks, a long gone Canadian publisher. This strange little company didn't publish shit, but they sure packaged it that way.

They put out several novels by Mr. Janes including The Hiding Place, The Third Story, and The Watcher.

They also published one of my favorite horror novels ever, Eric Higgs' The Happy Man, a book I covered on this blog way, way back when Jesus was a grasshopper.

 The first edition of The Toy Shop came out in '81, via General Publishing,  in the midst of a horror novel boom. Bookshelves were top heavy with the stuff back in those days, and there were at least a dozen publishers -- Fawcett, New American Library, Pocket Books, Ballantine, St. Martin's Press, Avon, Zebra, Pinnacle, Dell, Charter, Jove, Popular Library -- cashing in and jostling for shelf space before boom turned to bust. Paperjacks released the book's second edition in a still-horror-friendly market in '84. 

I bought The Toy Shop because the cover art was so odd -- a picture of a rag doll with another picture, a face, pasted (badly) on top of it. Was this supposed to look amateurish? Was I missing the point?

I felt great sympathy for J. Robert Janes because writing books is damn hard work and he was being short-changed in the marketing department. If you do manage to get something published, its a little miracle. Unless a writer has lots of of devoted fans, he depends on cover art to attract some newbies (who or what was this going to attract?) The hope is, the potential punter will find the cover art enticing enough to want to flip the book to read the blurb on the back. If they don't want to do that, you're shit out of luck.

Not the best of blurbs. Not the worst, either.  A toy shop you can't trust. "Daddy's Secrets" (not hard to figure what those are). Nosy neighbors disappearing. Terror, sex, and innocence. And "innocence"? It's an abstract that doesn't quite fit with terror and sex. I get what they're trying to say, but it's awkwardly put.    

The front cover blurb isn't any great shakes, either: "Daddy, Mommy, Madness, Sin, Here We Let The Terror in!"

"Here"? Does that make any sense to you?

Wouldn't the correct -- no, smoother -- word be "Now", as in "Now We Let The Terror In!"?

 Zebra Books used to get roasted for their artwork -- unfairly, I feel. Sure, the art rarely connected with the story, but it was eye-catching and slick (see below!).

This nonsense -- The Toy Shop art -- is just drab and uninspired.  

Perhaps I'm pissing up the wrong pole? The Toy Shop did earn a second printing in November, '84, after Mr. Janes had released The Third Story (my favorite of his) and The Hiding Place. Had the cheap little rag doll composite attracted readers for the same reason it attracted me? Was its anti-aesthetic an engine of persuasion?

 An internet search reveals that Mr. Janes has written fourteen novels, was born in 1932, and is Canadian. That explains the Paperjacks and General Publishing connection (was Paperjacks an arm of General?). I'm curious about The Watcher, and must start upending every second hand bookshop between here and Ontario to find a copy. It's not like I need more obsessions, but another one won't hurt. The writer, it appears, was a mining engineer and teacher before turning full time wordsmith. He had this to say about writing:

"If anyone tells you that this is fun—forget it! It is lovely sometimes to be able to write every day. There are the highs and lows as in any other job. But it is absolute hell most times."

Despite the cover art, the pure horror work of Mr. Janes (as opposed to his crime/detective work) remains curiously entertaining, and twisted in just the right way. If you know what the right way is, you'll know it needs no explanation.   

I remain in sympathy for The Toy Shop.

This woman's face is featured on the front cover of two Janes books.
Was she the Alfred E. Neumann of Paperjacks?
Enquiring minds would like to know.


  1. Thats funny. Remember Virginia Andrews?
    How do you define obsession?

  2. jax -- I only have to look over my shoulder to remember VC Andrews. I liked her first three or four books a lot.


    That which forsakes all else (until catharsis arrives).

  3. I have never come across a PaperJacks book, I don't think - wow. And you're right about Zebra, some of their covers were crazy fun. As for the Toy Shop tag line, Andrew Niederman's Pin from the same year had one that read, "Brother, sister, madness, sin, Now the terror will begin!"

  4. Will -- Paperjacks had abysmal distribution. Truly abysmal. So, not only were their covers crapola, but they were barely distributed. Great catch regarding the PIN cover copy. Sounds like Paperjacks swiped it, and that's probably why they changed it from "Now" to "Here". I loved PIN, by the way. Movie's good, too.

  5. jervaise brooke hamsterFebruary 2, 2011 at 12:32 PM

    Phantom, they dont look like the same bird to me, the bird on the cover of The Toy Shop looks a bit like Liz Sladen from Dr. Who and the bird on the cover of The Third Story looks a lot like Sally James from Tiswas, i always wanted to bugger those two birds senseless back in the 70`s. By the way, the bird on the cover of The Hiding Place looks a bit like Anna Calder Marshall, she wasn`t a very attractive bird but i expect i did have a few fantasys about poking her arse as well back in the 70`s thats how desperate i was (and still am if i`m being truthful).