Tag Archives: Cover art


Covers of the Week #91: Beverly Jenkins

We’re highlighting these stunning covers of Beverly Jenkins’ historical romances from the 1990s for Black History Month.

 beverly jenkins

Theme: Beverly Jenkins Early Historicals

Beverly Jenkins’ historical romance covers always get the five-star treatment. They’re not stepbacks, which is unusual for one of Avon’s preeminent authors. Especially one who’s been with the publishers for 30 years.

But they’re so darn pretty; hiding them behind a plain exterior cover wouldn’t be right, anyway.

A Trip Back to 1994

I remember picking up her first book, Night Song, in 1994 at the old Genovese Drug Store. While I had little time to read for pleasure as a high school student, it was now Summer. Plus, I had a job, so I had time and money to spend for once.

I’d already read Johanna Lindsey‘s Surrender My Love, which I’d purchased the month before. Scanning the shelves for something new, I stopped, surprised at seeing Beverly Jenkins’ book, as I’d never seen a black couple on the cover of a romance before.

In the many romance books I read, I’d encountered numerous Latino heroes and heroines, not to mention in the Biancas (Spanish Harlequins) I gifted my mother to read (she never did).


There were many Native American characters, too, as there was a whole subgenre about them. Ditto, North African & Middle Eastern Sheiks. And occasionally South & East Asian protagonists, but never Black or African-American ones.

I enjoyed Night Song, although I’m fuzzy on some details. (It has been three decades!) I’ve thought it over the years, though, lamenting what a rare collector’s item a 1st edition copy of Beverly Jenkins’ first romance would have been.

To my misfortune, it was one of the 100s of casualties lost in The Great Book Purge after I left High School to go to College. But that’s another story.

The Covers

(Apologies for uploading this post two days late!)

For Monday, February 20, 2023, to Sunday, February 26, 2023, we’re selecting these beautiful Beverly Jenkins historical romance covers from the 1990s for this Covers of the Week theme. Enjoy!

Beverly Jenkins Covers (from Left to Right, Top to Bottom)

  • Vivid, Beverly Jenkins, Avon, 1995, artist unknown
  • The Taming of Jessi Rose, Beverly Jenkins, Avon, 1999, artist unknown
  • Indigo, Beverly Jenkins, Avon, 1996, artist unknown
  • A Chance at Love, Beverly Jenkins, Avon, 2000, artist unknown

Your Opinion?

What do you think of this week’s theme of Beverly Jenkin’s early romances? Do any of the covers stand out to you as a favorite? Mine is in Indigo. The roses and the purple gown are charming.

Have a recommendation for a future Covers of the Week theme? Let us know, and we’ll try it out.

As always, please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

private corners lesser

Covers of the Week #89: Ron Lesser

Ron Lesser painted covers for various romance imprints and subgenres, and my favorites are his Harlequin and Silhouette designs.

ron lesser cover art

Artist: Ron Lesser

No, Ron Lesser never painted over photographs to create his ultra-realistic covers! But one could be forgiven for thinking so.

The master artist was a prolific book illustrator from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s. Lesser designed commissions for the top publishing houses of the day, including action-adventure, westerns, and romance.

Ron Lesser was born in New York City and studied at the Pratt Institute and then Art Students League of New York. He has won many awards from prestigious institutions such as the Society of Illustrators.

In the 1970s, Lesser made a name for himself by creating fabulous movie posters. He worked as a cover artist for about 25 years. He utilized white casein early on in his career before settling on oil. When digital art was introduced around 1992, it pushed him out of the field. Lesser maintained a commercial and fine art career, focusing on the American Civil War and portrait painting. He returned to the publishing world in the 2010s.

Ron Lesser painted covers for various romance imprints and subgenres, and my favorites are his Harlequin and Silhouette designs. The modern style of his art juxtaposed with vibrant images of couples in intimate embraces fit perfectly with contemporary romance.

Look out for a book on Ron Lesser’s artwork to be released in late 2023.

The Covers

For the week of Monday, February 6, 2023, to Sunday, February 12, 2023, our Covers of the Week focuses on some stunning romance covers in the photo-realistic stylings of Ron Lesser.

The Covers from Left to Right, Top to Bottom

  • Camelot Jones, Mayo Lucas, Avon, 1989
  • Stranger in the Mist, Lee Karr, Silhouette, 1993
  • Diamond Spur, Susan Kyle, Popular Library, 1988
  • Wildcat Summer, Lynda Ward, Harlequin, 1986
ron lesser art Stranger in the Mist
Original Artwork for Stranger in the Mist
ron lesser camelot jones
Original Artwork for Camelot Jones.
(She’s a blood-sucking vampire, here. I wonder what the story behind this change in the cover was!)

Your Opinion

What do you think of these covers illustrated by Ron Lesser? Have you read any of these books? Which of our picks do you like the best, if any?

Do you have suggestions or requests for future Covers of the Week themes you’d like to see on Sweet Savage Flame? Let us know, and we’ll do our best to create a gallery of stunning art!

Please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.


Covers of the Week #80: Historical Teen Romances

teen romances

Theme: Historical Teen Romances from the 1980s

Books about love stories for teenagers have been popular forever. Just as the modern romance genre exploded in the 1970s, so too did the teen romance genre. Especially in the 1980s and 1990s, these books were ubiquitous.

There were dozens of paperback imprints for every kind of teenage romance. Historicals were just as popular as contemporaries. Bantam Starfire, Scholastic Sunfire were just two of the more popular series. Who among us who grew up during that era never read one of these love stories?

The Covers

We haven’t focused too much on teen romances here at Sweet Savage Flame. Not anymore.

For the week of Monday, November 28, 2022, to Sunday, December , 2022, our Covers of the Week highlights some memorable historical teen romances from the 1980s.

The Covers from Left to Right, Top to Bottom

  • Dreams at Dawn, Marie Lindquist, Bantam, 1987, cover artist unknown
  • Gabrielle, Mary Francis Shura, Scholastic, 1987, Joel Iskowitz cover art,
  • The Last Silk Dress, Ann Rinaldi, Scholastic, 1988, Lisa Falkenstern cover art
  • Fearless Love, Stephanie Andrews, Pocket Books 1985, cover artist unknown

Your Opinion

What do you think of these teen romances? Have you read any of them? Which of our picks do you like the best, if any?

Do you have suggestions or requests for future Covers of the Week themes you’d like to see on Sweet Savage Flame? Let us know, and we’ll do our best to create a gallery of stunning art!

Please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

lord carews bride

Covers of the Week #62


Theme: Regency Bride and Grooms

We’re continuing our celebration of June as the traditional month for weddings. We’ve found many Regency romance covers with brides and grooms that fit this theme.

These Regency-era novels feature the heroines being embraced by their men. Some look thrilled; others not so much. We wonder what’s going on there!

The Covers

This week from Monday, June 13, 2022, to Sunday, June 19, 2022, here are some traditional Regency romance covers displaying wedding embraces.

gay romance

Two Gay Romance Firsts: The Happily Ever After Ending and Clinch Cover

gay romance

Gordon Merrick, Victor Gadino, and Peter and Charlie

Gordon Merrick created the legendary and popular Peter & Charlie gay romance series. The trilogy portrayed the first mainstream love story between two men that concluded happily ever after.

The books provided another milestone for same-sex fiction when reprinted in the 1980s. A young artist named Victor Gadino illustrated the iconic clinch covers. Never before had male couples been pictured so intimately on the front of romance novels.

On the front of The Lord Won’t Mind, the blond pair are gazing into each other’s eyes and reaching out to hold hands.

the lord won't mind
The Lord Won’t Mind, Gordon Merrick, Avon, 1980 edition, Victor Gadino cover art

Gordon Merrick, Writer of Gay Melodramas and Romances

Gordon Merrick was born in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, in 1916. The new 20th century was moving on a more socially liberal trajectory. Merrick would be part of that cultural momentum.

The son of a stockbroker, Merrick studied French Literature at Princeton. He then got into acting, performing in several Broadway productions. Later, Merrick became a television screenwriter and journalist.

Merrick made history as one of the first novelists to depict graphic homosexual fiction for a mass audience. His tawdry novels were full of melodrama, sex, and beautiful men. Usually, they concluded in heartache for the main characters. Merrick’s books were tantalizing reads akin to those of Harold Robbins, Judith Krantz, or Jackie Collins, only much gayer.

Modern readers might chuckle at the almost-innocent vulgarity and campy nature of his works. Or they may cluck their tongues at the “outdated” themes and unapologetic preference for ultra-glamorous, gorgeous, continent-hopping, wealthy protagonists. Merrick essentially wrote man-on-man bodice rippers, after all.

Merrick wrote fourteen books over 40 years. He would die in Sri Lanka in 1988.

His final novel, The Good Life, was co-authored with his partner, Charles Hulse, and published after his death. Like most of Merrick’s books, it was a bestseller.

Gordon Merrick
Gordon Merrick

Merrick’s Peter and Charlie Trilogy

The Lord Won’t Mind, the First Mainstream Gay Romance (Sort of)

Merrick’s piece de resistance, The Lord Won’t Mind, came out in hardcover in 1970. The book told the turbulent and forbidden love story of two beautiful, blond Ivy Leaguers–one named Peter and the other Charlie.

It was a graphic page-turner and sold like pancakes at the old World’s Fair. The Lord Won’t Mind spent four months on the New York Times bestseller list.

The mass-market paperback edition was then released by the publishing house Avon in 1971. This was a year before they gambled on Kathleen Woodiwiss‘ slush-pile manuscript for The Flame and the Flower.

The Lord Won’t Mind (from left to right): Bernard Geis Publisher, 1970, first edition hardcover; Avon, 1971, paperback edition; Alyson Publications, October 1995 paperback edition

A Genuine Romance Novel About a Same-Sex Couple

Due to societal changes, there was a hungry audience out there for explicit fiction. Merrick’s work was just that: raunchy and schlocky.

“For the love of God, have mercy on my aching cock. I want you in bed.”

“That, sure lord, is where I want to be.”


Even so, The Lord Won’t Mind was also sweetly romantic. The forbidden lovers vowed to be together forever.

“I say, if it’s love, the Lord won’t mind. There’s enough hate in the world.”

 The Lord Won’t MinD

Readers anxiously hoped for the pair to end happily but were left hanging instead. It would take two more books detailing the erotic, taboo relationship for fans to find out what would happen. The sequel came out in 1972; the final book followed in 1974.

Enter Artist Victor Gadino, Another Gay Icon

The success of the series led Avon to give Merrick the star treatment. His books would now receive extra attention to detail—especially the cover art, an area where Avon excelled.

In 1977, an up-and-coming artist named Victor Gadino landed the job of creating new covers for Merrick’s backlist. He started with An Idol For Others. This mass-market paperback showed two males–one in a suit, the other shirtless–in a positively seductive manner.

“Avon books decided to rerelease the Merrick novels as typical mass-market romance paperbacks. Up until then they had simple covers and were sold in specialty shops or from “under” the counter. The head art director was a strong female with vision and a great eye.

“It was the early days of gay liberation and she recognized the time was right. She saw my talent and gay sensibility and gave me the assignment for the first cover, the most conservative one, An Idol for Others. I never met Mr. Merrick, but I was told he was not happy with the mature model I used and thought he looked too old.

“He was, however, very pleased with the eight covers that followed, all using handsome young models.”


One For the Gods (Charlie & Peter Book #2): More Gay Romance, But No HEA Yet

The sequels to The Lord Won’t Mind documented Charlie and Peter’s glitzy lifestyle as the golden duo engaged in a thrilling, illicit, on-again-off-again relationship. The second book, One For the Gods, introduced a third person into the mix to form a crazy love triangle.

First there was Charlie and Peter.

Their love affair broke a lot of conventions… but it didn’t break them all. For Peter and Charlie are in love–with each other–and with Martha. And Martha is passionately in love with them both.

From St. Tropez to Athens to Mykonos, this powerful, moving novel follows their devastating triangle of romance and desire through a world of sun-drenched pleasure and Mediterranean adventure.

One For the Gods, Gordon Merrick
One For the Gods, Gordon Merrick, Bernard Geis,1971,
One For the Gods, Gordon Merrick, Bernard Geis,1971, hardcover
One For the Gods, Gordon Merrick, Avon,1972, paperback edition

The Gadino cover art is more intimate than the previous one, with the couple holding hands. However, the third wheel in this romance is prominently pictured, showing all is not well in paradise.

One For the Gods, Avon,1981 reissue, Victor Gadino cover art

Forth Into Light (Charlie & Peter #3): A Gay Romance with a HEA

Finally, in 1974, Forth Into Light concluded the romantic series.

In the final chapter of the bestselling epic love story of Peter and Charlie, the two men are forced to fight for their relationship like never before

For two men with the looks of Adonis and Narcissus, it’s no surprise that Greece was the destination for a romantic getaway. Once there, however, the two men fall into the beds of others, with the duplicitous Martha striving to steal Charlie away from Peter after he has a moment of infidelity.

For the final installment of the Peter & Charlie Trilogy, Gordon Merrick widens his focus on the couple to include the village in which they’re staying, creating a web of deceit and lust that comes to a head in unexpected and satisfying ways, while the love between Peter and Charlie is tested repeatedly with the emergence of a passionate young man named Jeff. The bond between these two has spanned the years and the globe, but it could well meet its end here on the lush Greek shores. 


Below is the original cover for the conclusion to Charlie and Peter’s epic romance. The artwork is neither overt nor titillating. The two hands reaching out to touch the other appear reminiscent of Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel.

Forth Into Light, Gordon Merrick, Avon, 1974

Gadino Masterpiece: A Gay Romance Clinch Cover

Gadino’s clinch cover for the monumental gay romance Forth Into Light is more emotional and evocative than the original. The two men have their arms around each other’s shoulders. Their backs face the viewer as they stare out at an ocean sunset.

Readers knew this was not just another sex adventure by looking at the cover. This was a true romance novel, one for gay men.

Forth Into Light, Gordon Merrick, Avon, 1982, 6th printing, Victor Gadino cover art

The Peter and Charlie Trilogy by Gordon Merrick was monumental mainstream gay fiction. Unlike the slashy melodramas of the pulp era, the love story finished on a positive note. The protagonists got a joyful ending.

Merrick’s audience-pleasing, optimistic conclusion, and Gadino’s sensual clinch cover make the Peter and Charlie series–and Forth Into Light especially–pivotal in gay romance history.

Your Opinion

Have you heard of or read Gordon Merrick and the first gay romance novel with a HEA? Did you know about Victor Gadino’s history-making 1980s clinch cover art for the reissue of the series? What do you think about these romances and covers?

As always, please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

most expensive book

Most Expensive and/ or Hard to Find Out-of-Print Romances

We’ve assembled a price list for first edition romance novels that are collector’s items. These out of print books are among some of the most expensive romance novels you can find.

hard to find romance novels

The Great Book Purge of 1995

My Teenage Romance Novel Collection

At Sweet Savage Flame, we’ve previously talked about where to look for vintage romance novels.

When I was 17 years old, I amassed a library of over 500 first-edition romance novels.

I had spent all my teenage years curating my collection, subscribing to monthly book clubs, trading novels with friends, and scouring the bookstores at malls and shopping centers (most are now defunct, like B. Dalton, Waldenbooks, and Borders, although Barnes-and-Noble is still around). Not to mention searching stationery stores, drug stores, supermarkets, and UBSes (used bookstores). Plus, thrift shops, hospitals, libraries, and garage sales for rare and coveted titles!

But not the internet, since the years I collected them (1990 to 1995) were back in “ye olden days” of the 1900s.

hard to find book tender is the storm mcginnis
Even the out of print romance, Tender is the Storm–the McGinnis version, where the hero does unspeakable things to the heroine’s boobies–was tossed!

When I left for college in August of 1995 I made the mistake of leaving my beloved books at home. There were category romances: Harlequin Temptations, Presents, and Romances; Silhouette Desires; and Bantam Loveswepts.

Of course, there were historicals: I subscribed to Harlequin Historicals and Zebra Lovegrams. And so many first editions: Johanna Lindsey, Rebecca Brandewyne, Jude Deveraux, and Catherine Coulter, as well as newer authors like Lisa Kleypas and Beverly Jenkins.

Plus, all my juicy Jackie Collins novels and V.C. Andrews’s original keyhole stepbacks.

Gone With the Wind! (No, I Borrowed That One From the Library)

My father, thinking they were just useless paperbacks cluttering up the house, threw them all out. He had no idea that my collection was worth a small fortune, with some of the most expensive romances a collector would cherish. Those first editions with the original cover art and the foil-embossed covers, all those now-priceless stepbacks, and my copy of The Thornbirds with Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward on the front…all gone!

vintage book thorn birds

I refer to that loss as The Great Book Purge. Even though I’ve recouped some of the books, it came at a price. The loss still haunts me to this day.

That experience taught me the value of vintage book collecting and the importance of educating others on the worth of literary treasures.

Vintage Romance Book Collecting

We’ve compiled a list of some of the most difficult first-edition old-school paperback romance novels to track down. They are hard to find, expensive, and rare. Some of these books we’re lucky to have in our collection, and others we once had and sold or lost (how foolish!).

The original editions of these romances are (obviously) out-of-print and hard to find. If you do, they will be very expensive if you purchase them via mail-order.

One negative is that you can never be sure what condition they’ll be in when you get them.

Out in the wild, at thrift stores, etc., you may find them for a bargain. In pristine condition, no less. If you do, snatch them up!

And finally, there are those we’d pay our weight in gold to have. (Well, birth weight, anyway! 😜)

The Flesh and the Devil, Teresa Denys, St Martin’s Press

Out-Of-Print Or First Editions Priced from $15 to $40

Castles in the Air, Christina Dodd, Robert Maguire cover art

Hard to Find Books That Will Cost About $40-50+

  • Lisa KleypasGive Me Tonight $35-$60
  • Lisa KleypasLove, Come to Me $65- $80
  • Francine RiversRedeeming Love $50 – $70
    • (Original only)
  • Francine RiversHeart In Hiding $30 – $90
  • Francine RiversKathleen $25 – $75
  • Francine RiversSycamore Hill $30 – $60
  • Janet Louise Roberts / Louisa BronteHer Demon Lover $30 – $50
    • Depends on which version (Regular Avon Gothic or Avon Satanic Gothic)
  • June Lund ShiplettJourney to Yesterday 1977 $20-$50
  • Tracy WestA Lesson In Love $35 – $90
    • Original Version, Silhouette First Love,1982
  • Patricia VaughanShadows On the Bayou $50- $60
  • Valerie VayleNight Fire $60 – $90

The Great White Whales of Romance Novels $100+

(aka) Romances That Are Darn Near Impossible to Find–and If You Do, You’ll Have to Pay A Lot

  • Judy Cuevas Dance $150 – $300
  • Beverly Jenkins Indigo $200 – GOOD LUCK!
    • (Original) Avon
  • Beverly JenkinsNight Song $150 – GOOD LUCK!
    • (Original) Avon, 1994
rare romance book night-song-beverly-jenkins
  • Nicole JordanVelvet Embrace $70 – $100
    • Original 1987 Zebra Edition
  • Lisa KleypasWhere Passion Leads $250 – $500
  • Lisa KleypasForever My Love $100- $250
  • Francine RiversHearts Divided $150 – $200
  • Francine RiversThis Golden Valley $90 – $200
  • Francine RiversSarina $100 – $200
  • Day TaylorThe Black Swan $100 – $150
  • Rosalind WellesEntwined Destinies $150 – $300
promise me tomorrow
Promise Me Tomorrow, Nora Roberts, Pocket Books, Elaine Gignilliat cover art

Your Opinion

What do you think of these expensive, hard-to-find romances? Would you pay that much for these books?

What hard-to-find, out-of-print books did we miss? Do you own any of these romance novels?

As always, please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance!

model fabio

Romance Cover Model: Fabio Lanzoni

model featured on many romance novel covers fabio

Fabio Lanzoni: A Controversial Romance Icon

When one thinks of old-school romance books, often the first name associated with them is the male model Fabio and “cheesy covers.”

The granite-jawed male model was featured on many romance novel covers in the 198s and 1990s. “Back in the day,” Fabio Lanzoni posed for hundreds of romances–to the delight of many readers.

Fabio was often painted by artists such as Sharon Spiak, Melissa-Duillo Gallo, and her mother, Elaine Duillo. She discovered Fabio, leading to his fame skyrocketing after he appeared on her covers for Johanna Lindsey.

Like bodice rippers of yesteryear, model Fabio Lanzoni has been unfairly maligned and mocked by many modern romance readers. There’s a sentiment of contempt displayed at the old clinch covers, with some even declaring that they, along with Fabio, represented a low point in the genre.

the conqueror duillo
The Conqueror, Brenda Joyce, Dell, Elaine Duillo cover art.

As a fan of Fabio and old-school romance, I cannot emphasize how wrong I think these detractors are.

The painted covers of vintage romances were created by talented artists who used beautiful men and women as models. The covers were works of art, despite–or perhaps because of–their gratuitous sexual nature.

Fabio, More Than Meets the Eye

Lovers of romance should embrace that period in history. They fail to understand that model Fabio Lanzoni was supposed to be over-the-top and outlandish. He was advertising an exaggerated fantasy that we all knew was a bit ridiculous.

fabio lanzoni model on many romance covers
Fabio is in the shower

In trying to defend their beloved books, some fans take them too seriously. The romance novel industry has always been outrageous and irreverent by its nature, which is part of the fun.

We romance readers in the 1990s were far savvier than our contemporaries give us credit for. We were in on the joke. It was about all of us enjoying the show. Fabio always laughed along with us, embracing his beefcake status.

fabio lanzoni model featured on many romance novel covers
Master of the Heart, Terri Valentine, Zebra, Franco cover art

The Beginning

Early Life

Fabio Lanzoni was born in Milan, Italy, on March 15, 1961. His father was Sauro Lanzoni, a mechanical engineer and owner of a conveyor-belt company. Flora Carnicelli Lanzoni, his mother, was a former beauty queen. He was raised in a loving family with siblings. As a child, Fabio was even an altar boy.

Fabio grew into a handsome young man. His large, muscular figure made him natural for the camera.

fabio Lanzoni
Fabio looking fab

His career began at age 14 when he was discovered by a photographer who asked him to model for Italian Vogue magazine.

Following a stint in the army, Lanzoni came to the United States to further develop his career. He moved to New York City to become a fashion and catalog model and signed with the Ford Agency.

Fabio Lanzoni cover model GQ
Fabio Lanzoni, GQ Magazi

Early Career

During the early part of his modeling career, Fabio obtained many jobs in print ads, magazines, and books. He also posed on video game covers.

model on many romance novel covers

Fabio made his first appearance on the cover of a romance novel in 1987. He posed on the back of the Bertrice Small bodice ripper, Enchantress Mine, as the ironically and unfortunately misnamed villain, Eric Longsword.

Legendary artist Elaine Duillo discovered Fabio through photos. She thought there was something unique about him that would make him a natural fit for her colorful work.

fabio meodel on many romance novel covers
Enchantress Mine, Bertrice Small, Elaine Duillo cover artists
fabio model enchantress mine back
Enchantress Mine, Bertrice Small, Signet, 1987, Elaine Duillo cover art (BACK COVER)

When Duillo designed her first cover for Johanna Lindsey, she used Fabio as the hero. This was the 1987 Viking romance Hearts Aflame. It was a smash hit, reaching number 3 on the N.Y. Times bestseller list.

Duillo would continue to paint Lindsey’s covers for the next decade until she retired in the early 2000s. She used Fabio as her primary male model for Lindsey’s books.

fabio johanna lindsey cover
Hearts Aflame, Johanna Lindsey, 1987, Elaine Duillo cover art

The Covers: Part I

Some Fabio covers:

A Romance Sensation

Fabio was not Duillo’s official muse as a model. Even so, no other artist captured Fabio’s look better than she did. However, Elain and Fabio only worked together on fewer than twenty books. Duillo painted other models— female and male– much more than that, including Chad Deal. (40+ vs. 19).

Other artists, such as Elaine’s daughter, Melissa Duillo-Gallo, Sharon Spiak, Max Ginsburg, John Ennis, and Pino, also painted his form. Fabio’s face is so unique that he looks different from cover to cover, depending on the artist.

Mystic Rebel VI, Ryder Syvertsen, Pinnacle, cover artist TBD

Fabio posed solo for a couple of Laura Kinsale’s books. The first and most notable was The Prince of Midnight. This romance was a roaring success. This was not just because of the fine quality of Kinsale’s writing.

prince of midnight
The Prince of Midnight, Laura Kinsale, Avon, Steve Assel

Editors found that Fabio’s image boosted book sales. All the major publishers were eager to use him. Avon, Bantam, Dell, Dorchester, Harlequin, Warner Books, Kensington (Zebra), and others had him pose as their leading men.

Model Lianna Loggins was undoubtedly one of the female models who appeared on most romance novel covers with Fabio: at least a hundred.

romance novel covers female models
Dark Whispers, Marylyle Rogers, Avon, 1992, Elaine Duillo

Pop Culture Status

By the early 1990s, Fabio was fully entrenched as a romance genre staple. The now-defunct Romantic Times had him as their centerfold in 1992. Fabio appeared at numerous conventions, to the delight of his many fans.

Fabio’s fame grew more prominent in the cultural zeitgeist after being made the official face of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! He starred in a series of campy commercials that were enormously successful. 

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Ad

Later, he was a spokesman for the American Cancer Society. This was personal to him, as he lost a sister to the deadly disease.

Eventually, Fabio made his way to screen and television, such as in the daytime soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful and in movies like Dude, Where’s My Car?

bold and the beautiful
Fabio & Darlene Conelly on The Bold and the Beautiful

Fabio, the Romance Author & Modelling Legacy

As time went on, Fabio even wrote a few novels himself. He published several books that–naturally–featured him on the cover. Fabio came up with an overall plot and gave dictation for dialogue.

Journey-woman Eugenia Riley ghostwrote most of his books for Avon. He also wrote three more books in collaboration with Wendy Corsi Staub that Pinnacle Books published.

model featured on many romanc novel covers
Rogue, Fabio, Avon, Elaine Duillo cover art.

As a model, Fabio was featured on many romance covers, posing for 466 novels (or more).

Fabio officially retired in the late 1990s, except to pose for the books “he” wrote.

Nevertheless, some of his photos from previous assignments were recycled into new covers. Elaine Duillo used the sketches from the shoot for Rebecca Brandewyne’s Swan Road stepback to transform them into a new stepback cover for Johanna Lindsey’s Joining.

swan road duillo
Swan Road, Rebecca Brandewyne, Warner, 1994, Elaine Duillo cover art

Joining, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1999, Elaine Duillo cover art

Fabio Today

Fabio became a U.S. citizen in 2016.

He still maintains a grueling workout regimen to keep his body in tip-top shape. Fabio also purportedly sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber, which he says “Helps reverse the aging process.”

Now in 2021, Fabio is still as handsome as ever at the age of 61.

To this day, he remains a bachelor. However, the word is out he’s finally looking for a lady to settle down with. So there is still hope for that special someone!

Fabio lanzoni
Fabio today

Final Thoughts on Fabio

Fabio was not the first, and likely, he won’t be the last superstar cover model. During Fabio’s reign as “King of the Romance Covers,” other sunning men like John DeSalvo and Steve Sandalis achieved acclaim.

After his retirement, Rob Ashton, Cherif Fortin, and Joe Anselmo rose to stardom. All of them had long hair like Fabio–although they were brunets. (So is Fabio, naturally. He dyed his hair blond.)

A few male cover models who came after gained huge success, like Jason Baca, who appeared on almost 500 covers. You can read about him here: The Male Model Who Has Appeared on More Romance Novel Covers Than Fabio.

But though he may have his imitators, there was one and only one Fabio.

fabio in loin cloth
Fabio in a loin cloth

I always considered Fabio easy on the eyes. He certainly was pleasing to look upon. Even so, I never pictured him as my ideal hero.

Regardless, I treasured his charm, his ultra-macho yet sensitive aura, and his ability for self-deprecation. Fabio embraced who he was: a romance icon.

Plus, above all, he loved his fans. In turn, Fabio’s fans adored him for who he was!

Fabio haters, please go and enjoy your favorite hunky models in peace. We Fabio lovers will be here to have a good time smiling over his hundreds of beautiful covers.

The Covers: Part II



Stepback Covers Part II: The History of the Stepback


The Stepback’s History: The “Tip-In

The history of stepback covers goes back to the early/ mid-20th century. Stepback covers are also known as “tip-ins.” That is what industry types called the inserted page(s) originally added after the binding of a book.

Tip-ins can be placed anywhere among the pages. They could be placed inside the front cover or before the back. These inserts were usually glued in. The paper is usually of different stock and texture than the rest of the pages.

“Tip-ins” were used first in hardbacks. These pages were for special additions such as the author’s autograph, offset prints, photographic images, maps, etc.

duel in the sun
Example of a “tip-in” Duel In the Sun, Niven Busch, World Publishing Co, 1944
duel in the sun
Another example of a “tip-in” Duel the Sun, Niven Busch, World Publishing Co, 1944
duel in the sun
Yet another example of a “tip-in” Duel In the Sun, Niven Busch, World Publishing Co, 1944
(See how the page is glued in, not bound?)
duel in the sun
Example of a first regular bound page after the “tip-ins”

Early 1970s Stepback for The Terminal Man

In the early 1970s, these covers were popular in pulpy genres like science fiction and horror.

I have yet to determine what the first mass-market paperback published with a stepback cover is. Fortunately, I have come upon an early example. Surprisingly it’s one book, Michael Chrichton’s The Terminal Man, but with two versions, both with keyhole designs.

Special thanks to @arkhamlibrarian on Twitter for these images. If you’re even the slightest bit of a bibliophile, I highly recommend following her account.

The American paperback version is simple, revealing the only artwork on the page, a floating head connected to wires. When opened, there is no illustration, just the blurb.

And here is the British Corgi edition of The Terminal Man:

terminal man corgi

Front cover and interior page of The Terminal Man, Michael Crichton, Corgi, 1974, artist unknown

Lou Feck and the Stepback Cover

1976 would see several stepback covers in various genres with artwork created by talented artist Lou Feck.

First, it was the cover for the Bantam published Burt Hirschfeld potboiler, Aspen. Feck created a tawdry clinch on the front. Inside was a sketch showing an assortment of faces. The image stretched from the edge of the cover to the end of the attached page.

aspen lou feck
aspen stepback

Aspen, Burt Hirshfeld, Bantam, 1976, Lou Feck cover art

Then later that year, Warner Books‘ paperback reprint of Thea Alexander’s “macro-philosophy bestseller” 2150 included a die-cut keyhole cover showing the faces of a man and woman. It reveals a head floating in an outer-space background and a couple who look right out of Logan’s Run when opened.

2150, Thea Alexander, Warner Books, 1976 reprint (1971 orig. pub), Lou Feck cover art

Pocket Books and the Stepback Cover

In 1977 Pocket Books created a stepback with a design similar to what Warner had used for 2150. It, too, had an inner page of artwork and an exterior with a die-cut/keyhole opening. This famous cover was for the bestselling Young Adult/Gothic Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews. This style became so successful for the publisher and the author that the term “keyhole stepback cover” is now synonymous with Pocket Books and V.C. Andrews.

Staring through a red-shuttered window was the face of the heroine, Cathy Dollanganger. When you opened the cover, it revealed an image of Cathy and her haunted-looking family with their creepy-looking old grandmother looming above them. The artist is Gillian Hills.

The History of the Stepback in Romance Novels

Kathleen E. WoodiwissShanna was an exception to the lack of stepbacks in 1970s romance–sort of. This hefty romance had a map insert that you could unfold that showed the Caribbean island of Los Camellos. The fictional island was where Shanna’s family had their plantation. I’m unsure if the original 1977 mass-market edition contained this map or not. My Avon seventh-printing edition (circa 1989) does include it, so I don’t see why not.

Shanna, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, Avon, 1977, H. Tom Hall cover art
Shanna, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, Avon, 1977, book designer Deborah Speed

However, as nice as the map is to look at, it doesn’t count as artwork. The history of the stepback in romance begins not with Avon but with another publisher.

Your Opinion?

The 1970s expansion of the stepback into genre fiction was simply the beginning. Which paperback romance novel was the first to employ a stepback cover? We’ll let you know in the following article!

Where do you stand on romance cover art? Do you like stepback covers? Do you prefer them to regular clinches? Are you more drawn to the modern cartoon illustration style that’s being used today? Or does cover art not concern you that much, thanks to e-readers?

Whatever is on your mind, we’d love to hear what you think. Please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

anatomy of the clinch

Link: Art of the Clinch by Virginia Moench

The History and Anatomy of Clinch Covers

We were super-hyped when our Twitter friend, @GinnyMoench, created this interactive presentation on the history and anatomy of the clinch cover. We adore romance cover art, and this graphic amazed us.

Visit: PUBLIC TABLEAU: Art of the Clinch to view and interact with this presentation.

Moench sampled 153 romance novel covers and 60 covers with stepbacks from her personal library and the Twitter feed of  @Artoftheclinch–another must-follow Twitter account–and recorded their cover/ stepback characteristics.

You have to go to the link above to do this great display at work. Moench went through the decades of romance and explained how the covers changed as times and readers changed. The two greatest aspects of this presentation are the Colors of Clinch and Art of Clinch sections.

Colors of Clinch

In the Colors of Clinch portion, she breaks down what colors were popular for covers during each decade. As you can guess, there weren’t many vivid colors in the early days. That all changed in the 1980s when the clinch came into its prime.

Then in the 1990s, with the prevalent use of stepback covers, a rainbow of hues exploded as artists were free to do whatever they wanted.

In the new millennium, color use isn’t as expansive as in the past, especially in the more recent years.

Art of the Clinch

In the Art of the Clinch section, Moench analyzes covers by authors, with great attention to specific details. Such details include: who is represented on the cover (male or female), how much skin is exposed, and whether the cover is collectible (I’m glad to say I own a few of those!). There are other topics as well.

I highly recommend you go to the above link to view and interact with the presentation.

This is a fantastic display, and if you love romance cover art, you should have a blast with this chart.

art of the clinch
once and always mcnaught

Covers of the Week #30

Theme: A Solo Pose and Clinch Combo

In the 1980s and 1990s, as romance novels’ popularity grew, more books entered the market. Publishers experimented with new elements and designs to entice buyers into purchasing their releases.

Lettering became highly stylized and often was embossed in metallic foil. The stepback–with a die-cut keyhole or without–rose to prominence in the genre after achieving great success for horror paperbacks. Wrap-around covers made use of the empty space surrounding the blurb.

There were a variety of poses designers could choose from: the standard passionate clinch; collages (usually designated to the back); and solo images of either the hero or the heroine. One of our favorites is the combination of a lone heroine and, beneath her, a smaller shot of the couple.

The pose and clinch style always made for beautiful romance covers with so much to admire. Zebra romances would employ this style in their early days. Harlequin Historicals were famous for these as well.

The Covers

For the week of Monday, November 1, 2021, to Sunday, November 7, please enjoy these lovely “pose and clinch” covers.

Solo Pose And Clinch Combo Covers (from Left to Right, Top to Bottom)

Your Opinion

What do you think of the “solo pose and clinch” cover style? Which of our picks do you like the best, if any?

Do you have suggestions or requests for future Covers of the Week themes you’d like to see on Sweet Savage Flame? Let us know, and we’ll do our best to create a gallery of stunning art!

Please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.