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first stepback cover

Stepback Covers Part III: The First Stepback in Romance

first stepback cover

Pocket Books and the First Romance Stepback

I’ve searched around to find which was the first mainstream paperback romance to use a genuine stepback cover. I’m not 100% certain, but likely, it was Janet Dailey‘s first full-length, single-issue romance, Touch the Wind. Pocket Books published it in May 1979.

This stepback cover had a keyhole opening that showed the couple in an embrace. Open the front cover and ta-da! It is a classic clinch with the hero swooping the heroine onto a rearing horse. A blazing red background stretches from the end of one page to the end of the other.

Fortunately, I was able to hunt down an original copy of Touch the Wind.

touch the wind
touch the wind

Touch the WindJanet Dailey, Pocket Books, 1979, cover artist TBD

So unless I’m wrong (which I often am), Touch the Wind is the earliest example of a romance with a stepback cover. 

Noted artist Roger Kastel illustrated the reissue edition in 1986. The technique for the ’86 edition appears similar in style to the original. But although Kastel produced many stepbacks for Pocket Books, I’m not absolutely sure that the 1979 cover is his handiwork. Therefore, I’m marking the artist as “to-be-determined” for the time being.

What say you?

Touch the WindJanet Dailey, Pocket Books, 1986 reissue, Roger Kastel cover art

Sweet Caroline by Con Sellers

In June 1979, Con Sellers’ historical romance Sweet Caroline also had a stepback coverUnsurprisingly, Pocket Books was also that novel’s publisher.

Again, I have no confirmation about who made this stunning interior design. Could it be a creation of George H. Jones? He, like Kastel, was prolific for Pocket Books and its parent company Simon and Schuster for years.

sweet caroline ext
sweet caroline
Sweet Caroline, Con Sellers, Pocket Books, 1979, cover artist TBD

Tame the Rising Tide by Virginia Morgan

Later in July 1979, Pocket Books released Tame the Rising Tide, a bodice ripper by Virginia Morgan. (Did Ginny Brandon from Sweet Savage Love become a romance novelist after marrying Steve Morgan?) Here is another romance novel with a clinch embrace hidden behind a stepback with a keyhole. This one lets you see the heroine’s face.

tame rising tide
Tame the Rising Tide, Virginia Morgan, Pocket Books, 1979, cover design Cathy Carucci

As with the other books, I had to get my hands on this early step back. Tame the Rising Tide has a lovely picture of a couple together, but it’s so dark I had to brighten it. On the acid-free paper side, the image transferred nicely. However, I can’t say the same for the backside of the front cover. It’s too blurry. Note the difference in technique for the greenery and then for the figures. It’s quite eye-catching.

As to who could be the artist? The flowing hair says Harry Bennett, but again, I have no confirmation. The copyright page states “interior design by Cathy Carucci.” I’m not sure exactly what that entailed.

What I do know about Carucci is she was responsible for designing the cover of Leigh Nichols’ (aka Dean Koontz) 1981 novel The Eyes of Darkness. That work of fiction has been in the news for the past couple of years. Why? It predicted a biological weapon from China named the Wuhan-400 would devastate the planet causing global catastrophe.

So. Yeah.

Anyway, here’s the stepback cover:

Tame the Rising Tide, Virginia Morgan, Pocket Books, 1979, cover artist TBD

Another Dailey Stepback Romance Cover

Janet Dailey’s first four full-length romance covers with Pocket Books would garner much attention for their similar style. Like with V. C. Andrews’ books, they would be stepbacks with a keyhole design revealing the heroines’ faces. Her next full-length novel wouldn’t be published until early 1980, however.

Still, I thought it was worth showing off. The Rogue has the hero looming over the heroine and ripping her shirt open. Note yet another rearing horse, this one white, in the background. Again, the cover artist isn’t mentioned, and while I have a hunch, like with the others, I’m not sure.

stepback romance cover
The Rogue, Janet Dailey, Pocket Books, 1980, cover artist TBD

So whatever way you slice it, 1979 seems to have been the year romance and stepbacks came together.

Like peanut butter and chocolate, they were a match made in heaven! Many more romance stepback covers were to come!

Your Opinion?

In the next installment of this series on stepbacks, we’ll look at the covers of the 1980s. That’s when stepbacks finally became prevalent in the genre. To be fair, though, in the ’80s, the stepback was everywhere.

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 very 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.