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Monday, July 27, 2020

Mike Shayne in men’s adventure magazines – Part 1: “The Naked Frame” in BLUEBOOK, Feb. 1953


Recently, I read and enjoyed THE MIKE SHAYNE PRIVATE EYE COMIC COLLECTION.

That book is a new release from Pulp 2.0 Press, an indie imprint founded by the self-described “Mad Pulp Bastard,” Bill Cunnigham.

It reprints a series of comic books published by Dell in 1962 starring Michael “Mike” Shayne, the famed Private Eye character created by writer Davis Dresser under his best-known pen name Brett Halliday.

The introduction to the Pulp 2.0 Shayne comics collection was written by Paul Bishop, a writer, editor and vintage media maven I greatly admire.

Paul’s intro provides an overview of appearances by the tough, red-headed, Miami-based PI in books, television and radio shows, Dresser’s MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, and the Dell comics.

The Pulp 2.0 book lead me to contact Bill Cunningham and find out more about what he’s up to. I ended up doing an interview with him that will appear in an upcoming post on this blog.

It also got me started on a hunt for Mike Shayne stories in men’s adventure magazines (MAMs).

There’s very little information online about Shayne stories in MAMs.

The most significant clues about them are in a list on Philsp.com, the awesome, indispensable “Galactic Central” site that provides information about thousands of different vintage magazines.

As I looked through the Galactic Central list, I realized it wasn’t quite complete.

I knew of several appearances of Mike Shayne stories in MAMs that were missing. I’d seen them while reading issues in my collection. But, as far as I know, there isn’t any book or website that provides in-depth information about the Mike Shayne stories published in MAMs and shows the illustrations used for them.

So, I decided to fill that gap by doing a series of posts on this blog, starting with this one.

The hardboiled detective genre of stories and books was popularized in the 1920s and 1930s in pulp magazine stories and novels by writers like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.

Davis Dresser’s Shayne novels are close relatives of those stories and novels, which he probably read as a young man.

Dresser was born in Chicago in 1904, but grew up in Texas. He lost an eye to barbed wire as a boy and wore an eye patch throughout the rest of his life. As a teenager, he enlisted in the U.S. Cavalry and served for a couple years.

After leaving the service, Dresser travelled around the US doing various odd jobs, then went to the Tri-State College of Engineering, where he earned a certificate in civil engineering.

He worked as engineer and surveyor for a while, but he had the bug to become a writer. During the ‘30s he was mostly a wannabe with few sales until he created his Michael Shayne character in the novel DIVIDEND ON DEATH.

After being rejected by 21 publishers over a period of four years, it was finally accepted and published in 1939 by Henry Holt & Co., under the pseudonym Brett Halliday.

Dresser followed DIVIDEND ON DEATH with THE PRIVATE PRACTIVE OF MICHAEL SHAYNE, published by Holt early in 1940.

Later that same year, elements of both books were adapted into the film MICHAEL SHAYNE, PRIVATE DETECTIVE, with Lloyd Nolan starring as Shayne.

Thus was launched what became a multi-decade multimedia empire that went on to include: over 70 novels and 300 stories written by Dresser and other writers using the Brett Halliday pen name; a dozen movies; a television series; a radio series; a short-lived comic book; and, the long-running MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE.

Copies of Holt’s first hardcover edition of DIVIDEND ON DEATH now sell for anywhere from $500 to thousands. The dust jacket features a vignetted painting of a tropical beach at night with a lone figure walking along the shore. At the bottom of the painting is the signature Baron-Ancona,” an artist I could find little about other the fact that he did artwork for some other hardcover dust jackets around that time.

A classic paperback edition of DIVIDEND ON DEATH was published by Dell in 1952. It features a cover painting by Robert Stanley, showing Shayne kicking a handgun out of the hand of a woman dressed like a nurse. Bob Stanley was one of many artists who started out doing covers for pulp magazines in the 1930s, then went on to do hundreds of paperbacks cover paintings and cover and interior illustrations for men’s adventure mags.

Starting in 1960 with DIVIDEND ON DEATH, Dell launched a new series of Mike Shayne reprints graced with cover art by Robert McGinnis. His cover paintings, typically featuring bold colors and tall, eye-poppingly gorgeous women, have become some of  the most iconic images associated with paperback editions of detective, crime, mystery and action novels published in the ‘60s and ‘70s. (If you’re a McGinnis fan, there are several excellent books about him you’ll want in your collection: THE ART OF ROBERT E. MCGINNIS, THE PAPERBACK COVERS OF ROBERT MCGINNIS and TAPESTRY: THE PAINTINGS OF ROBERT MCGINNIS.)

After Davis Dresser began writing Shayne novels, he also started selling short stories about Mike Shayne to the detective and mystery pulp digest magazines that were being published in the 1940s.

Galactic Central’s list of pulp and pulp digest magazines that published Shayne stories under Dresser’s Brett Halliday pseudonym includes DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY, STREET & SMITH’S DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE, BLACK MASK, THRILLING DETECTIVE, MYSTERY BOOK MAGAZINE, and POPULAR DETECTIVE.

Often, they were the featured cover stories. For example, the Shayne story “Death Rides A Winner” is the cover story in DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY, January 6, 1940, which has a terrific cover painting by the prolific pulp artist Emmett Watson. The Shayne story “The Dead Don’t Cry” is the cover story on THRILLING DETECTIVE, December 1944, which has cover art by the great pulp, paperback and men’s adventure magazine artist Rudolph “Rudy” Belarski. And, the Shayne story “Murder Before Midnight” is the cover story for POPULAR DETECTIVE, March 1950 (cover artist unknown).

In the 1950s, the men’s adventure magazine genre began providing many professional “pulp” style writers, like Dresser, with additional markets for their work in three ways — as first time sales of new stories, reprints of old stories and “Book Bonus” versions of their novels.

Interestingly, a few of the Brett Halliday Mike Shayne stories originally published in MAMs were later expanded and published as novels.

That’s the case with the first Shayne story I know of in a MAM, “The Naked Frame” in BLUEBOOK, February 1953. The story is touted in the magazine as “Bluebook’s COMPLETE Book-Length Novel by BRETT HALLIDAY.” At that point, no novel version had been published.

“The Naked Frame” includes six illustrations by artist Al Tarter. The first, a red two-color illo on page one of the initial two-page spread, is shown at the top of this post.

The cover of BLUEBOOK, February 1953, featuring a painting by MAM and paperback cover artist John Floherty, Jr., is shown below, along with the second Tarter illo for “The Naked Frame,” a green duotone.

Next to them is a scan of the first page of the issue, the Editors’ regular “Strictly Personal” column. It provides short profiles of the writers of the stories inside.

Two writers mentioned in that column are still very well known: Brett Halliday (Dresser) and Evan Hunter. Evan Hunter was the first pen name used by Salvatore Albert Lombino. He used that pseudonym for his blockbuster novel THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (1954) and legally changed his name to Evan Hunter in 1952. Then a few years later, he started using the pen name Ed McBain, his best known the pseudonym. That’s the name he used for his famed “87th Precinct” police procedural novels. The Evan Hunter story in BLUEBOOK, February 1953 is a grim survival-at-sea yarn titled “Two,” with artwork by Ray Houlihan.

The opening paragraphs of the “Strictly Personal” column in the February 1953 issue of BLUEBOOK provide this description of Halliday.

Virtually everyone who’s ever read a mystery novel, or who has enough intelligence to find his way to the corner movie, has heard of Brett Halliday and his fictional detective, Mike Shayne. Which is why we’re shooting off small rockets over having landed Brett’s new­est (his 25th) Mike Shayne thriller, “The Naked Frame,” which you will find if you have the strength to turn to page 91.

Brett, who was born Davis Dresser, is one of the few mystery-story writers we know who is married to a mystery-story writer, a pretty fair yarn-spinner named Helen McCloy. Between them, they have turned out some of the country's best de­tective fiction, as well as a product known as McCloy Dresser, age 5, who’ll probably grow up to write mysteries her­self.

Although they have traveled darned near everywhere, the Dressers now live in Westport, Conn., in a house decorated primarily with books, one of which we hope is a first draft of the forthcoming 26th Mike Shayne story.

Al Tarter’s two-color illustrations for the Shayne story and most others illos in this issue combine what appear to be line art drawings with selected areas of a single color added as overlays.

This was a common illustration technique in BLUEBOOK and some other magazines that had only evolved part way from their pulp magazine origins the early 1950s. (For more about the evolution of BLUEBOOK and other top pulp magazines that became top men’s adventure magazines, see this previous MensPulpMags.com post.)

Color overlay illustrations are simpler and more stylized than the lush style of painted interior illustrations that became common after World War II, thanks to new printing technology and better quality paper.

Painted interior art, including duotones that were painted as such instead of being made with overlays, became the more common style of interior artwork in MAMs and other magazines in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

But two-color overlays done by masters of the technique are very cool and Al Tarter was very good at them. I don’t know much about him other than that.

I did find a folder of some of his artwork in the excellent Today’s Inspiration Facebook Group created by artist Leif Peng (an outgrowth of his TI blog).

Most of the Tarter illustrations I could find were done for BLUEBOOK and its affiliated periodical REDBOOK in the early ‘50s.

Before that, according to a post on the CartoonResearch.com site, Tarter did some background drawings used in Friz Freleng cartoons. 

There’s also an interesting set of drawings Tarter did for an unproduced WWII-era documentary in the online library of the Wellcome Collection, a UK museum that features artwork related to science and medicine.

Here are the other four Tarter illustrations created for the Shayne story “The Naked Frame” in BLUEBOOK, February 1953.

In addition to being the first Mike Shayne story published in a men’s adventure magazine, “The Naked Frame” was first of several Shayne stories in MAMs that Dresser expanded and published as novels.  

In 1953, he created the Torquil Publishing Company with his wife Helen McCloy, a successful mystery writer in her own right.

The company published books by them and other writers until it folded in 1965. One of the first novels Torquil published, maybe the first, was Dresser’s Mike Shayne novel ONE NIGHT WITH NORA.

That novel is an expanded version of “The Naked Frame,” published by BLUEBOOK in February 1953.

According to U.S. Copyright Office records, Torquil copyrighted ONE NIGHT WITH NORA the following month, on March 15, 1953.

Typically, the copyright date is the date when a book is released. So, it seems likely that Dresser already planned to publish “The Naked Frame” as a novel when the condensed version appeared in BLUEBOOK.

I suspect the BLUEBOOK editors came up with the title used for it in the magazine. “Naked” was a good marketing word for men’s magazines and MAM editors often changed the titles used for “Book Bonus” versions of novels to make them sound sexier. In fact, for stories involving women, four of the most common MAM story title words are naked, nude, nymph and nympho.

This particular story actually does start out with a naked woman who surprises Mike Shayne by coming into the bedroom of his apartment in the middle of the night. The “frame” angle comes when it turns out that the woman, named Nora, has a dead husband laying in an apartment on the floor above and claims she didn’t kill him.

The 1953 Torquil edition of ONE NIGHT WITH NORA is a hardcover, with a stylized orange-and-grey cover illustration on the dust jacket. (Artist unknown.)

In 1954, Dell published what I think is the first paperback edition of the book, with a cover painting by Robert Stanley.

Bob Stanley was an excellent artist who did many classic paperback covers and cover and interior illustrations for men’s adventure magazines.

However, like many Mike Shayne books, the best-known paperback edition is the one from the ‘60s Dell reprint series that features cover art by Robert McGinnis, one of the most popular of all paperback cover artists.

That second Dell edition, published in 1960, is among the many covers by McGinnis that became pop culture artifacts. His covers continue to pop up in online posts, on the covers of recent book reprints, and in various other places.

For example, in 2017 the fashion company Prada used McGinnis paperback cover paintings — including his artwork for the cover of ONE NIGHT WITH NORA — on its fall line of blouses, skirts and dresses.

Coming up, more examples of Mike Shayne stories in men’s adventure magazines. But first up is an interview with Bill Cunningham, the creative mind behind the Pulp 2.0 imprint and MIKE SHAYNE: PRIVATE EYE, COMIC COLLECTION — which got me started on my recent Mike Shayne trip.

Comments? Corrections? You can email them to me, or
join the
Men’s Adventure Magazines & Books Facebook Group and post them there.

Related reading, viewing, and listening…

Monday, July 20, 2020

Classic Charles Rodrigues cartoons from men’s adventure magazines…


A while back in the Men’s Adventure Magazines & Books Facebook Group, I started a tradition of posting some of my favorite classic cartoons from men’s adventure magazines on Sunday mornings.

I call them “Sunday funnies done men’s adventure magazines style.”

I guess that reflects my nostalgic love for both MAMs and the full-color Sunday cartoon inserts that were a long-running tradition in local newspapers back when local newspapers still existed in most cities and towns. 

As I posted my most recent Sunday cartoon post in the Facebook group, I realized I had never done a post on this blog about cartoons in MAMs. So I decided to start a new tradition by doing a post about cartoons here every once in a while.

I’ll start with one that generated a number of comments from members of the group who are fans of NATIONAL LAMPOON — a cartoon by Charles Rodrigues from the March 1959 issue of MEN magazine.

It shows a new arrival at a penitentiary in the office of the prison warden. On the wall behind the warden are the heads of two prisoners, mounted on plaques like hunting trophies. In the caption, the warden tells the prisoner: “Let’s get one thing straight right away Bergman, this will be no country club...”

Charles Rodrigues, who was born in 1926 and died in 2004, was one of the most widely-published and beloved cartoonists of the latter half of the 20th Century.

His cartoons appeared in scores of men’s magazines, from the low end, low circulation girlie mags and dozens of different MAMs to high end slicks like ESQUIRE and PLAYBOY.

Rodrigues cartoons were also regularly published in mainstream magazines, like TV GUIDE, the STEREO REVIEW, and alternative magazines like Paul Krassner’s THE REALIST.

He also did three comic features for the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate: “Eggs Benedict,” “Casey the Cop” and “Charlie.”

But Rodrigues is probably best known for the work he did for NATIONAL LAMPOON magazine.

Rodrigues had a cartoon in the first issue of NATIONAL LAMPOON, published in April 1970 and was a regular contributor to that gloriously gonzo, satiric publication until 1993. He contributed standalone cartoons, the “Ray & Joe” comic strip and occasional LAMPOON covers.

All of the cartoons by Rodrigues reflect a darkly wicked sense of humor, much like Charles Addams. A good percentage from the ‘70s on in the LAMPOON and men’s magazines feature nudity and sexual situations.

Some of his best cartoons have been collected in two fairly recent books: GAG ON THIS: THE SCROFULOUS CARTOONS OF CHARLES RODRIGUES and RAY & JOE: THE STORY OF A MAN AND HIS DEAD FRIEND. You can also still find copies of older vintage paperbacks that feature Rodrigues cartoons, such as SPITTING ON THE SHERIFF: AND OTHER DIVERSIONS and TOTAL HARMONIC DISTORTION: CARTOONS FROM STEREO REVIEW, though they tend to be pricey.

There are also a books collecting cartoons from NATIONAL LAMPOON that include some by Rodrigues. And, if you search his name plus LAMPOON on eBay with the “Include description” box checked, you’ll find many back issues of NATIONAL LAMPOON that include his work.

Various men’s adventure magazines published Rodrigues cartoons before the NATIONAL LAMPOON and PLAYBOY made him particularly well known. A lot of his early cartoons in MAMs are single panels, like the one at the top of this post. But even in the ‘50s, he was popular enough to warrant 2-page spreads featuring multiple cartoons in a number of MAM issues. Three of those are shown below.

I realize it's a bit hard to read the captions in a 2-page spread that has to fit within whatever browser and device you're using. So, I decided to start by show blown up scans of one of my favorites each of the three.

They include: a native headshrinker who just washed a head’s hair and “can’t do a thing with it”; a death row inmate whose hopes are dashed when gets a letter from the governor that starts with “Dear murdering scum of a rat…”; and, an undertaker who explains that he carries a stethoscope because “it never hurts to make sure.”

If you click on the 2-page spreads below, you can blow them up on whatever you’re using to read this post and should be able to make out the captions. However, for those who can’t, I’ll provide some descriptions and type out some of the captions.

The first MAM 2-page Rodrigues spread below is from MALE, June 1958. The title of the spread is “These Ghoulish Things Remind Me of You,” a play on the title of the old song “These Foolish Things Remind Me of You.” The subhead (“A crematorium that bares a corpse’s traces…) is a play on the song’s lyrics.

The cartoons at the top of both pages in that MALE spread are all visual gags that you'll get if you study them a little. The one at top left is chuckleworthy when you see what's in the block of ice that's being delivered to the crematorium in the background. The joke in the next one involves the absurdity of a suggestion box in the prison hallway leading to the death chamber. The one at top right is a play on the old waterless desert cartoons that often show the skull of a cow in the scene.

The cartoon at bottom left of the MALE spread makes sense if you’re old enough to remember when guys wore suspenders. It was a painful prank back then to pull someone’s suspenders way out and then let them snap back. In the case of the Rodrigues cartoon, it’s a form of torture two cops are using on a suspect. The police captain looking on says in the caption, “I told you I didn’t want any rough stuff.” At bottom right, next to the headshrinker cartoon, a wife is telling cops at a morgue: “The last time I saw him was about 5:30 — I asked him to go out for a loaf of bread.” In the background, her husband’s corpse has that loaf in a literal death grip.

This next 2-page spread is from MAN'S LIFE, October 1959. It’s titled “EXIT LAUGHING” and features a set of cartoons about executions. An introductory paragraph notes:

“Probably one of the leading artists of the macabre in humor is Charles Rodrigues, who passes along this advice — ‘If the time ever comes and you have to take that last walk you might as well do it like a man — kicking and screaming all the way — Rodrigues would! P.S.: Try getting a few bites in, too.’”

On the left hand page are two inmates hoping the governor will call with a last minute reprieve: below the one I show in a close up above, there’s another with an inmate carrying a phone to the gallows. A guard tells him to give it up in the caption, because “The governor’s not going to call.” At top on the right hand page, one prison guard is seen kicking an inmate toward the gallows while another one explains to a third, “The jury that convicted him recommended no mercy.”

The cartoon underneath that at left also shows a group of guards and a doomed man at a gallows. A guy in a dress coat and hat is trying to keep the prisoner from going to the noose. A guard observes: “That’s what I call a fighting lawyer!” At bottom right, a guard looks at two deep, parallel gouges in the hall leading to the death chamber and says drily: “Boy, did HE put up a fight.”

MALE and MAN’S LIFE were both among the longest-running men’s adventure mags, lasting for several decades. Another 2-page spread of Rodrigues cartoons appears in the October 1959 issue of one of the most short-lived MAMs, HIGH ADVENTURE. That issue is a good collectible for MAM fans, since it’s the third of only three issues of HIGH ADVENTURE that were published.

The Rodrigues spread in HIGH ADVENTURE is titled “GRISLY GRINS.” It start with a cartoon about new widow, who is so not into grieving that she stopped at a car dealer on the way back from the funeral to order a new sports car. Below that on the left page are two captionless cartoons. One shows the son of a mad bomber emulating his father. The other shows a kid pulling a shrunken head out of a cereal box, reflecting the shrunken heads craze that was happening at the time. (See the article “WHEN SHRUNKEN HEADS WERE BIG!” — a guest post on this blog by John Navroth, Editor of MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD.)

At the top of the right hand page in HIGH ADVENTURE is the stethoscope-carrying mortician cartoon. Next to that is one showing a woman frozen in the act of shoveling snow. Her husband admits to a neighbor, “You’re right, it’s not a snowman.” Below those is a captionless cartoon showing an oil delivery guy looking askance at the trash cans full of ashes on the sidewalk in front of the crematorium he's delivering heating oil to.

At some point, I’ll do a post showing more of the “Sunday Funnies” cartoons I’ve posted in the Men’s Adventure Magazines & Books Facebook Group, where I post new content on a daily basis.

Coming up here, I’ll provide a look a Mike Shayne stories in men’s adventure magazines, then an interview with writer, editor and publisher Bill Cunningham, head of the growing and innovative Pulp 2.0 publishing imprint.

Comments? Corrections? You can email them to me, or
join the
Men’s Adventure Magazines & Books Facebook Group and post them there.

Related reading…

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

What I’ve been reading in the Western, pulp and action/adventure genres — and beyond…


I always appreciate it when someone posts a positive review of one of the books in the Men’s Adventure Library series I co-edit with my publishing partner Wyatt Doyle (head of the New Texture imprint) on Amazon or Goodreads. So, I try to post reviews of books I’ve read when I enjoyed them.

I typically only post reviews of books I liked. In my humble opinion, criticizing is easy. Creating one is hard. And, everyone has their own opinions and pet peeves about books. So, the reviews I post are all positive.

Below are some of the reviews I wrote and posted on Amazon and Goodreads this year.

The most recent is about the newest fanzine from paperback maven and fanzine publisher extraordinaire, Justin Marriott — the  HOT LEAD “MOST WANTED ALL REVIEW SPECIAL.”

I’m a huge fan of all of Justin’s previous fanzines, PAPERBACK FANATIC, MEN OF VIOLENCE, THE SLEAZY READER, PULP HORROR, MONSTER MANIACS and HOT LEAD.

I interviewed him for this blog a while back and I’ve posted some other previous posts here about his fanzines.

His HOT LEAD fanzine on vintage Western paperbacks and authors. It’s part of what seems to be a resurgence of interest in the Western genre.

Publishers like Wolfpack Publishing and Rough Edges Press have been publishing new Western novels by both up-and-coming writers and experienced pros, and reprinting out-of-print Westerns in new eBook and print editions.

There are also some notable new printed and digital guides to Western books, TV shows and movies. Among those, in addition to the HOT LEAD fanzines, is the 52 WEEKS * 52 WESTERNS series co-edited by Paul Bishop, and the extremely well-researched and entertaining “The Six-Gun Justice” podcast hosted by Paul and his fellow novelist and Western maven Richard Prosch.

I’ve been on a bit of a Western reading and watching binge myself in recent months, partly because of The Six-Gun Justice podcast, so quite a few of the books I’ve read and reviewed are in that genre.

The HOT LEAD “MOST WANTED ALL REVIEW SPECIAL is the latest. It’s the fourth issue in Justin Marriott’s HOT LEAD fanzine series.

I like the first three HOT LEADS a lot, but this one is especially great. It includes insightful reviews of more than 200 Western novels by over 20 vintage paperback and Western genre experts, grouped chronologically by era and nicely illustrated with over 100 cover scans. It also includes some outstanding special essays.

The first of those essays — “Top 10 Western Authors” by Paul Bishop — is so full of fascinating facts and so well written that it makes this issue of HOT LEAD worth buying by itself. And, as a LONESOME DOVE fan, I also especially enjoyed the essay on that series.

I also got a kick out of the Foreword by the legendary comics and action/adventure novelist, Chuck Dixon. Chuck has contributed to the recent resurgence of Western novels himself by writing SOLOMON'S MINE, the fifth entry in the "Avenging Angels" series published by Wolfpack, under the A.W. Hart house name. I haven’t read that one yet, but it’s in my Kindle queue and I expect I’ll like it. I am a huge fan of Chuck’s action/adventure novels, like his LEVON CADE and BAD TIMES series.

In the introduction to the HOT LEAD special, Justin Marriott says he didn’t start out thinking it would be some kind of definitive guide to Western novels. But as reviews came in from contributors he collaborated with, that’s essentially what it turned into. It’s an amazing overview of the best Western novels from the 1920s to recent decades and it covers every Western subgenre, including classics by Louis L’Amour, Harry Whittington and Max Brand, ultra-violent Westerns, science fiction Westerns, “Cow Punk” Westerns, and adult Westerns.

Like all of Marriott’s fanzines, this HOT LEAD special is highly entertaining, beautifully designed. I think it’s also an instant contender for one of the best reference books about Western novels ever put together — and it’s definitely the most up-to-date and wide-ranging.

Not long before I read that HOT LEAD issue, I read 52 WEEKS * 52 TV WESTERNS, co-edited by Paul Bishop and Western novelist Scott Harris. I enjoyed their first two books in the series, 52 WEEKS * 52 WESTERN NOVELS and 52 WEEKS * 52 WESTERN MOVIES, and especially liked this latest one focusing on TV Westerns.

I was born in 1950 and grew up watching the classic Western series that were plentiful in the ‘50s and ‘60s, like CHEYENNE, MAVERICK, HAVE GUN-WILL TRAVEL, WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE and many others. I also loved later Westerns, like THE WILD WILD WEST, THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY, JR, THE HIGH CHAPARRAL and DEADWOOD.

I suppose that’s why I particularly loved 52 WEEKS * 52 TV WESTERNS. The shows covered in this book include virtually all of my favorites and some I was unaware of. It brought back fond memories and provided fascinating facts I didn’t know about the shows and actors.

I also recently read and reviewed the Western novel OUTLAW BLOOD, the eighth book in the “Wind River” series co-written by James Reasoner and his wife Livia J. Washburn.

They are both top professional writers who’ve written novels in several genres and publish a great line of books by various authors via their Rough Edges Press imprint. Any book they write separately or together reflects decades of experience at telling well-crafted action/adventure stories.

OUTLAW BLOOD is no exception. It’s a fast-paced Western that literally starts with a bang, involves some very bad bad guys, and moves quickly to a satisfying conclusion. It has the flavor of a good, old-fashioned Western novel or TV show. If, like me, that’s the type of Western novel you like you’ll enjoy OUTLAW BLOOD and other books in the Wind River series.

Another review I posted on Amazon recent months is for a Western novel written by the legendary comics writer, novelist, editor, and Captain of the mighty Airship 27 “new pulp” publishing company, Ron Fortier.

That novel, THE WIND UP KID, is in what’s been called the “Western Steampunk” subgenre. I’m a big fan of Ron’s and I’m amazed by his range as a writer.

His comics and novels run the gamut from from superhero stories and science fiction to horror and adult action/adventure and young adult fantasy. He’s even written a moving play, titled WHERE LOVE TAKES YOU.

THE WIND UP KID pits the residents of a small town against a gang of truly vicious bad guys. Luckily for the townsfolk, Professor Phineas Proctor happens to have brought his traveling circus to town, and its big attraction is a golden, 7-foot tall robot sharpshooter. Proctor’s automaton joins with the village blacksmith, his son, and other town residents to fight the gang members. If you like good, pulpy, escapist entertainment, check it out. It’s a fun, quick read or listen. I listened to the Audible edition, which I’ve been doing more and more lately.

By the way, if you’re a fan of the realm of “new pulp,” which Ron and his partner Rob Davis helped pioneer and establish through their Airship 27 line, check out their book WHO’S WHO IN NEW PULP, which was just published in July 2020. It includes profiles of over 200 writers, artists, editors, and publishers currently involved in the realm of pulp fiction and pulp art.

One of them is Will Murray. When it comes to writing “new pulp” — generally meaning new stories about classic pulp magazine characters or stories about new characters who fit the classic pulp mode — Will Murray is one of the best and most prolific. As a longtime fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs since the 1960s, I had to check out Murray’s latest novel TARZAN: CONQUEROR OF MARS, and I’m glad I did. It’s a terrific, creative mashup involving two of Burroughs’ best-known characters: Tarzan and John Carter

Murray is a pulp expert in multiple ways. He’s a pulp fiction historian who has written extensively about and helped preserve the legacy of vintage pulp magazine writers like as Lester Dent, creator of Doc Savage, and many others. Among other things, Murray is literary executor for the Dent estate and has written fifteen modern Doc Savage novels under Dent's Kenneth Robeson pseudonym. In recent years, he has also written “new pulp” novels featuring other old pulp characters, including The Shadow, The Spider and Tarzan.

TARZAN: CONQUEROR OF MARS is the third Tarzan novel Murray has written for the Altus Press “Wild Adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs” series. I have been amazed and pleased by how well Murray both maintains the iconic ERB style while also creating fresh storylines. Setting this novel on Mars was a genius idea, well executed.

Another action/adventure novel I recently enjoyed and reviewed recently was DRAGONFIRE!, written by one of the longtime pros in that arena: Stephen Mertz.

Under his own name and various pseudonyms, Mertz has penned many of the best men’s action/adventure novels ever written, ranging from the classic M.I.A. HUNTER series he created to some of the most popular books in the long-running Executioner/Mack Bolan series created by Don Pendleton (cover art for which is featured in the latest book I co-edited, ONE MAN ARMY: THE ACTION PAPERBACK ART OF GIL COHEN.)

More recently, Mertz launched a new MISSION IMPOSSIBLE-like series that features Jack Cody, a Former Navy SEAL U.S. who became a troubleshooter and operative for the U.S. government. For reasons explained in DRAGONFIRE! – the first novel in Mertz’s “Cody’s War” series – he has been nicknamed “Suicide Cody.”

In this initial outing, Cody is tasked with trying to stop the Chinese from employing a shockingly dangerous new experimental weapon they stole from a scientist against the US. There are few writers who can create a major new action/adventure hero and series that doesn’t just tread old ground. Mertz is one of those few. DRAGONFIRE! starts off with a mind-blowing bang and never lets up. It hooked me on the Cody series right off the bat.

Not everything I’ve been reading lately is in the realms of pulp or action/adventure. For example, one of my favorite recent reads was HOLLYWOOD'S HARD-LUCK LADIES by Hollywood historian Laura Wagner. I first became a fan of Wagner from reading her articles and book reviews in the magazine CLASSIC IMAGES. She is an excellent researcher and writer who has a special talent for biographies.

Those skills are very evident in her book HOLLYWOOD'S HARD-LUCK LADIES. The subtitle — 23 ACTRESSES WHO SUFFERED EARLY DEATHS, ACCIDENTS, MISSTEPS, ILLNESSES AND TRAGEDIES — is apt but it only hints at how moving the tragic stories of the 23 actresses Wagner picked seem when you read them. It doesn’t really matter if the actresses are before your time and you don’t know them. It doesn’t really matter if you haven’t seen the movies and TV shows they appeared in.

This is a book that portrays the essential humanity and pathos of mostly little-known actresses who were badly treated by men or the Hollywood studio system, or both — or who should have taken better care of themselves, or whose fate involved tragic accidents. Each biography is a fascinating, self-contained story. And, I love the way each one starts with a paragraph that foreshadows what’s to come. For example, here’s the first paragraph of the chapter on Suzan Ball, a gorgeous actress who had an affair with Anthony Quinn in 1953 while shooting the film EAST OF SUMATRA with him: “One of the most courageous stories in show business concerns Suzan Ball. A star in the making with leads at Universal, she seemed to have a bright future. She was 19 years old when an injury on a movie set put in motion events that would lead her to an untimely death at 21. The way she handled her illness was an inspiration and every turn for the worse was met with a positive outlook.”

Did lead paragraphs like that make me want to read more? You bet. And, Wagner’s bios of many of the actresses made me want to Google more about them and look for streaming or upcoming airings of the movies and TV shows they appeared in. So, for me, it’s a book that kept on giving after I read it.

Another books outside the pulp and action/adventure realm I recently read and loved is MILESSTYLE, by Michael Stradford. It’s unique book that provides fresh perspective on one of my favorite musicians, Miles Davis. It is, in part, about Miles’ creative choices of clothing. But the fashion style angle is a springboard that leads to other insights about Miles’ mind, music, and self-image.

Author Stradford has in-depth knowledge of music and musicians. He was a radio DJ, music director and program director for major stations in Toledo, Cincinnati, Detroit, St. Louis, Houston, and Los Angeles, then became Quincy Jones’ Vice President of A&R at Qwest Records.

The fact that Stradford is both well-qualified and well-connected is evident in his overview of Miles’ music and it’s important place in America’s music heritage, and in the impressive list of people he interviewed for the book. Stradford is an exceptionally good interviewer and the range of people he interviewed is amazing.

They include great jazz musicians who played with Miles, famous rock musicians who were inspired by him, his ex-wives and lovers, fashion experts who had a hand in or studied Miles’ ever evolving clothing, and academics and social observers who provide insightful commentary on Miles’ towering persona as a black celebrity whose life spanned decades worth of changes in racial attitudes in America. I really like the way Stradford interspersed his Q&A style interviews with well-written chapters about Miles personal life and the evolution of his clothing and music. It makes it far more lively and interesting reading than if he had incorporated it all together as running text, like a standard biography.

Of course, I should note that one of my top favorites books of the year so far is STICKING IT TO THE MAN: REVOLUTION AND COUNTERCULTURE IN PULP AND POPULAR FICTION, 1950 TO 1980, edited by Andrew Nette and Iain McIntrye. In addition to posting a glowing 5-star review of it on Amazon, I wrote an extensive post about it on this blog. You can check out that blog post by clicking this link. STICKING IT TO THE MAN is a fascinating deep dive into the realm of vintage novels about Hippies, Yippies, gays, and other social outcasts and rebels.

Whenever you read and enjoy a book, I urge you to write a review and post it Amazon or Goodreads or both. Reviews are especially helpful to writers and publishers of non-mainstream books. Giving them 4 or 5 stars and even just a sentence or two of praise will make their day and help ensure that more books by them will be published.

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Friday, May 15, 2020

ONE MAN ARMY: THE ACTION PAPERBACK ART OF GIL COHEN — our latest book…


Artist Gil Cohen is one of the towering figures in several art realms.

In recent decades he has established himself as one of the world’s premier military aviation artists. His beautifully-rendered, historically accurate paintings of military planes and their crews and high end prints of them are popular with aficionados of that realm throughout the world.

Early on in his career as an artist, starting in the 1950s, Gil was one of the top cover and interior artists for men’s adventure magazines (MAMs).

Most of his MAM artwork was used for MAMs published by Martin Goodman’s Magazine Management company — the “Diamond logo” group that included ACTION FOR MEN, FOR MEN ONLY, MALE, MAN’S WORLD, MEN, STAG, and TRUE ACTION, among others.

I first met Gil via phone and email when I did an interview with him about his MAM artwork for this blog.

In that interview, we briefly touched on a third realm that Gil is known for: his paperback cover artwork. In that realm he is best known as the primary cover artist for the hugely popular novels based on Don Pendelton’s character Mack Bolan, The Executioner. He also did the initial artwork for the Mack Bolan spinoffs: the SuperBolan series, the Stony Man series, the Able Team series and the Phoenix Force series.

A couple of years ago, I did another interview with Gil about that paperback cover artwork. As a result of that conversation, I started thinking about doing a book featuring Gil’s original paintings for those books as part of the Men’s Adventure Library book series I co-edit with Wyatt Doyle, the multi-talented head of New Texture, which publishes our MAL books.

Wyatt loved the idea. Gil Cohen said “yes.” And, recently we released the book — ONE MAN ARMY: THE ACTION PAPERBACK ARTWORK OF GIL COHEN. Its title nods to both the ever-resourceful Mack Bolan as well as the astonishing productivity of Cohen himself in that era.

The paperback edition of ONE MAN ARMY (shown at right) showcases full color reproductions of nearly 100 of Gil’s original Executioner, SuperBolan, Stony Man, Able Team, and Phoenix Force cover paintings. The deluxe hardcover edition (at the top of this post) includes more than 100.

The book opens with a quote about Gil by Linda Pendleton. Linda is Don’s widow and a prolific author of novels and non-fiction books in her own right. She co-authored several books with Don before his death in 1995, including the first entry in the Executioner comics series, and wrote the definitive book THE EXECUTIONER, DON PENDLETON CREATES MACK BOLAN. She maintains the Official Don Pendleton Website which includes in-depth information about him, his Mack Bolan novels, and the many other types of books he wrote. Linda also frequently posts comments in the popular online hangout for Executioner fans, the Mack Bolan Facebook Group, created by Bolan superfan Ed Sunday. What Linda says about Gil in ONE MAN ARMY will ring true to any serious Mack Bolan fan:

“When I visualize Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan, I see Bolan as Gil Cohen portrayed him on the covers of Don’s Executioner novels, and on numerous early Harlequin Executioners and spinoff series. Don loved Gil’s cover art, and I still receive comments from Executioner fans who mention how much they like Gil Cohen cover illustrations. Seventeen years of wonderful Mack Bolan cover illustrations by a very talented artist! I’m sure the scenes on the covers helped to sell books. Gil Cohen is very much a part of the Don Pendleton-Mack Bolan tradition of nearly half a century. The Executioner series would not be the same without Gil Cohen’s illustrations.” — Linda Pendleton

Linda’s insightful quote is followed by an extensive interview with Gil. In it, he talks about how he came to do cover art for the Executioner series and its descendants, his approach to the artwork, the models he used, anecdotes he remembers about specific paintings, his appearance with Don Pendleton at the 1985 Mack Bolan convention in San Francisco, and more.

As I write this post, ONE MAN ARMY is now listed for sale on Amazon in the US and worldwide, on Barnes & Noble, on the website of Stuart Ng Books, and on the Book Depository site, which offers free shipping worldwide. I also sell copies directly, signed on request, via my own listing on Amazon (as Robert Deis on the list of sellers) and my eBay listings.

Here’s a buying tip: because the book is new, Amazon doesn’t keep a lot of copies in stock yet and there are other shark-like sellers trying to sell the book on Amazon for more than the list price. Some don’t even keep the book on hand and have to order it from another source to fill an order, causing a delay in shipment. So, at this point, if you want a copy shipped quickly and at the best price, buy direct from me. I’ll also sign a copy on request and add an inscription of your choosing.

In this post, I’ll give you a preview of the book, along with some quotes from Gil Cohen’s interview. As you’ll see, the cover paintings vary in shape. Some were intended to fit the bottom half of a standard paperback front cover. Some were painted to fit the full front cover. Some are “wraparound” paintings that are horizontal in format. The right half of those wraparounds were printed on the front of the paperback covers; the left half on the back.

As a result, the margins around each painting vary in ONE MAN ARMY, as shown by the examples in this post. They are actual page scans (with the resolution reduced and a watermark added for online posting). In the book, each painting is presented without any caption, so they stand alone as works of art. There’s an appendix in the back that tells the name of the paperback the painting on each page was used for and the year it was published.

Below is a look at the first page of our interview with Gil, which shows the first cover he did for the series, CALIFORNIA HIT. Next to that are the pages showing his original paintings for WAR AGAINST THE MAFIA and DEATH SQUAD.

When Pinnacle Books licensed the rights to publish the Executioner series from Don Pendleton, the art department had cover paintings for the first ten books done by artist George Gross, a friend and mentor of Mort Kunstler (whose original men’s adventure magazine paintings are showcased in our book MORT KÜNSTLER: THE GODFATHER OF PULP FICTION ILLUSTRATORS).

The first editions of WAR AGAINST THE MAFIA and DEATH SQUAD were published in 1969 and were huge hits. Over the next three years, Pinnacle published eight more Executioner novels that originally had George Gross cover art. By late 1971, the original editions of the first ten Executioner novels had sold six million copies and Pinnacle turned to Gil Cohen for the cover of the next Mack Bolan novel Don Pendleton had written for the series. Gil recalls:

“The first Executioner book I did was No. 11: CALIFORNIA HIT (1972). I actually got the assignment—the commission—in December of ‘71. I delivered it in January ’72. Then Pinnacle asked me to take over doing the covers, and I was also asked to do cover paintings for new editions of the first ten in the series. So I did CALIFORNIA HIT, then I redid the first ten covers, starting with Executioner No. 1: WAR AGAINST THE MAFIA, which I delivered to Pinnacle in April of 1972. I posed myself as Mack Bolan for CALIFORNIA HIT. In fact, from No.13, WASHINGTON I.O.U. (1972) back, I largely used myself as the model for Mack Bolan and other male characters in the cover scenes. I posed for the reference photos, shot with a Polaroid camera. I could draw and turn myself into any kind of a character, and I did that a whole lot.”

Pinnacle published 38 Executioner novels between 1969 and 1980, using Gil Cohen as the cover artist. All but #16, SICILIAN SLAUGHTER (1973), were written by Don Pendleton. That one is so un-Pendleton-like that it remains a continuing source of controversy among Bolan fans. However, I do love the cover painting Gil did for it. It’s in the middle below, in between his paintings for #13, WASHINGTON I.O.U. (1972) and #24, CANADIAN CRISIS (1975) on the right.

During the years when Don Pendleton was writing the Executioner novels, Gil Cohen created some of his most classic Mack Bolan covers. Here are some more examples from that era in our book: #31, ARIZONA AMBUSH (1977), #32, TENNESSEE SMASH (1978) and #37, FRIDAYS FEAST (1979), which we picked for the cover of the deluxe hardcover edition of ONE MAN ARMY.

In 1980, Don Pendleton licensed the rights to the Executioner character to Harlequin’s Gold Eagle subsidiary, which is still publishing Mack Bolan novels under the Don Pendleton House name and is up to more than 450 books in the series. Harlequin tapped a number of talented writers to continue the series, such as Stephen Mertz, Michael Newton, and Dan Schmidt, and its fan base continued to grow. Harlequin’s art director wisely chose Gil Cohen to continue doing the cover art for the Bolan novels — and eventually for the Executioner spinoffs, the SuperBolan, Stony Man, Able Team, and Phoenix Force novel series.

Although many of Gil’s early Executioner covers are fan favorites and created the Mack Bolan image, his cover art during the Gold Eagle era just kept getting better and better. Below are three of my faves from the early ‘80s included in our book: #43, RETURN TO VIETNAM (1982), #46, BLOODSPORT and #56, ISLAND DEATHTRAP (1982).

One of the interesting anecdotes Gil tells in the book is about Executioner #60, SOLD FOR SLAUGHTER. The page with his original painting for that one is shown below, in between his originals for #59, CRUDE KILL (1983) — which we picked as the cover art for the paperback edition of ONE MAN ARMY — and #63, THE NEW WAR BOOK (1984).

Regarding SOLD FOR SLAUGHTER. Gil told us:

“Mack is holding a kind of special machine gun that looks like something that I made up, but it existed: a Hawk MM-1 MGL Automatic Grenade Launcher. It had a huge barrel, where you had an array of different bullets and missiles and stuff that could come out of the different chambers. Now you can’t just get that kind of weapon anywhere legally; even if you had a Class 3 license. I tried to get one for my reference photo and couldn’t. So, I figured, in order to get Mack—played by my brother-in-law Robby—to hold it properly, I’ve got to kind of make a mockup of that gun. So I did. I got tubes, I got a pistol grip from a model of a .45 handgun…it took a lot of work. But I did it, and I was really proud of it. I posed Robby holding it, and I thought it would impress the fans. Well, I brought those reference photos to the Mack Bolan Convention in San Francisco in 1985. Fans were looking at them, and one says, ‘What the hell is this? I expected you to have the real thing.’ They were disappointed! I was proud of the model I had done, but these guys were disappointed. They expected the real gun, and thought Robby had been holding the real deal for the painting.”

Harlequin kept Gil very busy through the 1980s producing cover art for Gold Eagle paperbacks. He recalls:

“After [Harlequin Art Director] Charles Kadin commissioned me to do the Executioner covers and spinoffs for Harlequin, Harlequin was without doubt my most important client for over ten years. They were giving me so much work, I hardly had the time to work for anybody else. I was doing one Mack Bolan every month. I was doing one Phoenix Force. And for several years, I was also doing one Able Team cover every month. That’s a hell of a lot of artwork! So, overwhelmingly, Harlequin was my main client from about 1981 until the early ’90s.”

Here are some pages from the book showing Gil’s original Executioner cover paintings from the mid-1980s that are favorites of mine and many other fans: #80, RUNNING HOT (1985), #91, THE TRIAL (1986) and #100, BLOOD TESTAMENT (1987).

In the early 1980s, Gil started doing the cover paintings for Mack Bolan specials and spinoffs. Some of his own favorites are those he did for the Stony Man and SuperBolan novels. He told us that the image of Bolan he created for Stony Man #1, STONY MAN DOCTRINE (1983), is what he considers to be “the quintessential Bolan...in black with all of his accoutrements.” The page with that image is shown below, along with the pages featuring Gil’s original cover paintings for two SuperBolan novels, #4, DIRTY WAR (1985) and #9, TROPIC HEAT (1987).

In the early 1980s, Harlequin’s Gold Eagle imprint launched two long-running Bolan spinoffs: the Able Team series, written by various authors under the House name Dick Stivers; and, the Phoenix Force series, credited under the House name Gar Wilson. Gil did the iconic early Able Team cover paintings that established the looks of the main characters in it, Carl Lyons, Rosario Blancanales, and Hermann Schwarz. Some of those shown in our book (and below) are Able Team #4, AMAZON SLAUGHTER (1983), #8, ARMY OF DEVILS (1983), and #12, DEATHBITES (1984).

In his cover paintings for the Phoenix Force spinoff series, Gil again created the iconic images of the characters. They initially included, former Israeli commando Yakov Katzenelenbogen, Canadian demolitions expert Gary Manning, Japanese martial artist Keio Ohara, former SAS member David McCarter, and anti-Castor Cuban rebel Rafael Encizo. Later in the series, Ohara was killed. He was replaced by African-American Vietnam veteran Calvin James. And, when Katz retired, former Delta Force member T.J. Hawkins was added to the team.

“Phoenix Force, I did for a much longer time [than Able Team],” Gil recalled. “There were 58 Phoenix Force covers, from 1982 to 1992...So if my memory is correct, the covers during those years are all mine.”

Gil also noted that many of the Phoenix Force covers were wraparound covers. Thus, his cover paintings were created so the front and back cover art was all part of the same scene. Gil said, with a bit of understatement: “A panoramic cover of that type simply took more time to paint. They would have to, because there’s more involved.”

Some of the awesomely cool wraparound Phoenix Force cover paintings by Gil that are featured in our book are Phoenix Force #4, TIGERS OF JUSTICE (1983), #20, TOOTH AND CLAW (1985), and #29, THE NIGHTMARE MERCHANTS (1987).

In the 1990s, Gil Cohen moved on from doing paperback covers and began another phase of career doing military aviation art, a phase that is still continuing. Many of the paintings from this phase of his career are showcased in the beautiful book GIL COHEN: AVIATION ARTIST.

“I started doing aviation art for galleries and commissions around 1990, and I take a lot more time with those,” Gil told us. “It can take me months to do an aviation painting. Of course, you can see the result; I think they’re even better. And I think I’m a better artist now, if I might say so, than I was when I was doing MAM and paperback artwork. But they were the training ground for all of it.”

Of course, I like and appreciate Gil’s military aviation paintings. I’ve even bought prints of some. But I am a particularly huge fan of the artwork he did for the covers of the Mack Bolan/Executioner novels and the other action/adventure series it spawned. Wyatt Doyle and I are proud to have been able to work with Gil to feature them in the book ONE MAN ARMY: THE ACTION PAPERBACK ARTWORK OF GIL COHEN.

Wyatt and I are also huge fans of the cover and interior paintings Gil did for men’s adventure magazines, during the first phase of his art career. I’m hoping a book featuring those will be one of the future art books in our Men’s Adventure Library series.

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