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Friday, June 1, 2018

Andrew Nette: pulp fiction historian, novelist, blogger – and real cool cat...

Andrew Nette with his recent books
I am more than a little bit in awe of Australian author, editor, pulp paperback expert, and pop culture scholar Andrew Nette.

He not only wrote one of best novels I’ve read this year: GUNSHINE STATE, a gritty, noir-flavored heist and revenge crime thriller set in Australia and Thailand.

He also co-wrote and co-edited the recently-published book about vintage “youthsploitation” paperbacks: GIRL GANGS, BIKER BOYS, AND REAL COOL CATS: PULP FICTION AND YOUTH CULTURE, 1950 TO 1980, published by PM Press — one of the best-researched, most interesting, most lushly-illustrated books I’ve ever read.

I also love Nette’s wide-ranging, interesting and insightful PulpCurry.com blog, which covers various types of pulp-related books, magazines and topics.

As if that’s not impressive enough, Nette was a professional journalist in Cambodia and other Asian counties for nearly seven years in Asia.

He co-founded the Melbourne, Australia-based indie publishing house of Crime Factory Publications, and edited story anthologies for that imprint.

His book reviews and short fiction stories have in dozens of print and on-line publications around the world.

His upcoming book projects include a sequel to GUNSHINE STATE, and a second anthology along the lines of GIRL GANGS to be published by PM Press in late 2018: STICKING IT TO THE MAN: REVOLUTION AND COUNTERCULTURE IN PULP AND POPULAR FICTION, 1956 TO 1980.

He has also written a monograph about the classic 1975 science fiction movie ROLLERBALL, which will soon be published by Auteur.

Teenage JungleSo, that makes three new Andrew Nette projects I look forward to reading later this year.

And, I haven’t yet read his first novel, GHOST MONEY, but it’s next up on my Kindle.

That one is a highly-praised crime story set in Cambodia.

In his “spare time,” Nette is in the process of getting a PhD degree at Macquarie University, one of the top universities in Australia.

His thesis is on the history of pulp paperback publishing in Australia.

I first saw mentions of Andrew’s GIRL GANGS book, in Facebook posts by two other vintage pulp mavens I highly respect: novelist, editor and blogger Paul Bishop and vintage paperback fanzine publisher Justin Marriott.

Despite the dark side of Facebook, it is the premier place for fellow fans of action and adventure novels and magazines from around the world to link up. (Many of us hang out in the men’s adventure-related FB groups here and here.)

After I bought GIRL GANGS and started reading it, I was immediately struck by several things.

One is that Andrew and his co-author and co-editor Iain McIntyre have an incredibly broad knowledge of vintage crime, “sleaze” and exploitation paperbacks published not only in the US, but also in the UK and Australia.

They also expanded beyond their own knowledge by including reviews, analyses and interviews with authors provided by more than 20 other contributors.

The second thing I noted is that Andrew and Iain use the modern, more inclusive definition of “pulp” that goes beyond the early pulp magazines.

Although it annoys some fans of early pulp magazines, the term “pulp” has evolved.

Teenage Jungle 02Just as “noir” has come to be an adjective applied to more than the black-and-white films made in the ‘30s and ‘40s, “pulp” has evolved into a useful and appropriate adjective for that goes beyond the digest-size magazines printed on rough wood pulp paper in the ‘30s and ‘40s.

I also noticed that Andrew and Iain approach the vintage novels featured in GIRL GANGS the way I approach vintage men’s adventure magazines in this blog and in the books in the Men’s Adventure Library series I co-edit with Wyatt Doyle, the multi-talented founder of the New Texture indie book and CD publishing imprint.

Like Wyatt and me, Andrew and Iain have a fan’s appreciation of how cool the stories and artwork are in the pulpy “artifacts” they feature.

But they also delve beyond that surface appeal and discuss their historical and cultural context.

In addition, they provide information about the publishers and authors, some of whom — like Harlan Ellison and Evan Hunter — went on to significant fame.

I plan to write several about GIRL GANGS, BIKER BOYS, AND REAL COOL CATS in future posts to discuss the many interesting similarities and connections between the novels it features and stories in men’s adventure magazines published during the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

I’ll start with a few connections that caught my attention in the first section of GIRL GANGS, titled — “Pulp Fiction’s Juvenile Delinquents: TEENAGE JUNGLE” — which focuses on subgenre of ‘50s novels that feature “JDs” and teenage gangs.

Many of the authors of the novels featured throughout GIRL GANGS had stories and “book bonus” versions of their novels published in men’s adventure magazines in the 1950s.

And, many of the cover paintings on the hundreds of books shown in GIRL GANGS (in glorious full color) were done by artists who also did cover and interior artwork for MAMs.

For example, one the JD novel covers featured in GIRL GANGS is the 1957 Pyramid edition of the exposé TEEN-AGE VICE by Courtney Ryley Cooper. (Originally published in 1939 as DESIGNS IN SCARLET.)

Teen-Age Vice by Courtney Ryley Cooper (Pyramid, G252, 1957) The cover art on that 1957 edition was done by the great men’s adventure magazine and paperback cover artist Samson Pollen.

Sam’s original MAM artwork is featured in our book POLLEN’S WOMEN: THE ART OF SAMSON POLLEN.

I also realized that the female and male models Sam used for the TEEN-AGE VICE cover painting are among the models he used for the very first illustration he did that was published in a men’s adventure magazine and for one or more of his early paperback covers.

We included a photo of Sam’s first MAM illustration in a sidebar in POLLEN’S WOMEN, along with the fascinating story Sam told us about it.

The painting shows four male juvies leering threateningly at a buxom blonde girl in an alley.

Sam explained that to find models who really looked like juvenile delinquents, he went to a poolroom in Brooklyn where he knew some tough teenagers hung out and persuaded several of them pose for photos.

He created a painting from those photos and used it as a sample to show Mel Blum, Art Director for the Atlas/Diamond men’s adventure magazines published by Martin Goodman’s Magazine Management company (ACTION FOR MEN, FOR MEN ONLY, KEN FOR MEN, MALE, MEN, STAG, etc.).

Blum loved it and bought it on the spot. Thus, it was that painting that launched Sam Pollen’s long, productive relationship with Magazine Management, resulting in hundreds of great illustrations like those featured in POLLEN’S WOMEN.

Blum used the illustration on the cover of the book about teen gangs ALLEY KIDS, published in 1956 by Lion Books, the paperback subsidiary of Magazine Management.

ALLEY KIDS is a reprint of the HELL’S KITCHEN, originally published by Lion in 1952.

The author, Benjamin Appel, also wrote another notable book about juvenile delinquents and the social conditions that helped produce them titled TEEN-AGE MOBSTER, published in 1955 by Avon.

When a condensed version of Appel’s ALLEY KIDS was used in the June 1956 issue of KEN FOR MEN, Mel Blum used a badly-cropped version of Sam’s poolroom teens painting as the illustration for it.

As Sam explains in POLLEN’S WOMEN, a surprising thing happened after that issue hit newsstands.

“One of the poolroom guys had a lawyer in the family, and he sued Martin Goodman for using his image without a model release,” Sam recalled. “You had to have signed permission to use their picture commercially. But I didn’t know about that. Martin Goodman was really good to me on that, maybe because he liked my work. He said that he’d take a certain amount out of each job he gave me, and I’d pay it off that way. But he never took a penny. They made some arrangement, I guess, and I never had to pay anything. He had his own lawyers, you know. That’s a hell of a way to get started, right?”

Samson Pollen juvies illustration WMKEN FOR MEN, June 1956 - Samson Pollen illustration WM

Sam also did a classic cover painting for another book mentioned in the “Teenage Jungle” section of GIRL GANGS, BIKER BOYS, AND REAL COOL CATS, Bud Clifton’s D FOR DELINQUENT, published by Ace in 1958.

Pollen’s cover painting for that one was reused two years later on the cover of the UK edition of THE BIG RUMBLE by Edward De Roo.

In 1997, the painting was reused again on the cover of TEENAGE CONFIDENTIAL: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN TEEN PAPERBACK (an excellent book edited by Michael Barson and Steven Heller).

Another juvie cover painting by Samson Pollen appears on the cover of HATE ALLEY (“Days and Nights of a Juvenile Delinquent”), written by Martin L. Weiss and published by Ace in 1957.

Samson Pollen cover art, D FOR DELINQUENTHATE ALLEY (1957) cover by Samson Pollen bd

Sam recently sent me some of the reference photos he took for his magazine and paperback cover art.

I recognized the young lad in one of them as the kid with the hat in the HATE ALLEY cover painting.

Another guy in Sam’s photos looks like the guy in the car on that cover. And I think both are in Sam’s “Alley Kids” illustration that Mel Blum used. I’m showing those reference photos here for the first time anywhere.

In future posts, I’ll discuss some of the other connections between men’s adventure magazines and the “youthsploitation” novels featured in GIRL GANGS, BIKER BOYS, AND REAL COOL CATS.

Samson Pollen juvie reference photos bd2Andrew Nette's Pulp Curry blog

In the meantime, do yourself a favor and buy a copy of that book. It’s available on Amazon worldwide in paperback and Kindle format.

So are Andrew Nette’s novels GUNSHINE STATE and GHOST MONEY.

Also, check out Andrew’s PulpCurry.com site, where I was immensely pleased to see a recent post about POLLEN’S WOMEN.

Thanks, Andrew! You are a veritable gentleman and scholar — and a very cool cat.

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Comments? Corrections? Post them on the Weasels Ripped My Book Facebook Page, email them to me,
or join the
Men’s Adventure Magazines & Books Facebook Group and post them there.

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Monday, May 28, 2018

My annual Memorial Day post: a look at the first issue of BATTLE CRY magazine...

[EDITOR'S NOTE: A link to download a free PDF copy of the first issue of BATTLE CRY magazine is at the bottom of this post.] 

Memorial Day is a day to remember and honor the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

But it also makes me think of my late father, Robert Carl Deis, who served in the Army during World War II and survived.

Dad was a Scout and Rifleman in the 6th Infantry Division (specifically, G Company of the 1st Infantry Regiment). He saw hellish action in the South Pacific.

Like many veterans, when Dad came back to the States, he worked in blue collar jobs to support his family and struggled to understand and adjust to the enormous social changes that were taking place in the 1950s and 1960s.

American military veterans like my Dad and his Army buddies, who served and survived, were the primary audience for many of the men’s adventure magazines of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

And, there were millions of them.
In fact, there were nearly 16 million male veterans of World War II when that global conflict ended in 1945.

Some of them also fought in the Korean War, which began five years later. More than 5.7 million Americans served in that conflict by the time it ended in 1953.

Most of the 160 or so magazines in the men’s adventure genre were designed to appeal to the interests those veterans and, later, to the 8.7 million American men who served in the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1975.

Thus, almost all included war stories of various kinds: true history pieces and eyewitness accounts; serious dramatic war fiction; highly-embellished articles that mixed fact and fiction; and, wild over-the-top yarns featuring sadistic Nazis and Commies, scantily-clad babes, and battling Yanks. However, only some of men’s pulp adventure magazines had a specific focus on war.


Most of the magazines in the war mag subgenre were fairly short-lived (as were many other magazines in the men’s adventure genre in general). The longest-lasting was BATTLE CRY. It was published from late 1955 to mid-1971 by Stanley Publications, Inc., the flagship company of pioneering comic book and magazine publisher Stanley P. Morse.

When the puritanical 1954 Comics Code essentially banned violent or sexy images in comics, Morse discontinued his BATTLE CRY comic book and created the men’s adventure magazine BATTLE CRY.

The comic had lasted for 20 issues. That’s why the first issue of the men’s adventure magazine version, dated December 1955, was numbered Vol. 1, No. 21.

The first issue of BATTLE CRY magazine features a moving cover painting. Unfortunately, it’s uncredited. (My guess is that it may have been done by the great pulp illustration artist Clarence Doore, who did many of the early BATTLE CRY covers.) It shows two American GIs driving a jeep loaded with the flag-covered coffin of a fallen comrade. The words “LAST TRIP,” printed at the bottom of the cover, are the poignant title of the painting, not the title of a story inside.

On the contents page of this issue, there’s a fascinating introduction about the purpose of the magazine, presumably written by the magazine’s initial Editor, Harry Kantor.

This intro doesn’t mention anything about the transformation of the BATTLE CRY comic into a men’s adventure magazine.

Here’s how it explains the genesis and purpose of the new periodical:   

WE’RE mad. Good and mad. P.O’ed.
     This started because of something we overheard. We were reminiscing about the old days in England with the 8th AAF, when some joker butts in with, “The war’s over! When are you guys gonna forget it?” We didn’t answer him. We were too stunned to answer. But his remarks set us to thinking. And wondering.
     We wondered if that’s how most people felt. “Forget about 1940-45, it’s over and done with. World War II and Korea are just history.”
     Well, maybe so. But not to us who were in it. Especially those who shed some blood. We don’t forget that easily. Even if the others do. Korea was an example of that. Just a nice private little war. Only concerned those who were there and their families. Didn’t concern anyone else.
     Well, that’s what we’re sore about. You don’t forget that easily. Or you shouldn’t. And that’s why this magazine.
BATTLE CRY is to make sure you don’t forget.   
     What are our purposes? Our aims? Well, we’re not going off half-cocked and say that through these pages we hope to stop wars. We know that can’t happen. Even though we wish it could. Magazines don’t stop wars. People do.
     But we felt that it’s about time people found out what war is really like. The frustrations, the fears, the anguish, the futility, and all of the rest that makes up combat and the military.
     That’s why this magazine.
     Another reason. Sixteen million present and ex-service men and women. Somewhere on these pages you’ll find something that interests you. That concerns you. A shot of your old outfit. A battle you fought in. A buddy you lost contact with. We’re trying to make this the postwar
YANK. We’re trying to make this YOUR MAGAZINE.
     No, we’re not forgetting we were once in The Service. We’re damned proud of it.
     BATTLE CRY will help us to remember.

Inside the first issue of BATTLE CRY there are announcements of several regular features designed to let veterans communicate with each other — in the same way a modern Internet forum or Facebook group does for people who share certain interests.

For example, the “Whatever Happened To...” section was designated as a place where vets could post messages to old buddies they were trying to find or to announce dates and locations of reunions for their outfits. The “So You’re Out Now” feature was launched as an ongoing source of information about programs for veterans and to provide answers to questions vets sent in about problems they faced. 

The articles and stories in the December 1955 issue of BATTLE CRY and other early issues are not the type of wild-and-crazy “sweat magazine” style yarns that were the primary content of most Stanley Publications magazines in the 1960s and early 1970s (including issues of BATTLE CRY published in those decades).

Many stories were gritty, but not lurid, non-fiction and fiction war stories, such as:

“CALL ME TRAITOR!,” an insightful “as told to” story about a soldier who was a prisoner of war in Korea;

“THE BLOODY 100th,” a fact-based story about B-17 crews in the 100th Bombardment Group that reminded me of the history books MISSION TO BERLIN and MISSION TO TOKYO, by the late, great men’s adventure magazine writer and military aviation historian Robert F. Dorr;

“TANK TRAP,” another fact-based story, about WWII tank crews;

“WORLD’S TOUGHEST KILLERS IN KHAKI,” a salute to the Australian military;

“THE BLOODY BUTCHERS OF MILNE,” an account of the WWII Battle of Milne Bay in New Guinea

“YOU DON'T COUNT FOR A DAMN,” a ripping WWII fiction yarn;

“YA GOTTA KILL ‘EM TO TRAIN ‘EM,” an endorsement of tough basic training techniques;

“WHAT MEN THINK OF IN THE FACE OF DEATH,” another story about the bravery of American bomber crews, this time B-24 crews in the South Pacific; and,

“SUICIDE SUB,” a true story about the USS Tang, a famed WWII submarine that sank 33 Japanese ships before being sunk by a malfunctioning torpedo in 1945, killing most of the crew.

Not all of the stories in the first issue of BATTLE CRY are serious. For example, there’s an article about the often laughable “GI SEX INSTRUCTION FILMS” (a.k.a. sex hygiene films) that were supposed to educate American soldiers about how to avoid catching a venereal disease (or getting the local gals pregnant).

There’s a humorous story about the, uh, side benefits of serving behind the lines in an office that had female staff, titled “I WAS A FILING TIGER.”

And, as usual in vintage men’s pulp mags, there are advertisements that often provide unintended humor, like the oddly-placed ad about the power of prayer that’s sandwiched between ads for illustrated porn booklets on one of the back pages.

There are also some classic cheesecake photo spreads in this issue, featuring the famed stripper Evelyn “Treasure Chest” West, the alluring, somewhat notorious actress and model Francesca De Scoffa and a lesser-known pinup model named Lee Wilson.

In the 1960s, BATTLE CRY moved increasingly into “sweat magazine” territory and left behind many of the original goals outlined in the Editor’s introduction in the December 1955 issue.

Yet, as noted by vintage magazine expert Dr. David M. Earle, author of the excellent book ALL MAN!: HEMINGWAY, 1950s MEN'S MAGAZINES AND THE MASCULINE PERSONA, men’s adventure magazines published in both the ‘50s and ‘60s played an important role in the lives of America’s military veterans. 

In an interview I did with Dr. Earle a while back, he explained:

“The most concentrated exploration of men’s adventure magazines that I make in the book, and which I find pretty enthralling and novel still, is how they offered veterans of World War II a means to deal with and categorize both their wartime experience and the difficulties of returning to United States. They returned to a society that was, for a large part, unaware of exactly how horrible their experiences had been. The bloody realities of the war had generally been censored by the government and avoided by the press.

Yes. The end of the war was obviously a happy time, but also a very traumatic time: a difficult shift to a postwar economy, pressures of suburbanization, the simple difficulties of readjusting, and even the difficulty of expressing, to your family and yourself, the experience of war. Men’s adventure magazines like BATTLE CRY featured stories by and about vets, soldiering, battle. They offered columns for reuniting with former war buddies. They returned men to the camaraderie of soldiering, but in a safe place. The stories about war provided a text and narrative for vets to identify with. This is one of the important parts of healing for PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder], hence why ‘rap sessions’ were implemented for vets returning from the Vietnam War. Audie Murphy, the World War II hero who became a famous actor, wrote an amazing story about this for BATTLE CRY in 1956 [“The Day I Cried,” August 1956] that was instrumental in breaking the previous taboo about discussing war-related mental problems.

The aspects of men’s adventure magazines mentioned by Dr. Earle are front and center in the first issue of BATTLE CRY. It remains one of the best issues of the magazine from its early, pre-sweat mag years.

In fact, I consider it a classic within the entire men’s adventure genre. That’s why I scanned in the entire copy and added it to the MensPulpMags.com virtual newsstand.

To download a complete, high resolution PDF copy of BATTLE CRY, December 1955, click this link or the image below.

In honor of Memorial Day, I am making this issue available for free to interested readers.

This one’s for you, Dad.

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Comments? Corrections? Post them on the Men’s Adventure Magazines Facebook Group.

Click this link or the image below to download a PDF copy of:

BATTLE CRY, December 1955

This is a digital copy of the complete issue, in high resolution PDF format, featuring gritty war stories, classic pulp art, vintage cheesecake photos of Evelyn “Treasure Chest” West, and much more.

BATTLE CRY, December 1955. Cover & stories

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Eva Lynd and I make a guest appearance on IdolFeatures.com...

IdolFeatures.com website home w Eva LyndRecently, Chris Charles, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of IdolFeatures.com asked me if I’d like to do some guest posts on his website.

I took some time to explore the site and was highly impressed.

The subtitle of Idol Features is “Ladies worthy of a double take.”

That fits both the visual and written content of the site well.

Many of the women featured on it are certainly beautiful, partly because many are current or former actresses or models.

But they are also worth a double take because they tend to be intriguing people, as you find out of you read the interviews, profiles and articles on Idol Features.

Some of the ladies are indie TV, movie or online media producers.

Some are top horror movie “Scream Queens.”

Others are Cosplay stars, musicians, and artists.

I was also impressed by the writers for the site and the quality of their interviews and articles.

For example, Chris Charles is himself a veteran writer for various media outlets.

He has done interviews with scores of women from the entertainment industry that are posted on the site. One of his latest is an interview with the three lead actresses in the gonzo science fiction comedy SPACE BABES FROM OUTER SPACE, Alyss Winkler, Ellie Church and Allison Maier.

Chris has also written many cool articles for the site, such as his series featuring 20 actresses who were victims in movies in the FRIDAY THE 13th series.

Another recent post on idol Features that caught my eye was an interview with the UK makeup/SFX/cosplay artist “Peaches and Cream” conducted by guest contributor Arfon Jones.

Although I didn’t know about her until I read that interview, I did know something about Arfon.

He’s an artist/illustrator in Wales whose work has appeared in many books, comics, magazines, and elsewhere.

IdolFeatures.com (Re)Discovering Eva LyndAmong other things, Arfon and I share a love of the realm of cryptozoology and reverence for the famed monster maven Loren Coleman.

Loren is a leading authority on cryptozoology lore, the author of many of the best books about legendary cryptid creatures, and Founder of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

He was greatly helpful to us when we were creating our book collecting men’s adventure magazine stories and artwork about Bigfoot, Sasquatch and other legendary monsters, the CRYPTOZOOLOGY ANTHOLOGY.

My fellow Loren Coleman fan Arfon drew a terrific portrait of Loren that I’d seen many times, since it served as Loren’s profile pic on Twitter and Facebook for quite a while. You can see a scan of it on Arfon’s blog.

Another notable guest contributor on Idol Features is “cheesecake cartoonist,” classic glamour girl photo collector, and writer Rock Baker, who has worked for AC Comics, Main Enterprises, and Moonstone among others.

Rock’s latest article on Idol Features is a brief review of the 1976 B-movie THE KIDNAPPED COED, which does at least have an eye-grabbing poster that almost looks like it could have been something used for a men’s adventure magazine in the “sweat mag” subgenre.

Seeing that I’d be in good company as a contributor and that Idol Features is nicely-designed, tasteful and interesting — not some type of porn site — I told Charles I’d be happy to do some guest posts there.

I started with one about my own favorite men’s magazine model and actress Eva Lynd, who I’ve written about on this blog many times.

It’s an overview profile piece about Eva that mentions and shows some of the classic pinup photos she modeled for.

Naturally, it also notes and shows some of the men’s adventure magazine cover and interior artwork she modeled for, done by top MAM artists Norm Eastman and Al Rossi.

You can read my inaugural Idol Features post by clicking this link.

While you’re there, I encourage you to take some time and explore the site.

You’ll probably know some of the ladies featured and find many you didn’t know to be quite intriguing.

You can also follow the site and see additional posts on the Idol Features Facebook page

Thanks to Chris Charles for ushering me and Eva Lynd into the Idol Features family!

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Comments? Corrections? Post them on the Weasels Ripped My Book Facebook Page, email them to me,
or join the
Men’s Adventure Magazines & Books Facebook Group and post them there.

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Sunday, April 1, 2018

An interview with artist Gil Cohen about his Executioner/Mack Bolan cover paintings – PART 2...

Gil Cohen  & BLOOD TESTAMENT art
EDITOR’S NOTE:  My previous post here was Part 1 of my extensive new interview with artist Gil Cohen about his cover paintings for the hugely popular Executioner/Mack Bolan series of novels created by author Don Pendleton. (In case you missed Part 1, click this link.)

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that Gil Cohen is one of the top illustration artists who did artwork for both men’s action/adventure novels and men’s adventure magazines. In recent decades, he has become one of the premier military aviation artists in the world, creating paintings of airplanes and crews that are sold at fine art galleries and as high quality prints.

I first talked to Gil years ago, in an interview I did with him years ago about his men’s adventure magazine work. In that interview, he told me he sold almost all of his original MAM artwork in the 1970s.   

Gil has also sold many of the nearly 200 cover paintings he did in the 1980s and 1990s for the Executioner books and the Mack Bolan spinoffs, the “Able Team” and “Phoenix Force” series. However, I found out recently that he had stored away about 60 of his favorites at his home in Buck’s County, Pennsylvania.

Now, at age 86, Gil is ready to sell his remaining Mack Bolan treasures.

I learned that from a notice placed in the great, long-running fanzine Paperback Parade by Gil’s representative Rich Greene, who does the Paperback Parade layouts.

Most of the Executioner cover paintings shown in this post and Part 1 of my interview with Gil are for sale.

If you see a painting you’d like to buy, contact Rich Greene via email at rlgreene@comcast.net, or call him at 856-278-4140.

Gil told me the prices he’s asking range from $1,000 to $2,500. He’s also willing to offers lay-away payments over time as an option.

Below is Part 2 of my recent interview with Gil, along with photos of more of the paintings he is selling and scans of the book covers...

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Executioner #55, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.comExecutioner #56, art by Gil Cohen - MensPulpMags.com REV2

BOB DEIS:  After you mentioned that it was Charles Kadin, the Art Director for the Harlequin Gold Eagle books, who asked you to do the cover paintings for Executioner series in 1981, I Googled Kadin’s name. I found out he was also an artist who specialized in military aviation art.

GIL COHEN:  Indeed, he was. I first met him at that weird meeting I told you about, after he contacted me about doing the Executioner covers. I was surprised that he did. But the rest, as I’ve said, is history. During the years I was doing them, Charles and I sometimes got together in New York when I was doing reference photos shoots for my Mack Bolan cover art. Later, we both belonged to the Society of Illustrators in New York. They had what was called the Government Services Program, specifically an Air Force Art program and we both joined that.

We both joined the Air Force Art program. I think that was after I finished doing the Mack Bolan series. Charles did good artwork and I told him so. The last time I saw him was several years back. It was at a meeting of the American Society of Aviation Artists, which we had also both joined, at the Washington-Baltimore airport. Only a few months later he died. Anyway, if it wasn’t for Charles Kadin, I would have gone on to do two hundred Mack Bolan covers. Harlequin would have chosen someone else. But Charles wanted me.

Executioner #57, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.comExecutioner #58, art by Gil Cohen - MensPulpMags.com REV2

Were the Executioner covers a major part of your income as an artist during the years you were doing them?

GIL:  Not during the series’ Pinnacle period. Pinnacle asked me to take over covers for the series in 1972, so I did them for Pinnacle for nine years. The last one I did for Pinnacle was number 38, SATAN’S SABBATH. During the Pinnacle years, I was also doing a lot of work for a lot of different projects. For example, I was doing a lot of cover art for other Pinnacle paperbacks. A lot of work for Pinnacle. And I was still doing work for magazines. But after Charles Kadin hired 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.

Executioner #59, art by Gil Cohen - MensPulpMags.comExecutioner #63, art by Gil Cohen - MensPulpMags.com

That’s a hell of a lot of artwork. So, overwhelmingly, Harlequin was my main client from about 1981 until the early ‘90s. By the way, I heard that one of the Mack Bolan books I did a cover for, RETURN TO VIETNAM, was used by Sylvester Stallone as the basis for one of the RAMBO movies. In fact, as you may know, Stallone was an Executioner fan and wanted to be Mack Bolan in a movie, but for whatever reason he wasn’t able to.

Executioner #64, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.comExecutioner #66, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.com

Yes, that’s been a topic of discussion in the Mack Bolan Facebook group. Executioner creator Don Pendleton’s wife Linda Pendleton and some of the writers who wrote for the series hang out there. They confirmed that Stallone owned the movie rights the Executioner for a while and wanted to play Mack Bolan in a movie. It didn’t come together. But interestingly, Stallone used Executioner #43: RETURN TO VIETNAM, as part of the inspiration for the second Rambo movie, FIRST BLOOD PART II. The RETURN TO VIETNAM novel was written by action/adventure novelist Stephen Mertz and published in 1982. In that, Mack Bolan, who is a Vietnam veteran, goes back to ‘Nam on a mission to rescue an American P.O.W. who is still secretly being held there by the Vietnamese. Stallone’s second Rambo film came out in 1985. In it, Rambo goes to Vietnam to rescue American P.O.W.s who are still being secretly held there by the Vietnamese. By the way, looks to me like the media you used for Executioner cover paintings changed in the mid-80s. Did you start using oil paint instead of acrylics?

GIL:  I’ll tell you when the oil painting began for the Executioner covers. It’s the one where Bolan has a kid with him and there’s fire in the background, a lot of warm colors.

Executioner #68, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.comExecutioner #69, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.com

That’s number 67, BEIRUT PAYBACK, published in 1984.

GIL:  Yes. That’s the first one where I started using oil paints. It’s oil on canvas-covered illustration board. I had hardly ever used oil paints since I was an art student. Before that one I was using acrylics, and letting the paint be semi-transparent. Starting with BEIRUT PLAYBACK I began using oils and I felt as though I had really found my favorite new vehicle of expression. Before that I thought oil might look too loose. But I found I could tighten it up to the point I liked and then I loved painting in oils. After that, the majority of my paintings – Bolans, aviation art, or whatever it might be – the majority have been oil paintings.

Executioner #71, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.com REVExecutioner #75, art by Gil Cohen - MensPulpMags.com

Isn’t oil slower to work with?

GIL:  Well, yes, traditionally it was. And that was one of the reasons I didn’t use oil previously, because of the drying time. But around the time I did BEIRUT PAYBACK I found out there were ways to speed up the drying. There’s a product called Liquin that was invented in the ‘70s. You add it to oil paint and it significantly hastens the drying. I also learned you could put a heat lamp on illustration paintings done with oil and Liquin, and that also helps speed up the drying. I would often have a heat lamp on a painting for a minimum of a few hours and sometimes overnight. And, in the morning it would usually be dry.

Executioner #76, art by Gil Cohen - MensPulpMags.comExecutioner #80, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.com REV

Did you normally start with a pencil or charcoal sketch for your paintings?

GIL:  Yes, I do sketches and reference photography and get my composition the way I want it. After I have a sketch that I like, I use tracing paper to do what I call a working drawing. You can see photos of how I do my process in my book GIL COHEN: AVIATION ARTIST. When I get the working drawing the way I want it, then I transfer that working drawing onto the canvas. I lay a sheet of graphite between the thin tracing paper and the canvas and go over the lines using a hard pencil. That’s really the most boring part of my work, transferring the drawing, because it’s fairly mindless. What it leaves is just and outline of what I need in the scene. Then I start with an underpainting, which is often acrylic.

Executioner #81, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.comExecutioner #83, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.com

Do many other magazine and book cover artists mix acrylics and oils?

GIL:  Sure, it’s not unusual. But you don’t really mix them. Oil and water don’t mix. I’m sure you’ve heard that. You have to use the acrylic first. You use the oil last, over the acrylic underpainting. In fact, you can’t use acrylic, which is water based, over oil.

By the way, I forgot to ask when we were talking about the models you used for your Executioner covers. In addition to using your brother-in-law Robby Smith and some friends as models for Bolan, did you ever use yourself?

Executioner #84, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.comExecutioner #85, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.com

GIL:  Yes, I did. I posed myself as Mack Bolan for the reference photos I used for some of the early Pinnacle covers and shot the photos with a Polaroid camera. For example, the first one I did for Pinnacle in 1971, CALIFORNIA HIT, I posed myself for that. Then they asked me to take over doing the covers for the series. I did twelve and thirteen and then Pinnacle asked me to do new cover paintings for new editions of the first ten in the series.

You used yourself for all those early ones?

GIL:  Yes, from thirteen, WASHINGTON I.O.U. back, I largely used myself as the model for Mack Bolan and other male characters in the cover scenes. I could draw and turn myself into any kind of a character. And I did that a whole lot. As, I mentioned before, I didn’t use professional models for most of the illustration work I did, like a lot of other illustrators did. So, I posed for Executioner number eleven and twelve and then most of the ones I redid, including Number 1, WAR AGAINST THE MAFIA.

Executioner #87, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.comExecutioner #90, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.com REV

How did you take the reference photos of yourself?

GIL:  I first tried using the timer on my Polaroid camera. But that didn’t work out very well. It was limited to ten seconds and I found I couldn’t get into position in ten seconds. Ten seconds go by very quickly. Then I decided a better way would be to attach a long cable to the shutter release of the camera, with a rubber bulb I would hold in my hand. When I was really ready I would squeeze the bulb and the camera would shoot the picture.

You told me that interesting story about making a model of the grenade launcher you made for the cover of Executioner number 60, SOLD FOR SLAUGHTER. What did you use as references for other guns?

GIL:  I would usually get a replica of the gun and have the model I was using for the photo hold it. I rarely had the actual guns. So, I’d use a replica. I didn’t just depend on photos of guns because the handhold is a very important thing.

Executioner #92, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.comExecutioner #93, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.com

Meaning how the gun was held? So it would look realistic?

GIL:  Yes. How the model was holding a gun was very important to me.

In addition to switching to oils, the overall style of your artwork for the Executioner covers seems to have evolved over the years.

GIL:  Yes. My artwork got better during the Gold Eagle years. The art just got better. I don’t know if you see that.

I do. But I have to say I like them all and I know from reading fan forums about the Executioner books, the FB group, that many of the hard core Mack Bolan fans love your early ones best of all.

Executioner #95, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.comExecutioner #96, art by Gil Cohen - MensPulpMags.com

GIL:  I know that and, believe me, I do respect I do respect my old work, especially considering the deadlines I was up against not only for the Mack Bolan covers but for the men’s adventure artwork I did that came before that. The magazines were especially tight deadlines. I’d be up all night to meet them. I could never do that today, nor would I want to today. I would be physically incapable of it today.

How did your selection of models for the Executioner covers change as your artwork changed?

GIL:  For most of the early Executioner covers my models were friends or other attractive women I had known, and I would say “Would you mind posing for me?” Now, later, during the era when Harlequin’s Gold Eagle line started publishing the Mack Bolan novels, I had to be a bit more fussy about the female models. The people at Harlequin said, “Look, you get the right models in New York and have them shot at the studio our photographer uses there.” The painting I did for SOLD FOR SLAUGHTER in 1983 — one of my favorites by the way — is an example. That girl was a professional model who posed for that.

Executioner #97, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.comExecutioner #98, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.com

But you were still using your friends and brother-in-law for as your male models?

GIL:  Yes, for example, in the SOLD FOR SLAUGHTER cover, done around 1983, my brother-in-law Robby Smith posed as Mack, as he did for many other covers. I bought him to New York to a photo studio of a photographer who specialized in doing reference photography for illustrators. Many illustrators used that photographer and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the artists who came after me in doing Mack Bolan cover paintings used him. It was his specialty. When I needed models with a particular look, I would describe them to him or look at the photos of models in his photo book.

One young lady he had in his book looked perfect to pose as the Middle Eastern girl in the SOLD FOR SLAUGHTER cover. It’s funny that I remember this, but her last name was Cohen. Anyway, for a lot of the Gold Eagle years I used professional models for the women in the scenes. In the case of men, I either used my friends here in my own studio and did my own photography, or I would take them to New York with me.

Executioner #101, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.comExecutioner #103, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.com

In 1984, not long before the Mack Bolan Convention we discussed, Gold Eagle’s newsletter about the Executioner series — called AUTOMAG in honor of one of Mack Bolan’s favorite handguns – published the reference photo you used for SAVANNAH SWINGSAW. It’s an outdoor photo of a male model as Mack and a women together in a jeep. How often did you do outdoor photo sessions like that for your Executioner artwork?

GIL:  I did outdoor shoots when it made sense because of what was in the scene. Or sometimes when I wanted a more natural look I would do it. For SAVANNAH SWINGSAW I couldn't bring a jeep into the studio. So, I rented one and did the shoot outdoors. The model for Mack in that photo is my brother-in-law Robby Smith.

As I told you, I used him as Mack Bolan a lot, and in the SAVANNAH SWINGSAW cover painting you can see Mack has a certain resemblance to him. And, Robby had a build that was similar to Bolan. But as I also said, my Mack Bolan was also part Clint Eastwood, so I changed his face. And, Robby had blonde hair and blue eyes Now, if you look at the face of the Phoenix Force character Gary Manning in the cover paintings I did for that Executioner spin-off series, there was no change in the face. Manning’s face is Robby. I did some other outdoor shoots when I had a reason for it. There’s one where Bolan and a red-headed girl are both shooting and they’re in the woods. The photos for that one was shot outdoors.

Executioner #74, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.comExecutioner #74, reference photo in AutoMag May-June 1985

That’s number 57, FLESH WOUNDS.

GIL:  Yes, that’s it. I also shot the reference photos for nearly all of my later aviation paintings outdoors. I preferred shooting outside for those. For many of the scenes on the Bolan covers and for the romance covers I did for Harlequin books, there’s a certain theatricality. I wasn’t after a completely naturalistic effect and in many scenes I didn’t need things that I couldn’t bring inside. So, I preferred shooting indoors for those. But some of the Bolan reference photos were shot outside. And, to have the planes or right light, all of my aviation reference photos were shot outdoors, except for the painting “After the Mission.” 

I love that one, with World War II bomber crew meeting in a Quonset style building, very dramatically lit. That reminds me – going back to that men’s adventure magazine painting of a World War II battle scene that you kept. After you emailed a photo of it to me, I found the story. It’s in MALE, December 1960. I’ll email a copy of the scan to you.

After the Mission, art by Gil Cohen REV2- GIL COHEN, AVIATION ARTIST BOOK rev

GIL:  If I remember correctly, I was up against a tight deadline when I did that one, though after doing the men’s adventure art for some years at that point, I was no longer as scared of tight deadlines as I first was. I was more self-confident. I was self-confident enough to know I had finished enough to feel as though I could take the early part of the night off and go to a movie at a local drive-in. It was a new movie by Alfred Hitchcock that had gotten a lot of publicity, called PSYCHO. I remember thinking I had never seen anything like the shower scene. Of course, today, anything goes and everything goes. Anyway, I got back from the movie and it was past midnight, about 12:30, and I went right to the studio, right to my easel and I finished the painting overnight. I’d had the major part done, but the whole background had to be finished. And, I did the whole thing and delivered it the next morning.

It’s a great duotone illustration. When I looked closely at the two-page magazine spread it was used for I noticed something odd that I wanted to ask you about. In the magazine version, at the bottom left hand corner, there’s a guy climbing up the cliff. But he’s not there in the painting. It’s all cliff. Do you recall if you painted him out for some reason?

Executioner #104, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.comExecutioner #106, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.com

GIL:  That’s interesting! No, I haven’t a clue about that! I’d never noticed the difference. It’s possible that when I delivered the painting the editors asked me to add that partial figure and later when the painting was returned to me I painted it out. But after 58 years I cannot remember!

Another thing I noticed about that one and other artwork you were doing for men’s adventure magazines is that it’s clearly your own style. A lot of the cover and interior illustrations other artists did for men’s adventure magazines the ‘50s and ‘60s had a very smooth, very realistic look. They were often sort of men’s adventure versions of Norman Rockwell realism. Your style was looser and more “arty,” more...

GIL:  Painterly.

Yes. That’s the word. More painterly, less hyperrealistic, with more visible brushwork. It’s a very recognizable style.

GIL:  I appreciate that you recognize my style in those illustrations. In fact, regardless of the genre I did, and although my media and approach did change over time, I do have a recognizable style in my work. Not only in my painting technique, but also in composition. There’s a certain way I compose pictures. And, I think I still do it that way today, even in the aviation art I paint now. I always wanted to keep my work painterly, though sometimes, toward the end of my Mack Bolan period, some of those cover paintings got smoother. I use the word tighter. They got tighter. And that was fine for what was needed and popular at the time, so that was OK.

Executioner #107, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.com WMExecutioner #108, art by Gil Cohen, MensPulpMags.com WM

When I started doing aviation art for galleries and commissions years later, I wanted to get back to a more painterly style. So, I did, though I knew I couldn’t let it be too loose and painterly for an audience that likes paintings of planes and crews. That audience expects a certain amount of realism. But if you look at my original aviation artwork up close, you going to see a lot of brush strokes. If you back up a little bit, they begin to disappear. But when you get fairly close, you see the brush strokes and I don’t want to hide them. I don’t try to hide them. Because part of the energy that goes into my artwork is in those brush strokes. There’s an energy I want to see and be seen in those brush strokes. If I smooth them over too much, to me it dissipates the energy. I’m not talking about any other artist. I’m just talking about myself.

I think you were kind of on the cutting edge of a change that happened in MAM art in the early ‘60s. The ‘50s art was mostly Norman Rockwell style realism. In the 60s, more modern, more graphic arts like styles became common.

MALE, Dec 1960 - art by Gil Cohen copy REVMALE, Dec 1960 - art by Gil Cohen copy in mag bd

GIL:  Yeah, I think so, though I wasn’t all that conscious of it at the time. It just evolved. But whatever I did from the time I became a professional artist, which really goes back to 1953, right up to today, I am a lucky person, Bob, in that, no one ever got terribly rich as an illustration artist, but I enjoyed most- of what I did.

That’s sounds like a definition of success, to me.

GIL:  It may be. And, you know, in more recent years, in the age of the internet, I have found out that some of my work has affected people and their lives in some way. And, I think, “Wow, that’s OK. It really is.” I don’t know how long I’m going to be living. I sure feel healthy now. More so than most 86-year-olds I think. And, I’ve enjoyed what I did. So, I’m lucky.

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