ONE MAN ARMY
The Action Paperback Art of Gil Cohen
Edited by Robert Deis & Wyatt Doyle
# new texture book
We came home to civilian life in the summer of 1968, leaving Vietnam far behind. We were all of 21 at the time and the future seemed one giant mystery. Several months later, while browsing a paperback spinner rack, we discovered two titles published by a new outfit calling itself Pinnacle Books. One was called The Destroyer and written by the team of Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy; the other The Executioner written by Don Pendleton. Upon reading both, we came to the conclusion that they were in fact a new, modern version of the pulps. One told the tale of a super-spy with crazy martial arts skill. It was as over the top as any of the original pulp heroes from the 30s and 40s.
Now the Executioner was a bit more grounded in the real world. It told the story of an American soldier named Mack Bolan sent home from Vietnam to bury his family; presumably killed by his own father. The story, as Bolan would learn, dealth with the old man’s outrage upon learning his daughter, in order to pay off a debt to the local mob, was turned into a prostitute. Bolan senior couldn’t deal with the disgrace and so shot her, his wife and then turned the gun on himself. That was the tragedy the weary soldier was confronted with. So why was he fighting a war in a foreign land when America had its own savages to battle? In the end, Bolan goes AWOL and swears a vendetta against the Mafia and all such criminal organizations. Using the skills Uncle Sam taught him, Bolan launches a one man war and operating outside the law, he become the mob’s worst nightmare.
With each new book in the series, Bolan, nicknamed the Executioner, continued to rack up his body count laying waste to every single mob family in the country. And as he did so, his popularity among the readership grew in leaps and bounds. The appeal of this lone wolf hero unencumbered by the law was strong and Pinnacle realized it had a huge winner on its hands. In fact Bolan’s exploits were so popular they soon spawned spin-off series, ala Able Team, U.S. based agents getting together under Bolan’s direction, and Phoenix Force, another squad created and assembled to take on foreign threats to the USA. And like the Executioner, they too were immensely successful. Eventually Harlequin Books would buy out the Mack Bolan series and they are still published to this day.
One of the elements that contributed in great part to all this success were the beautiful, action orientated painted covers. Like the old classic pulps, they featured the hero battling for his life against tremendous odds, protecting a beautiful sexy gal, or going it alone deep in enemy territory. Although other talented MAM artists, ala George Gross, contributed artwork, in 1972 Pinnacle hired Gil Cohen to take the reins. He would be involved with both Mack Bolan and then the Phoenix Force for the next fifteen years turning in his last Bolan assignment in 1987.
Now MAM historians Bob Deis and Wyatt Dolye have produced a truly gorgeous book collecting so many of these astounding paintings. Each is a visually dramatic scene representing the action within the paperback’s pages. Cohen has an uncanny ability to freeze a kinetic moment but without losing the power it contains. That is the hallmark of a great illustrator. Another aspect of all Deis and Doyle volumes is their sharing the subject’s memoirs through recorded interviews. Reading Cohen’s own thoughts about Mack Bolan and his look was fascinating. In retrospect, we found his own depiction of the Execustioner, especially around the eyes, reminded us a great deal of one-time James Bond, actor George Lazenby. We imagine each reader had his own mnetal casting for the role.
Another element to pay close attention to is Cohen’s authentic aircraft throughout the book. Since leaving MAMs and paperbacks behind, he has become one of the leading aviation artists in the world today. All in all, this is as yet another true artistic treasure that will highlight any pulp reference library, including yours. A sincere thanks to Deis and Doyle. Please, keep’em coming, fellahs. We’re the richer for them.