Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Evolving Cover Art of Mack Bolan

I started reading Don Pendleton’s adventure series The Executioner in middle school and it was (somewhat embarrassingly) the staple of my reading for two or three years.  I even belonged to the “book club” and received the newest edition of The Executioner, and its two offshoots Able Team, and Phoenix Force every month.  A new one every month!  Those were good days.  Go to school for six hours, come home and read a little Mack Bolan.

I read online somewhere the cover art for the series, which is somewhere around 425 titles as I type this, is being updated.  The most recent cover style has featured an embarrassing—embarrassing because I would be shamed if I took it to the counter for purchase—“live action” artwork featuring a model posing with guns, grenades, knives, bazookas, and god knows what else.

The change made me reminisce about the cover styles I read as a teenager, and as I looked back at some of the older covers many gave me something like the thrill I used to feel when that book club package arrived each month.  So much action.  So little responsibility.  I made a brief survey of the Internet and identified 12 variations of style, and each of them, particularly those published pre-1990 really spoke to me. 

Variation 1.  This is a little disingenuous because the first two novels—War Against the Mafia and Death Squad—were published with their own unique covers, but I’m going to ignore them and focus on the first “standard” cover style.  The first 38 novels were published by Pinnacle Books, and, mostly, actually written by Don Pendleton.  The cover art is terrifically lurid with weaponry and violence. These titles were published between 1969 and March 1980.

Variation 2.  Mack Bolan’s publisher changed—from the old Pinnacle to Gold Eagle—his war changed, and so did the design of his books.  These titles were published between April 1981 and May 1983—entry numbers 39 – 53.

Variation 3.  A small change to the original Gold Eagle covers.  The overall design did not change, but “Don Pendleton’s” was added above the large block letter “Mack Bolan”.  These titles were published between June and December 1983—entry numbers 54 – 60.

Variation 4.  Not a big change, but a change nonetheless.  “Mack Bolan” was moved to one line, and “Don Pendleton’s Executioner” was added.  The artwork remained consistent; however the quality of the cover art improved over the run.  These titles were published between January 1984 and July 1984—entry numbers 61 – 67.

Variation 5.  Another minor change here.  The “Executioner” tag was removed from above “Mack Bolan” and it was replaced with “The Executioner” and the book number in a circle in the top right corner.  This is the first style I remember reading as a kid, and I still get a little excited when I run across one.  These titles were published between August 1984 and June 1986—entry numbers 68 – 90.

Variation 6.  The same format as all of the Gold Eagle titles to date; however the yellow line at the top is gone.  These titles were published between July 1986 and January 1988—entry numbers 91 – 109.

Variation 7.  This represents the biggest change since the Pinnacle novels.  The “Mack Bolan” shrinks (and is consistently yellow or white), the title font changes significantly, and the cover art becomes less of a cohesive scene and more of a montage with something approaching a posing Mack Bolan.  A blurb from the San Francisco Examiner is also added—“The biggest of all adventure series.”  These titles were published between February 1988 and August 1989—entry numbers 110 – 128.

Variation 8.  This is the big change.  It is one I think of as the all-American Bolan.  The background is consistently white.  “The Executioner” is in red white and blue; including three stars in the “E”, and “Featuring Mack Bolan” is added just below.  The blurb also changed to a rolling format between three of four different.  This is the cover style I received once a month with my book club subscription.  These titles were published between September 1989 and December 1994—entry numbers 129 – 192.

Variation 9Another big change.  This one happened well after I stopped reading the series, but I remember seeing these in the bookstore and thinking, “They don’t even look like Bolan books.”  “The Executioner” is flipped vertical on the left side.  These titles were published between January 1995 and January 1999—entry numbers 193 – 241.

Variation 10.  Not much of a change, but a change nonetheless.  “The Executioner” in the title is emptied and the artwork behind can be seen.  Starting with No. 258 “Featuring Mack Bolan” is removed from the cover.  These titles were published between February 1999 and April 2000—entry numbers 242 – 299.

Variation 11.  The live action—think posing model(s)—era starts with No. 300, and it runs an impressive 128 books.  This is my least favorite incarnation of Mack Bolan.  It keeps with the montage effect, but rather than artwork it is photography.  These titles were published between May 2000 and July 2014—entry numbers 300 – 428.

Variation 12.  The newest variation is something of a mixture of the most recent and the older titles.  It appears to be art rather than photography.  The montage effect is gone, and the title is nice and clean.  Conspicuously missing is the Series Book No. on the cover.  These titles will begin arriving in August 2014.



Linda Pendleton said...

My favorite Mack Bolan, Executioner covers will always be the Gil Cohen covers.

Anonymous said...

Do you happen to know the name of the model who played him for the 300s, I looked him up once, he was with a Canadian modeling agency but I forgot his name. Just curious. I liked him better than the new guy. But of course the illustrated 80s covers when Phoenix and Able had their own series were the best.