It takes a lot of guts, in 2018, to sell a book whose cover depicts a half-naked woman being mutilated by a Nazi soldier while another tortures a second scantily clad lady beside a swastika flag.
Nevertheless, this is exactly what Feral House attempts to do with their volume It’s a Man’s World. Now, the most interesting part of this isn’t the cover art and imagery… it’s the fact that the book is actually a rather scholarly, well-researched look into a piece of American culture that has been largely forgotten, even though it bridged two major eras.
The movement in question are the men’s story magazines of the sixties and seventies. Chock-full of adventure stories of the type that used to fill the pulps, these magazines also had lifestyle pieces and question and answer sessions written by the editors themselves… or should I say invented by the editors themselves?
The book tells the story of the wildly varying talents of the writers and especially the artists who made their living in this world for a couple of decades. There’s a strong focus on cover art, which is understandable. The garish, extreme covers had to catch the eye on the newsstand against others equally bright. How to do that? A lot of female flesh or a lot of risky action – bonus points for a combination of both.
More than half the book is comprised of a gallery of cover art. It’s a feast for the eyes, but I was much more interested in the history of the various magazines and publishing houses involved in the movement, and the writers who worked there. Mario Puzo, anyone?
The men’s adventure magazines were a transition from the beloved traditional, beloved pulps of the 30s and 40s to the era of the porn magazines which completely overwhelmed them in the late seventies and early eighties. Then as now, men were attracted to adventure stories, but much more attracted to naked women… or to explicit sex involving said naked women. And once the latter became legal, the former faded away.
But it was still an interesting time. A look through this book defines a working-class generation of men: what interested them, what attracted them, and what scared them (one comso-style quiz from one of the magazines: Rate your homosexual tendencies).
This one if fascinating on any number of levels, whether you are interested in what the literary landscape for short fiction looked like in the seventies, in the artwork that caught the public’s eye, or in a little piece of America that has been swept under the rug, this one is extremely interesting.
Gustavo Bondoni is the author of Siege. You can check it out here.