Robert Deis is a collector, connoisseur, and historian of the men’s pulp adventure magazines sold on newsstands from the 1950s through the 1970s. Bob’s website MensPulpMags.com is the ‘go to’ repository for all men’s adventure magazine related material and a great starting point for those beginning to explore the genre.
Last year, Bob and Wyatt Doyle, head of the indie publishing company New Texture Books, published Weasels Ripped My Flesh!, the first modern collection of vintage men’s adventure magazine stories. It featured stories by and interviews with some of the best known writers who once worked for those magazines, including Lawrence Block, Harlan Ellison, Bruce Jay Friedman, Robert Silverberg, Robert F. Dorr and Mario Puzo.
Just recently, Bob and Wyatt published a second volume of men’s adventure yarns via New Texture. This one, titled He-Men, Bag Men and Nymphos, features stories by Walter Kaylin, who other writers of the era considered one of the best men’s adventure writers of them all.
Recently, Bob and Wyatt graciously took time from their busy schedules to submit to an interrogation on Bish’s Beat …
TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELVES AND HOW YOU CAME TO THE WORLD OF MEN’S ADVENTURE MAGAZINES.
BOB: First, let me just say it’s an honor to be interviewed by you, Paul. Between Bish’s Beat, your crime novels, and the Fight Card series, I am awed by your writing, editing and publishing efforts.
In the day job I’ve had for over twenty-five years, I’m a researcher and writer for a consulting firm in California. But I live on a small island near Key West. Thanks to modern technology, I telecommute to work.
About ten years ago, I ran across two lushly-illustrated books about men’s adventure magazines: It’s a Man’s World by Adam Parfrey and Men’s Adventure Magazines by Max Allan Collins, which features the awesome collection of magazines and original men’s adventure magazine artwork owned by collector Rich Oberg. I was awed by the wild cover paintings and interior illustrations shown in the books. So, I decided to buy some old men’s adventure mags on eBay. I discovered they were even wilder, crazier and cooler than I had imagined from reading the books about them.
As I got into collecting the magazines, I looked on the Internet to see what I could find about them and the artists and writers who worked for them. I saw a lot of posts with scans of the magazine covers and artwork done by some of the best-known artists who worked for the genre, such as Mort Kunstler, Norman Saunders, Norm Eastman, James Bama, Charles Copeland and Earl Norem. And, I saw many sites about the pre-World War II pulp fiction magazines. But there weren’t any specifically focused on the post-WWII men’s adventure magazines. So, in 2009, I decided to create one myself, the MensPulpMags.com blog.
WYATT: My first real introduction to men’s adventure magazines came via Bruce Jay Friedman’s classic essay, Even the Rhinos Were Nymphos. It was originally published in Rolling Stone and chronicles his years as an editor of men’s adventure magazines for Martin Goodman’s Magazine Management Company.
Over the years I’d seen covers and parodies and had a vague sense of the mags, but that essay really brought the world of men’s adventure mags into focus for me. And Bruce Jay was kind enough to allow us to include it as the final chapter of Weasels Ripped My Flesh!
Coincidentally, I published a phenomenal book called Black Cracker, written by Josh Alan Friedman — Bruce Jay’s son. Black Cracker led to the creation of BlackCrackerOnline.com, dedicated to Josh’s work. In posting selections from Josh’s archives, we ran a series of interviews he’d conducted with writers and editors of the Mag Management men’s adventure magazines for Swank’s 30th anniversary issue. Those interviews — with his father, Mario Puzo, John Bowers, Walter Wager and others – proved to be tremendous, irreplaceable contributions to what precious little scholarship exists about an entire lost world of pulp, publishing and illustration.
Pulp fiction is something I’m passionate about, but there was a real gap in my education when it came to men’s adventure magazine fiction — and I know I’m not alone in that.
WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH! WAS YOUR FIRST COLLECTION OF STORIES FROM VINTAGE MEN’S ADVENTURE MAGAZINES. HOW DID YOU DECIDE WHAT TO INCLUDE, HOW DIFFICULT WAS IT TO OBTAIN THE RIGHTS TO THE STORIES, AND WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE TITLE?
BOB: Well, Frank Zappa made the phrase Weasels Ripped My Flesh famous when he used it as the title of an album in 1970. When I started researching men’s adventure magazines, I found out Zappa got it from the title of a men’s adventure magazine he owned – the September 1956 issue of Man’s Life. And, the cover painting on that issue, by one of the best artists who worked for the genre, Wil Hulsey, is even wilder than the cover painting on Zappa’s album. It shows a bare-chested, bleeding, manly man fighting a horde of attacking weasels. It’s one of my favorite cover paintings and the story it goes with is a classic example of the often bizarre killer creature stories common in men’s adventure magazines.
Then when I met Wyatt, I found out he was friends with Frank Zappa’s nephew Stanley. In fact, they had just done a book together, called Stop Requested. So, it just seemed like fate pointed us to using Weasels Ripped My Flesh! as our book title.
Getting the rights to the stories wasn’t too complicated, but it took a while. I had been contacted by several writers who were tickled to see my mentions of some of their old men’s adventure stories on my blog, including Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, Lawrence Block and Robert F. Dorr. One by one, I went back and asked them if they’d be willing to sell me reprint rights to their stories, and they all said, ‘yes.’ Then, I started seeking out other writers, with the help of Josh and Wyatt. I picked a bunch of possible stories to include in our first volume and together we decided which ones to include.
WYATT: We initially saw Weasels as an all star collection, in the sense the initial wave of authors we included all went on to greater success after the mags. But as the project evolved and grew, so did our definition of all star. Take a story like Monkey Madness by Carl Evans. Reprinted multiple times across the decades under different titles and bylines, it’s something of a men’s adventure perennial – and it’s a tight, nasty bit of stuff besides. Not to mention Weasels Ripped My Flesh — the story — by Mike Kamens. Read by few since 1956, yet easily the most famous men’s adventure yarn of all.
Stories from lesser-known talents were chosen because we found them to be top-tier representations of certain types of stories the mags were known for printing. And then there’s Walter Kaylin, who didn’t gain much traction in the marketplace with his novels, but in men’s adventure magazines, he is without peer — a men’s adventure all star if ever there was one.
YOUR NEW COLLECTION, HE-MEN, BAG MEN AND NYMPHOS, FOCUSES ON ONE WRITER, WALTER KAYLIN. WHAT WAS IT ABOUT KAYLIN’S WRITING THAT INSPIRED YOU TO FEATURE HIM?
WYATT: In the dark ages before Bob’s MensPulpMags.com site, reliable information and hard data on the men’s adventure magazine era was thin on the ground. Yet one name kept coming up again and again: Walter Kaylin. All the talent that poured through those Magazine Management offices — to say nothing of the many writers working for other publishers — and the one guy far more famous writers like Mario Puzo and Bruce Jay Friedman brought up in interviews about their men’s adventure years was Walter Kaylin. Of course I wanted to read him! And even decades later, the stories do not disappoint. They’re savage, inventive and outrageous. They roll over the reader like steamrollers: tough, powerful and relentless.
BOB: I first learned about Walter Kaylin from Josh’s interviews with the Magazine management guys, too. After I sought out and read some of Walter’s stories, which appeared under his name and the pseudonyms Roland Empey and David Mars, I realized why pros like Puzo said he was so good. Walter wrote almost every type of story featured in men’s adventure magazines, from Westerns, war stories and exotic adventure yarns to spy stories, noir crime thrillers and exposés. And, none of them are run-of-the-mill. They have an above-average level of imagination and intelligence and unusually good characters and dialogue.
Many of Walter’s stories also have gritty, vivid scenes of violence that remind me of a Sam Peckinpah or Quentin Tarantino movie. Back in the day, along with writers like Mario Puzo and Robert F. Dorr, he was one of the most popular writers for the top men’s adventure magazines, like Men, Male, For Men Only and Stag. Unlike Puzo, who became a famous novelist after publishing The Godfather, or Bob Dorr, who went on to become one of our country’s top military aviation historians, Walter’s star faded away along with the men’s pulp mag genre. But before that happened, he wrote hundreds of great stories, read by hundreds of thousands of men. Probably millions. Wyatt and I felt his stories deserve to be rediscovered by a new generation of readers. By the way, Walter is still alive. He’s now 92 and living in a rest home in Connecticut. I talk to him by phone every once in a while and he’s thrilled by the anthology.
PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR ASSOCIATION WITH MEN’S ADVENTURE COLLECTOR EXTRAORDINAIRE RICH OBERG AND MEN’S ADVENTURE WRITER EXTRAORDINAIRE ROBERT DORR?
BOB: Rich and Robert are just two of the people I’ve had the pleasure of establishing relationships with as a result of my blog. Rich contacted me several years ago, when he ran across a post I did that credited a cover painting to the wrong artist. That started a conversation that has continued and turned into a long-distance friendship and collaboration. He regularly contributes photos of the original men’s adventure artwork he owns for me to post on the blog.
Bob Dorr contacted me after he saw a post I did about one of his stories. He agreed to let me interview him about his early years writing for men’s adventure magazines and how it lead to a later career writing critically-acclaimed history books like Hell Hawks!, Mission to Berlin and Mission to Tokyo. After I did the interview, I asked if he’d let me reprint some of his great men’s adventure in the Weasels anthology and he agreed. More recently, we started discussions about publishing an anthology of his men’s adventure stories along the lines of the Walter Kaylin anthology.
WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS THE ENDURING FASCINATION WITH MEN’S ADVENTURE MAGAZINES AND WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THEIR LEGACY?
BOB: Certainly the artwork is the aspect that gets the most attention, just because it’s so damn cool. The cover and interior illustrations showing killer creature attacks, gritty battle scenes, exotic action and adventure scenes, evil Nazis torturing scantily clad damsels in distress and so forth are awesome to those of us who can appreciate such things without worrying about political correctness.
Appreciation of the stories in men’s adventure magazines has lagged behind that of the earlier pulp mags. We’re hoping to change that by publishing anthologies of men’s adventure magazine stories, which I think are often as good or better than the stories you find in the many anthologies of pre-WWII pulp fiction magazine stories. And, unlike the pre-war pulps, the men’s adventure magazines not only include some great fiction stories, they also include fascinating non-fiction stories and advertisements that provide insights into mid-Twentieth Century culture you don’t get from history books.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEBODY BEGINNING TO COLLECT MEN’S ADVENTURE MAGAZINES?
BOB: The best place to start is to look for them eBay. On any given day, you’ll find hundreds of copies of classic men’s adventure mags available in the Men’s Interest subsection of the Magazine Back Issues area, which is itself a subset of the Books category. The prices vary widely depending on the condition and scarcity of a particular issue, but most men’s adventure magazines still sell at reasonable prices, ranging from a buck or two to $20 or $30 per issue.
Of course, if you want something like a hard-to-find copy of the famed Weasels Ripped My Flesh issue of Man’s Life or a mint condition issue of Man’s Story with a Norm Eastman Nazi painting featuring models Steve Holland and Eva Lynd, it may cost a lot more, since you may be bidding some obsessed geeks like me who are hooked on men’s adventure magazines. But to start, just buy some mags you think look cool at prices you can afford and figure out which titles you like best.
BOB: Yes. One of them is the Weasels Ripped My Flesh! issue of Man’s Life, September 1959. Copies are very hard to find and now sell for $100 to $200 if you do find one. I’m fortunate to have two of them I bought years ago. By the way, that story is as wild and crazy as the cover painting and it’s included in the Weasels anthology.
Another holy grail issue is the first issue of Wildcat Adventures magazine, published in June 1959. It includes a condensed version of William Burroughs’ novel Junkie. I’ve only ever seen one copy for sale. It’s on AbeBooks.com right now. The asking price is $500, which even I am not quite willing to pay.
YOU’VE WRITTEN EXTENSIVELY ON YOUR WEBSITE ABOUT MEN’S ADVENTURE MAGAZINE MODELS STEVE HOLLAND AND EVA LYND. WHAT IS THEIR IMPORTANCE TO THE MEN’S ADVENTURE MAGAZINE GENRE?
BOB: The late Steve Holland is the most famous, most recognizable male model in the realm of pulp fiction. He was the model for the iconic image of Doc Savage used for the popular Bantam paperback series. Steve’s image also appears on hundreds of other paperback cover paintings and literally thousands of men’s adventure magazine cover and interior illustrations. He was the favorite model of many of the great mid-Twentieth century paperback and men’s pulp mag illustrators, such as James Bama, Bruce Minney, Basil Gogos, Robert Schulz and many others.
Eva Lynd, who is still very much alive, had an interesting and varied career as an actress, a glamour photo model and a painter’s model. She’s probably best known to fans of men’s adventure magazines as the favorite model of artist Norm Eastman, the grandmaster of the wild Nazi bondage-and-torture cover paintings that helped give men’s adventure magazines the nickname sweat magazines. Eva emailed me earlier this year after I did some posts about her on MensPulpMags.com and that started what has become a regular four-way correspondence between her, me, Wyatt and Rich.
SOME MEN’S ADVENTURE MAGAZINE COLLECTORS FIXATE STRICTLY ON THE LURID COVERS. WHAT WOULD YOU TELL THEM ABOUT THE STORIES BETWEEN THE COVERS? ARE THEY MISSING OUT ON HALF THE FUN?
WYATT: People should fixate on the lurid covers; most of the time, they give you quite a bit to fixate on! Men’s adventure magazines are a buffet, everybody comes away with what they want. Just about everybody loves the covers. Others also love the stories. Those are my people. Some hunt them down for the pinups, and there’s no lack of love for the goofy ads. Even the letters to the editor can be pretty remarkable!
I guess there’s an argument that the overwhelming interest in cover art is a case of the tail wagging the dog, but I’m not so sure I agree. I don’t see it as a slight to the stories or their authors to suggest people were buying the pictures on the cover and the rest of the mag came along for the ride. That’s what great packaging is all about! The covers sold the magazines; that was their job. And 50, 60 years later, they’re still doing that job.
Obviously, I feel collectors who skip the stories are missing out on some great reads and a lot of fun, but different strokes … If you ask four people what makes a great pizza: “The cheese! “The sauce!” “The dough!” “The water they use to make the dough!” They’re all right.
WYATT: For inspiration, I went back to the original magazines. I didn’t set out to imitate any one magazine’s style, but I did try to capture some of the immediacy and impact of their design.
For Weasels, Bob and I knew we wanted to include the cover art for each story, as well as the stories’ incredible splash pages and spot illustrations. But the thing readers have really responded to is our inclusion of vintage ads peppered throughout the stories, much as they were in the original publication. I had some concerns that purists would feel the proliferation of ads might somehow undercut the stories, but the fact is, they were already all over the stories! And in a strange way, navigating those ads was an integral part of the experience of reading a men’s adventure magazine.
Happily, the response to the ads has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, I’ve had more than one reader say it was seeing the old ads again — not the covers, not the stories — that opened up the floodgates of their memories.
We had a slightly different agenda with Nymphos, which is a book less concerned with communicating an overview of three decades of men’s adventure mag history and more about illuminating one remarkable writer’s place in it. We reuse some Weasels elements in Nymphos’ design to give it a sense of unity, but Nymphos has a few wrinkles of its own — literally, in some instances.
NOW HE-MEN, BAG MEN AND NYMPHOS IS SUCCESSFULLY LAUNCHED AND ON AMAZON, WHAT’S NEXT FOR BOB DEIS AND NEW TEXTURE? WHAT OTHER AREAS OF MEN’S ADVENTURE MAGAZINES DO YOU WANT TO EXPLORE?
BOB: For our next project, I want to work with Wyatt to put together the anthology of men’s adventure mag stories by Robert F. Dorr. We’ve also secured the rights to publish an anthology of Robert Silverberg stories. He’s best known for his award-wining science fiction and fantasy work, but in his younger days he also wrote many stories for men’s adventure magazines under various pseudonyms.
WYATT: New Texture is a curated imprint. In practical terms, that means I select, edit and design most NT releases myself. That’s a lot of work — months of my life! — so I won’t take on projects I’m not in love with. That means our backlist is fairly eclectic, but an eclectic readership is what we’re after. We’ve released our first SF novel, Andrew Biscontini’s nu luna, and we’re currently planning a new edition of Josh Alan Friedman’s essential Tell the Truth Until They Bleed and a collection of autobiographical comix by the artist Matjames Metson.
And of course, more men’s adventure fiction! In addition to the collections Bob mentioned, we do plan to return to the all star format at least once more, to bookend the series. There are so many great lost stories by these heavy hitters, and we can’t wait to put ’em between covers! Even as we labored on Weasels, we were plotting the sequel, release date TBD.
Men’s adventure fiction is rich, mostly unexplored territory; I like the idea that each book we do on the subject examines some new facet of that world, and helps edge the mags back into the cultural consciousness.
WOW, GUYS! THANKS FOR A GREAT INTERVIEW. THANKS FOR ALL YOU HAVE DONE TO PRESERVE THIS UNDEREXAMINED AND OFTEN UNDERVALUED GENRE. AND BEST OF LUCK WITH YOUR CURRENT ANTHOLOGIES AND NEW ENDEAVORS ...
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