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Sunday, May 19, 2019

“Men’s Adventure Magazines and the Art of War” – a PulpFest presentation (Part 1)...


PulpFest is one of the biggest and best annual pulp-related conventions in the country.

It’s a descendant of PulpCon, a pioneering event that ran annually from 1972 to 2008. 

In 2008, several pulp magazine experts who had been active in organizing the PulpCon — Jack Cullers, Barry Traylor, Ed Hulse and Mike Chomko — decided to create a new pulp-related convention called PulpFest.

To help attract people who are not just fans of the classic all-fiction pulp magazines published during the first half of the 20th century, they widened the focus welcoming sellers and creators of the wide variety of mediums influenced by the pulps — including comic books, action/adventure paperbacks, “new pulp” novels, and vintage men’s adventure magazines (MAMs) published form the late 1940s to the mid-1970s.

Their vision and the indefatigable organizing skills of a team of people have kept PulpFest going strong ever since.

Last year, Mike Chomko, who was aware that I collect, write about and publish books about MAMs with my publishing partner Wyatt Doyle, encouraged us to have a table at the show.

He also invited us to make a presentation about some of the connections between that genre and the earlier pulps.

We took him up on both offers and had a great time.

PulpFest 2018 was held at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh–Cranberry from July 26 to 29. It’s a nice hotel and the convention was excellent.

There were scores of dealers, hundreds of visitors and a series of fascinating presentations by pulp culture mavens like David Saunders, son of the legendary pulp artist Norman Saunders, and author Joe Lansdale, one of my favorite writers.

The theme for that year’s presentations was “The Pulps at War.”

Mike asked Wyatt and I do a presentation about the war stories and artwork in MAMs and the thematic, artistic and literary DNA they share with pulp magazines.

We were honored to do it and pleased that our presentation was well received.

We were also honored and pleased when Mike invited us to make a presentation at PulpFest 2019, which will be held in Pittsburgh from August 15th to 18th this year.

As I began thinking about our 2019 presentation, which will look at some of the classic pulp magazines that morphed into men’s adventure magazines in the ‘50s, I realized that I had not done any posts about our 2018 presentation on this blog.

The entire presentation is a bit long for one post, so I’ll break it up into two.

Here’s Part 1...

The World War II years are often cited as beginning of the end of the classic pulp mag genre.

The years after WWII saw the beginning of the rise of men’s adventure magazines, which incorporated and continued key elements of the pulps, such as painted covers and rousing action/adventure stories.

Fans know what someone means when they refer to “pulp magazines.”

The simple, standard definition is that they are vintage, all fiction magazines printed on rough pulp paper that have painted covers and black-and-white line drawing interior illustrations.

Fans also know that definition is a bit oversimplified.

Some 200 or more different pulp magazine titles were published between the early 1900s and mid-1950s.

Not all were printed on rough pulp paper. Not all had painted covers. Some included non-fiction articles.

Basically, no one pulp magazine subgenre or title epitomizes all pulp magazines as a whole.

The types of stories in pulps cover a wide range of topics: war, exotic adventure, Westerns, crime, mystery, science fiction and fantasy, horror, romance, and more.

If you show someone who doesn’t know much about pulps the covers of issues in the “spicy pulp” subgenre or the “weird menace” subgenre (aka “shudder pulps”) their reaction would might be: “Wow, pulp mags must be some lurid, sadistic, sexist and racist form of periodicals.”

And, if they read some of the stories from mags in those outré subgenres, they might scoff at claims that pulp magazines published some of the best fiction stories of all time.

But in fact, they did.

They also featured some of the best illustration art ever created.

Nonetheless, it’s difficult to make generalizations that apply equally to all pulp magazines.

Each publisher and title had their own characteristics.

In some cases, the stories and cover and interior artwork were created by top notch writers and artists.

In other cases, the quality of the often quickly written, penny-word-word stories and illustrations aren’t considered great even by pulp fans.

Of course, many pulp mag fans learn to enjoy aspects of them all, the same way some movie fans can appreciate all types of movies, from the best, classic films to grade B action and horror flicks to the Grade Z movies spoofed by MST3K and the RiffTrax crew.

The same is true of men’s adventure magazines.

Like pulps, MAMs are a broad genre. More than 160 different titles that fit into the MAM genre were published. However, like pulps, no one MAM subgenre or magazine epitomizes all men’s adventure magazines as a whole.

Also, like pulps, each publisher and title had their own character.

In some, the stories and cover artwork are great, truly top notch. In other cases, not so much – though if you become a true MAM fan, you learn to enjoy aspects of them all.

Many people have the faulty impression that the low-budget MAMs with covers and stories featuring sadistic Nazis tormenting scantily clad women are representative of MAMs as a whole.

In fact, those lurid low-budget MAMs, which share DNA with the weird menace and spicy pulps, are really just a subgenre.

It’s the subgroup of MAMs that frequently featured bondage-and-torture that I think fit the term “sweat magazines.”

Some people use that term to refer to all MAMs, but I don’t. And it wasn’t a term used by the publishers, editors and writers of those magazines.

They typically called them men’s adventure magazines.

Given the clear connections between pulp magazine and MAMs, some people also use the terms men’s pulp magazines or men’s pulp mags, for short, though I know there are pulp fans who get annoyed that the term pulp has come to have broader uses in recent decades.

At any rate, when you compare the war stories in pulps and the subgenre of war-themed pulp titles to the war stories in men’s adventure magazines and the war-themed MAM titles, you can see both the similarities and the differences between the two genres.

To prepare for our PulpFest 2018 presentation, I reread the chapter about war-themed pulp magazines in THE ART OF THE PULPS. That great book edited by pulp art collector extraordinaire Doug Ellis and pulp historian Ed Hulse, head honcho of Murania Press and editor of the “Blood 'n' Thunder” series.

The chapter about war pulps includes many examples that can be used to connect the dots between pulps and MAMs.

For instance, some of the pioneering pulps it discusses, such as ADVENTURE, ARGOSY and BLUE BOOK turned into men’s adventure magazines in the 1950s and pioneered the MAM genre.

Several pulp publishers also became publishers of men’s adventure magazines.

One notable example is Harry Steeger’s Popular Publications.

It published dozens of pulp titles in the 1930s and 1940s, including war and aviation themed pulps, like DARE -DEVIL ACES, G-8 AND HIS BATTLE ACES and DUSTY AYRES AND HIS BATTLE BIRDS.

Popular Publications later bought the long running pulps ADVENTURE and ARGOSY and turned them into men’s adventure magazines in the 1950s.

Popular Publications also published the men’s adventure magazines MEN’S PICTORIAL and TRUE ADVENTURES.

Pulp and physical fitness pioneer Bernarr Macfadden’s company published various pulps, including the aviation-themed war pulp FLYING STORIES.

Macfadden Publications later published the men’s adventure magazines SAGA, CLIMAX, IMPACT, PRIZE SEA STORIES and TRUE WAR STORIES.

Fawcett Publications, founded by Wilford "Captain Billy" Fawcett, is another company that published both pulps and MAMs, though it’s more widely known for the its pioneering humor magazine CAPTAIN BILLY'S WHIZ BANG, MECHANIX ILLUSTRATED the Gold Medal paperbacks.

Fawcett’s flagship war pulp was BATTLE STORIES. It later published the hugely popular men’s magazines TRUE and CAVALIER, both of which fit into the men’s adventure magazines during part of their runs, and the lesser-known MAM TRUE THRILLS.

Marvel comics founder Martin Goodman’s publishing empire included dozens of pulp magazine in the 1930s and 1940s, through his companies Western Fiction Pub. Co, Red star, and Newsstand Group.

Two were war classic pulps: AMERICAN SKY DEVILS and COMPLETE WAR NOVELS.

Goodman went on to create one of the greatest lines of men’s adventure magazines, the ones often referred to as the Atlas/Diamond men’s adventure magazines.

During the early ‘50s, Goodman’s MAMs were identified by the Atlas logo. After 1958, they were identified by a Diamond.

The Atlas/Diamond MAMs include ACTION FOR MEN, ACTION LIFE, ADVENTURE LIFE, ADVENTURE TRAILS, BATTLEFIELD, COMPLETE MAN, FISHING ADVENTURES, FOR MEN ONLY, HUNTING ADVENTURES, KEN FOR MEN, MALE, MAN'S WORLD (SECOND SERIES), MEN, MEN IN ACTION, SPORT LIFE, SPORTSMAN, STAG, TRUE ACTION and WAR.

Many artists who did pulp cover art went on to do cover and interior artwork for men’s adventure magazines.

Some of the best-known artists who worked for both genres are giants in the realm of pulp art, such as Walter Baumhofer, Rudolph Belarski, Clarence Doore, Mort Kunstler, Tom Lovell, Walter Popp, Norman Saunders, Rafael DeSoto and H. J. Ward.

And there are many others you may know if you’re a fan of either pulp mags or MAMs or both, including: Harry Barton, Walter Baumhofer, Rudolph Belarski, James Bentley, Stanley Borack, John Clymer, L. B. Cole, Mel Crair, Rafael DeSoto, Clarence Doore, Charles Dye, George Gross, Everett Raymond Kinstler, Mort Kunstler, Tom Lovell, Milton Luros, Leo Morey, Herb Mott, Walter Popp, William Reusswig, Norman Saunders, Sam Savitt, Mark Schneider, Mal Singer, Robert Stanley, Lawrence Sterne Stevens, Joseph Szokoli, Ed Valigursky, and H. J. Ward.

Many writers also worked for both genres. Examples of writers whose work appeared in both pulps and MAMs include: Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Edwin V. Burkholder, Arthur C. Clarke, Harlan Ellison, Erle Stanley Gardner, David Goodis, Frank Kane, MacKinlay Kantor, Day Keene, Gerald Kersh, Donald Keyhoe, Ed Lacy, Louis L’Amour, Elmore Leonard, John D. MacDonald, Richard Matheson, Talbot Mundy, Richard Prather, Ellery Queen, Robert Silverberg, Mickey Spillane, Theodore Sturgeon, A.E. Van Vogt, Robert Turner and Bryce Walton.

War stories – both fiction and non-fiction – were a common feature in men’s adventure magazines throughout all three decades of their existence, as were advice and expose stories and news features specifically geared for veterans and active duty serviceman.

Like pulps, some lasted for three decades. Some only for only a few issues. Some only one.

There are many different kinds of stories in MAMs – but war stories were one of the most common throughout the genre’s three-decade lifespan.

This makes sense given that military veterans and servicemen were the main target audience for most MAMs, especially in the 1950s and early 1960s.

There were nearly 16 million male veterans of World War II when it 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 of 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 MAM titles had a specific focus on war.

They include: BATTLE CRY, BATTLEFIELD, BATTLE ATTACK, BATTLE STATION, MAN’S COMBAT, MEN IN COMBAT, REAL COMBAT STORIES, REAL WAR, SALVO, TRUE BATTLES OF WORLD WAR II, TRUE SPY AND WAR STORIES, TRUE WAR, TRUE WAR STORIES, WAR, WAR CRIMINALS, WAR STORIES, WAR STORY and WOMEN-IN-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.

Before BATTLE CRY the magazine, Morse published the comic BATTLE CRY, of many war-themed comic books that were popular from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s.

Then, in 1954, the puritanical 1954 Comics Code banned violent or sexy images in comics. That killed off many horror comics – and the bloodier war comics.

But Stanley Morse was a smart publisher.

He discontinued his BATTLE CRY comic book and turned it into the men’s adventure magazine BATTLE CRY.

The BATTLE CRY comic had lasted for 20 issues.

That’s why the first issue of the men’s adventure magazine BATTLE CRY, dated December 1955, is numbered Vol. 1, No. 21.

The first issue of BATTLE CRY magazine features a moving cover painting.

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 managing 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!..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...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...
      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.

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 overly 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 reminds me of the war stories written by the late, great men’s adventure magazine writer and military aviation historian Robert F. Dorr, whose stories are featured in our book A HANDFUL OF HELL;

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

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

“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 stories in the first issue of BATTLE CRY are serious.

For example, there’s an article about the often lamely 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 and the alluring, somewhat notorious actress and model Francesca De Scaffa.

In the 1960s, BATTLE CRY moved increasingly into “sweat magazine” territory.

At that point, it left behind many of the original goals outlined in the Editor’s introduction in the December 1955 issue.

But it did still regularly feature war stories and was one of the longer-running MAMs, lasting until 1971.

The next post on this blog will look at some of differences between pulps and MAMs discussed in our 2018 PulpFest presentation.

In the meantime, you can find the details about PulpFest 2019 or register to get a dealer table on the PulpFest website.

Wyatt and I hope to see you there.

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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.

Related reading…

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Catching up with fanzine publisher Justin Marriott and his pulp culture posse…


Justin Marriott
and Paul Bishop are two of my favorite pulp culture mavens. (“Pulp culture” is a term I borrowed from the book of that name by Frank M. Robinson and Lawrence Davidson and expanded to encompass both early pulp magazines and pulp art and later magazines, books and movies that have pulpy DNA, such as men's adventure magazines and action/adventure paperbacks and movies.)

Justin is a publisher of fanzines that focus primarily on mid- to late-20th Century pulp paperbacks, including THE PAPERBACK FANATIC, THE SLEAZY READER, PULP HORROR, and MEN OF VIOLENCE.

Paul is a former L.A.P.D. police detective who went on to become a prolific novelist, editor, publisher, blogger, and pulp maven. He has written fifteen novels, including the highly-praised Fey Croaker series about a female L.A.P.D. detective.

His latest novels include LIE CATCHERS, the first in a new series about a special team of L.A. police interrogators, and the soccer-related crime novel PENALTY SHOT.

I’ve done interviews with Justin and with Paul for this blog in the past. And, since I last wrote about them, they have been busy — both separately and on a new joint endeavor: a fanzine about Westerns called HOT LEAD.

As Justin Marriott told me in the interview I did with him, he started writing and publishing his flagship fanzine, THE PAPERBACK FANATIC, in 2007.

As I write this, he’s up to Volume #41 of that venerable zine, aptly subtitled “The fanzine for collectors of vintage paperbacks.”

MEN OF VIOLENCE, which focuses on vintage men’s action/adventure paperbacks and magazines, is now up to Volume #11.

PULP HORROR, Justin’s zine about horror paperbacks, pulps and comics, is now up to Volume #8.

THE SLEAZY READER, covering the outré end of the vintage pulp paperback spectrum, is also up to Volume #8.

Justin and Paul have published two issues of HOT LEAD to date, with more to come.

The classic Western paperbacks and related media it covers is a realm Paul has also written about in two innovative books he co-edited with Western novelist Scott Harris, 52 WEEKS • 52 WESTERN NOVELS and 52 WEEKS • 52 WESTERN MOVIES.

In his zines, Justin publishes articles by many other knowledgeable pulp culture mavens like Paul.

For example, MEN OF VIOLENCE #11 includes an article by Morgan Holmes about the historical novels of the legendary comics writer and author Gardner F. Fox. Morgan is a top fantasy, science fiction and action/adventure expert who writes the Castalia House Books blog.

PULP HORROR #8 includes an article by Morgan about the novels of Joseph Payne Brennan, one of the last of the major authors who wrote for WEIRD TALES magazine.

I can’t recommend Justin’s fanzines highly enough. The level of knowledge and quality of the scholarship is top notch in all of them.

They’re also full of high-quality cover scans.

Those scans and other images are reproduced in full color in issues published since Justin started using Amazon’s CreateSpace publishing option several years ago. And, the prices are more than reasonable; mostly ranging from $5.99 to $10.99.

Bottom line: Justin’s zines are amazingly cool, wide-ranging, well-researched, lushly-illustrated must-reads for vintage paperback and retro media fans.

Naturally, I especially like issues that have articles connecting the dots between the related realms of vintage paperbacks and vintage men’s adventure magazines published in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

For example, MEN OF VIOLENCE #10 has an article about the great men’s adventure magazine and paperback artist Samson Pollen and the first book I co-edited with Wyatt Doyle to feature Sam’s original MAM artwork, POLLEN’S WOMEN. (Our second volume of Pollen artwork, POLLEN’S ACTION, was published in January 2019, shortly after Sam passed away at age 88.)

MoV #10 also includes articles by guys behind the excellent Paperback Warrior blog, Tom Simon and Eric Compton, who’ve made a splash online with their insightful reviews of vintage action, adventure, mystery and crime novels and often groundbreaking research on authors and their various pseudonyms.

Tom’s article solves the mystery of the real person who wrote the “THE D.C. MAN” series of sexy spy novels under the pseudonym James P. Cody.

Eric contributed an overview of the “ROADBLASTER” post-apocalypse trilogy penned by Paul Hofrichter.

Past MEN OF VIOLENCE issues have also covered MAM-related topics that are near to my heart, such as an article in MoV #9 about the wild “killer creature” men’s adventure magazine stories and artwork featured on our book I WATCHED THEM EAT ME ALIVE.

The cover of that issue features the gonzo “killer lizards” cover art by Wil Hulsey used on TRUE MEN STORIES, February 1957. (Hulsey is the artist who created the iconic “WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH!” cover.)

MEN OF VIOLENCE #8 includes my tribute to Walter Kaylin, one of the greatest of all MAM writers. (Walter’s rip-snorting yarns are featured in several books in our Men’s Adventure Library series and showcased in our collection of his stories, HE-MEN, BAG MEN & NYMPHOS.)

PAPERBACK FANATIC #39 includes a terrific article by Paul Bishop about Steve Holland, the model for hundreds of paperback cover paintings (including the famed Doc Savage covers done by James Bama) and thousands of men’s adventure mag cover and interior illustrations.

That issue also has a cool section featuring MAM artwork and artist reference photos Steve modeled for with my friend Eva Lynd, the actress, pinup model and artists’ model who I think of as the female men’s adventure mag superstar.

TPF #39 also has an interview with one of my other favorite pulp culture experts, Australian scholar, blogger and novelist, Andrew Nette.

Andrew is the editor of the must-have book GIRL GANGS, BIKER BOYS, AND REAL COOL CATS: PULP FICTION AND YOUTH CULTURE, 1950 TO 1980, which I wrote about here in a past post, and the forthcoming STICKING IT TO THE MAN: REVOLUTION AND COUNTERCULTURE IN PULP AND POPULAR FICTION, 1950 TO 1980.

He also writes the widely-read Pulp Curry blog, and Wyatt and I are proud that Andrew has posted some nice reviews of our recent Men’s Adventure Library books there.

Another article in TPF #39, written Andrew’s fellow Aussie pulp scholar and author James Doig, provides an interesting look at Australian pulp fiction. 

Volume #8 of Justin’s zine THE SLEAZY READER explores the paperbacks, men’s adventure and true crime magazine stories, and grindhouse movies inspired by Charles Manson and the brutal killings perpetrated by the Manson cult followers.

For that issue, I provided Justin with scans of various Manson-inspired MAM covers.

Altogether, I think TSR #8 may be the best overview of pulpy, Manson-related pop media ever published.

I also particularly enjoyed SLEAZY READER #6. Among other things, it includes very cool articles by Justin about stewardess-related paperbacks like COFFEE, TEA OR ME? and the Lancer Books sexy spy series penned by Martin Jay Golding under the pseudonym Jay Martin.

It also has an article about men’s adventure magazine stories and artwork that feature motorcycle gangs, the subject of our Men’s Adventure Library book BARBARIANS ON BIKES. And, the back cover of SLEAZY READER #6 reprints Samson Pollen’s cover art for the classic teensploitation paperback TEEN-AGE VICE (1957).

In a nutshell, I am a huge fan of the fanzines created by Justin Marriott with the help of other pulp fiction mavens like Paul Bishop, Morgan Holmes, Tom Simon, Eric Compton, James Doig, and many other knowledgeable contributors from around the world.

A lot of those folks are regular posters in the Men’s Adventure Paperbacks of the 20th Century Facebook Group. Many are also members of my Men’s Adventure Magazines & Books Facebook Group. If you’re you’re reading this blog but aren’t a member of those groups yet, you should be.

See you there.

Meanwhile, I’m taking this weekend off to relax and read Paul Bishop’s new novel PENALTY SHOT and Justin Marriott’s latest zine PAPERBACK FANATIC #41.

TPF #41 delves into the history of Conan the Barbarian paperbacks and comics, novels based on the BBC’s eco-horror cult TV series DOOMWATCH, the boundary-pushing “plantation pulps” inspired by the success of MANDINGO, novelizations of classic Australian films, and the work of top DOCTOR WHO writer Brian Hayles.

Great stuff for pulp culture fanboys like me!

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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.

Related reading…


Thursday, January 17, 2019

POLLEN’S ACTION: THE ART OF SAMSON POLLEN — a new book showcasing his men's adventure magazine artwork


Simply put, Samson Pollen was one of the greatest of the many artists who provided illustrations for the men’s adventure magazines (MAMs) that flourished from the early 1950s to the late 1970s.


My publishing partner Wyatt Doyle and I had the good fortune and the honor of working with Sam on two books featuring his artwork before he passed away in December of 2018.

The first, POLLEN’S WOMEN: THE ART OF SAMSON POLLEN was published last year. It quickly became one of the best-selling books in our Men’s Adventure Library series, which features classic MAM stories and artwork.

The second, POLLEN’S ACTION: THE ART OF SAMSON POLLEN, was released on January 1, 2019.

Both books are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. They’re also available via the Book Depository site, which offers free shipping worldwide.

Both books feature full color reproductions of dozens of original men’s adventure mag paintings Sam created, and scans of the story spreads and covers they were used for.

Each book also includes exclusive interviews with Sam and introductions by me.

Although many MAM and paperback cover artwork fans know his work, there is surprisingly little biographical information about him on the internet.

Our collaborations with Sam are the first studies of his life and work and, since he granted us access to scores of his original MAM and paperback artwork and spoke with us extensively about his life and career, they won’t be the last.

Samson Pollen was born in the Bronx on March 19, 1931. His family moved to Brooklyn when he was 11.

From an early age, he showed a talent for artwork. This talent was noticed by a high school teacher who helped him get enrolled at the venerable National Academy of Design in Manhattan. There, he was taken under the wing of the school’s dean, Charles Louis Hinton, a legendary painter, sculptor, book illustrator and muralist.

After studying at the Academy and graduating from high school, Pollen got a job as an apprentice at the Wittrup-Patterson art studio in New York, owned by top commercial art illustrators Jack Wittrup and Robert Patterson.

When the Korean War broke out in 1950, he joined the Coast Guard Reserve and was stationed in New York.

When his superiors became aware of his artistic talent, they asked him to do illustrations for the official Coast Guard magazine. By the end of his tour of duty, he was offered a cushy post in the Coast Guard art department if he’d re-up. He decided instead to try to become a professional illustration artist.



In the early ’50s, for someone with Pollen’s talent, this was not an unrealistic goal. The magazine and paperback markets were booming, and New York City was the headquarters for most top publishers. It was also where most top magazine, book, and advertising illustrators lived and worked.
Over the next forty years, Sam went on to create scores of classic covers for action/adventure, mystery, crime, romance, and young adult novels.

But from the mid-’50s to the late ’70s, the majority of Pollen’s illustration assignments came from men’s adventure magazines. Most of them were for MAMs published by Martin Goodman’s Magazine Management company.

Magazine Management is now most widely known for giving birth and a robust early life to Marvel Comics. What is less well known today is that, through various subsidiaries, it published many of the best and longest-running MAMs.



Goodman’s published his first MAM title, STAG, in December 1949. He launched another, MALE, in June 1950. Both sold well. In 1952, Goodman created MEN. In 1954, he launched FOR MEN ONLY. Every year or so during the ’50s and early ‘60s, he tried publishing new variations on the men’s adventure format.

In the early 1950s, they were published with an “Atlas” logo on their covers, reflecting the name of the Goodman-owned company that distributed magazines and paperback books he published to newsstands. In 1958, after Goodman dissolved the Atlas company, Magazine Management began calling its MAMs the “Diamond Group” of men’s mags and used a special diamond-shaped logo to identify them. The four flagship Atlas/Diamond MAMs, STAG, MALE, MEN and FOR MEN ONLY, ran through the late 1970s, then were sold and turned into Hustler clones.

Other Atlas/Diamond MAMs that had varying lifespans between the mid-’50s and late ’70s include: ACTION FOR MEN, ACTION LIFE, ADVENTURE LIFE, ADVENTURE TRAILS, BATTLEFIELD, COMPLETE MAN, FISHING ADVENTURES, HUNTING ADVENTURES, KEN FOR MEN, MAN’S WORLD, MEN IN ACTION, REAL LIFE, SPORT LIFE, SPORTSMAN and TRUE ACTION.

Mag Management’s Atlas/Diamond MAMs became an important source of income for scores of writers and artists. However, the list of artists who worked for them from the early ’50s to the late-’70s and created the majority of illustrations for them is fairly short. They include Gil Cohen, Charles Copeland, Mort Künstler, Bruce Minney, Earl Noremand Samson Pollen.



Illustrations by Pollen appeared in all but a few of the shortest-lived Atlas/Diamond MAMs. Most are interior illustrations. Sam created many paperback novel cover paintings during his long career as an artist and a few magazine covers, but when working for magazines, he preferred interior illustrations.

Most Atlas/Diamond MAM interiors were painted and printed in black-and-white or as “duotones” (shades of black, plus shades of a single color). In the ’50s and ’60s, only a small percentage were in full color. Full color became more common in issues published in the ’70s, as advances in printing technology made it more affordable. But even in those years, black-and-white and duotones were more common in the Atlas/Diamond MAMs.

Sam Pollen didn’t mind. In fact, as you’ll read in POLLEN’S ACTION, he preferred black-and-white and duotones over full color. He felt they allowed him to focus more on the composition and storytelling aspects of a painting.



“I liked doing the interiors,” Sam told me. “I never really went for the covers. On the interiors, I could focus on the composition and the story I wanted to tell in the painting. When you do a cover it’s a completely different approach. I was doing enough covers on paperbacks, so I didn’t want to do men’s adventure magazine covers. I did do a few, but most of my cover art was for paperbacks.”

Sam said never read the stories he illustrated. In fact, I know from other MAM artists I’ve interviewed for my MensPulpMags,com site, such as James Bama, Gil Cohen, Basil Gogos, Mort Kunstler and Bruce Minney that most didn’t. They didn’t have time. They were too busy meeting deadlines for magazine and paperback artwork.
Art Directors would give them a short synopsis a few sentences long and, in some but not all cases, and idea of the scene they wanted painted and delivered — usually within a week or less. The rest was left to the artist, his imagination and his talent. Sam Pollen had an abundance of both.




Many of the stories and “book bonus” adaptations Pollen illustrated were written by notable writers, including:

  • Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather; whose MAM stories were often credited to the pseudonym Mario Cleri (an example is on page 73 in POLLEN’S ACTION);
  • Donald Westlake, the prolific and popular novelist who penned darker crime fiction as Richard Stark (see page 15);
  • Norman Mailer, the famous (and infamous) man of letters (see page 108);
  • Richard Wright, pioneering African American writer (see page 123);
  • Don Pendleton, creator of the popular Mack Bolan/Executioner novel series (see page 14);
  • Walter Kaylin (see pages 26 and 36), perhaps the ultimate MAM writer, who often wrote under the pseudonym as Roland Empey and whose work is featured in our HE-MEN, BAG MEN & NYMPHOS anthology (see pages 42, 86, 87, 90, 98, 103 and 126);
  • Robert F. Dorr renowned military aviation writer, whose MAM stories are featured in our anthology A HANDFUL OF HELL (see page 66); and
  • Other well-known writers such as Martin Cruz Smith, later famous for GORKY PARK and other  novels, Evan Hunter, best known for the 87th Precinct novels written as Ed McBain, and Erskine Caldwell, the popular author of racy paperbacks.


Pollen’s illustrations were always at least as good as — and often better — than the stories themselves, even in the case of those penned by notable writers.

The style Pollen used for his men’s adventure magazine artwork changed over the three decades he worked for the genre. When he first started working for the Goodman mags in the 1950s, he used the fairly photorealistic style that was common in illustrations at the time. Sort of Norman Rockwell light.

During the course of the ‘60s and ‘70s, his style became looser. He focused more on how he composed the various elements of a scene and how he could make it a dramatic image that told its own story, less on photorealistic rendering of faces and details

As my co-editor eloquently put it:
“Pollen’s earliest MAM work in the ’50s reflected his slightly more mannered paperback covers of that era, painted in a more photorealistic style common at the time. But the challenge of depicting motion interested him, and unlike the portrait-driven work of his early paperbacks, the requirements of MAM illustration afforded him the opportunity to explore that interest, full tilt. His duotone illustration for “69 Days of Hell in a High Seas Penal Boat” (pg. 122) from the September 1961 issue of Male, for example, retains elements of formality in his approach, but the scope and intensity of its action (and its use of 3-D perspective) would all be hallmarks of his later, looser style. Like most Pollens, there is a lot going on, and the more you look, the more there is to see. Each component contributes to the illusion of motion, from the curl and swoop of the watery tempest to the tilt, angle and lines of the small boat expressing the dip, rise, and toss of the waves. Even the four figures struck by the ship’s boom offer a visual prompt for the subconscious; divided into panels, they might represent the sequential progress of any one of them, stage by stage from smackdown to splashdown…There is a lot of invention in Pollen’s chaos.”

When you look at the original paintings shown in POLLEN’S ACTION and in our previous collection, POLLEN’S WOMEN, you’ll see that even without the tales they were painted to accompany, these images tell compelling stories. They also stand alone as cool examples of 20th Century illustration art.

Today, Sam’s original MAM paintings sell for prices as high as $5,000 to collectors of such art.

Of course, snooty critics don’t consider them to be “fine art.”

And, that reminds me of the old joke known to insiders in the art world.

      What’s the difference between a fine artist and an illustrator?

      Answer: An illustrator can draw.

Samson Pollen could draw — and he drew and painted the hell out of every illustration he created.

He passed away in Manhattan on December 4, 2018 at age 88, from natural causes, not long after he saw and approved a proof copy of POLLEN’S ACTION.

We were immensely pleased when Sam told us he loved the book.

We’re glad he got to see it. A few days later, he died.

I loved having the chance to know and work with the great Samson Pollen. I know Wyatt did, too.

And, we’re both grateful to him and his beautiful wife Jacqueline for their enthusiastic support of our efforts to keep his artistic legacy alive.

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To see an extensive flip-page preview of
POLLEN’S WOMEN: THE ART OF SAMSON POLLEN