As noted in previous posts on this blog, I love the fanzines published by UK paperback and action/adventure media maven Justin Marriott.
Justin began publishing his flagship fanzine THE PAPERBACK FANATIC in 2007. In the years since then he has added THE SLEAZY READER, PULP HORROR, HOT LEAD, MEN OF VIOLENCE and, most recently, MONSTER MANIACS, a fanzine focusing on horror comics and magazines.
All of Justin’s fanzines are full of fascinating facts, lushly illustrated and contributions from other vintage media mavens, such as writer/editor Paul Bishop, fantasy, science fiction and action/adventure expert Morgan Holmes, Australian pulp culture scholar blogger and author Andrew Nette, and many others.
Last year, in MEN OF VIOLENCE #10, Justin interviewed my publishing partner Wyatt Doyle and I about POLLEN’S WOMEN, the first of book in our Men’s Adventure Library series to showcase original men’s adventure magazine (MAM) paintings by the great illustration artist Samson Pollen.
This week, as I was shelving books and magazines in my library, I looked at MEN OF VIOLENCE #10 again and thought readers of this blog who had not seen that interview might find it interesting. So, I’m reprinting it here, even though a couple of things in it are outdated.
Since the interview was first published, Sam Pollen has passed away and the second book we worked with him on before he died has been published. It’s titled POLLEN’S ACTION.
We have also published another book mentioned as forthcoming in the interview, CUBA: SUGAR, SEX, AND SLAUGHTER, which features men’s adventure magazine stories and artwork about Cuba, Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution.
Here’s the interview as it appeared in MoV #10, illustrated with scans from that issue…
Justin Marriott talks Samson Pollen
with Bob Deis and Wyatt Doyle
JUSTIN: I just wanted to say congratulations on the magnificent Pollen’s Women and how much I am looking forward to the promised Pollen’s Action. How has Pollen’s Women been received?
BOB: Thanks, Justin. We’re big fans of your fanzines and greatly appreciate your continuing support for our Men’s Adventure Library book series.
Pollen’s Women breaks new ground for us. We’ve included lots of cover and interior artwork in our other books, but this one about Samson Pollen and his work is the first we’ve published that features original paintings by one of the grandmasters of the men’s adventure genre. Sam, who is still alive and well at age 86 and living in New York, mostly did interior illustrations for men’s adventure mags, published across two-page spreads.
In order to be able to show the full true glory of his interior paintings in a nice, large size, we chose to print the book in a “landscape” format.. That way, we were able to show a complete painting on one page, in full color. On pages between the paintings, we show scans of the two-page story spreads the art was used for.
Pollen’s Women has been getting great reviews, and we hope it will continue to create new fans—of Samson Pollen’s artwork, and of vintage men’s adventure magazines, which we call MAMs for short.
JUSTIN: How did you decide upon Samson Pollen as an artist you wanted to put in the spotlight and how did you track him down?
BOB: Working with Sam evolved out of conversations I had with my friend Rich Oberg, who owns what is probably the largest collection of original men’s adventure magazine artwork in the world. Years ago, when Rich was building his collection, he sought out many of the living artists, visited them at their homes and bought paintings directly from them. One of those artists was Sam Pollen.
Rich was a great supporter of my initial effort to increase awareness of the men’s adventure magazine genre, the MensPulpMags.com blog, and he often fed me information about the artists. Several years ago, Rich sent me copies of the emails he’d exchanged with Sam, and we discussed that the fact that his work was less well known than some of the other great artists who did artwork for MAMs, because he primarily did interiors. (Most posts on the internet of showing MAM artwork are covers, not interiors.) And, the few notable books about the genre that existed before ours mostly show covers.
So, unlike artists who did a lot of MAM covers, like Mort Künstler, Norm Eastman, Bruce Minney, Gil Cohen and Norman Saunders, Sam’s artwork for men’s adventure mags was not as well known as it should be. Rich and I agreed that Sam’s work is as great those other artists, and deserved wider recognition.
WYATT: Bob and I called to interview Sam for MensPulpMags.com, and we got on well. We’d sent him some of our other books, and he liked what he saw in them. He was receptive to the idea of our publishing collections of his artwork, and we were off and running.
He opened his archives to us. The man has created literally hundreds of pieces of truly incredible illustration art—art which, by a quirk of fate, has gone unseen since the last century, but hasn’t lost a drop of its potency. And Sam still owns quite a bit of his original work, which is unusual. So here we are, with access to Samson Pollen’s entire archive of sexy, sensuous, explosive, mind- bending, hard-punching paintings! For me and Bob to be able to immerse ourselves in Pollen’s work so totally was a rare privilege, and a unique education.
I’ve been fortunate, too, to spend time with Sam and his wife Jacqueline in New York, and we’ve continued to discuss his life and career by phone. Out of those conversations came the autobiographical comments that open Pollen’s Women.
JUSTIN: What has been Sam’s reaction?
BOB: More positive than we could have ever hoped. We were thrilled when he told us he loved it. And, he has been gratified to see some of the nice early reviews.
WYATT: Sam has been extremely gracious, and we want what we do to honor both the artwork and the artist. He’s put a tremendous amount of trust in us, so the fact that he’s happy with what we’ve done—that he’s pleased with how we’re presenting his life’s work—means a lot.
JUSTIN: It was great to see both the original paintings and the story spreads they were for. Did you do the magazine scans?
BOB: Yes. The scans all come from magazines in my collection. I got hooked on collecting men’s adventure magazines almost 15 years ago in a sort of back-door way. I was listening to a CD reissue of Frank Zappa’s Weasels Ripped My Flesh album and looked up info on the album on the internet.
I learned that Zappa had taken the title from a story in the September 1956 issue of the men’s adventure magazine Man’s Life and I saw a scan of that cover. It features a totally gonzo, totally cool cover painting of a man being attacked by a horde of bloodthirsty weasels, done by an artist named Wil Hulsey.
I loved it and tracked down a copy on eBay. Then I bought more MAMs, and more. Then I decided to start my blog about them, then a Facebook group [the Men’s Adventure Magazines & Books group]. Through those, I made contact with other collectors, like Rich Oberg, and some of the living artists and writers.
I also met Wyatt, head of the New Texture indie publishing company. In 2013, Wyatt and I published the first book in our Men’s Adventure Library series, titled—naturally—Weasels Ripped My Flesh! By that time, I had collected several thousand of the roughly 6,000 individual issues of the roughly 160 different men’s adventure magazine published during the genre’s lifespan, from the late 1940s to the late ’70s. Now I have over 5,000. Yes, I am an obsessed, crazy fanboy. Kind of like you, Justin.
JUSTIN: Any pieces you were especially proud to see reproduced?
BOB: Well, I am a huge fan of the duotone illustrations that were common in many men’s adventure magazines. Duotones are illustrations that use black in and one color. It could be black and red, blue, green, or sometimes shades of brown. The artists were told what the colors would be in the issue their painting was used for and would paint the illustration using only shades of black and grey and shades of the color. Samson Pollen was one of the best artists when it came to duotones in my opinion, and we show a bunch of them in the book.
If I had to pick faves, one would be the painting used for the cover of the book. It shows a group of scantily clad women using ropes to pull a bus that’s painted up like the one used by Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, while a guy on the top of the bus is shooting a machine gun at some attackers behind him.
If you look at it, it’s hard to believe he did it all in two colors, black and red. It’s a true duotone masterpiece. Another would be the full color painting he did for the story “We Were Shipwrecked on an All- Girl Island,” used in the July 1958 issue of a magazine called Bachelor, which was more of a Playboy-style mag than a MAM. It shows a guy being fed on a beach by a beautiful Polynesian babe while other gals play in the surf. It’s an ultimate exotic island male fantasy scene.
WYATT: There’s a painting Sam created as an audition piece at the start of his career, a monochrome scene of tough New York street kids; he brought up that painting time and time again in our conversations. Because it was done as a sample piece, he was working without a deadline, and therefore able to give it more careful attention than some of his later, contracted work. It’s an especially evocative, yet ambiguous, scene, and he holds it in high regard as an example of his best. I do, too.
JUSTIN: Tell me about the follow-up Pollen’s Action?
BOB: Sam Pollen did illustrations for just about every type of story featured in men’s adventure magazines. In our next book featuring his artwork, we’ll show some of the artwork he did for action, adventure, and war stories.
WYATT: I think newer fans and students of his work will be in for a real treat with that book. Though Pollen is admired both for his women and for his scenes of intense action, he didn’t often deploy those elements in equal servings. So while there’s some wild action on display in Pollen’s Women, truly you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. His senses of space, composition, and depth are remarkable, and Pollen’s Action will show just how far Pollen pushed the envelope in terms of visual inventiveness and outrageousness.
His action pieces are packed with wild angles and airborne characters being flung and hurled violently by opponents or explosions, tumbling through the air. Making the incredible—even the preposterous—believable, if only for the length of the story, is a big part of what MAMs were all about; that no-holds-barred atmosphere. Pollen’s Action is going to be a book that really grabs you by the lapels and yanks you in!
JUSTIN: What are the chances of Pollen’s Paperbacks as a title?
WYATT: The chances are very good indeed! Sam is rightfully very proud of his paperback covers, and he’s covered a lot of territory there, both in terms of subject matter and time served in the industry. His paperback work is as important a part of his story as his MAM work. We’re looking forward to making Pollen’s Paperbacks the third volume of his artwork that we release in a deluxe format.
BOB: Additionally, we may do a book featuring the cover paintings artist Gil Cohen did for the Executioner/Mack Bolan series of books created by Don Pendleton. I recently did an extensive interview with Gil about those for my MensPulpMags.com site. Gil and Sam both did men’s adventure magazine artwork and men’s adventure paperback artwork.
Most of their men’s adventure magazine artwork was done for the classic MAMs published by Martin Goodman’s Magazine Management Company. And both men did more than just action/adventure paperback cover art; they also both painted covers for romance novels.
JUSTIN: Finally, any news on Cuba: Sugar, Sex, and Slaughter?
BOB: Yes, I’m glad to say it’s coming soon. [Now available here.] I live near Key West, which has a long history of interconnections with Cuba and is only 90 miles away. I’ve always been fascinated by it. In the course of reading through the magazines in my collection, I discovered that men’s adventure magazines published more stories about Cuba and Fidel Castro than almost any other genre. There are hundreds of them, illustrated with terrific artwork and historic photos. Those stories chronicle and dramatize what was happening in Cuba in the years leading up to the Cuban Revolution, and what happened during and after the Revolution, in ways no other American print or electronic media did at the time—or since.
We picked a selection of our favorites for Cuba: Sugar, Sex and Slaughter. If it sells well enough, we plan to do a second, large format book that’s reprints even more Cuba-related artwork and photos from MAMs, similar to our visual archive of MAM artwork and photos featuring bikers and motorcycle gangs, Barbarians on Bikes. So, I hope readers of Men of Violence pick up a copy of Cuba: Sugar, Sex and Slaughter. Believe me, folks, you’ll find plenty of gritty and sometimes grim action and violence in it.
JUSTIN: I look forward to it, and please keep me and the MoV readership informed of future Men’s Adventure Library publications from New Texture.
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