Wyatt Doyle and I recently released the 18th book in our Men’s Adventure Library series, ATOMIC WEREWOLVES AND MAN-EATING PLANTS: WHEN MEN’S ADVENTURE MAGAZINES GOT WEIRD. You can now get it on Amazon in the US and other Amazons worldwide, or directly from me via the online bookstore linked to this blog.
It’s a killer collection of vintage men’s adventure mag stories and artwork featuring monsters, aliens, robots, and ghosts reprinted from vintage men’s pulp adventure magazines, put in context with insightful commentary by pulp magazine expert Mike Chomko, science fiction historian Stefan Dziemianowicz, and by Wyatt and me.
Like most of our MAL books, it comes in both deluxe hardcover and softcover editions that are lushly illustrated in full color, as you can see from the page scans shown here.
We’re proud that this new MAL book has already received some great reviews from people we admire, including bestselling novelist James Reasoner, the legendary pulp historian and novelist Gary Lovisi, the popular retromedia maven and podcaster Jules Burt, and WASHINGTON POST book reviewer Michael Dirda.
Men’s adventure magazines—those manly post-WWII periodicals known for “true” exotic adventure, crime and war stories, and yarns about flesh-ripping weasels and sadistic Nazis—were wild and weird in many ways. But few people know that you can find many stories in MAMs published in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s that are even weirder than their usual fare. Stories about evil cults, vampires, aliens and robots, ghosts, plants with a taste for humans and other things that would have fit right in the classic pulp magazine WEIRD TALES.
So while it may at first blush seem unexpected to find WEIRD TALES-style tales in MAMs, it shouldn’t come as a total surprise. Weird tales were simply another option at the MAM buffet table. And like other kinds of fiction in MAMs (action, war, exotic adventure, crime, noir…) they came in numerous varieties and were presented in diverse styles, ranging from pitch-black and unsentimental to playful, even comic.
Our previous Men’s Adventure Library book, the CRYPTOZOOLOGY ANTHOLOGY, which we co-edited with Dave Coleman, author of the BIGFOOT FILMOGRAPHY, focuses on MAM stories about legendary cryptid creatures, such a Bigfoot, Sasquatch, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Giant Thunderbird.
ATOMIC WEREWOLVES AND MAN-EATING PLANTS is a curated collection of some of our favorite MAM horror and science fiction stories about vampires, aliens, robots, and—yes, indeed —a werewolf created by atomic radiation and giant man-eating plants, all lushly illustrated with the scans of the magazine covers they came from and the interior art and photos used to illustrate them.
Here’s the first of two posts I’m doing that provide a look inside…
ATOMIC WEREWOLVES AND MAN-EATING PLANTS starts off with a brief history of WEIRD TALES, the pulp magazine whose stories were the ancestors of the MAM stories it collects, written by Mike Chomko. Mike is one of the founders of the annual PulpFest convention in Pittsburgh and serves as its marketing and programming director. He is also the owner of Mike Chomko Books, a great source of vintage pulp magazines and books and one of only a few indie booksellers who carry our men’s Adventure Library books and copies of the MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY, which I co-edit with Bill Cunningham.
Mike’s intro is followed by an essay written by Stefan Dziemianowicz, one of the world’s foremost experts on horror, fantasy, and science fiction literature and editor of more than 50 anthologies of stories in those realms. Stefan is also an author and a regular contributor of reviews and articles to various magazines and newspapers in the US and UK. His essay in ATOMIC WEREWOLVES AND MAN-EATING PLANTS connects dots between classic pulp magazines and the stories in the book.
Stefan’s essay is followed by an article Wyatt and I wrote that provides some background on each story. I’m using excerpts from that article in the descriptions below, arranged in the order in which the stories appear in the book.
“The Flag of the Stonewall Brigade” from ACTION, March 1953 merges two popular MAM subjects, the American Civil War and the Korean conflict, into a single narrative, then folds in a ghost story for good measure—Confederate soldiers rising from the grave. Their final act of wartime heroism in the story would be seen as politically odd today, as would the notion that members of the Confederacy would be eager to aid U.S. soldiers standing for the nation they sought to separate from. But 1953 was another time, when the events of 1861 through 1865 were seen by many through a different, less divisive lens.
“When the Vampire Was Captured” from TRUE WEIRD, March 1953 follows an oft-employed template. The idea of digging up a shocking, supposedly true historical event and retelling it for a contemporary readership is standard operating procedure for MAMs. This story includes an ample undercurrent of sexual menace. That surely made it more appealing to the editors and readers of TRUE WEIRD, one of the unusual MAMs published by bodybuilding guru and publisher Ben Weider.
“Vampires Ripped My Flesh” from MAN’S LIFE, March 1956, purports to be a first-hand account of an emerald hunter’s alarming, near lethal encounter with some of nature’s most menacingly named creatures. Now this is what so many readers think of when they think of MAMs: man versus nature! By the way, this story predates the famed “Weasels Ripped My Flesh” yarn from MAN’S LIFE that Frank Zappa borrowed for an album title. (That iconic story, from MAN’S LIFE, September 1956, inspired and is included in our book WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH!) Indeed, quite a few MAM stories had similar titles. MAMs trafficked regularly in this kind of “killer creature” horror (see our book I WATCHED THEM EAT ME ALIVE). But wasn’t necessarily viewed or presented as horror per se. Animal attack stories emerged as an extension of hunting stories and tales of outdoor adventure and survival taken to their logical (well, perhaps illogical) extreme. If a creature walked, crawled, swam, or flew, MAM writers figured out a way for them to band together and turn against man.
“Island of Doom,” from SPORT TRAILS, Spring 1957, was written by Bill Wharton, a regular contributor to MAMs such as ACTION FOR MEN, COMBAT, ACTION LIFE, STAG, FOR MEN ONLY, OUTDOOR ADVENTURES, AND MAN’S MAGAZINE. One of the most interesting aspects of this yarn is what it doesn’t say—particularly Wharton’s unwillingness to define the monstrous menace at its center too clearly, leaving much of the heavy lifting to the reader’s imagination. Just what the hell are the unstoppable 15-foot reptiles that menace the small band of men, anyway? Even the illustration by Morton Engel shows us very little. Odds are Wharton was hoping what few, vague details he did supply (“resembling a dragon but more likely a giant iguana”) would catch in the reader’s brain somewhere near half-remembered information about Komodo dragons and tall tales suggesting relict species of dinosaur may yet survive in remote, unexplored locales.
Vegetation with a taste for human flesh has long been part of folklore the world over, leading to many man vs. plant stories in weird pulp fiction, movies, comics, and TV. Such stories can be found in vintage issues of WWEIRD TALES, and “Trapped by a Man-Eating Tree” brought the trope to the March 1958 issue of MAN’S LIFE in gruesome style. It’s credited to “Robert Moore,” one of multiple pseudonyms utilized by Robert Moore Williams. Williams penned at least 19 science fiction novels and was a prolific author of short stories as well. He wrote for pulp magazines from the late 1930s into the 1950s before moving to MAMs, with his work appearing mostly in the Crestwood Publications MAMs MAN’S LIFE and TRUE MEN STORIES. Like “Trapped,” about half of his MAM stories follow the popular “as told to” approach, a technique implying the story has been related to the writer as a first-hand experience by the characters involved. Well, the surviving characters, anyway.
“Dean of Fantasy” Manly Wade Wellman was WEIRD TALES magazine royalty. He wrote in several popular genres, but is best remembered for his groundbreaking work in fantasy and science fiction. The Wellman story included in ATOMIC WEREWOLVES AND MAN-EATING PLANTS, “The Song of the Slaves” is from CAVALIER, April 1959. CAVALIER started out as an early top-tier MAM, then over time changed into a PLAYBOY-style bachelor magazine. This story actually first appeared in WEIRD TALES, March 1940 and is one of many stories that MAMs reprinted from pre-WWII pulps.
The reputation of H.P. Lovecraft looms about as large as any writer of the fantastic, and “The Rats in the Walls” is among his most famous and oft-reprinted stories. Originally published in WEIRD TALES, March 1924, it was reprinted in the little-known MAM SENSATION in January 1959. More than one human found himself squaring off against rats in other MAM stories, and cannibalism was something that also cropped up on occasion in both MAM fiction and non-fiction pieces. Lovecraft’s story is a precursor of those tales. It was a thrill to have a Lovecraft tale to use in this collection, and it’s a testament to the variety of content found in MAMs that the story qualifies for inclusion.
Despite its futuristic setting and reliance on technological advances that are even today futuristic, “The Man Who Couldn’t Die” by Gardner F. Fox, from ADVENTURE, August 1961, is nonetheless firmly ensconced in MAM territory. Fox was an amazingly prolific writer of short stories for pulp magazines (including WEIRD TALES), comics and MAMs wrote many novels under his own name and pseudonyms. (See The Gardner F. Fox Library website to read his stories and books online.) The Fox story we picked for our anthology involves a man who is forced to become a cyborg. It has a nasty twist at the end that I don’t want to spoil here.
Like the story by Fox, “The Hunted,” from ADVENTURE, October 1961, is a science fiction yarn set in the far future. Its depiction of humans on the run from organized, sentient robots was not typical of MAMs. But MAMs have more sci fi yarns than most people are aware of and pursuit stories fit quite neatly into a mold MAM readers understood and enjoyed in almost any setting. Of course, robot stories were common in WEIRD TALES and other pulps.
Accompanied by one of the worst illustrations we’ve encountered in a MAM, “The Werewolf and the Cowboy” SEE FOR MEN, November 1961, deserved better. A tense, suspenseful, and legitimately thrilling werewolf story that manages to play to both action-hungry MAM readers and scare-hungry horror fans, its presentation conflicts with the idea that MAMs bolstered mediocre fiction by the inclusion of artful and spectacular illustration art. True, there are many examples where that clearly happened, but this story makes a compelling case for the inverse—a solid story but an amateurish illo.
The next story, “Mad Doctor of No-Name Key,” from ADVENTURE LIFE, December 1961, is the kind of bizarro, fact-based story that MAMs loved punch up, and present to its readers. It’s legitimately creepy, it deals in sexual obsession and taboo sex (implied necrophilia), and best of all, it’s actually based on real people and true events. The events, involving “Count von Cosel” (Carl Tanzler) and Elena Hoyos, are legendary in Key West. The ADVENTURE LIFE story plays a bit fast and loose with the facts, but so do most retellings of the strange story of Cosel and Elena. There is a very good, well-researched book about them: UNDYING LOVE: THE TRUE STORY OF A PASSION THAT DEFIED DEATH by Ben Harrison, first published in 1996. In 2018, a musical based on that book was created and performed in Key West, which is not far from where I live in the Florida Keys. I saw the musical and thought it was great. If you’re intrigued by this story, watch the video of the musical here. I think you’ll see why I loved it.
In the next post, I provide a preview of the rest of the stories in ATOMIC WEREWOLVES AND MAN-EATING PLANTS: WHEN MEN’S ADVENTURE MAGAZINES GOT WEIRD. You can read it at this link. Meanwhile, if you want to watch a cool video preview of the book, see Jules Burt’s great post by clicking the image below…
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