It's A Man's World BOOK review [Adam Parfrey]



Book Reviews
It's A Man's World BOOK review [Adam Parfrey]
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May 1, 2003, 23:46

IT'S A MAN'S WORLD: MEN'S ADVENTURE MAGAZINES AND POSTWAR PULPS by Adam Parfrey; Feral House, 2003

Upon initially viewing and handling It's A Man's World  I was struck with a ripe and potent reverie. The trade hardcover size and heft, with glossy paper cover glued over board conspired to throw me back to my adolescence. Many books that remain on my shelves are similarly constructed and serve similar purpose. Compiled collections of cars, comics, and comedy brought light to eras of commerce and communication otherwise forgotten by mainstream media. Likewise, this alluring coffee table monstrosity groaning under its own manly girth illuminates, as per the subtitle.

According to illustrator Norm Saunders, the larger portion of the market for these “postwar pulps” were returning soldiers who'd seen little or no battle. Their thirst for warfare and conquest having been left unquenched, the publications provided a racy, racist, and overwhelmingly misogynistic outlet for their untested manhood. (Perhaps, needless to say, those men who actually participated in outright war were not perceived as an audience, their appetite for destruction having been lessened if not downright eliminated.) Accompanying the action and desire of the luxuriant meta-realistic and technique-ridden painted covers were great fears and perhaps even greater homoeroticism. Buxom blondes and brunettes posing as barely distressed damsels recoil somewhat in horror but more in disdain from various and sundry Nazis, Commies, and Asians. Toothsome creatures approximate the untamed and unknowable for the return of the great white hunter who might consider women untamable and unknowable. And it was all available for purchase at the newsstand, without the threat of arrest, embarrassment, or even the wife's disapproval.

Made for men by men, tongue frequently in cheek yet executed with little irony, the adventure magazines were of the classic publishing world of mid-century New York, very much in the smoke-stained and whiskey-scented milieu of Kavalier and Clay. Pulp writers and illustrators did not constitute a true underground. Truly commercial artists firmly entrenched in the pre-Vietnam conflicted zeitgeist, theirs was neither radical nor academic expression. And while some, like Mario Puzo and  Bruce Jay Friedman, went on to author familiar and substantial novels and screenplays, in general that world of men was a déclassé shadow culture of a déclassé shadow culture. And in that doubled reflection, the meaning was plain as day.

-Dave Rick

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