Wielding a fascinating variety of names--Action for Men, Action Life, Adventure for Men, Adventure Life, All Man, Man's Action, Man's True Action, Men in Action, Real Action for Men, Real Men, and World of Men--these male fantasy mags (and there were literally hundreds) were a huge hit with guys following World War II. Why? That's the question Adam Parfrey's It's a Man's World tries to answer. Unfortunately, these rags were so fucking weird, they defy explanation.
So instead of trying to figure out the un-figure out-able, Parfrey devotes his book to the illustrations gracing the covers of these manly mags. Now I'm not the type of guy who wanders through museums longingly staring at each work of "art" in hopes of deciphering its meaning. However, I lingered on each page of this book, desperately trying to figure out not only their back-stories, but also why these pictures were painted in the first place.
For example, there's the cover illustration for the June 1955 edition of Male (painted by pulp master, Mort Kunstler) which depicts in beautiful saturated colors, a man with a machete valiantly fighting off an attack from a vicious Gila monster. Everything is ultra-realistic; the dripping blood is of the deepest crimson, the machete gleams in the sunlight, the talons of the great beast rip into the back of a fallen black native whose face is contorted in horror. You will NEVER see such a glorious piece in a museum, and the art scene is the worse for it.
But even better, there's 280 more pages of these amazingly bizarre works of art, each picturing man in fierce battle against crocodile, polar bear, shark, weasel, injun, head-shrinking native, Amazon sex doll, Communist, Nazi, and hippie biker gang. In other words, all the things that scared the shit out of my father. Hey! Maybe there's a reason behind these mags after all! WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY