When people hear the word “exploitation” it’s easy to think of movies first but enterprising business minds have been using a variety of mediums to exploit forbidden areas of public interest since time immemorial.  Printed matter was an important early venue for such exploitation, with the magazine providing a low-expense way to cash in on whatever oddball interests the public might have.  The long history of nudie magazines offers ample testimony to that fact.

And nudie magazines is where Bad Mags Vol. 1 begins.  This sleaze-history tome from Tom Brinkmann devotes a good two-thirds of its pages to a look at the pre-hardcore sex magazine.  The first hundred pages cover the quickie publications that defined the genre between the advent of Playboy and the eventual rise of hardcore porn mags.  It’s not a full history of the genre: the limits of his exploration are defined by the limits of his magazine collection as well as his interests, which lean towards fly-by-night publications known as “slicks” that most often originated on the West Coast of the U.S..  That said, Brinkmann knows a lot about this exceptionally obscure corner of the publishing world and he writes about it in an informative manner.

The first part of the book establishes Brinkmann’s basic format: he gives a detailed description of the contents of various magazines in his collection, explores how they came to be and sizes up the various themes (nudism, hippies, fetishes) that these magazines offered a carnival mirror-style skewed reflection of.  He supports his writing with plentiful images and cover scans that support the text nicely in giving the reader the sleazy flavor of these publications.  In fact, all sections of the book benefit from his selection of eye-catching, often deliriously sleazy images.

The next hundred pages get more interesting for exploitation/sleaze film enthusiasts because they focus on the “adult film” magazines that preceded the explosion of the hardcore porn magazine.  These magazines utilized a wealth of stills for sexploitation from the pre-porno era, including a lot of stuff produced by the likes of Harry Novak and David Friedman.  This section of the book also includes a profile of Titus Moody, an L.A. showbiz-fringe figure who did a lot of work in exploitation, sexploitation and porn.  As a side-job, he shot and participated in a lot of still photos that ended up west coast adult slicks.  Any fan of Ray Dennis Steckler’s early work will be intrigued by this short chapter as Moody was a fixture in his early films.

That said, the last third of the book has its most interesting material.  There is a chapter on biker magazines that explores how the lower rungs of the publishing business exploited the rise of the biker gangs in pop culture during the mid-to-late 1960’s in the same way that exploitation filmmakers were doing around the same time.  Brinkmann also makes some interesting observations about how a few early news stories on the subject of bikers were extensively cribbed from in many of these fly-by-night publications.  There’s even some discussion of biker-themed porn magazines!

The final fifty or so pages cover Ed Wood Jr.’s work for adult magazines in Los Angeles – and it alone makes this book worth buying for exploitation movie fans.  Wood’s prolific string of adult novels has been covered extensively over the years since Nightmare Of Ecstasy, with some titles being reissued, but the Wood-written short stories that are extensively document here are another thing altogether.

As described by Brinkmann, Wood’s stories for these magazines are bizarre enough to leave even his fanatical devotees slackjawed: these intensely lurid, feverishly plotted tales mix porn elements with a hefty dose of horror themes, including sex-driven stories about Frankenstein and Dracula!  There are also sci-fi and historical-themed porn ventures, all chockablock with transgressive blends of sex and violence dished up in Wood’s overblown, fast-as-he-could-type-it verbiage.  Reading about these tales is enough to make you wish someone would get an anthology of these stories together, as they sound like they would make the most mind-bending, outrageous collection of adult fiction ever.

Rounding out the Ed Wood section is a series of descriptions of magazines including other players from the Ed Wood story, including everything from tabloids featuring the predictions of hack-psychic Criswell to adult slicks featuring photo layouts of Rene Bond and Lynn Harris.

In short, Bad Mags Vol. 1 is an interesting proposition for the exploitation media scholar.  How much in interests you will depend on your interest in vintage adult magazines but it has a definite crossover interest-level for fans of vintage exploitation films, what with all the coverage of West Coast sexploitation and that senses-stunning Ed Wood section.  It’s a bit more of special-interest item than the second volume of this series but if the subject matter fits your interests, it’s a handsomely designed and thoughtful way to explore the sexy side of print-based exploitation.