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.