It might be hard to imag­ine today but mag­a­zine pub­lish­ing used to be the Wild West area of the print world.  If you had the right hus­tle, you could carve out your own niche explor­ing (and exploit­ing) the wild side of things.  The first vol­ume of Bad Mags took the read­er back to that era and, aside from a brief detour into the world of bik­er mag­a­zi­nes, kept its gaze focused on the girlie mag/sexploitation film jour­nal side of things.  Bad Mags Vol. 2 shifts from sexy to scary and cre­ates a jour­ney that is just as eye-open­ing, albeit in a queasier style.

The creep fac­tor begins gen­tly in an open­ing chap­ter devot­ed to mag­a­zi­nes with a satan­ic the­me.  Of course, plen­ty of girlie mag pub­lish­ers saw the whole occult the­me as a new way to dress up the same old wares so there are plen­ty of descrip­tions of cheese­cake pub­li­ca­tions where flesh is bared amid­st a back­drop of altars and men in fun­ny-look­ing robes.  However, a more omi­nous take in this mate­ri­al pops up in descrip­tions of the “occult revival,” includ­ing scary sto­ries that popped up in respectable pub­li­ca­tions like Time and Esquire.  The social/psychological sense of dis­qui­et that emerged in the U.S. at the end of the 1960’s starts to make itself felt here.

The creep­ing fear that crops up in the Satanic mag chap­ter erupts into full-scale mania in the next two chap­ters, which are devot­ed to pub­li­ca­tions that did arti­cles on the mur­der of Sharon Tate and pro­files of Charles Manson.  The Sharon Tate chap­ter shows off how reck­less the tabloid press can be when explor­ing a case with few facts: the sub–National Enquirer tabloids and gos­sip mag­a­zi­nes issued sto­ries filled with wild spec­u­la­tion about the mur­ders before Manson was arrest­ed, includ­ing omi­nous rumors of Tate’s friends being into kinky plea­sures and an absurd the­o­ry that the mur­ders were com­mit­ted by a drug deal­er who was sex­u­al­ly humil­i­at­ed in front of a crowd by Jay Sebring(!).

Conversely, the Manson chap­ter shows what the tabloid press does when it gets ahold of a great, ready-made sub­ject like Manson.  The cult, the orgies, the mur­ders: all per­fect fod­der for the gut­ter press and the mag­a­zi­nes and tabloid papers, arranged chrono­log­i­cal­ly, gorge them­selves on every unsa­vory morsel of it.  Some still felt the need to up the fear/loathing ante — one cov­er reprint­ed here pro­claims that Manson is the “Illegitimate Son Of Adolf Hitler” — but a lot of the wild mate­ri­al here has its roots in real sto­ries.  Highlights include accounts of Ed Sanders’ explo­rations of the Manson clan, which would result in the book The Family, and a mem­o­rable sto­ry by Timothy Leary in which he recounts a meet­ing with Manson when both were doing time in the same pris­on.

The Manson chap­ter is the length­i­est one in Bad Mags Vol. 2 but the remain­ing third of the book still has a few good punch­es to throw.  The next chap­ter deals with Myron Fass, an infa­mous fig­ure in mag­a­zine pub­lish­ing who is dubbed “The Demon God Of Pulp.”  This short but mem­o­rable sec­tion offers a fun por­trait of Fass as an out­law who taught him­self how to make mon­ey the eas­i­ly exploitable side of pub­lic inter­ests — hor­ror, rock & roll, UFO’s — and had fun doing it.  He was also a bit of a tough guy who tot­ed a pis­tol and didn’t hes­i­tate to punch out some­one who inter­fered with his prof­its.  It’s amaz­ing that no one has tried to make a movie about him yet. Descriptions of a few his pub­li­ca­tions round out the pro­ceed­ings here, the most mem­o­rable being his fic­tion­al-to-the-point-of-satir­i­cal UFO mag­a­zi­nes.

Fass’s prof­it-turn­ing touch is also felt in the final two chap­ters.  The first is devot­ed to the mag­a­zi­nes that exploit­ed real-life vio­lence and death for prof­it: crime and detec­tive mag­a­zi­nes, with their lurid reprints of crime scene pho­tos, set the tone here.  However, the most shock­ing pub­li­ca­tion here was a short-lived one called Violent World.  Simply put, this mag­a­zine was the print equiv­a­lent of mon­do docu-blood­baths like Faces Of Death and the cov­ers reprint­ed here are guar­an­teed to make you lose your lunch.  Fass gets in on the death-sploita­tion with both detec­tive mag­a­zi­nes and even a one-shot devot­ed to the Son Of Sam seri­al killer case.

The final chap­ter is devot­ed to mag­a­zi­nes that cashed in on the media infamy of punk rock.  Fass was all over this trend, cut­ting loose his team of gift­ed prankster/writers to emu­late the graph­ics of real punk zines as they offered their own sneer­ing take on the gen­re.  Also includ­ed here are a few adult mag­a­zi­nes that tried to cash in on the trend — includ­ing an issue of High Society with a Wendy O. Williams pic­to­ri­al — and descrip­tions of a few straight-up porn zines that offered their own S&M inter­pre­ta­tion of punk.  The book is round­ed out by a check­list of mag­a­zi­nes that Ed Wood Jr. wrote for, which also includes a brief side­bar tes­ti­mo­ni­al from some­one who actu­al­ly worked with Wood dur­ing his time at Pendulum Press.  The lat­ter part will have Wood fans riv­et­ed with its tales of him show­ing up to work, drunk and in drag.

In short, Bad Mags Vol. 2 is an excel­lent book-end to the pre­vi­ous vol­ume, cap­tur­ing the grim­mer side of sleaze pub­li­ca­tions in a sim­i­lar­ly eye-pop­ping man­ner.  Even if you aren’t a mag­a­zine col­lec­tor, the Tate/Manson chap­ters and the mate­ri­al on Myron Fass make it well worth the read for those whose inter­ests run to the edgy and eccen­tric.