BAD MAGS VOL. 2: Visions Of A Violent World At Your Local Newsstand

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.

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