CRYTOZOOLOGY ~ FANTASTIC BEASTS AND FANTASTIC STORIES
My buddies, and fellow enthusiasts, Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle have recently published their third sterling collection of stories torn from the pages of the men’s adventure magazines published in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Following on the popularity of Weasels Ripped My Flesh! and He-Men, Bag Men & Nymphos, comes their Cryptozoology Anthology – collecting action pulp stories of Bigfoot, sea monsters, and other mysterious creatures.
Also onboard as an editor for this anthology is David Coleman, author of the The Bigfoot Filmography, an in-depth survey of what he has dubbed Cine du Sasquatch, with reviews of every appearance of Bigfoot, Sasquatch, the Abominable Snowman and other manlike Hominid cryptids in TV shows and movies.
Cryptozoology Anthology brings together thirteen stories about legendary monsters from three decades of men’s adventure magazines. They’re all lushly illustrated with full color scans of the covers of the magazines where they were originally published plus the interior artwork and photos used to illustrate them.
There’s also a bonus story and extra artwork in the special hardcover edition and a hidden story in both the HC and paperback editions.
Each story features animals whose existence or survival is officially unsubstantiated by science or in dispute or who are based on cryptid creatures: Bigfoot, Sasquatch, the Loch Ness Monster, fish with human hands, the Yeti, the Thunderbird, the Ape-Man Monster of Tennessee, and the Thing at Dutchman's Rig (a relict dinosaur) are just some examples.
The stories in the Cryptozoology Anthology range from sensational period reporting and true accounts of savage duels between man and monster, classic fiction yarns (including a giant squid story by the great Arthur C. Clarke), as well as rare archival discoveries, men's pulp history, expert analysis, cryptid-by-cryptid commentary, and much, much more.
I’m grateful to Robert, Wyatt, and David for taking the time to share their men’s adventure magazine and legendary beast expertise.
Historic accounts of legendary creatures! Man versus monster! Fantastic stories and fantastic artwork! How does all of this come together in your Cryptozoology Anthology?
Wyatt: Cryptids and interest in cryptozoological themes didn’t begin in men’s adventure magazines, but men’s adventure magazines (MAMs for short) played a significant role in popularizing the subject, in at least two essential ways: For one, many of the familiar tropes that have defined the way we think of cryptids – for better or worse – were established in men’s adventure magazines; Dave shares examples in the book.
But perhaps more importantly, the mags kept cryptids in the conversation. MAMs didn’t often trade in horror or science fiction themes, but cryptids seem to have been grandfathered in as animal attack stories of a sort, and animal attack stories were always welcome. These magazines regularly featured stories with a cryptozoological bent; it’s fair to say they embraced the subject. Clearly a significant portion of their readership did, too.
How do you decide on the theme of an anthology from the hundreds of story types in men’s adventure magazines?
Bob Deis: It was actually Wyatt’s idea. Our first anthology of men’s adventure magazine stories, Weasels Ripped My Flesh!, was sort of a broad sampler of some of our favorite MAM stories, including many by writers that went on to greater fame, like Lawrence Block, Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, and Robert F. Dorr, along with interviews with and commentary by former men’s adventure writers and editors like Mario Puzo and Bruce Jay Friedman. Our second, He-Men, Bag Men and Nymphos, focused on stories by a little-known author that Puzo and Friedman both considered to be one of the best men’s adventure writers ever, Walter Kaylin. Wyatt decided we should try doing an anthology of stories about some popular subject. He happened to know Dave Coleman from their shared background in writing movie scripts. Dave had recently published his Bigfoot Filmography, and Wyatt had noted the growth in cryptozoology books, TV shows and movies. He floated the idea of a cryptozoology-themed collection of men’s adventure stories with introductory text by Dave. I loved the idea.
Wyatt: I’ve always loved monsters, and I knew there were monsters in men’s adventure magazines – Bob’s shared some of the more monsteriffic covers and illustrations from his collection on www.MensPulpMags.com/ I was thrilled to learn just how many monsters there’d been in the mags!
Dave has been a champion of our books for a long time, and he and I had talked about working together. Once Bob and I decided on weird creatures, Dave was the first person I thought of. I knew he’d be able to put the stories into the larger context of cryptozoology, its history, and its lore.
How did you choose the particular stories for the Cryptozoology Anthology?
Bob: I started by finding all of the stories about Bigfoot, Sasquatch, the Yeti and other cryptid that I could find in my collection of men’s adventure magazines. That took a while, since I have over 4,500 issues. I did an initial selection of options based on the ones I thought were the best, in terms of being ripping yarns or having historical significance. Then I sent the list and image scans to Wyatt and Dave and we jointly picked the cream of the crop, along with the additional artwork and special features we wanted to include.
Dave: What was a nice bit of Fortean synchronicity, I thought, was that while we were confident there would be at least a few cryptozoological stories per magazine series to choose from, we didn’t really know what we’d find until Bob Deis uncovered them. Researching the book was not unlike its own expedition back into the history of men’s magazines and how they related to cryptids over the decades, and we often came across unexpected finds in the stories and amazing illustrations.
Sure enough, there was also this veritable flood of wonderful stories, each often uniquely capturing its era, which came from MAMs in regards to crypto stories. I was astounded by how many Bob was able to find, but pleased, as I had always believed, as did Wyatt and Bob, that there was a deeply-intertwined connection prior to the editing of the book.
Wyatt: Bob’s archives are staggering. He’d send Dave and me pages and pages of magazine covers, interior artwork and stories that we’d try to narrow down to favorites. We wanted to use everything! Each time I’d think, this or that is the best story/cover/artwork in the book, we’d get a new message from Deis with a half-dozen new favorites to choose from. We felt very pleased with ourselves when we’d finally narrowed it down to 13 stories (a number we liked for its Fortean associations), then realized we’d miscounted; we had 14. So we said okay, 13 stories and we’ll hide the other one somehow – we couldn’t bear to cut another tale. I toyed with the idea of leaving the hidden story out of some printings of the book, so that in true cryptid spirit, it would be seen by some and not by others – but that seemed unfair. So, it’s not in the table of contents, but it’s in there. I’m not telling you where.
What goes into producing a book like the Cryptozoology Anthology beyond choosing the stories?
Bob: It’s a lot of work and a team effort. I make high resolution scans of the covers, interior artwork and stories and write my notes for introductory text. Then I pass all that on to Wyatt, who makes editorial decisions and does the graphic design for our books, which he’s incredibly good at.
Dave: The collaboration I’ve enjoyed with Wyatt and Bob makes Cryptozoology Anthology unique in my experience as writer, and I look forward to hopefully repeating it soon. Everyone is knowledgeable, passionate and dedicated to producing the best book possible. You take that kind of good fortune for granted as author at your own peril.
As for what goes into it beyond choosing the stories? Research. A few of the writers chosen for Cryptozoology Anthology such as Arthur C. Clarke are well-known and need no introduction. But others are less well-known, and we felt it important to try to offer as much in the way of insight into who was writing about cryptids as much as present the stories only.
Wyatt: We sparked off each other as part of the process, and collaborating with two experts made my work easier. I was able to bounce questions about the mags off Bob, and run cryptid questions by Dave. Google can’t deliver the kind of insight these guys bring to their areas of expertise; they’ve got stuff that ain’t even in books yet.
Selling the book is where we are now. Putting together a fun, colorful, informative collection is one thing. We’re a small, independent press. How do we get the word out about the book without the marketing budget and resources of a big publishing house? The internet affords a lot of access to potential readers, but there’s a lot of noise to cut through. It’s a challenge.
We try to come up with promotion that sticks with people. There’s a yeti photo included in the book that I’d joked looked like comic Joe Besser (of the late-era Three Stooges). So we ran a tongue-in-cheek ad online featuring both that got a big response; it even ended up spotlighted by Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast, for combining two of Gilbert’s great loves!
How did Dave’s Bigfoot expertise come into play in the Cryptozoology Anthology?
Bob: It was critical to fulfill our vision for the book. We didn’t just want it to be a set of stories with no context. We wanted it to be both fun to read and a serious contribution to cryptozoology lore. Dave added that element in his introductory text for the stories. He has a vast storehouse of knowledge of the history of cryptozoology and the portrayal of cryptid creatures in popular media.
Dave: Having written The Bigfoot Filmography proved an invaluable asset in this regard towards the editing of Cryptozoology Anthology. I had met and known some of the top cryptozoologists in their respective fields as a result of my previous book.
So when we began Cryptozoology Anthology, I was able to contact many of these experts and get their input, as well as offer my own, to hopefully present a more balanced perspective of the MAM/cryptid connections.
Wyatt: Dave was our wise Sherpa guide. He knows the landscape and terrain of the subject very well, and he was able to lead Bob and me through the tangle of backstories and debates related to various crypto topics from the stories. Dave helped us get a handle on how each story fit into the larger scheme of cryptozoological history and lore – much as he does in the book.
What did you learn about men’s adventure magazines from creating the Cryptozoology Anthology you didn’t know before?
Dave: That the cryptid stories were narratively evolving, no pun intended. The way Bigfoot, for example, is presented, as well as Yeti, is very flexible. And true to the arc of the culture from which they came, MAMs would have their cryptids, for example, become more licentious and the violence more outrageous.
I knew of course MAMs can be very transgressive by experience reading them as a delightfully shocked child reader back when. But as an adult, it was fun to see how the MAM editors were clearly alive to the cryptid fiction genre they were creating, and how they clearly added to the excitement in successive waves of stories and how their writers wrote them.
Bob: After our initial discussions with Dave, we realized that men’s adventure magazines played a major role in the cultural awareness and perceptions of many cryptid monsters, especially Bigfoot, Sasquatch, the Yeti, the Loch Ness monster and the giant Thunderbird. But no previous books had ever really focused on that. So, we figured out that the Cryptozoology Anthology would also have historic significance in the realm of crypto lore.
Wyatt: When people think men’s adventure magazine subjects, they think animal attacks, Nazi villains, war, tropical love slaves… The curious fact that Bigfoot and yeti stories and reportage were a lesser known part of that universe seemed reason enough to merit a collection. But the realization that the magazines were not merely exploiting that interest, but actually helping to establish and fan the flames of that interest in significant ways was a revelation. It altered our perspective on the whole project.
After producing a trio of anthologies ripped from the pages of the men’s adventure magazines, what impresses you most about these stories?
Bob: I continue to be amazed that they are still relatively unknown and underappreciated. There is far greater awareness of the stories and artwork from the pre-World War II pulp magazines and of the science fiction and fantasy magazines that were published in the 1950s and 1960s, the decades that were the golden age for men’s adventure magazines. The best stories and artwork in men’s adventure magazines are as good as anything from those other genres and, I think, deserve wider attention. They also include many fact-based stories and photographs that provide glimpses of history, something the old pulps and sci fi mags do not provide. They’re a huge a treasure trove of mid-Twentieth Century pop culture artifacts.
Wyatt: I still get a kick out of the fact that these magazines got no respect in their time, and even now, when even the most mediocre genre material is elevated to “classic” status simply because it’s old, MAMs continue to evade respectability. Inexplicably! No one has ever suggested the beloved pulp magazines of the 1930s are high art, and they're collected feverishly. Comics’ fans find something to appreciate – even love – in the most unlikely D-list titles from the 1950s. Even the most dire mid-century sex magazines are hip. Yet noses still turn up in some collector's circles at the mere mention of men's adventure mags. We’ve heard arguments they shouldn’t even be considered pulp fiction! Men’s adventure magazine fiction is the outcast in an outcast genre, the perennial underdog of pulp fiction.
What else would you have included in Cryptozoology Anthology if you had the room? What fantastic beasts are missing? Enough for another Cryptozoology themed anthology down in the future?
Bob: Well, there are literally scores of other stories about various types of cryptid creatures in men’s adventure magazines. We only scratched the surface of what there is about Nessie and other sea and lake monsters. And there are plenty more about the manlike Hominid cryptids, too. Enough to fill several more volumes. In fact, we’re already thinking about a second one.
Wyatt: I’m originally from Philadelphia, so I heard tales of the Jersey Devil around a lot of campfires growing up; it would have been nice to include him. He does make a cameo appearance in the John Keel story (Incredible Monster-Man Sightings in the U.S.), but we had no standalone piece focused solely on the Jersey Devil. But that doesn't mean it's not out there, somewhere. You wait, Bob will find one.
As fans of the men’s adventure magazines do you feel an obligation to preserve this publishing niche or is it all for fun?
Bob: It’s both for me. There’s certainly a humor factor associated with many men’s adventure magazine stories and artwork. Some of it comes from conscious nudge-nudge-wink-wink aspects that the editors, writers and artists put in knowingly. Some of it is because many of the stories and illustrations look so jaw-droppingly over-the-top or politically incorrect from today’s perspective. But, yeah, a big part of the reason behind doing our www.MensPulpMags.com/ blog, the Men’s Adventure Magazines Facebook group and the Men’s Adventure Library series of anthologies is to increase awareness of a genre of magazines that was once read by tens of millions of men, and that was contributed to by many talented writers and artists; a genre that sheds a light on American history and culture that you can’t get from reading history books.
Was the success of the men’s adventure magazines due entirely to the marriage of outrageous art and hard action stories, or was there something deeper going on in society which kept these magazine flying off the shelves?
Bob: The men’s adventure magazines took shape after World War II and were largely targeted to American servicemen, veterans and blue-collar workers who grew up reading classic comic books and pulp magazines. There were millions of them so it was a big market. I think men’s adventure magazines filled a need for those men, after they became adults experienced the grim realities of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the huge cultural changes that took place in the 1950s and 1960s. They wanted magazines that combined entertaining stories with news and exposés and other features done from and for the point of view of grown-up, regular guys, rather than for the upwardly mobile executive types and eggheads that Playboy and its clones targeted. Of course, all men like the photos of semi-nude and nude women that were common to both the men’s adventure and girlie mag genres.
Wyatt: What still blows my mind is the readership the mags enjoyed. These crazy stories and wild images that today exist only on the very fringes of pop culture were once ubiquitous and mainstream, a regular part of a lot of working men’s entertainment diet. We know reading fuels the brain in unique ways, helping to cultivate imagination and critical thinking. What does it mean when great swaths of the population move away, en masse, from reading as entertainment, replacing it with more passive, less engaging pursuits? It’s hard not to feel that as a culture, we’ve lost something significant.
What do you think is behind the resurgences of interest in men’s adventure magazines?
Bob: I’d say the growth of the Internet has a lot to do with it. The covers and interior artwork are so cool that examples get posted and reposted on thousands of websites. And art auction sites like Heritage Auctions have increasingly been offering original men’s adventure magazine paintings for sale as part of a general increase in interest in twentieth century illustration art. Fans of the artwork eventually begin to realize that it comes from magazines they don’t know much about, which leads them to websites like MensPulpMags.com and then to books that give them more information, like ours and the two seminal books that focus on the artwork, It’s a Man’s World and Men’s Adventure Magazines in Postwar America. Both of those feature the collection of our friend Rich Oberg, the biggest collector of men’s adventure artwork in the world. The other big factor is eBay. Basically, eBay has made it possible for anyone to buy old issues of men’s adventure magazines that were pretty much hidden from sight in attics and used bookstores for a couple of decades and largely forgotten. As a result, there are more and more people actually collecting the magazines.
Wyatt: It’s almost impossible not to be hooked by the fantastic covers and spectacular interior illustrations once you’ve seen them; that’s the biggest group of fans, and that’s always going to be the biggest group of fans. A smaller subset also enjoys the stories, and recognizes there’s just as much to enjoy and marvel at and be thrilled by in the magazine’s copy. A third group appreciates the art and stories, but is also intrigued by the idea that the magazines — their stories, their artwork, their take on their world and their times — provide unique perspectives on a whole lot of other things, some of which have little or nothing to do with great illustration art or high-octane fiction. Our ambition is to pack enough art, pulp, and insight into our releases to satisfy each of those tastes with the same book. So far I think we’re doing all right.
Thanks gang for a great interview and for the coolness that is Cryptozoology Anthology…And I haven’t forgotten I agreed to help out with an anthology of boxing stories from the Men’s Adventure Magazines, which I’m greatly looking forward to working on.