The 6 Most Insane Covers in the History of Old Magazines
"Stag mags" were lifestyle publications in a time when "puberty" was an affectionate nickname for the draft and women could only vote if they balanced on a man's shoulders so it could be said that they technically had a penis between their legs. Stags were also called "sweat mags," and had names like MALE, REAL MEN, and KEN FOR MEN, because sexuality, like time, is a circle, and if you go too far straight, you find yourself right back at gay again.
Their covers were universally badass: stubbly, desperate men absolutely destroying nature, callously drawn minorities, and the flimsy shirts of women with equal frenzy. Their titles were always spelled out in brutal, hard-edged fonts with gigantic consonants you could peel off the page and use to bludgeon a communist to death.
And their teaser headlines promised grand tales of intrigue, murder, eroticism, and intriguingly murderous eroticism -- which is too bad, because we'll never actually read the stories they were teasing. Stag mags were cheap throw-away publications that did not stand the test of time, and most of their contents are impossible to find these days. All we really have left are these ridiculous cover scans. So we'll just have to deduce, to the best of our ability, what those headlines are so desperately trying to tell us in between their uncontrollable bouts of Testosterone Tourette's.
This installment will focus solely on ACTION FOR MEN magazine. And you're probably just going to have to trust me that these are all real, unless you want to type "action for men" into your browser and learn all about the best ways to get plowed by a trucker in the bathroom of a Red Robin.
White-Girls Are the Scourge of the Earth
Basic logic dictates that the cover illustration has something to do with one of the teaser headlines, right? This one is probably depicting some part of "Jet Stream Joy Girl" -- an insurmountably random slurry of English that would be more at home on the back of a cartoon-themed Japanese vibrator. And while the promise of Vespa-riding harlots gunning down hippies at the baggage claim is certainly intriguing, it's the little headline at the bottom right that I keep coming back to.
If you had the balls to suggest a copy editor to the hard-bitten, J. Jonah Jameson-esque manager of one of these magazines back in the day, I'm certain you'd find that your smug liberal college education had been smacked right out of your face before you even finished the sentence. But still, the phrasing there -- "'Avenging Angel' of Africa's White-Girl Massacre" -- is so clumsy that it leaves the sentence open to two completely different interpretations. Somebody is avenging a massacre of white-girls that took place in Africa, or else somebody is avenging the massacre that white-girls have enacted upon Africa. And judging by the cover -- those scantily clad trollops pulling drive-bys on the bleary-eyed customers of Delta 443 -- I'm inclined to believe the latter. Those murderous white-girls went too far this time, and now it's up to Hell-Diver O'Shea to avenge the dark continent the only way he knows how: with his penis.
Hey, they don't call him "Hell-Diver" because he "goes deep" in the ocean.
Sex Crimes and Doubloons
Everything in this magazine is naked and in trouble. Look at those headlines: from "The Nude Captives of Guerilla Island" to "The Cycle Nymphs Who Stalk America." This is apparently the special Pantsless Crime Edition of ACTION FOR MEN. Hell, even inanimate objects aren't making it out of this issue with their orifices intact. They ain't just pillaging that treasure, friend ...
I'm not making any tasteless jokes here. Treasure rape is a serious crime. Every 12 minutes, somebody puts their dick in a crown and says, "Kneel before the king!" Please, donate what you can now. Here's Sarah McLachlan:
"In the aaaarms of an aaaangeeeeel ..."
Just a Literary Beard for Porn
Well, this seems straightforward enough: The cover is just depicting a thrilling tableau of wartime escape complete wi- wait, what's that in the upper right?
Well, I suppose that's straightforward enough, too: This is a story about pornography. "Dr. Cream and the Nighttime Girls of London" is the most clear and unabashed porn title since I Am Going to Fuck You IV: The Fuckening.
No, don't Google that; I know it sounds awesome, but trust me: The Fuckening takes that no-nonsense approach throughout the entire film. Just 45 straight minutes of quietly unhappy missionary beneath a coverless duvet.
Woman: The Beast Inside Our Walls
Wait, which headline could this cover illustration possibly be related to? "The Torpedoed Sailor Who Took Over Japan's Camp-Girl Compound"?
"The Love Nest That Shocked Memphis"?
I'm not entirely sure if the correct plural for a group of women is a "nest," and anyway, it looks like they're marching through an African village. "Hatchet Man from Moscow"? I don't see a single ax-wielding Russian anywhere -- and trust me, I looked! I'm always down for a hatchet-murdering Soviet. I was so crestfallen when I didn't find one, in fact, that I thought it might be a Where's Waldo? kind of deal -- I spotted two naked couples, a yeti, and that asshole Odlaw -- but no Russian.
Which means that this illustration must be entirely unrelated to any of the teaser text; it is its own story. Japanese soldiers are parading their captives -- a gaggle of presumably American soldiers and a single woman in a tiger cage -- through an African village. Look where their attention is focused: They're all terrified of the girl in the purple dress. Even the Americans.
But why? It's just one woman, what could she have done? What possible explanation could there be for the crazy level of fear on display here?
Look at that guy! He has seen some shit. His facial expression is how mimes portray PTSD.
The answers are as simple as they are self-evident: All women are monsters to be feared.
Seriously, there's at least one story in every stag magazine heavily implying that women are indomitable devil-beasts who are one fallen souffle away from burning down an orphanage.
The Tragicomic Antics of Wartime
How helpful: This time the headline has a little arrow pointing to the exposed breasts to let you know that, yes, these are the particular breasts we're going to be talking about. They say a picture says a thousand words, but this one only seems to be saying four: "Santa Claus themed gangbang."
Incidentally: I defy you to organize four words in a worse way than that. It cannot be done.
But I'm not concerned with festive holiday snow-orgies. What I really wish there were more context for is that headline in the bottom left.
What happened to the publishing industry immediately after World War II? Did we loot all the Engrish from Japan when we pulled our forces out? What could those words possibly mean? I'm picturing some kind of rough and tumble elite military squadron of clowns, and that's the stupi- no, wait, that is actually really sound psychological warfare:
"The day is ours, Mein Fuhrer! The enemy retreats!"
"Nein! Listen! The slapping of big shoes; the honking of bicycle horns. The Combat Zanies -- they approach!"
"We must flee!"
"I am sorry, my boy. You have not seen this before. But I have. I know what this is: This is the end. One can outrun comedy; one can hide from wacky; one can even bargain with shenanigans. But nobody escapes from the red-gloved hand of zaniness."
Into the Mouth of Madness
What does ...
I don't even know where to start. Are they on a Go-Go Barge? That was a thing, back in the day? Go-go parties delivered by water freight? And are those Go-Go Barge pirate ... beatniks? Soulful, poetry-slamming scalawags who lived to pilfer hot Go-Go from the lucrative party barges foolhardy enough to sail their turtleneck-clad waters? And their conveyance of choice was ... jet-sleds?
Did we all used to have jet-sleds? Is this like a reverse hoverboard situation?!
Which of these headlines could possibly apply here? Every other sentence on this cover is something a homeless man would scream at a scantily dressed woman who accidentally stepped on his invisible dog.
"I'LL SAIL MY SHIP TO HELL!"
"NIGHT SCHOOL TEASE!"
"7,000-MAN WALL-OF-FLESH COLD-STEEL DEATH CHARGE!"
And then he'd spread his arms wide and chase down the alley after her.
No, this clinches it: There is no sense to be made here. No context could be applied that would headlock the headlines on this magazine and drag them screaming into the realm of reason and sanity. They went too far with this issue and gave away the game: I know what the stories in stag mags were now. They weren't the cultural smegma of a society freshly reamed by both the Depression and war; they were just a list of adjectives pulled at random from the backs of bottles of miracle tonics, then slapped willy-nilly inside a porno comic under the assumption that everybody would be too busy ogling tits and punches and the occasional tit-punch to ever question it.
And I, for one, vote that we bring them back. I've always felt that modern pornography was missing something, and now I know what that something is: Great Cats and ridiculous violence.
And now that we've found it, I know where I'll be: right directly in my bunk.
Buy Robert's stunning, transcendental, orgasmic science fiction novel, Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity, right here. Or buy Robert's other (pretty OK) book, Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead. Follow him on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook.