For about the last year and a half, I've been seriously and steadily collecting vintage men's adventure magazines. There were dozens of titles in this genre, most published over a span of 20-25 years from the early '50s to the early '70s. By the mid '70s, most of the titles had either ceased publication or converted to a T&A format in order to survive. But in their heyday, the MAMs offered a glimpse into a testosterone fueled universe in which action and adventure were the orders of the day. Aimed at a male audience comprised mostly of veterans, these magazines were printed on cheap pulp paper with slick covers.
And what covers they were! Lurid, vivid, and over-the-top can only begin to describe the visual intoxication these painted masterpieces provided. Depicting men, women, bad guys and killer animals (among other perils), the covers were certainly designed to sell magazines. It's one of the primary reasons why I collect these magazines. The cover art is just so unlike anything being published today that it's impossible to resist their allure. Plus, when I was a kid, if I had even thought about buying one of these magazines, I'm sure I would have been firmly set upon the straight path to hell. Thus, even though I saw these on the magazine stands of my youth, I never had the gumption to purchase one. My money went for issues of MAD, FAMOUS MONSTERS, CREEPY, EERIE and other black and white delights.
While I swoon over each and every new MAM I acquire on eBay these days, I've never actually sat down and read any of the contents that are so boldly emblazoned on the covers of these treasures. The more sensational, the more salacious, the wilder the cover copy, the better. After all, even though the covers were the primary selling point for the MAMs, they weren't just selling the sizzle over the steak. There had to be content in those pulp pages, stories and articles that delivered the goods to the men who plunked down their hard earned thirty-five or fifty cents for a few hours of reading pleasure and pure escape.
One of the finest craftsmen to contribute to the MAMs was Robert F. Dorr. The best of his many war and adventure stories has recently been collected in A HANDFUL OF HELL, published by, what else, The Men's Adventure Library. Editors Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle have assembled a superlative package of art and prose that brilliantly showcases the storytelling prowess of Robert Dorr.
It's all here: bomber crews, fighter pilots, headhunters, damsels in distress, rampaging elephants, commies ,courageous Marines, brave padres, and more. Oh, and action, action, action. Dorr starts almost every piece in the middle of a deadly and dangerous situation, grabbing us by the throat in a tension filled narrative before providing the background details to let us know how our hero got into this predicament. With limited space and word count, Dorr can't afford to waste a single word and he doesn't. He gets you in immediately and then dares you to stop reading while he spins his yarns of high adventure and heroism. Told with bracing, cinematic style and verve, Dorr puts us into the bellies of B-29s, cockpits of fighter planes, the jungles of Southeast Asia and other places where danger and death are just a heartbeat away.
The stories are all first rate and adding to the collection is the inclusion of a fascinating introduction by Dorr and full color reproductions of the covers of the magazines where these stories first appeared along with other art. It's a terrific book that belongs on the shelf of MAM aficionados everywhere. My beautiful wife Judy bought a copy of HANDFUL for my birthday in March. I started reading it as soon as it arrived and I couldn't put it down. Editor Deis says there's a possibility of another volume of Dorr stories in the future. I certainly hope so.
A HANDFUL OF HELL gets my highest recommendation. Ya gotta' read this one!