Vintage pulp paperbacks were bought and sold as throwaway reading, and plenty were trash. But just as Jim Thompson and James Goodis, now acclaimed as masters of noir crime novels, found in pulps the freedom to write books too violent and disturbing for mainstream publishers, many writers who wanted to tell stories about gay men and lesbians -- a subject generally considered too risque for "normal" readers -- turned to adults-only paperbacks. Plenty of them were trash, too. But others were ripping good reads that appropriated the conventions of genre fiction -- detective stories, sex farces, gothic romance, psychological thrillers, sci-fi, Westerns, historical adventure, globetrotting tales of espionage -- and reconfigured them for a mirror-world in which the James Bonds, space explorers, gold diggers, heroic crusaders, gangsters, cowboys, aliens, Sam Spades, serial killers and damsels in distress were all gay men.
The golden age of gay pulps was from the late 1960s through the late '70s, when they became increasingly explicit but were still being written by novelists who cared about character, plot and (whether by design or default) preserving the details of how a marginalized but vibrant community lived, dreamed, fantasized and juggled the pressure of living parallel lives. I began collecting them in the '80s, before the originals became increasingly rare and expensive.
I want to self-publish a tete-beche (two-in-one) edition of Man Eater and Night of the Sadist, two adults-only gay thrillers published in 1971. In Night of the Sadist, the brother of a murdered writer discovers that the police aren't interested in investing time or resources pursuing the killer of a dead gay guy.. So he joins forces with a sympathetic, gay black cop to uncover the murderer's identity. Man Eater follows a Vietnam vet with PTSD (a condition that didn't even have a name until years later) working for the newly formed United Nations Crime Control Commission. He's trapped in the nightmare case of a killer who's been crisscrossing Europe and leaving the corpses of openly gay men in his wake, their privates bitten off by a set of custom-made steel teeth. Can you hear the echoes of everything from Thomas Harris' 1981 Red Dragon to James Bond hench-villain Jaws?
Tete beche editions are two books bound back to back, where the front cover of one is the back cover of the other; after finishing the first, you flip the book over and read the second. They were popular from the 1950s through the early '70s. Though not primarily associated with adults-only titles, I think the two-for-one value factor makes it a great format for introducing 21st-century readers to these forgotten books. Man Eater / Night of the Sadist will include my original introductory essay positioning gay pulps within the larger context of LGBT fiction and discussing their value as a secret history, a window onto a long-gone era.
I am an expert in vintage erotica and the author of four books from legacy publishers, including The 50 Most Erotic Films of All Time. I created the website 120 Days of Sodom(y) as an alternative to sites that focus on the retro or campy cover art of gay pulps and ignore the books between the covers. And I have begun to find and work with some of the long-lost, unrecognized authors. Rather than just tell people about these books and men, I'd like to make some of them available to a new generation of readers.
- (30 days)