This Savage Tale Will Shock You...

Robert Morgan Fisher asks - Why am I drawn to these laughably antiquated, clunky attempts at soft porn?

A month ago, I noticed an ad in the right-hand “gutter” of my Facebook page. There, among the wrinkle creams, was one for the Los Angeles Vintage Paperback Convention, happening that Sunday. I clicked on the link...

Now for anyone familiar with the Los Angeles, you know that this freeway intersection is deep in the groin of the San Fernando Valley. Porno Country. Chatsworth. More cardboard soundstages per square mile than anyplace on earth. And since I am a collector of vintage “pulp” paperbacks (“The sluttier the better!” as I like to say), this boded well for a successful salacious literary outing. I put a pin in that date and as it approached, found myself rechecking the webpage for the show which featured a huge array of just the kind of pulp paperbacks I love: Shack Road Girl, The Sinveldt, Television Tramp, etcetera.

Why am I drawn to these laughably antiquated, clunky attempts at soft porn? Well, the artwork for one thing. The original artwork for some of these books (when you can find it) can fetch a small fortune. Then there’s the jacket notes: This savage tale will shock you – you will never forget it … Frederica – young, ripe – and willing … A small town’s innermost secrets – it’s lusts, it’s strange vices, it’s twisted cruelties!
Sign me up.

Some famous authors like Jim Thompson, Nelson Algren and even Jack Kerouac had their books originally published as pulps. I also knew there were rare examples of “perverted” pulps – lesbian and male hustler. I’d never seen any of these in my used bookstore explorations – though I knew they existed. The Los Angeles Vintage Paperback Convention was sure to have examples of these, right?
I was not disappointed.

The event took place during an appropriately noir-ish Raymond Chandleresque rainstorm at the Valley Inn & Conference Center on Sepulveda. There were several rooms and many, many artists and authors of each genre signing their work, answering questions. It was packed with fans. Some tables had prosaic mystery novels from the 70s, some had comic books and specialty collections. There were many vintage magazines, including a few “men’s” magazines. Not necessarily pornographic – but campy and rather beautiful with melodramatic, muscled manly types and buxom broads.

The real treasure for me – and the most popular – was the room with the paperbacks. I was looking not only for the aforementioned tawdry tales – but for anything that smacked of hokum and carnival cheesiness. One collector/seller from Santa Barbara named James had a particularly amazing selection, including The Alcoholics which is apparently very rare as he was asking $300 for it. I’m sure the true collectors in the room coveted it, but my approach to this is one of amused detachment. I collect these because I enjoy studying them. It tells you so much about a given era. James had plenty of other really amazing titles in the $7 to $25 dollar range. I found a gem called Trap of Lesbos (cover quote: Probes the question: Are perverts born that way – or taught by experts?). I also found Sam, which promised a story of a successful man who is also an unashamed homosexual … I know exactly which of my gay friends will get each of these.

Sixties Lesbian Pulp Novel cover
And that’s another cool thing about vintage paperbacks: they make great gifts. I found non-trashy paperback books as well including several hokey folk music treasuries. I plan to give one to a famous female folk singer friend – though come to think of it, she IS a lesbian … I snagged several unusual books that I plan to read myself: The Hundred Stories, which is a famous French short story anthology (which back in the day was marketed with a sleazy pulp cover depicting some sort of stylized orgy) and the macabre 100 Years of Lynchings, which contains literal reprints of newspaper accounts of lynchings over the course of a century. The academic value of Lynchings remains questionable; it’s lurid sensationalism, no question – the author’s previous credits include An Unhurried View of Erotica. Riiiiiiiight.

Which is how these authors and imprints made money – by pandering to the basest audience desires. I can remember, as a boy, seeing some of these titles selling for the 35¢ original price (dating myself here).  Yet, aside from some outright smut for sale (De Sade, Bondage, etc.) the art of the thing was really just pointing the reader in the right direction and letting their mind fill in the blanks; once you get past the prurient artwork and promises on the cover, in most of these books there’s never anything explicit – the curtain comes down on a scene just as things are about to get consummated. It’s implied sex and somewhat more effective that way.

I also snagged a pair of celebrity “adolescent advice books”: one by Dick Clark, the other by … Pat Boone. Boone’s ‘Twixt Twelve and Twenty is a howler of unintentional hilarity; imagine Mitt Romney giving dating advice at a press conference and you pretty well get the idea. I gave Dick Clark’s Your Happiest Years to my 10-year old and Boone’s rectangular tome to my 12-year old who both fully appreciated the irony.

As I was exiting the vintage paperback show, I stumbled across a real find: the entire (I think) Brains Benton Series from my childhood. I had been searching for this on e-Bay and Amazon for years. Got it for a great price. I don’t plan to re-read them. Just like the pulps I kind of like the idea of seeing them there on my bookshelf. Occasionally pausing in my work to reach over, pull one down for inspiration, flip through it. Smile.

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