If it’s skin you’re after, the tome to crack is Adam Parfrey’s It’s a Man’s World: Men’s Adventure Magazines, the Postwar Pulps(Feral House, 287 pages, $30). Parfrey has put together an impressive collection of covers and illustrations from that long-gone stream of magazines like Adam, Mr., Swagger, For Men Onlyand Man’s Lifethat once crowded the tawdrier newsstands. In the opening pages, Parfrey assembles recollections and interviews with some of the mainstays of the pulp trade, such as Mario Puzo and editor Bruce Jay Friedman. But the real draw begins at Page 53, the start of more than 200 pages of full-color covers featuring howling Apaches, deranged Nazi sadists, monstrous wildlife, and lots of blondes in garters, preferably yoked to bamboo poles in the jungle by communist revolutionaries. The book is fun, and you could spend forever reading the teasers — “Women Who Raffle Their Love,” “Milwaukee: Dames, Dice and Dope,” and “Writhe, my lovely, in the tent of torture” — but what’s also revealed is how much these magazines were repositories of redbaiting, fear mongering about civil rights, and other reactionary
sensationalism. So, as you flip through and marvel at the illustrations, you can also be glad they’ve now passed into the realm of nostalgia.
The same goes for the magnetic but false vitality of those great Chinese Propaganda Posters(Taschen, 320 pages, $39.99). Taschen’s latest reproduces hundreds of the graphics that dominated Chinese visual and political culture from the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949 up until the early ’80s, when Deng Xiaoping replaced the Great Leap Forward with the new slogan of Chinese Communism: “To Get Rich Is Glorious.” Unlike our soft propaganda, China’s famous posters were required, explicit and instructional, with didactic text such as “Become an heir of the Revolution.” Picture that printed below a schoolgirl with a resolute stare and a red cravat, while scenes from Stories of Lei Feng, Red China’s Horatio Alger, dance in the background. Along with the images are illuminating text contributions. If ever there was a need to learn from the propaganda of the past, it’s now.
Other notable titles: Tree Tops Tall(Steidl, 96 pages, $45), lofty arboreal photographs; Taschen’s Favorite 1,000 Websites (Taschen, 608 pages, $39.99), a survey of Web design, with DVD, for browsing or as a resource; Ed Ruscha (Phaidon, 272 pages, $75), a new monograph on our local master; Anne Fishbein: On the Way Home(Perceval Press, 118 pages, $45), haunting photos of Russia from the Weekly photographer; Leonardo Da Vinci: The Complete Paintings and Drawings(Taschen, 696 pages, $150), 10 bountiful chapters that live up to the title; Italian Film Posters(Museum of Modern Art, 160 pages, $39.95), the best of a lost art, with an essay by Dave Kehr; Giraffes? Giraffes!(McSweeney’s, 64 pages, $24), an indescribably great piece of publishing.