Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker
Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting
#21: Man’s Wildcat Adventures. An Installment in Jed Birmingham’s series of the The Top 23 Most Interesting Burroughs Collectibles.
It is a cliché that collectors covet that which they cherished in their formative years. Comic books, vinyl LPs, toys, baseball cards, video games and action figures. The same holds true for bibliophiles. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter books, the Wizard of Oz series, Jack London books, Winnie the Pooh, Alice in Wonderland are all blue-chip collectibles. So too are teen favorites like On the Road, Atlas Shrugged, To Kill A Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye, to name but a few.
I guess the same holds true for me, but not in the way one might expect. I did not read Burroughs until the summer after my freshman year in college. Looking back I consider that late. One of my great regrets about growing up was that I did not experience Naked Lunch, On the Road, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in my high school years. My reading at the time was in something of a time warp from the mid-1950s or even earlier. Poetry ended with W.H. Auden on September 1, 1939, from the Untermeyer anthology and in fiction I rarely strayed far from home. I read Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street but never headed On the Road.
As I mentioned earlier, I hoovered up facts and had little time for fiction. But magazines, I was always surrounded by magazines. Early on I looked forward to Highlights and Ranger Rick coming in the mail. Years later the mailman brought at least one magazine a day including Omni, National Geographic, Baseball Digest, Tennis, Sport, and Sports Illustrated. Time, Fortune, Forbes and Newsweek were delivered to the house and I dutifully flipped through them all. Yet the crucial moment was when the two boys next door went to college and their parents delivered a couple boxes of 1970s Mad Magazine on our doorstep. There must have been over 100 issues. Spy vs. Spy. Don Martin comics. The movie parodies. My brother and I read them over and over again, and, as for many kids in the 1950s, it was Mad that served as the gateway into the Beats and the counterculture during college. The Mad Fold-ins prepared me for Burroughs’ cut-ups. The neighbor across the street gifted me a subscription to National Review my freshman year to protect me from the evils of liberalism that threatened every red-blooded American boy attending a school in New England, but I was already touched by Madness. There is no coming of age story more American than that. I just happened to live it almost three decades too late.
When I went to college all my magazines sat in the basement awaiting my return. At thirty, I bought my first house with my first wife, and all the magazines moved in with me. The prodigal magazine had returned home. And there they sat neglected while I built up my Burroughs collection. In short order my marriage fell apart and the house was sold. At that point, I finally had to grow up and put away my childish things. So boxes and boxes of magazines went to any Goodwill and library that would take them and I moved into a small apartment with the core of my Burroughs collection.
Happily, as it turned out, I was only getting started with magazines. It was at this point that I went all in, pursuing Burroughs little magazine appearances and expanding my collection to include the magazines of the Mimeo Revolution. In this pursuit, I never forgot where I came from. Magazines remind me of childhood. Of being an innocent reader, before I became an English major and allegedly learned how to read a book. And write about one.
As a collector my focus is on little magazines, but I have always felt that Burroughs’ mainstream magazine appearances and articles about Burroughs in such periodicals were crucial to his bibliography as well as his creative development. Over the years, I have made sure not to neglect them, nor overlook their importance. Oliver Harris has demonstrated how the cut-up “trilogy” was a response to how Burroughs was portrayed in the November 30, 1959 issue of Life. Similarly the review of Naked Lunch in the October 20, 1962 issue of Time compelled Burroughs to exorcise the demonic Luce Empire with his cut-up edition of Time. The January 1960 issue of Mademoiselle introduced debutantes and sorority girls to Burroughs at the very beginnings of the decade in which Burroughs himself would come of age creatively. In 1964, Burroughs finally realized his dream of writing a travelogue for Esquire, when that iconic magazine published his captions accompanying a pictorial essay of Tangier. The color photo of Burroughs and Billy is one of the greatest images of Burroughs. It is also one of the most painful, as it documents a pivotal moment in the breakdown of relations between father and son against the backdrop of the dying days of colonial Tangier. These popular mags and others like them all deserve inclusion in a Burroughs collection.
The one that makes my list here bridges the gap between the popular and the porno: Man’s Wildcat Adventures. The Ace and Digit Junkie are rightly regarded highspots for anyone collecting pulp fiction. In fact, the Digit Junkie is considered by some the highspot. Strangely, the June 1959 issue of Wildcat that features a large special book bonus excerpting Junkie (“I was hooked and starving for a fix.”) receives scant if any mention in the histories of men’s adventure magazines. For years the mag was something of a lost classic. It was not collected in Maynard & Miles. Until very recently, copies could be found on eBay for five bucks. The mag is an absolute hoot. The :True Adventure” section features “I saw the Djiek women eat their mates,” “We fought the white slavers of the Middle East,” and “The Cooperative Women of Bali.” The exposé is “I Raided the Bored Wives’ Bordello” and the “Jungle Jane” and “Sea Nymph” pictorials expose a little flesh, until the weasels come along and rip them to shreds. The sexless Junkie becomes sexualized by association. Burroughs’ voice of deadpan noir is replaced by one of near hysteria: “When the need for a fix was on me and my nerves were ripping me apart, I could hear my own screams and I would do ANYTHING to get junk.”
The magazine is worth hunting down merely because it was uncollected in Maynard & Miles. As I mentioned in a RealityStudio post, “Not in Maynard & Miles” catches the attention of any Burroughs collector, just like that of “Made in America” does any patriotic citizen. The open secret is that most of the items missed by Maynard & Miles were so for a reason: they are usually bibliographic curiosities. That is not the case with Wildcat. It is important bibliographically as it captures a pivot point in Burroughs’ publishing history just as he was about to make the jump from pulp fictioneer to avant-garde experimentalist. After this appearance William Lee steps back into the shadows and William Burroughs stepped out into the international spotlight. In a sense Burroughs comes of age. The June issue of Man’s Wildcat Adventures reminds me of childhood and it is one of my prized possessions. Call it clichéd if you want, but unlike the fabulously ridiculous stories in Wildcat, this forgotten pulp classic captures my true adventure of bibliographic discovery.