Saturday, November 26, 2011


My recent appearance on ABC Radio National's The Book Show, discussing Hip Pocket Sleaze and the vintage paperback genre, is now available to listen to/download at the following link:




by Kirk Demaris
(2011 Insight Editions/USA/156 Pages)


Growing-up as a kid obsessed with American comic books, I was always fascinated by the advertisements for strange and cool gizmos, gadgets, toys and other goodies that would fill the pages of every new Marvel and DC title I would pour through. From x-ray vision glasses and miniature spy cameras to hypno-calls and 100 piece toy soldier sets, it seemed as if there was a lifetime of fun and adventure to be had, and all for usually less than a couple of bucks a pop.

Of course, living in Australia, these products always seemed so exotic and agonizingly out of my reach. There were never any ordering instructions for people who lived outside the US, and even if there were, the coupons were so tiny I don’t know how anyone could have fit their whole address on it. Eventually, as I reached my mid-teens and started an after-school supermarket job, I did start sending away some of my hard-earned cash to Captain Company, the mail-order department of Warren Publications in New York, who sold a plethora of great monster related merchandise through the pages of their classic Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. But over the years I would still look back over some of the ads from my collection of old comic books, and wonder just exactly what kids received when they bought these items.

Now, I need wonder no more, thanks to Kirk Demaris' marvellous new book Mail Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads!, which blows the lid on the reality behind more than 150 of these far too good to be true items. Divided into eight categories (Superpowers and Special Abilities, War Zone, House of Horrors, High Finance, Better Living Through Mail Order, Top Secret, Trickery and Oddities), each item covered includes the original advertisement accompanied by at least one photo of the actual item being hawked. Text is kept to a minimum, with each item receiving a brief ‘What they promised’ and ‘What they sent’ blurb, as well as a brief, satirical summation of imagined customer satisfaction (or, usually, dissatisfaction).

Needless to say, the majority of these items could not live up to their promise. The classic x-ray vision spex were nothing more than cheap plastic (later, cardboard) glasses with bird feathers pressed between the lenses (which created a ghostly outline around objects when held up to bright light). The seven foot long Polaris Nuclear Submarine was a couple of painted cardboard boxes that usually fell to bits as soon as it touched some dewy grass, while anything that was advertised with a ‘You control it!’ blurb usually meant that the item came with a long piece of string for you to pull it along with. Sometimes, however, the companies did deliver on their promise. The famous miniature spy camera did indeed work (although finding replacement film was apparently a pain the ass), while anyone who ordered the six foot tall ‘Monster Size Monsters’ received a beautifully rendered colour portrait of either Dracula or the Frankenstein monster.

In many ways, these products were no different to the exploitation and drive-in films being produced at the time, where the advertising and ballyhoo was always much more important than the actual product delivered. In the words of pioneering sexploitation film producer David F. Friedman: “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.”

Mail Order Mysteries is a wonderful trip down memory lane, and rather than spoiling some of the magical memories of my childhood, it has only made me appreciate these items all the more. In fact, I’m off to trawl eBay for some of them right now...

Review Copyright John Harrison 2011


Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Really enjoyed Jon Hewitt's new film X, an intense, violent erotic thriller set in the seedy underworld of police corruption and the red light district of Sydney's Kings Cross. In turns grimy and slick, it features great performances by the two female leads, a nice ambient soundtrack, some impressive cinematography and editing, and a pretty tight script by Hewitt and Belinda McClory. Hewitt's best works since 1999's Redball. Proof that Australian filmmakers can still do great things on a tight budget. Starting in a limited release in Aussie cinemas this week...check it out!



Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Sounds like this would be well worth checking out if you are in the New York area over the next few weeks...



Wed, Nov 2nd to Sun Dec 4th

265 Canal St, #601, New York, NY 10013

For press inquires contact: Heidi Sanders

The antiquarian mystique surrounding Edward Davis Wood Jr.’s career as an author of pornographic pulp fiction is legend. He wrote under a variety of pseudonyms, books were published and re-published under different titles, and occasionally under different author names. Multiple authors would share the same pseudonym, and the companies that published the titles weren’t the kind of operations that kept any kind of records, nor paid royalties, nor really existed in the manner that most are to expect of book publishers.

The paperbacks are truly rare, even in an age of mass-searchable used book engines, and google ferocity. Ed Wood’s sleaze fiction is also as strange, idiosyncratic and out of step with his times and mores as his infamous movies. Wood would write porn inter-spliced with lengthy philosophical, sociological and psychological discourse, he’d write first person narratives of life as a transvestite in the buttoned up America of the 1950’s. He’d riff on psychosexual themes, and unleash his id, his ego and his superego in turn, sometimes in the same chapter. He’d write about sex and the human condition without veneer or filters, offering up the damaged and anguished voice of a desperately soul-searching drunk with a sense of self-worth that would stand in dichotomy to his self-pity.

His descent into alcoholism and poverty was mirrored by the publishers that employed him. Towards the end of his life he wrote pornography with decreasing amounts of the strange flourishes of his eccentric personality. He died in 1978 of an alcohol-induced heart attack. His friends say the porn killed him. For further information see Rudolph Grey’s masterful biography Nightmare of Ecstasy.

This is the largest assembly of Ed Wood publications exhibited to date. Boo-Hooray has tracked down roughly seventy of his books and publications. Some collectors claim that he wrote dozens more. Entrepreneurial book dealers often indulge in Ed Wood pseudonym speculation. A ten dollar paperback can thus become an antiquarian rarity, even with flimsy or non-existent evidence. A handful of these are in the show.

The collection has been sold to the Cornell University rare book library where it will become a part of their human sexuality archive.

The exhibition is curated by Michael Daley and Johan Kugelberg.

An illustrated and annotated exhibition catalogue is available in a regular and deluxe edition. The deluxe edition of 250 numbered copies comes in a silk-screened slipcase with a 7-inch vinyl record of Chain Gang vocalist Ricky Luanda performing two homages to Ed Wood.

The exhibit will be open everyday 11-6 from November 2nd to December 4th. Closed Thanksgiving weekend Nov. 24 - Nov 27.

Exhibition opening night will be Nov. 2nd 6-9. Attendance for opening night is limited, an RSVP is required for admittance. Please RSVP to attend at this link:

Catalog and Deluxe Edition available in Webshop

This exhibition is dedicated to enthusiast and scholar

Robert Legault 1950 – 2008

For more info please visit the Boo-Hooray website at:


Tuesday, November 1, 2011





A couple of early reviews for Hip Pocket Sleaze:

It's hard to believe time really happened; under tall oaks the text-covered leaves... Is then is then and now is now? When I contemplate the spellbinding Mysteries behind old school adult exploitational pulp-print I'm not so sure... I go there with them. Anyhow, if you share my obsession with this lovely garish genre you will thrill to Hip Pocket Sleaze, a "celebratory overview" of said genre from the 1940s onwards. It's truly a wonder, a marvel. Evoluting out of the author's digest fanzine that he began in 1999, the most capable Mr Harrison has cultivated nearly 400 pages chock full of fascinating reviews of choice examples, interviews and essays concerning the major pulp writers, artists, imprints and collectors, and useful lists of what's out there, augmented by many b&w reproductions of the fantastic front covers of these publications and the advert-smut they contain.

It's wide in scope: a short history of the phenomenon; lesbian and gay material, Armed Services Editions, drugs and counterculture, horror tie-ins, gore novels, witchcraft and the occult, offbeat and esoteric titles, the sex film mags, plus a look at porny Super-8, photo sets and audio. It also confirms the organised crime involvement in this murky trade, including rumours of people snuffed for demanding withheld payment - art imitating life and vice versa as the characters step out of and into the magic pages.

Hip Pocket Sleaze is a top notch tutelary goldmine that will gift hours of fruitful delight to the newcomer or seasoned connoisseur alike. A pervert's bible kind of trip, surely destined to become (or already be) a standard reference work.

Reviewed by Mark Reeve

People interested in the world of adult paperbacks and trashy novels (most not really porn) have had to glean information from obscure journals, and quite a few of those accounts end up in John Harrison's excellent book. But there is also a tremendous amount of original research. You'll find checklists, writers, artists and publishers. It's really a look back at the way America used to be, back in the days when it was possible to be sleazy; now, all the strictures of society have fallen away. What's taboo anymore? This is a wonderful examination of a time when our morality was delineated by what we kept under the counter or in plain brown wrappers. This book is a great resource for both the collector and the social historian.

- Ralph Vaughan (70s/80s adult paperback publisher)