Adam Parfrey, an editor at Feral House, is one of several collaborators on SIN-A-RAMA (Feral House, $24.95), a new book that resurrects the lurid world of the sleaze-sex paperbacks of the 1960s. Often published by fly-by-night companies, these books fell outside the purview of the mainstream publishing business. Parfrey sees sleaze as a forerunner of today’s “X-rated industry.” We like the gorgeous covers for books like 1964’s Jazzman in Nudetown, where “The Town Was Wild—and the Women Wilder,”or 1968’s ESP Orgy, featuring “The Number One Stud at a Psych-Out Freak-Out.”
1 What was the origin of Sin-a-Rama? I noticed there were no other publications on the straight literature of sleaze, which is what collectors call it. A lot of very well-known entities got their start doing it. There was a whole shadow industry, and no one knew who was publishing [sleaze], how they published it, and what they published.
2 How was sleaze connected to science fiction? People involved with science fiction like Earl Kemp and Harlan Ellison in the late 1950s were going through a hard few years and needed to find a way of making a living. They knew people in sleaze and thought they could make money doing erotic-oriented books.
3 The books are so responsive to cultural trends. In the early 1960s, you have beatniks; by the late 1960s, it’s hippies. The biggest change was “Is there really pubic hair in Playboy?” The publishers were interested in how much they could show and talk about. They had to respond for economic reasons. These books were like magazines—they had to stay current.
4 Is female sexuality portrayed as a threat to the social order? A lot of these books were bought by middle-aged, middle-class white men. Women at the time were seen as housewives, or office workers to be pawed at. There’s something really disturbing about those erotic tableaux. You do see what men were thinking.
5 How did the artists do the covers? Often an editor would commission a cover and then give it to a writer. There were some prolific artists like Eric Stanton and Harold McCauley. One artist, Gene Bilbrew, did some amazing work, this fetish-oriented stuff with midget-like men and wasp-waisted women. He lived in a 42nd Street sex shop and paid the rent by drawing.
See feralhouse.com for more vintage cover art, excerpts, and more.