When I was ten, I read Tiger, the boy’s adventure comic, after I’d outgrown Bunty’s serials on evil Victorian girls who pretended to be sugar-sweet and wheelchair-bound in order to torture the plain sister. In Tiger’s black-and-white panels, “Death Wish Man” rode a bike through a burning bush. Johnny Cougar, the “Indian” wrestler, half-nelsoned his opponents every week. Mighty Mouse, the Glaswegian footballer, kicked ass and headed butt whenever he needed to. It was a kinder, gentler world than the endless headfuckery of the girls’ comics, where every drawn-out plot depended on deception and mental cruelty.
I kept the taste for men’s magazines. I grew out of Cosmopolitan at fourteen, but Kathryn Flett’s sharply-edited Arena made me want to be a magazine writer when I was in college. Arena put Bowie and Johnny Depp on the cover, not some perky nobody in a pink sweater (or a pink bikini). Arena hired good writers and great photographers. So did GQ and Esquire, though I was less taken by their Master-of-the-Universe tone. I hoovered up the scant how-to stuff they printed. I already knew how to be a female, more or less, and it was much more interesting to learn how to be a male, from french cuffs to mixology to wrangling women.
I couldn’t understand why the women’s magazines were so dumb compared to say, Playboy. _Real_ bimbos witter on about nothing other than Botox and Bridezillas, surely. I read Marie-Claire for a few years after it launched in the late 1980s, but the formula of sex tips, mid-range fashion, a health scare, and the single article on the plight of women in some third-world country grew thin. Women’s magazines limited themselves to women’s issues. Men’s ranged freely, and I wanted to, too.
But somewhere along the line men’s magazines lost me. That’s fine by them; I’m not their stuff-buying demographic anyway. Maxim and Loaded changed the game with unabashed babe spreads and birds-booze-and-toys editorial. A friend of a friend is a touch-up artist at American Maxim; we laughed at her two-day project of airbrushing flesh onto Lara Flynn Boyle’s bones. Her job is much more important than the writers’.
The lad rags are still funny, and I’ll always read them before a Vogue or Cosmo in a waiting room. What I do find creepy are the insecurity industry magazines–the ones with straplines about abs and trans-fatty acids and 25 ways to please a woman in bed. There’s something so…unmanly about fretting about your pecs and worrying about how to beat chocolate cravings. “Train your dog to guard the fridge”, says the latest Mens’ Health, and they appear to be serious. 176 glossy, ad-filled pages on aging, crunching, balding, pumping, dieting, impotence, Botox-shopping, and how to make women call you. Ugh. Who wants a bubble-armed narcissist?
I liked men better before they got neurotic about this stuff. Here’s my prescription to add to those 176 pages: Read books. Chop wood. Run. Self-deprecate. Spell well. Tip well. Cook like you mean it. Adore us. Forget the rest, and never, EVER mention fat grams or protein diets.