Friday, September 24, 2010

The Complete Guide to Manhunt Part 1

Manhunt was the best crime digest ever published. I've been working on a book on the magazine for well over ten years. One of these days, I might just finish it. Bits of it have been published here and there but most of what you'll see here on this blog has never been published. It's a massive project, featuring a lot of words (the chapter on 1953, its first year, is 13,000 words alone), lots of graphics, and it's getting bigger every day. I'll present this project a bit at a time, beginning with a (revised) piece I wrote for Paperback Parade several years ago explaining my obsession with Manhunt.

FOR THE LOVE OF MANHUNT
by Peter Enfantino

First the numbers:
- 14 years (1953-1967)
- 114 issues
- over 500 authors
- over 1100 stories
- over 13,000 pages
- over 6,000,000 words
- countless writers influenced

Some of the guilty parties: Charles Williams, Donald E. Westlake (and Richard Stark), Ed McBain (and all his aliases), Gil Brewer, Craig Rice, Jonathon Craig, John D. MacDonald, Mickey Spillane, Richard Prather, Leslie Charteris, David Goodis, Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, Harry Whittington.
January 1953
April/May 1967
First published in January 1953, Manhunt’s rep was built on the contributions of Spillane, McBain, Whittington, and Goodis. That’s why these digests are so collectible. Most of the Manhunt elite never had their short stories collected. That’s why you’ll pay big dollars for key issues. But there are those of us who collect the digests for more than just the beautiful cover art of Dick Shelton or Ray Houlihan, or a rare Harlan Ellison appearance, or just the general musty odor of the pages. For those of us who actually read the gritty crime stories between the covers, Manhunt is a treasure trove of great writing.

What strikes you when you read Manhunt is the fact that there are so many good stories by so many writers that aren’t household names (well, at least hardboiled households). Norman Struber, whose “Badge of Dishonor” shows us an early example of the anti-hero; Stuart Friedman, author of the powderkeg “The Secret,” wherein an innocent man is murdered for a crime he didn’t commit. Then there’s Frank Kane, author of several stories featuring hardboiled PI Johnny Liddell. Kane is often overlooked when great authors of the 1950s are discussed, perhaps because so many of the Liddells seemed jokey. Kane’s “Key Witness,” a rare non-Liddell novella, is anything but comic. An innocent bystander turned good samaritan is terrorized by the punks he witnessed commit murder. His transformation from good citizen to victim is starkly portrayed. In “Seven Lousy Bucks” by C. L. Sweeney, Jr., Joe’s got it made: no job, drinks his life away and prostitutes his wife, Clare, for booze money. When his wife fails to bring home more than ten bucks after serving a john, Joe blows his top. Violent, harrowing look at two bottom-of-the-barrel individuals. These four stories appeared over the space of three issues! If I had the time and space, I’d extoll the virtues of “Deadly Beloved,” a Joe Puma novella by William Campbell Gault, or “Hunch” by Helen Nielsen, wherein a grizzled, pessimistic cop discovers that the chief suspect in a series of brutal murders is his own son, or dozens more well-written celebrations of con jobs, robbery, murder, and adultery.

My own personal Manhunt collecting odyssey began in 1993 after a conversation with author Ed Gorman. Ed was writing a piece on Gold Medal paperbacks for a magazine I was editing at the time (you can say it Pete — The Scream Factory! -JS), and Manhunt kept popping up in the conversation. Ed let on that Manhunt had been an important part of his formative years. That sparked an interest in me and when, while browsing through a vintage paperback catalog, I came across a cheap copy of the January 1956 issue (“Seven Brutal Shockers!”), I took the plunge. Seven years later, I had the high bid on the September 1955 issue (one of the pricier digests because of its Charles Williams novel) which completed my set. I’d estimate a total price at about $1200.00.

Aside from a few bumps in the road, assembling a set of Manhunt is not an impossible task for the collector with enough patience and funds. Most issues can be found for $15-20 apiece. If condition is not a factor (who are we fooling... of course it is), you can find them for half that amount. Before the advent of the internet and eBay several years ago, collectors depended on Black Ace Book catalogs or the annual Vintage Paperback shows like those held in New York by Gary Lovisi and California by Tom Lesser. Now, it’s not uncommon to find two dozen issues of Manhunt on eBay on any given day. Of course, there are the issues that will cost a lot more than fifteen or twenty bucks. In addition to the aforementioned Charles Williams (who contributed three novels to Manhunt), expect to pay more for issues with work by John D. MacDonald (4), David Goodis (4), or Mickey Spillane (3), to name just a few. I also had a hard time finding the last couple issues (this might have been due either to poor distribution or a decline in print run) and the less desirable Giant Manhunts (the publisher would bind three, sometimes four, recent back issues together and sell them for half-a-buck).

One of the scarcest: Bedsheet-sized Giant Manhunt
Then there’s the matter of those pesky bedsheets. Beginning in March 1957 and continuing through April 1958, Manhunt was published as a magazine (aka “bedsheet”), rather than a digest, in an effort to boost sales (MH’s publisher, Flying Eagle, was convinced that MH was lost behind the larger-sized magazines on the newsstand). Years later, this would cause innumerable problems for the collector. Because of its awkward size, the bedsheet wasn’t to be found with its digest brothers. Chances are, you’d find them in a box of old Saturday Evening Posts in an antique store. The scarcity drove the price up. Though not as scarce as the similar Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine bedsheets (which can fetch upwards of $100 each), you’re still going to shell out $50-75 each for the twelve MH bedsheets. But, when you consider the insane prices found in the comic book collecting world, it’s still a fairly cheap hobby.

After returning to digest size, Manhunt just wasn’t the same again. Though the classic authors would make an appearance now and then, most of the authors were new, untested writers. Writers not heard of before and, in several instances, never heard of again after Manhunt’s demise. Evan Hunter and Charles Williams gave way to Robert Page Jones and J. Simmons Scheb. Not exactly esteemed names in a crime aficionado’s book. The general look of the magazine began to suffer as well. The magazine’s frequency was dropped first to bi-monthly and eventually quarterly. Reprints (of both covers and the fiction inside) became a fact of life. The beautiful hardboiled paintings adorning the covers gave way to out of focus shots of women cringing against brick walls. If you’re looking for the quality, stick to the first six years.

14 comments:

Max Allan Collins said...

Great article, Peter.

But it always seems to land on me to make points like the following: that MANHUNT was launched successfully because of one writer -- Mickey Spillane.

The first four issues serialized a new novel by Mickey ("Somebody's Waiting," never published in the USA as a novel) at the moment when he was the hottest name not just in mystery but in worldwide publishing. His name in huge letters on the first four covers put MANHUNT in the game.

Plenty of other writers built on that, and such important names from the history of hardboiled as James M. Cain and W.R. Burnett appeared there, if I'm remembering right.

Again, fine write-up, though for whatever reason, Mickey continues to get short shrift, possibly because not everybody likes his work. But his historical importance in the field should never be forgotten.

Walker Martin said...

Peter, I agree with you absolutely about the importance and quality of MANHUNT. I hope you will publish more installments from your proposed book. But this is a book that must be published and I hope to see it one of these days. The original research you are doing will result in a ground breaking study of the magazine.

Todd Mason said...

I suspect the Spillane pastiche written by editor Howard Browne and attributed to Spillane, "The Veiled Woman," in the third issue of FANTASTIC still leaves that the best-selling fantasy-fiction magazine issue so far, too.

You guys likely to participate in the Friday "Fobgotten" Books roudelay that Patti Abbott started and rides herd on? My own this week ivolves AHMM and THE NEW BLACK MASK among other magazines and "bookazines"...

Peter Enfantino said...

Max-
Welcome to the bare bones e-zine. It's always good to hear from one of the greatest crime writers of our generation. As far as Mickey Spillane goes: I don't want to give away too much but stick around for Part 2 next Friday.

Peter Enfantino said...

Todd-

I have no idea what the Forgotten Books project is but it sounds interesting. What website is this attached to?

Todd Mason said...

Pattinase, the contraction of the original handle of Patti or Patricia Abbott, a writer with a considerable amount of published short fiction and mother of novelist, etc,, Megan Abbott. www.pattinase.blogspot.com

My entry in today's round is up on my blog, and Bill Crider's on his.

Anonymous said...

Could somebody elaborate on this Spillane novel never published as a book in America. Is it collected anywhere?? I haven't heard of it. This is kind of a big "Oh boy!!" moment for me.

Dan Luft

Peter Enfantino said...

Dan-

If you want the original appearances, "Everybody's" was serialized in the Jan, Feb, March, and April 1953 issues of Manhunt (and reprinted in its entirety in the June 1955 issue). It may be a little easier to get hold of "Murder is My Business" edited by Spillane and Max Allan Collins (Dutton, 1994). You'll find the whole short novel reprinted there along with a lot of other goodies. Check abebooks.com.

Steve Scott said...

John D. MacDonald had five works published in Manhunt? I am only aware of four... "Squealer," "The Killer," "Black Cat in the Snow" and "The Rabbit Gets a Gun." I'd love to know the title of that fifth story, especially since it's been missed by all his bibliographers.

Peter Enfantino said...

Steve-

Good catch. My brain must have been asleep while typing that number. You're right. Only 4. I've corrected the mistake on the blog. You get a "No Prize" for most alert reader. There may be other tests on the horizon.

Steve Scott said...

Actually, I'm a bit disappointed...

Todd Mason said...

I have managed to forget how Flying Eagle fell out with Scott Meredith Literary Agency, or otherwise how MANHUNT in the '60s fell apart so thoroughly...but I suspect you're getting to that...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info on Spillane. I'm going to get that story soon. Do you know of an online bibliography of him? I'd like to find more of his uncollected stuff without bothering Max Allan Collins (the walking bibliography).

Dan Luft

Max Allan Collins said...

Most of Spillane's uncollected stories were finally gathered in three books I either edited or co-edited: TOMORROW I DIE from Mysterious Press, TOGETHER WE KILL from Five Star, and BYLINE: MICKEY SPILLANE from Crippen & Landru. The Five Star is unfortunately an expensive collectible already. There's also a collection of Mickey's comic-book filler pieces called PRIMAL SPILLANE from Gryphon (Gary Lovisi).