Sep 1, 2012

The Monster Book for Boys

From the 1930s through the 1980s, British boys spent Christmas day unwrapping and reading "annuals," thick hardback books with stories and pictures derived from weekly story papers: Hotspur, Champion, Knockout, Perfect Book for Boys, Best Book for Boys, dozens in all.  There were also annuals for girls and children, but the boys' annuals were notable for two reasons.

1. Shirtless and semi-nude covers and interior illustrations.  Hundreds of muscular teenage boys and men on display, many more than in the American adventure boys series.

They were playing sports, camping, fighting monsters. They were alone and in pairs.  Their muscles glistened in the Christmas firelight.

2. The stories inside did not involve the dating, romances, and overall girl-craziness that obsessed American teen stories in the 1950s and 1960s. They were about boys meeting, being rescued by, and establishing permanent relations with other boys and men.

For instance, in a story in Monster Book for Boys ("monster" means "big"), sixteen-year old Keith is living quietly on a farm in Devon, longing for “companionship and fun,” when he stumbles upon Count Max Von Staubnitz, “a pleasant-looking, rather dandified young man" (i.e., he's gay).   After an acquaintanceship lasting less than five minutes, the Count invites Keith to come along on his quest to retrieve a secret formula from enemy agents, resulting in many last-minute rescues and many opportunities to praise Keith’s “youthful muscles” and “muscles like steel" (i.e., he thinks that Keith is hot).  Then, when the crisis is resolved, the Count, blushing and stammering like a shy schoolboy, invites Keith to live on his estate in Central Europe (i.e., he wants a permanent partner, not just a fling). 

Unfortunately, you couldn't get them in the United States, so I didn't know that they existed until I was grown up and browsing on ebay.  But gay British boys certainly had an advantage.  While their American cousins were making do with comic book advertisements and Jolly Green Giant commercials, they could gaze at the real deal.