vintage porn titles
by Matthew S. Bajko
Once a week DJ and club producer Dan Karkoska browses the selection of vintage gay porn titles at Castro store Auto Erotica looking for new additions to his collection.
Karkoska, 47, has amassed a personal library of several hundred magazines from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. He also has acquired hundreds of pulp fiction books.
"The magazines are not all photos of naked men. They also have fashion spreads and articles; you get a reflection of what life might have been like back then," said Karkoska, whose club persona is DJ Dank. "In the 1970s was when gay culture came of age. Back in the day I am sure it seemed dirty, but now it is quaint. Oh, look at them in the bathhouse."
His hobby began eight years ago when he moved to San Francisco and the thrift store enthusiast happened upon a set of gay pulp novels.
"I was intrigued by it. I did some research and found out how rare and collectible they are," recalled Karkoska, who grew up in Texas.
He began searching out stores around town for more such titles and soon found himself browsing through the pages of now defunct publications like Vector, QQ (short for Queen's Quarterly , and Blue Boy.
"It is sort of like a treasure hunt," Karkoska said.
The magazines' mix of nude pictorials and reporting on gay issues of the day intrigued Karkoska. Titles such as Vector served as gay versions of Time or Newsweek, he said.
"So much stuff in gay culture is expressed through there," he said. "It is so fascinating to get to go back and read it."
Karkoska isn't alone in finding the material collectible, say owners of stores that sell vintage porn titles. Auto Erotica owner Patrick Batt has seen an uptick in customers, especially younger gay guys, coming to his 18th Street location looking for such magazines.
"People are getting a sense of our identity and history. They want to find out what went on before you could see hardcore porn everywhere," said Batt, who has owned the shop for 16 years. "It has become increasingly more a part of my business. There was a time I didn't buy it because I didn't think there was a market for it. Now I seek it out."
One highly sought after title is After Dark , which reads more as a national arts magazine with photos of naked men sprinkled amongst its pages. These early magazines served more as general interest gay publications than pure porn rags.
"Frankly, it was the literature of the day," said Batt, whose reaches a national market of collectors by posting items for sale on eBay under the handle DaddySF. "People want it because there is an innocence there."
Trent Dunphy, who co-owns The Magazine on Larkin Street with his partner of 40 years, Bob Mainardi, also has noticed increased interest in porn magazines of the past. Six months ago the couple expanded their online site http://www.themagazinesf.com to better feature their collection.
"Certainly, there is real interest in the 1970s," said Dunphy. "It is far enough away to seem exotic and there are no condoms. That is the big thing."
Don Romesburg, a gay man who is an associate professor of women and gender studies at Sonoma State University, said for a long time there has been an interest in the physique magazines of the 1950s and 1960s.
"At that time it harkened back to this time of squeaky clean, healthy muscular guys in posing straps," he said of when the craze first began in the 1990s. "Obviously, back then was a time of extreme homophobia in our society and there is a kind of innocence to them. There is something titillating about the underground culture that one can imagine circulating around them."
Part of the allure of the titles from the 1970s, said Romesburg, has to do with their chronicling a world pre-AIDS when using a condom wasn't a do-or-die sexual choice.
"In terms of 1970s stuff there's been a renaissance in so called pre-condom porn ever since the 1990s," said Romesburg. "I think young people and young guys connect with vintage porn because it is not as primped or manicured and because it is all produced in a time before the specter and shadow of HIV and AIDS."
The now four-decades-old photos of more natural looking men, with their hairy chests, mustaches, and longer hair, are seen as antidotes to the gym-muscled, clean shaven porn stars of today.
"It is not surprising pornos of those years would have a resurrection. It was rather unique and freewheeling and reflects the kind of life we were living in that day," said John Karr, who started reviewing porn titles for the Bay Area Reporter in 1978. "There was a spontaneity and naturalness to it."
There was a time during the height of the AIDS crisis that thrift stores and adult erotica shops throughout San Francisco were flooded with such titles. As loved ones and friends cleaned out the belongings of those men lost to AIDS, they would donate boxes of the old porn magazines to the stores.
Many of the titles ended up in the archives of two San Francisco-based institutions: the GLBT Historical Society and the Institute of the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality.
"In the late 1980s, as the deaths were mounting up, those magazines were available in the thrift stores at a quarter apiece because many collections were being dispensed with after their owners died," recalled Karr, adding that he bought "tons" of the material and donated them to the institute's archives but still has "boxes" of them. "These days those magazines do not turn up in the thrift stores."
San Francisco resident Oliver "Ollie" Shreffler, 78, worked as go-go boy in gay bars back in the 1970s and acted in a few porn films. He had built up quite a collection of magazines and videos over the decades, but lost much of it due to a fire at his apartment building in 2005.
"I had quite a collection way, way back when," said Shreffler. "We had a fire here a few years ago and that pretty much took care of the whole collection. What the flames didn't get the smoke and water got."
He said he isn't surprised to see a new generation of gay men gravitate to the porn of the past.
"The magazines and other artwork of that time were far superior. I still like the older videos better than today's," he said. "Everyone was so natural in those days. Nowadays they are too buffed up. They are beautiful, but I prefer a natural build."