Universal Hunks is – dare I say it? – one handsome and hefty book, coming in at just over 300 pages. This is the third in a series of books, preceded by American Hunks and venus With Biceps. In all three, Chapman presents the idealized and idolized human physique with photographs and illustrations from pop culture during an eighty year period from 1895 to 1975. Chapman’s historical overview is smartly organized by continent, region, and country, working around the globe from Europe to North and South America and every continent in between.
The male photography books in my collection focus on homoerotic work from the likes of George Platt Lynes, Von Gloeden, Bruce Weber, and Herbert List while others like Evan Bachner’s Men Of WW II detail the homosocial lives of all male environments. While there is an intersection between the genre of body building art and what I’ll loosely call art house style exemplified in the photographers’ work I mentioned, this is pleasantly largely new territory for me to explore. Yukio Mishima, who first came to my attention in Eikoh Hosoe’s Barakei in my second year of studies at the Art Institute of Chicago, is a requisite (more please!) as is Eugen Sandow (AKA Friedrich Wilhelm Muller), the most famous of early body builders. Sandow certainly is the appropriate starting point for the book since his fame and marketing efforts influenced body builders in many cultures through his world travels. On the surface level these photos appeal as objects of desire for contemporary gay male gaze, as they undoubtedly did to generations of gay men both in and out of the closet during the twentieth century. Through his research, Chapman illuminates the lives of some of these men and provides truly interesting and engaging cultural contexts to deepen the reader’s appreciation.
The crossover appeal between hyper-masculine superheroes and the male physique is evident to any gay comics nerd and one that definitely attracted me when I read the book’s press release. Chapman respectfully embraces this phenomenon here and in the two previous books with reproductions of European comic book strong men corresponding primarily from the Golden Age in American comics dot the book. My curiosity is piqued by heroes such as Italy’s bare-chested Ragar and the costumed Asso di Picches (Ace of Spades) represented here. With the exception of Britain’s Marvelman, they’re all new to me. Promo material sent by the publisher includes an interview in which Chapman alludes to his current fascination with these European comics, and makes me hopeful a book will follow at some point. Italian posters of 1960s Steve Reeves movies bring back memories of watching many Reeves movies in my youth on Saturday afternoons. Magazine covers, majestically illustrated ads and other memorabilia such as cigar box labels and match book covers abound in addition to many other posters from around the world.
As noted above in my opening, this is one beautiful book. Looking at the cover’s photograph I find not being transfixed by the man’s self assurance and beauty to be difficult. Inside I found the pages are filled with numerous images of sexy and sensual men, many culled from Chapman’s personal collection, and brought to life under the artful eye of book designer Gerilee McBride. David Berryman’s image restoration is impeccably vibrant and fresh
and the color, black and white, and sepia reproductions stand out crisply on understated matte paper – always a wise choice in my estimation.
Arsenal Pulp Press provided a copy of this book for review purposes and I fear it might otherwise have escaped my attention. I recommend this to anyone with an interest in the male physique and photography and look forward to adding Chapman’s American Hunks next to this in my own collection. The publisher’s synopsis can be read here. A preview can be seen on Amazon where the book may also be pre-ordered with a price drop guarantee. Please consider purchasing from your local bookstore!
Or purchase this book from Amazon. Universal Hunks: A Pictorial History of Muscular Men around the World, 1895-1975