Man magazine was the first and most important monthly publication produced by Kenneth Murray, founder of the K.G. Murray publishing empire.
The magazine was launched in December 1936, following the success of American men’s publication Esquire, which had appeared three years earlier. Some of the attributes that led to predictions of the magazine’s early failure proved to be its greatest assets. These included high (and costly) production standards and an emphasis on art and cartoons. At the time of its appearance, Man was considered to be daring in even acknowledging, much less joking about, sexuality to a mainstream audience. The first print-run is estimated to have been 10,000 copies, and the issue quickly sold out.
In the 1946 anniversary publication ‘Man is Ten’, a retrospective article claimed the magazine was designed to be ‘one of the inexpensive luxuries in the lives of men’. Readers liked the plush, Art Deco style, the diverse articles, the risqué cartoons (presented as full-page illustrations) and the titillating work of such renowned photographers as Max Dupain and Laurence Le Guay. However, newsprint rationing in the 1940s made Man cheaper and less pretentious, and more in tune with a mass audience. By the start of World War II, circulation was about 60,000; by 1946 it was close to 100,000.
In the 1930s, Man had aspirations to be serious, alongside its cartoon flippancy. There was a strong interest in foreign affairs, through both commentary and the ‘Cameraman’ section. In its early issues, it editorialised for world peace, then—as tensions increased in the lead-up to war—advocated for armed readiness. In a climate where books, magazines and newspapers were tightly controlled, and where access to paper, ink and other consumables was uncertain, this may partly have been pragmatism on Murray’s part.
Murray leveraged Man’s success into a solid revenue stream, able to support a whole stable of publications, including Man Junior, Cavalcade, the Insider and Digest of Digests. After the war, numerous titles were added to the operation.
Murray produced a version of Man in the United Kingdom, titled Man: The Empire Magazine for Men. Publication later continued in both the United States and the United Kingdom, with the two flagship magazines published as Man Junior and Man Senior.
By the time Man ceased publication in 1974, its advertising revenue stream had dissipated due to the appearance of specialist titles, and it had lost its distinctiveness as a result of the decline of censorship and had been eclipsed by more brazen titles.
REFs: F.S. Greenop, History of Magazine Publishing in Australia (1947); R. White, ‘The importance of being Man’, in P. Spearritt and D. Walker (eds), Australian Popular Culture (1979).