Illustrations by Robert M. Dunker
I only learned the secret of Horseshit magazine last year, while patronizing a local military-surplus shop. It was one of those menacing and increasingly rare army-navy stores popularized in 1993’s Falling Down—grimly dim, decorated with Nazi artifacts and dangling gas masks. I got the feeling it was the kind of place where one must be careful not to wander too far toward the back room, lest one never come out. Even as the shopkeeper chatted with another customer, I could feel his eyes watching me.
In front of one counter displaying Luftwaffe cufflinks and K-rations, I found myself staring at a publication titled Horseshit. The cover featured a crisp illustration of a man with a face wrapped in barbed wire. It recalled Winston Smith’s cover of the Dead Kennedys’ Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death. Clearly, I thought, this was a punk zine I’d never heard of. What was it doing here? I opened it and immediately discerned three things:
1) The magazine predated punk by at least ten years.
2) It was full of extremely arousing drawings of nude women.
3) It was also full of disturbing antimilitary propaganda (babies on bayonets, marines as drooling ghouls) that, if the guy behind the counter knew what I was looking at, would probably result in my ass getting kicked.
I looked up. The owner was indeed staring straight at me, even while conversing with the other customer.
“Excuse me,” I said as I lifted the magazine. “How much for this?”
The two men stopped talking. The owner sized me up with undisguised disgust.
“That’s NOT for sale,” he finally replied. I nodded and backed out the front entrance, his hateful death-ray gaze following me onto the street.
It was a confusing and mysterious introduction to a confusing and mysterious magazine.
Later I scouted for clues about Horseshit online, but there weren’t many. I learned from one website that the magazine was published by two brothers, Thomas and Robert Dunker (Thomas, a paraplegic, died in 2003). In 1968, Horseshit was responsible (along with Zap, Snatch, and the SCUM Manifesto) for the arrest of Berkeley bookseller Moe Moskowitz on charges of selling pornography. A year later, Frank Zappa referenced the magazine in his track “German Lunch.” Beyond those two intriguing historical morsels, Horseshit occupies a void. A few online booksellers offered complete sets of the magazine—all four issues for $150.
By chance I found a website selling the set for considerably less, and I jumped at the opportunity. But as soon as I placed the order, I felt duped. Was it really possible that this magazine had slipped under the radar of everyone I knew? A dark paranoia festered: It all began to feel like an elaborate scam that would end with the eBay seller and the aggressive military-surplus-store guy splitting the cash down the middle.