These days if you look around the web, you'll find there is plenty of erotica featuring big gay men -- Bears, chubs, and so on. But it wasn't always so. Pretty much from the dawn of male erotica, the bodies featured were those of guys with low body fat and visible muscles.
There's a website devoted to the history of bears -- the Bear History Project. It appears that the bear identity started out around 1980.
Before that time, there were social groups for larger gay men. There were Girth and Mirth clubs in several major cities which had social activities and published newsletters. The club that became the San Francisco chapter was founded in 1976, and the New York chapter in 1978. More information on that is available on the website of Girth and Mirth Club of New York.
I have seen examples of earlier personal ads which indicate that there were indeed people with the desire to meet fat men. But were there any earlier social groups?
One item which has turned up was a magazine from circa 1970 called Fatso (not to be confused with the recent fat liberation zine and book Fat!So?). I have not actually seen a copy of the magazine, but a copy was offered for sale in an online auction some time ago. The seller indicated that it had been published by Classic Publications from Los Angeles. A little research at Our Own Voices -- A Directory of Lesbian and Gay Periodicals, 1890s-2000s -- indicates that Classic Publications also produced the titles Handsome Devil and Uranus. They also produced pulp novels. I looked at a copy of one of their other publications, I believe an issue of Uranus, at The Magazine, the vintage periodical store in San Francisco's Tenderloin district. The models didn't seem particularly chubby, though there was one offbeat spread featuring a hippyish protester carrying a sign, and I think there was some body paint involved as well.
I wonder whether the publishers of Fatso felt that there was a market for their publication, whether they themselves had a taste for fat men, or perhaps the publication was meant as a joke or novelty item.
I haven't found any record of archives with a copy of the magazine. If more information about this publication ever comes to light, it will probably be by coincidence. I suppose I could go look at old business records in Los Angeles and see who the publishers of Classic Publications were.
I bet there are also private collections out there of photos and papers from people who were involved with Girth and Mirth clubs and similar social organizations. I hope that people will not throw away their history, and will make arrangements to get copies of these documents into the collections of gay archives and other institutions.
I'd be interested in hearing from people who have information not only about this magazine, but also the early days of Girth and Mirth organizations.
2009 P.S.: For more on Classic Publications see this article at BadMags.com - Golden State News/Classic Publications