Tuesday, September 29, 2009


In the past few years, I've seen a resurgence of American pulp reprints. This is exciting for me, since the stories in these pulps influenced so much of the super hero and detective stories we know today.What is a pulp? A cheaply printed fiction book, very popular in the 1920s, 1930 , 1940s and on to the 1950s to a lesser extent due to hieghtened censorship.

What sort of things did they print? Everything from disturbingly morbid sci fi-horror to stories for the bored housewife about steamy romances. The covers were often beautifully painted teasers, half naked attractive young people being tormented by wild deformed cannibals on a space ship? Sounds pretty normal.

One of my favorite parts of the original pulps are the aforementioned covers. Many of the subsequent reprints are of the text only, and lacking in the marvelous full cover paintings that madeup each issued book, or the beautiful black and white pen drawings, often very detailed, that were scattered throughout the actual books. Occasionally I see a reprint that contains these aspects, and those are the ones I find myself drawn to buy.

I've read quite a bit of the Weird Tales reprints, although the variety tends to lack, since H.P. Lovecraft tends to dominate as much as possible. Cthulhu sells apparently. To be honest, I'd rather read a good ghost story or a unique take on an folklore. No offence to the Cthulhu Mythos, but you just don't make it to my nightmares. That said, H.P. Lovecraft was a genius at the pulp genre, but as a 'junk fiction' writer, he never did see his fanbase peak.

The pulps created a new outlet for crime writers. Endless detective stories, adventure, romance, and horrors could be released every month and easily bought by the average person. A pulp book averaged about 10-25 cents - a far cry from the $15 average of today. (Just one of those 10 cent books of yesteryear now will put you back a good $80-$300) Every month, and sometimes twice a month, a reader could pick up their favorite crime titles cheaply at even grocery stores, or so I'm told by those generations who witnessed it.

In an era without television, and with limited radio channels, reading was one of the few ways to find stories that were guaranteed to peak your interest.
Me? I buy every reprint of The Shadow I can find! The dialog might be dated, the titles mellow dramatic, and the subjects politically incorrect, but I enjoy a good detective story sluthed by an invisible spy with an endless repertoire of tricks! Who Knows...What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men? Nothing like a good maniacal laugh.

Speaking of racist, if a character wasn't white, you can bet they'd carry most of the dark stereotypes that aren't allowed in fiction today. Fu Manchu was probably the most infamous evil asian, fullfilling the role of the mad scientist and classic antihero of his own books. His popularity spun dozens of evil asian titles. The racism doesn't stop there, it often portrays savage indians (both Native American and East Indians alike), and uneducated manservent blacks are fairly normal. While reading anything from another time, it's important to remember that values and ideals have changed a lot over the past 50 years.

Pulps have brought us many famous heros we associate with other media, such as Tarzan, Flash Gordon , or lessor known cult stars such as Buck Rogers and John Carter of Mars. Famous heros such as Batman were admited by their creators to be inspired by The Shadow. Film Noir took many of it's formulas and cliches from the detective pulps of the 1930s. Where would we be without our cheap fiction?

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