Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The pulp heritage

“The pulp magazines were all about three things : action, adventure and sex – not necessarily together or in that order.” – Peter Haining, The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines.

“What is it about pulp art that makes it stand out as unique, different from the kind of cover art featured on books and magazines today? Only its outrageousness. It dared to be wild, and too much was never enough.” – James Van Hise, quoted in : Robert Lesser, Pulp Art.

The pulp magazines of the 1920s and 1930s were the direct precursors of the classic era vintage paperbacks [1], with both the pulps and pbs favoring sensation-laced stories and spicy cover art. The pulps’ influence also extended to the earthy 1950s men’s adventure magazines [2]. Indeed, the men’s magazines of the 50s might be seen as the last gasp of the pulps, even if their general style tended more to the postmodern.

As for vintage paperbacks and the pulps, the differences were more a matter of degree, not content; for all their flamboyance the vintage pbs generally had a more restrained, elegant tone in packaging and message [3], in some cases even aspiring to real literary pretensions.

But ultimately it’s the very over-the-top outrageousness of the pulps, referenced in the aforementioned quote, that, to my way of thinking anyway, makes them so much fun, even more so than the vintage pbs. Speaking of outrageous, my personal favorite genre was the ‘shudder pulps', in all their Technicolor, high-camp glory.

In any case, and paralleling the comeback in recent years of vintage pbs, there’s been a resurgence of interest in the pulp magazines, and some of my favorite survey volumes include : Peter Haining, The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines (Chicago, Chicago Review Press, 2001); Robert Lesser, Pulp Art : Original Cover Paintings for the Great American Pulp Magazines (New York, Gramercy Books, 1997); Lee Server, Danger Is My Business : An Illustrated History of the Fabulous Pulp Magazines (San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 1993); Max Allan Collins, History of Mystery (Portland, Collectors Press, 2001), pp. 32-57.

[1] Curious – perhaps not so curious – that at the same time the pulps were dying out (ca. 1946) the vintage pb’s were just beginning to hit their stride.

[2] Here I’m thinking more of titles like Argosy, True, Saga, Adventure and For Men Only. These had the hardcore blue collar ethic of the pulps; the other 1950s men’s magazines like Playboy and Esquire - and even low-rent cousins like Cavalier and Rogue - with their ersatz intellectual tone, upwardly mobile audience and slick production values, were just a little too civilized to be considered genuinely pulpy.

[3] Especially so after the show trials Congressional investigations of 1952-53.

No comments:

Post a Comment