Say hello to the Octopus and the Scorpion, the Green Lama and the Black Bat, the Mysterious Wu Fang and Dr. Yen Sin, the Pecos Kid, the Rio Kid, and Captains Satan, Combat, Future and Zero. To Doc Savage and his Brotherhood of Bronze, to the Shadow and the evil only he knows, to the Spider, who once saved Cologne, Ohio, from 5,000 mad dogs, even to Nick Carter, whose father sternly advised him to always "keep your body, your clothing and your conscience clean."
The pulps are back.
"Is there a revival; oh Lord yes, I should say so," says a slightly dumb-founded Henry Steeger, the 73-year-old founder of Popular Publications, in its time the largest of the pulp producers. And Walter B. Gibson, alias Maxwell Grant, who wrote 283 (count-'em-283) Shadow novels and is still busy enough at age 80 to keep 11 typewriters going - "I move from one to another" - is even more astonished.
"It's tremendous, it's gotten all out hand, just skyrocketed," he says. "I could spend all my time doing nothing but speaking at pulp conventions. And a good copy of The Shadow, which sold for 10 cents at the time, now sells for a minimum of $20 all the way up to $25 for Volume One, Number One. I just wish I'd kept 'em."
Even out of their original form, the pulps are soaring. Three book-length anthologies of pulp stories have appeared within the past year, lurid pulp art has become increasingly fashionable, and a Marvel Comics version of Conan the Barbarian, a classic pulp hero, has been selling nearly 2.5 million copies annually, putting it near the top of Marvel's 70 titles.
As for paperback reprints, Gibson's Shadow novels are available from three different publishers, Bantam has sold close to 15 million copies of Doc Savage's adventures and Western writer Max BrandM dead for 30 years, is rivaled only by Xaviera Hollander, the Happy Hooker, ad a consistent seller on the Warner list.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the pulp revival is that there had to be one, that a phenomenon of that size, a world to rival Atlantis itself, could have gone under. In the '30s, the heyday of the pulps, sales soared to 25 million per month and devotees had 200 different magazines to choose from at any one time.
All in all, close to 1,000 pulp titles made it into print, some surfacing only once and others, like Argosy, going on to hundreds and even thousands of issues. Every conceivable taste was covered, from Marriage Stories to Wall Street Stories to even Zeppelin Stories. And not to forget "the Spicys," short for Spicy Adventure, Spicy Detective, Spicy Mystery and, yes, Spicy Western, strictly under-the-counter items inevitably featuring women who were, as one critic put it," dished up in terms of quality of flesh (creamy expanses) and the material which covered it (diaphanous, barely able to contain its straining contents."
An unlikable man named Frank Munsey started the first pulp. Argosy, in 1896. No man much cared for Munsey (when he died of the burst appendix in 1925 he was enulogized as having "the talent of a meat packer, the morals of a money changer and the manner of an undertaker"), but he knew a good idea when he saw one. "The story," he would say, "is more important than the paper ot is printed on."
True to Munsey's maxim, the pulps from his day to the end were printed on paper made from ground wood rather than wood chips - pulp paper, the cheapest stuff that could be make to take ink. It was difficult to preserve, but the pulps were an ephemeral form of literature anyway, created to be read and thrown away.
Seven by 10 inches in size, 120 untrimmed pages encased in bright, glossy covers, the pulps by definition were popular fiction magazines, handling staples like action, adventure and romance with a delightfully sensationalistic touch. The direct descendants of dime novels and penny dreadfuls and the sworn enemy of "slicks" like Scibners, Colliers and The Century, they were what everyone from the Harry Truman to Al Capone read at the time - the only source, in an age before television and paperbacks, of what Ron Roulart, author of "An Informal History of the Pulp Magazine," likes to call "cheap thrills."
"They were right down-to-earth magazines," Walter Gibson remembers. "The slick magazines tried to set styles, but we just gave the readers what they wanted. An editor once told me, 'After giving them potatoes for awhile, you may be tempted to give them a balanced diet, throw in some carrots, some greens, give them a treat. They want potatoes, so we give 'em potatoes.'"
Despite these self-imposed strictures, the pulps did quite well for themselves literarily. Under the editorship of Captain John Shaw, an international epee and sabre champion, Black Mask magazine, which had been founded by highbrows H.L.Mencken and George Jean Nathan as teh caliber of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. And Hugo Gernsback, editor/publisher of Amazing Stories, coined the very name "science fiction" and created a market for authors like H.P. Lovecraft, "the Rhode Island Recluse," a peculiar man who didn't leave his house for months at a time, and then only at night, living largely on black coffee and tiny amounts of food.
The pulps were a nifty training ground for writers in general. Everyone from Edgar Rice Burroughs to Earl Stanley Gardner to Ray Bradbury and scientology's L. Ron Hubbard got their start there. Even 16-year old Tennesee Williams was first published by a pulp, Weird Tales, which gave him $35 in 1928 for a story titled "The Vengeance of Nitocris," which he later called "a prelude to the violence that is considered my trademark."
More astonishing still were the real they came out; I'd read 'em and get a wallop out of my own twists."
The pulps also attracted occasional oddballs like Robert E. Howard, a moody paranoid from Corss Plains, Tex. Howard managed to create an entire subculture of sword and sorcery epics set in a mythical Hyborean Age and centering around the warrior Connan before taking his own life at age 30, despondent over the impending death of his mother.
But towering above them all was the most puzzling as well as the most prolific of writers, Frederick Schiller Faust, King of the Pulps.
"When a man is backed into a corner by a man who intends to kill him, he can be as high as 90 per cent efficient." Faust once todl Tome magazine, which is as close as he ever came to explaining his lifetime output of 30 million words, the staggering equivalent of 530 novels. More amazing still, the creator of characters as diverse as Destry and Dr. Kildare hated every word he wrote.
"Daily I thank God in three languages that I write under a pen name," Faust would sy, but he was being modest. He actually used 26 pennames - Evin Evans, Evan Evans, John Frederick, Frederick Frost, and most famous of all, Max Brand. Faust considered himself a sensitive poet and would never allow so much as one hopelessly declasse pulp magazine into the magnificent villa outside Florence that was his refuge. Drinking seemed to alternate with self-loathing in his character, and when World War II broke out, he got himself accredited as a war correspondent, only to be killed by German artillery in 1944, age 52, the oldest correspondent at the front.
The pulp writing style that Faust so looked down on could be awfully corny, a blending of the realistic with the breathlessly improbable. Yet while lines like "Slowly, even as she hated the thought, she began to enjoy the bite of those ants" defies any kind of analysis, others could be oddly evocative: "On the spot where Hollywood would someday grow tow vaqueros were crushing a priest to death with his own wine press."
Yet so far as pulp readers were concerned, the style ultimately mattered little or not at all. Strong plots were what was required, pure unpretentious adventure stores. "Many pulp fans today analyze the Shadow and Doc Savage novels for psychology and what have you," says John Nanovic, a perturbed former pulp editor. "All we were giving the reader then is what he wanted - action. If there were other things in them, I never knew about it."
It is just that simplicity of form, that harking back to presumably less hectic times, that many of today's fans react favorably to in the pulps. There was an innocence about them, a never-never land quality. Says Chicago collector Bob Weinberg, who has amassed 5,000 and ought to know, "You could reads these magazines very carefully and still have no idea how babies were made. People today are tired of cynicism, there's just so much you can take of that attitude." Adds David Alexander, in Culver City, Calif., the largest pulp dealership in the county, "It's an escape for the reader from what he has to see in ordinary life."
Yet there is something more to the pulps, something that is still around 20 years after their death in the mid-1950s, a death brought on by rising production costs, paper shortage, and a mass entertainment audience increasingly seduced by comic books, TV and paperbacks. Because the pulps were more than just stories. They were an all-permeating atmosphere, a heady melange of wild covers, lush illustrations, worshipful letters and preposterous ads. "It wasn't groovy, cool, popuculture, like it is now," Terry Stroud, David Alexander's partner, reminds us. "It was nuts, it was trash."
And it is largely the remains of that flashy, flamboyant feeling, those sirensong memories, that account for so much of the pulps' current appeal. "The pulps helped us in many ways," wrote fancier Charles Beaunmont, "strengthened and comforted us, led us to an appreciation of literature and prepared us, if not for life, than at least for dreams."
What more could anyone ask? CAPTION: Picture 1, Covers from two early pulp magazines, From "The Pulps," edited by Tony Goodstone, Chelsea House; Picture 2, SEVEN HEADS OF BUSHONGO by WILLIAM SHELTON [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] from two recent reprints, Picture 3 & 4, "Perhaps the most surprising thing about the pulp revival is that there had to be one; Picture 5, Amazing Stories, 1927, from "The Pulps," edited by Tony Goodstone, Chelsea House