Hardboiled Dicks: A Look at DIME DETECTIVE MAGAZINE

Jun 12, 2017 by

Matt Moring — the publisher of Altus Press and its fine line of pulp reprint and history volumes — turns an eye toward DIME DETECTIVE MAGAZINE on Saturday, July 29, at 9 PM. It’s all part of the celebration of hardboiled dicks, dangerous dames, and a few psychos at PulpFest 2017.

Although the earliest pulps were general fiction magazines, the rough-paper rags eventually began to specialize. Pulps featuring aviation and war stories, fantasy and the supernatural, love and romance, the railroad, science fiction, sports, and other genres emerged. There were also titles devoted to prison yarns, firefighters, and even engineering stories. However, one of the longest lasting and most popular categories was the detective field. In fact, the first pulp magazine successfully dedicated to a single fiction genre was Street & Smith’s DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE.

Although a trailblazer as a specialty magazine, DETECTIVE STORY did little to further the development of the detective or crime story. That task would be left to its highly prized successors: BLACK MASK  — the pulp where the hardboiled detective story began to take shape — and DIME DETECTIVE MAGAZINE — where the tough guy detective became extremely popular. Call them what you will — flatfoots, gumshoes, dime detectives, or private eyes  — it was these hardboiled dicks that transformed the traditional mystery story into the tough guy (and gal) crime fiction that remains popular to this very day.

Most critics site BLACK MASK MAGAZINE as the fertile ground where hardboiled detective fiction gathered its form. From 1923 through 1931, it reigned supreme as the home of the genre. Then, in 1931, Henry Steeger and Harold Goldsmith of Popular Publications introduced DIME DETECTIVE MAGAZINE. Costing a nickel less than BLACK MASK, its appeal to the cash-strapped consumers of the Great Depression was hard to dispute. As Stefan Dziemianowicz wrote in his introduction to HARD-BOILED DETECTIVES (1992):

As added inducement, it was able to lure BLACK MASK regulars like Gardner, Nebel, Chandler, Norbert Davis, and Frederick C. Davis into its pages by paying them the princely sum of four cents per word — one cent more than BLACK MASK and quadruple the going pulp fiction rate. DIME DETECTIVE made only two stipulations to its authors: there were to be no novel serializations and the characters they created could not appear in competing magazines. The result was a looser and more varied magazine than BLACK MASK.

Before long, DIME DETECTIVE would become the best-selling title of the mystery-detective genre and the most popular magazine of its publishers’ line of pulp magazines. By the summer of 1933, it was appearing twice monthly, a schedule it maintained through June of 1935. It would be one of Popular’s longest lived titles, running for 274 issues — largely on a monthly basis — through its August 1953 number.

Running for twenty years, Popular Publications’ DIME DETECTIVE MAGAZINE published thousands of high-quality hard-boiled stories by hundreds of authors, eventually becoming the most respected detective pulp magazine behind BLACK MASK. However, DIME DETECTIVE excelled at introducing long-running series characters, something BLACK MASK normally didn’t do. These series characters run the gamut of quirky detectives, completely unique and offbeat: the types of investigators which had never been seen before (and rarely repeated with such skill since).

Matt Moring — who wrote the words above — is the publisher at Altus Press. Reprinting pulp fiction from a wide variety of pulp genres, including hero, detective, jungle, the French Foreign Legion, and more, Matt has quickly become one of the leading publishers in the pulp world. He has also published numerous historical works on the pulps including biographies, indices, and examinations of single-character magazines. Together with Will Murray, Matt revived the Doc Savage series, publishing brand new stories after a long absence. The Altus Press website is also an excellent reference source, featuring links to The Pulp Superhero Index and The ECHOES Index. Matt was our Munsey Award winner in 2012.

(In addition to employing some of the pulp industry’s leading authors, DIME DETECTIVE MAGAZINE also employed its leading artists, including the “king of the pulp artists,” Walter Baumhofer. The skilled brushes of artists such as Baumhofer — his work graces the cover of the January 1936 issue shown here — along with the experienced writers, low price, and continuing characters such as Vee Brown and Jack Cardigan helped DIME DETECTIVE to become the leading magazine of its field.)