Pulp magazines are so called because of the cheap paper they were printed on. Frank A. Munsey pioneered the format in 1896 with The Argosy. Pulps picked up steam with titles like Blue Book (1906) and Adventure (1910), then exploded in 1912 when All-Story printed a little yarn by Edgar Rice Burroughs called “Tarzan of the Apes.” Soon after, genre titles flourished, among them Detective Story, Western Story and Love Story. Then, in the twenties, publishing legends such as Black Mask (1920), Weird Tales (1923) and Amazing Stories (1926) took hold.
In 1931, Street & Smith was promoting Detective Story by dramatizing stories from the magazine for radio. The program’s narrator called himself “The Shadow.” When this memorable name began to eclipse the title of the magazine being promoted, S&S decided to launch a new form of pulp magazine, the single character or “hero” pulp. Within a few years The Shadow had started a rash of hero pulps including The Phantom Detective, Doc Savage, G-8 and His Battle Aces, and The Spider. In the early thirties, before radio had reached its heyday, pulps were the dominant entertainment, like television is today.
After World War II, the demand for pulp magazines waned as a more convenient form of cheap entertainment took hold– paperbacks. These were often just as “pulpy” since they were being written by many of the same authors. In the fifties, television became the favored form of escapism and the surviving pulps ceased publication. Fiction magazines continued to be published, but these science-fiction and mystery digests and “men’s magazines” aren’t considered pulps.
The first pulp-focused convention was originated by Ed Kessel with the assistance of Nils Hardin and Gordon Huber. It debuted in June 1972 and was called Pulpcon. Through 2008, thirty-nine Pulpcons had been held, most of them organized by Rusty Hevelin and a crew of dedicated enthusiasts. Inspired by the spirit of Pulpcon, the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention came into being in 2000 and continues to attract pulp fans to the Chicago area every spring. It celebrated its tenth year in 2010. PulpFest debuted in 2009 and quickly established itself as the summer destination for collectors of pulp magazines and related material.
For more about the history of the pulps, please visit PulpFest 2013 in Columbus, Ohio from July 25 – July 28th.