What’s This PulpFest All About?

Jul 5, 2019 by

So what’s this PulpFest that has so many people talking? With over 3,200 likes on Facebook, hundreds of followers on Instagram, and nearly 1,100 followers on Twitter, it certainly has been generating a lot of excitement. But what’s it all about?

PulpFest is named for pulp magazines — fiction periodicals named after the cheap pulp paper on which they were printed. Frank A. Munsey pioneered the format in 1896 with THE ARGOSY. Stories like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Tarzan and the Apes” and Max Brand’s “Destry Rides Again” really got things moving.

The pulps started to flourish following the introduction of specialized magazines such as DETECTIVE STORY and LOVE STORY. Publishing legends BLACK MASKWEIRD TALES and AMAZING STORIES debuted during the 1920s. The early thirties introduced the hero pulps, while science fiction exploded as the world went to war in 1939.

By the early fifties, the pulps had largely disappeared. Although displaced by paperback books, comics, radio, television, movies, and more, the rough-paper periodicals had a profound effect on popular culture across the globe. They inspired everything from STAR WARS and JURASSIC PARK to Batman and Spider-Man. The fiction and art of the pulps reverberated through comic books, movies, paperbacks, television, and even anime and role-playing games.

PulpFest 2019 will focus on the many ways pulp fiction and pulp art have inspired and continue to inspire creators. We’re calling this year’s theme, “Children of the Pulps and Other Stories,” an examination of the pervasive influence of pulp magazines on contemporary pop culture. To see what PulpFest is all about, click the Programming button below our home page banner to get a taste for the topics that we’ll explore in 2019.

Beyond our programming, the PulpFest dealers’ room will feature tens of thousands of pulp magazines, vintage paperbacks, digests, genre books, original art, first edition hardcovers, series books, reference books, men’s adventure and true crime magazines, dime novels and story papers, Big Little Books, B-Movies, serials and related paper collectibles, old-time radio shows, and collectible comic books and newspaper adventure strips.

The convention will take place from Thursday evening, August 15, through Sunday afternoon, August 18, at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh – Cranberry, just nineteen miles north of the exciting city of Pittsburgh. You can book your room directly through the PulpFest website. Just click the button below the PulpFest banner to “Book a Room. Alternately, you can call 1-800-222-8733 to book a room by telephone. When calling, be sure to mention PulpFest to get the special convention rate.

Start planning now to join PulpFest 2019 at the “pop culture center of the universe.” You can join the convention by clicking the Register button below our home page banner. If you’d like to pay for your membership via Paypal, you’ll find our Paypal link on our registration page.

(Published by the Frank A. Munsey Company, the October 1912 issue of THE ALL-STORY featured Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel “Tarzan of the Apes,” published in its entirety. Clinton Pettee painted the front cover art for the magazine.

Burroughs’ Tarzan is the most famous character to emerge from the pulps. Others include Zorro, Conan the Barbarian, Dr. Kildare, The Shadow, Buck Rogers, Sam Spade, Doc Savage, and Cthulhu.

Come to PulpFest 2019 and learn how the pulps continue to inspire the world’s pop culture creators.)

A Century of Zorro

Jun 5, 2019 by

In the early 1800s, California was still under Spanish rule. The peaceful indigenous people were victimized by the corrupt military commanders. One man rose to stand against injustice and the abuse of power. One man stirred the hearts of Californians and gave them the spirit to resist tyranny. That man was the masked avenger known as Zorro!

Thursday night, August 15, at PulpFest, publisher/author and 2019 Munsey Award nominee Rich Harvey of Bold Venture Press presents “A Century of Zorro,” marking not only the centennial of the legendary pulp character, but also the publication of the first matched set of every original Zorro novel and short story in six attractive volumes from Bold Venture Press.

Zorro was created by pulp writer Johnston McCulley. In the original stories, Zorro has a price on his head, but is too skilled and cunning for the authorities to capture him. Zorro is the secret identity of Don Diego de la Vega, the only son of Don Alejandro de la Vega, a wealthy landowner. He adopted his secret identity after learning California had fallen under the thrall of a ruthless dictator. Diego conceals his identity by posing as a cowardly fop.

Zorro was introduced in McCulley’s novel, “The Curse of Capistrano,” when it was serialized in the pages of ALL-STORY WEEKLY in 1919. The success of its 1920 film adaptation as THE MARK OF ZORRO, starring Douglas Fairbanks, convinced his creator to author further adventures. Over the next forty years, McCulley penned a total of five Zorro novels and nearly 60 short stories featuring the masked avenger. The stories appeared in ARGOSY, WEST, and other magazines. In book form, “The Curse of Capistrano” was retitled THE MARK OF ZORRO and sold more than 50 million copies. McCulley’s numerous follow-ups never achieved the same level of success. Most were never collected in book form until Bold Venture Press’ definitive editions.

Zorro appeared in over 40 film and television adaptations, including Walt Disney’s 1950s TV series starring Guy Williams. The character has appeared in numerous literary pastiches as well as radio, comic books, newspaper strips, and stage plays.

Being one of the earliest examples of a fictional masked avenger with a double identity, Zorro inspired the creation of several similar characters in pulp magazines and other media. McCulley’s hero is a precursor of the superheroes of American comic books, with Batman drawing particularly close parallels to the character. As such, today’s superheroes are very much “Children of the Pulps.” Join Bold Venture Press founder Rich Harvey on the opening night of PulpFest for a celebration of “A Century of Zorro.”

PulpFest 2019 will begin on Thursday, August 15, and run through Sunday, August 18.  Join PulpFest at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh – Cranberry, just north of Pennsylvania’s “Steel City” of Pittsburgh in Mars, PA. We’ll be celebrating “Children of the Pulps and Other Stories” — focusing on the pulp influences in popular culture — at this year’s gathering.

Click our Programming button below our homepage banner to get a preview of all the great presentations at this year’s event.

To join PulpFest 2019, click the Register button below our homepage banner. To book a room at the DoubleTree by Hilton — our host hotel — click the Book a Room button, also found on our homepage.

(Created by the prolific pulp writer Johnston McCulley, Zorro debuted in “The Curse of Capistrano,” a five-part serial that ran in the pages of the Munsey magazine, ALL-STORY WEEKLY during the month of August 1919. It will be the centennial of the first Zorro story during this year’s PulpFest.

The cover art featured on the August 9, 1919 issue was painted by P. J. Monahan. A native of Des Moines, Iowa, Monahan moved to Brooklyn in 1907. He became one of New York’s most prolific artists for the first three decades of the twentieth century, creating advertisements, movie posters, commissioned art, and, most of all, pulp magazine illustrations and covers.

Along with Bob Fujitani, Bob Correa and Alberto Giolitti, the late pulp artist Everett Raymond Kinstler created the interior pencils and inks for the Zorro stories featured in Dell’s FOUR COLOR COMICS series. Kinstler drew issue numbers 497 — featuring “The Sword of Zorro,” with the cover painted by an unknown artist — 538, and 574. Born in 1942, Kinstler was a freelance artist for the pulp, slick, comic book, and paperback industry before turning to portraiture during the 1950s.)

Street & Smith’s Second String Superheroes

Feb 1, 2016 by

The Skipper 1936-12THE SHADOW MAGAZINE kicked off the hero-pulp era with a bang when it debuted in 1931. Pulp publishers — including THE SHADOW‘s publisher, Street & Smith — scrambled to grab a share of that eager reading audience.

It took Street & Smith until 1933 to add more character pulps to its lineup: DOC SAVAGE, NICK CARTER MAGAZINE, and PETE RICE MAGAZINE. That same year, Thrilling Publications released THE PHANTOM DETECTIVE and THE LONE EAGLE, while Popular Publications introduced THE SPIDER and G-8 AND HIS BATTLE ACES.

Popular Publications’ THE SPIDER pushed the boundaries set by the other hero pulp magazines, which were rather mainstream. The Spider was judge, jury and executioner in his battle against crazed, blood-thirsty villains. Other Popular pulps — HORROR STORIES and TERROR TALES — pushed those boundaries even further. The chain’s pulps were “jammed with non-stop violence, like the fever dream of a homicidal maniac,” wrote the late pulp historian Robert Sampson in DEADLY EXCITEMENTS. And as their publisher’s name reflects, these pulps were quite popular. So popular, in fact, that Street & Smith decided it needed to put a harder edge in its hero pulps.

Rather than introduce those themes in its already popular THE SHADOW and DOC SAVAGE magazines, Street & Smith turned to two new hero pulps — THE WHISPERER and THE SKIPPER — to ratchet things up a notch or two.

THE WHISPERER hit the newsstands with an October 1936 number. The Whisperer was police Inspector James “Wildcat” Gordon, who before the end of his first adventure (“The Dead Who Talked”) would be named police commissioner.

The 30-year-old, stocky, granite-jawed policeman attempted to fight crime within the law during the day, but transformed into The Whisperer to take the law into his own hands when it didn’t go far enough. The brash Wildcat Gordon favored equally brash — no, make that garish — suits, often green-checked with bright red ties, a matching carnation, a battered Army campaign hat, and large, yellow shoes. The Whisperer was just the opposite.

Gordon’s crime-fighting alter ego was described as drab, homely, and unassuming. To transform into The Whisperer, Gordon changed into a gray business suit, gray spats and an old-fashioned round-brimmed hat, dusted his brownish/reddish hair with a white powder, and inserted two dental plates that transformed his square jaw into a long, narrow and oddly pointed one. The dental plates also caused him to speak in a low but penetrating whisper — hence his name. To aid him in meting out justice, The Whisperer packed two automatics fixed with super-silencers, which hissed and flashed licks of blue flame when fired. At other times, he took pleasure in snapping criminals’ necks with his exceptionally strong hands.

(Oh, does Police Commissioner James Gordon sound familiar? You’re probably thinking of Police Commissioner James Gordon from BATMAN. That’s just one of several links between the comic-book Caped Crusader and The Whisperer. Will Murray and Anthony Tollin address how THE WHISPERER and other pulps influenced BATMAN in Sanctum Books‘ reprints of the pulp series.)

When necessary, The Whisperer went undercover as D. Smith, or Dunk Smith, a two-bit crook, who looked just like The Whisperer, but without the hat. He had to moderate his speech, keeping it hoarse and husky, in order not to give himself away. Smith’s dog, a Scottish terrier named Brian Boru, only answered to Gordon when he’s either The Whisperer or Dunk.

Gordon was joined in the magazine by Richard “Quick Trigger” Traeger and his granddaughter (later daughter) Tiny Traeger; his police chauffeur, Horace “Slug” Minor; Detective Sgt. Thorsen; and Judge Patrick Kyley. Thorns in Gordon’s side were Deputy Commissioner Henry Bolton, Gordon’s obnoxious assistant who desperately wanted Gordon’s job, and Van Royston, the foppish mayor who dressed in black tie, tails and a silk top hat, and would have welcomed Bolton’s promotion.

Despite the hopped-up violence (at least for Street & Smith standards), The Whisperer rarely faced the sorts of villains confronted by The Spider. The Whisperer tackled organized crime, racketeers, political corruption, and the like.

The Whisperer 1936-10THE WHISPERER‘s first magazine lasted 14 issues, ending with December 1937. All of those novels were written by Laurence Donovan under the house name Clifford Goodrich. Donovan was an ideal fictioneer for putting an edge on The Whisperer (and The Skipper). He was also writing for the more provocative Spicy line of pulps. After his namesake pulp folded, The Whisperer moved to short stories in the back pages of THE SHADOW MAGAZINE, with one appearance in CRIME BUSTERS, for the next three years. Donovan fell out of favor with Street & Smith in 1938, and was replaced by Alan Hathway as the new Clifford Goodrich.

As the United States became embroiled in World War II, pulp popularity rebounded from a slump in the late 1930s. Street & Smith moved The Whisperer back to his own magazine, and restarted the numbering with Vol. 1, No. 1, dated October 1940. The character’s appearance was changed; gone was the drab gray, replaced with black. Murray has speculated that the change may have been to distance The Whisperer from Street’s latest pulp hero, The Avenger, who was also stocky and dressed in gray. The new series lasted ten every-other-month issues, ending the character’s pulp appearances for good with the April 1942 issue.

Two months after the first appearance of the original THE WHISPERER magazine, THE SKIPPER went on sale with a December 1936 cover date. As The Whisperer is often said to have been inspired by The Shadow, there’s little doubt that Captain John Fury — the Skipper — was a variant of Doc Savage.

THE SKIPPER was also written by Laurence Donovan, under the house name Wallace Brooker. Donovan was quite familiar with Doc Savage, having written nine of the Man of Bronze’s adventures from 1935 to 1937.

Cap Fury wasn’t the giant that Doc was; instead he, like Wildcat Gordon, was stocky, but with “flaming red hair” and “sharp arctic blue” eyes. He had Doc-like skills, which included lip reading, using pressure points to subdue the bad guys, and cat-like agility. He also relied on oversized sea boots to conceal hypodermics, oxygen masks, and other gadgets. His flaming red hair and last name echoed his dealings with the criminal sort. Unlike Doc, who refrained from killing, Cap Fury made good use of automatic pistols and a whip to mete out justice.

Fury sailed a rusted-looking old tanker, the “Whirlwind,” which was actually a state-of-the-art battleship, with deck guns, a fully outfitted laboratory, a hanger with foldable aircraft and a submarine, and elaborate living quarters.

Joining Fury in his adventures were Peter Doom, a former policeman and Fury’s closest associate; James Jonathan “Marlin Spike” Briggs, a Monk Mayfair-like first mate; Hurricane Dan Belmont, the giant second mate; Cock-eye, the third mate; and James “Bumps” McCarthy, “a roly-poly, red-haired” fellow “known as ‘Bumps’ because of his constantly getting himself into jams’ who was a newsreel camera man that followed Fury around for great film. Princess Mara — Mara von Jean, the Black Leopard Princess — takes the Pat Savage role in the series beginning in January 1937. She turns up occasionally when she’s not at a Boston girls’ school. There’s also G.R.M. “Grump” Rollins, chairman of the board that owned the Whirlwind.

Again, echoing Doc Savage, Fury was drawn into his battle against evil after his brother, Captain John Fury, was murdered by ocean-faring evildoers in his first adventure. Cap Fury vowed to rid the seas of pirates and criminals.

Unlike the routine bad guys that The Whisperer fought, The Skipper battled a number of fantastic foes who controlled death rays, a meteorite that removed oxygen from the air, voodoo practitioners, plague-bearing rats, and other nefarious foes.

When THE SKIPPER was canceled after 12 issues with the December 1937 number, Cap Fury moved into the back pages of DOC SAVAGE MAGAZINE. The shorter stories were written by Donovan, Harold Davis, and Norman Daniels.

(In addition to their pulp appearances, both The Whisperer and The Skipper branched out to backup stories in Street & Smith comic books in the 1940s.)

Learn much more about The Whisperer and Cap Fury at PulpFest 2016. “Summer’s AMAZING Pulp Con” will salute the 80th anniversaries of the two pulp heroes. Pulp historian Will Murray will tell the story of “Street & Smith’s Second Stringers: The Whisperer and The Skipper” at the con. Murray is the 1979 Lamont Award winner, and author of “The Wild Adventures of Doc Savage and Tarzan” for Altus Press. PulpFest 2016 will take place from July 21st through July 24th in the Columbus, Ohio Arena district at the Hyatt Regency hotel and the city’s spacious convention center.

(THE SKIPPER, including the first issue dated December 1936, featured cover art by Lawrence Donner Toney, a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago. During the 1930s and 1940s, Toney painted covers for pulp magazines, such as CLUES, COMPLETE STORIES, WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE, and WILD WEST WEEKLY, all published by Street & Smith. Most of his work for pulp magazines was signed only with his initials.

THE WHISPERER was introduced to readers with its October 1936 number, featuring front cover art by the talented John Newton Howitt, a devoted landscape painter whose work was sold at fine art galleries in New York City. With the advent of the Great Depression, the artist turned to the pulps for income. An excellent painter, Howitt found a ready market in the rough-paper periodicals, selling freelance pulp covers to ADVENTURE, DIME DETECTIVE, HORROR STORIES, THE SPIDER, TERROR TALES, THE WHISPERER, WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE, and other pulp magazine titles.

To learn more about these talented artists, be sure to visit David Saunders’ Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists where you will find more than 300 biographical profiles of American pulp artists.)