The Game’s Afoot!

May 22, 2019 by

Sherlock Holmes and the Pulps

Today marks the 160th anniversary of the birth of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Although best known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, the author preferred the historical fiction that he wrote. THE WHITE COMPANY was his favorite among Conan Doyle’s many works. He was extremely prolific.

Conan Doyle began to write while a medical student. His first sale, “The Mystery of Sasassa Valley,” was published when he was twenty. However, countless rejections, low word rates, and lack of author credit, were leading nowhere.

Shortly after graduating from medical school, Conan Doyle married Louisa Hawkins. Armed with his wife’s small estate and encouragement, the author continued to write.

While trying to sell an early novel, Conan Doyle began a new one. It featured a character modeled after C. Auguste Dupin — Edgar Allan Poe’s amateur detective — and Dr. Joseph Bell, one of the author’s medical school instructors. Dr. Bell taught that keen observation and logic were paramount in the diagnosis of disease. Following several rejections, Conan Doyle sold “A Study in Scarlet.” It was published in the November 1887 number of BEETON’S CHRISTMAS ANNUAL. A hardbound book followed.

Although preferring to write historical fiction, Conan Doyle began to notice that readers wanted to learn more about his protagonists from “A Study in Scarlet.” After contracting to provide a forty-thousand word novel to LIPPINCOTT’S MONTHLY MAGAZINE, he obliged his readers. “The Sign of the Four” appeared in the February 1890 number of the magazine. It was not long before the author would return with more stories of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.

Looking for a way to efficiently exploit the growing market of monthly magazines, Conan Doyle decided to offer more of Holmes and Watson. In the summer of 1891, “A Scandal in Bohemia” appeared in THE STRAND MAGAZINE. It would be followed by eleven more tales, one per month for the next year. In writing the stories that became THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, Conan Doyle created the first short story series. In the years to follow, his idea would be imitated across the globe. It resounds to our very day in series television and throughout popular culture.

Please join PulpFest 2019 on Friday, August 16, for “The Game’s Afoot: Sherlock Holmes and the Pulps.” Our presentation will begin at 7:55 in the programming area at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh – Cranberry. It will feature George Vanderburgh, who has published over 600 books, including many volumes of Sherlockian scholarship. His Battered Silicon Dispatch Box has also published many pulp-related volumes and numerous collections of early detective fiction. George also served as the co-editor of Arkham House Publishers until the death of April Derleth.

Joining George will be Garyn G. Roberts, a professor of English and popular culture who has written extensively about the pulps, both professionally and as a fan. Garyn has also edited or co-edited some of the best collections of fiction from the pulps. He is the author/editor of the award-winning THE PRENTICE HALL ANTHOLOGY OF SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY. In 2013, Garyn was presented with the Munsey Award to honor his many contributions to the pulp community. He was also a Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award Finalist for DICK TRACY AND AMERICAN CULTURE in 1994.

Garyn and George will be discussing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his creations as well as their vital importance to the evolution of popular culture for over 100 years. Please join them at PulpFest 2019, taking place from Thursday evening, August 15, through Sunday afternoon, August 18, in Mars, Pennsylvania.

(Almost ten years after killing Holmes off at the Reichenbach Falls, Conan Doyle brought his character back in “The Adventure of the Empty House.” The story would appear first in the September 26, 1903 number of COLLIER’S, featuring a cover illustration by Frederic Dorr Steele.)

100 Years of the Specialty Pulp

Oct 8, 2015 by

Detective Story 1915-10-05Although it’s not as widely collected as its successors — magazines such as BLACK MASK and DIME DETECTIVE — Street & Smith’s DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE was a trailblazer. Its debut issue, dated October 5, 1915, was the first pulp magazine successfully dedicated to one fiction genre. Its first editor, Frank E. Blackwell, explained in an early issue, “I feel that stories dealing with the detection of crime are of more interest to the reading public than any others.” Many more specialty pulps would follow in the ensuing years, culminating in single-character magazines such as THE SHADOW or DOC SAVAGE MAGAZINE.

DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE was a continuation of the nickel weekly, NICK CARTER STORIES, in which the first part of the lead story of the new pulp — “The Yellow Label” — had appeared. According to dime novel and story paper expert, J. Randolph Cox, “The intent was to transfer the reading public of Nick Carter’s adventures over to a more adult and sophisticated fiction magazine.” Judging from its long life — DETECTIVE STORY would run for thirty-four years, from October 5, 1915 through the Summer of 1949, a total of 1,057 issues — Street & Smith’s intent was very ably achieved.

Unlike its highly prized successors — particularly BLACK MASK, the magazine where the hard-boiled detective story first took shape — DETECTIVE STORY emphasized the more traditional or “clued” detective story. Carolyn Wells, Ernest M. Poate, Arthur B. Reeve, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ellery Queen, and others all wrote stories along the traditional line, while Edgar Wallace, J. S. Fletcher, Johnston McCulley, Christopher Booth, Herman Landon, and more offered tales of rogue or “bent” heroes. Sax Rohmer was also a contributor to the magazine, introducing the “yellow peril” theme to the magazine’s mix. In later years, the fiction took on a more realistic tone, resembling the stories found in ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, the mystery digest that had debuted during the second half of 1941.

Although DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE did little to further the development of the detective or crime story, its success would lead to a proliferation of pulp magazines devoted to a single theme or genre. According to the late pulp and science-fiction scholar Sam Moskowitz, “While not the first of the specialized fiction magazines, being preceded by THE OCEAN and THE RAILROAD MAN’S MAGAZINE, it accomplished what they had not by creating a trend that would result in the proliferation of the pulps into western, love, air, science fiction, and supernatural, as well as detective.” Likewise in 1931, the CBS radio series inspired by the magazine’s fiction, DETECTIVE STORY HOUR, would introduce the public to The Shadow, the announcer for each episode. Soon thereafter, Street & Smith would launch THE SHADOW DETECTIVE MAGAZINE, and the single-character pulp would be born.

In 2016, PulpFest intends to salute one-hundred years of the specialty pulp, first popularized during the fall of 1915, when DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE premiered. Join us at the Hyatt Regency Columbus from  July 21 – 24, 2016. It should be a very special convention!

(The first issue of DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE featured front cover art by John A. Coughlin, a Chicago-born artist who got his start in his home town’s advertising business. Coughlin moved to New York City in 1912 and painted his first pulp cover a year later — for Street & Smith’s THE POPULAR MAGAZINE. Other pulp clients included ARGOSY, DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY, SHORT STORIES, TOP-NOTCH, and WILD WEST WEEKLY. He also contributed cover art for HARPER’S WEEKLY, FARM AND FIRESIDE MAGAZINE, and THE SATURDAY EVENING POST. According to pulp art scholar David Saunders, Coughlin’s cover for the March 7, 1931 issue of DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE marks the first painted appearance of The Shadow on a pulp magazine.)