What’s This PulpFest All About?

Mar 27, 2017 by

So what’s this PulpFest that has so many people talking? With almost 3,000 likes on Facebook and more than 700 followers on Twitter, it certainly has been generating a lot of excitement. But what’s it all about?

All-Story 12-10PulpFest is named for pulp magazines — fiction periodicals named after the cheap paper on which they were printed. Frank A. Munsey pioneered the format in 1896 with THE ARGOSY. A decade later, pulps began to pick up steam with titles like BLUE BOOK and ADVENTURE, then exploded in 1912 when THE ALL-STORY printed a little yarn by Edgar Rice Burroughs called “Tarzan of the Apes.” Soon thereafter, genre titles began to flourish, among them DETECTIVE STORY, WESTERN STORY, and LOVE STORY. In the twenties, publishing legends such as BLACK MASK, WEIRD TALES and AMAZING STORIES debuted. The following decade saw the advent of the so-called “hero pulps” with magazines such as THE SHADOW, DOC SAVAGE, and THE SPIDER attracting new readers to the rough-paper format. Weird-menace magazines premiered around the same time with DIME MYSTERY MAGAZINE, SPICY MYSTERY STORIES, and TERROR TALES scaring the wits out of readers. The late thirties saw an explosion of science fiction pulps — led by John W. Campbell’s ASTOUNDING STORIES — with other titles such as FANTASTIC ADVENTURES and PLANET STORIES thrilling readers of all ages.

By the early fifties, the pulps were gone, killed by competition from paperback books, comic books, radio, television, and movies. But the fiction and artwork that appeared in the rough-paper consumables of the early twentieth century kept them alive in the hearts and minds of countless individuals. Haunting back-issue magazine shops, flea markets, science fiction conventions, and other venues, these hearty souls gradually assembled astounding collections of genre fiction, all published in the rough and ragged magazines known as pulps. Eventually, these collectors organized a convention dedicated to the premise that the pulps had a profound effect on American popular culture that reverberated through a wide variety of mediums — comic books, movies, paperbacks and genre fiction, television, men’s adventure magazines, radio drama, and even video and role-playing games. Today, we call this convention, PulpFest.

The summertime destination for fans and collectors of vintage popular fiction and related materials, PulpFest seeks to honor the pulps by drawing attention to the many ways these throwaway articles have inspired writers, artists, film directors, software developers, and other creators over the decades.

Why not come see what it’s all about? PulpFest 2017 will be paying tribute to the hardboiled dicks, dangerous dames, and a few psychos of the pulps. We’ll be exploring DIME DETECTIVE MAGAZINE — where the hard-boiled detective story developed into an important fiction genre — and Robert Leslie Bellem’s tough-guy detective, Dan Turner; Pat Savage, The Domino Lady, and other dangerous dames of the pulps, the hardboiled ladies who helped pave the way for such modern day gumshoes as Sue Grafton‘s Kinsey Millhone, Marcia Muller‘s Sharon McCone, and Sara Paretsky‘s V. I. Warshawski; and some of the mad scientists, crazed hunchbacks, and foul cultists who decimated American cities on a monthly basis in rough-paper magazines like THE SHADOW. We’ll also be saluting the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Robert Bloch, the author of PSYCHO — later adapted to film by Alfred Hitchcock. Bloch got his start as a writing professional in the pulps.

The convention’s guest of honor will be Pittsburgh artist Gloria Stoll Karn. In a field dominated by men, it was highly unusual for a woman to be painting covers for pulp magazines. But at age seventeen, Gloria Stoll began contributing black and white interior illustrations to pulp magazines. In a few years, the young artist was painting covers. How’s that for a dangerous dame? One of the few surviving contributors to the pulp magazine industry, Ms. Stoll Karn will be joined by pulp art historian David Saunders — winner of our 2016 Lamont Award — to discuss her freelance career in the pulps and much more on Saturday evening, July 29.

We’ll have all this plus a dealers’ room featuring tens of thousands of pulp magazines, vintage paperbacks, digests, men’s adventure and true crime magazines, original art, first edition hardcovers, series books, reference books, dime novels and story papers, Big Little Books, B-Movies, serials and related paper collectibles, old-time radio shows, and Golden and Silver Age comic books, as well as newspaper adventure strips. For a look at our planned schedule, please visit our home page and click the Programming for 2017 button just below our banner.

The convention will take place from Thursday evening, July 27, through Sunday afternoon, July 30, 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 “Book a Room for 2017” link on our home page or call 1-800-222-8733. Be sure to mention PulpFest in order to receive the convention rate.

Start making your plans now to join in our exploration of “Hardboiled Dicks, Dangerous Dames, and a Few Psychos” at the “pop culture center of the universe” called PulpFest 2017.

(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 — who illustrated many of the Munsey magazines as well as the pulp, SHORT STORIES — painted the front cover art for the magazine. Burroughs’ Tarzan is perhaps the most famous character to emerge from the pulps.

Over thirty years after the publication of “Tarzan of the Apes,” a young Gloria Stoll Karn contributed the cover art for the November 1943 issue of Popular Publications’ DIME MYSTERY MAGAZINE. The artist would paint more than 100 covers for the pulps of the 1940s.)

Please Pass the Orange Juice

Apr 4, 2016 by

So what’s this PulpFest that has so many people talking? With almost 3,000 likes on Facebook and more than 500 followers on Twitter, it certainly has been generating a lot of excitement. But what’s it all about?

All-Story 12-10PulpFest is named for pulp magazines, fiction periodicals named after the cheap paper on which they were printed. Frank A. Munsey pioneered the format in 1896 with THE ARGOSY. A decade later, pulps began to pick up steam with titles like BLUE BOOK and ADVENTURE, then exploded in 1912 when THE ALL-STORY printed a little yarn by Edgar Rice Burroughs called “Tarzan of the Apes.” Soon thereafter, genre titles began to flourish, among them DETECTIVE STORY, WESTERN STORY, and LOVE STORY. In the twenties, publishing legends such as BLACK MASK, WEIRD TALES and AMAZING STORIES debuted. The following decade saw the advent of the so-called “hero pulps” with magazines such as THE SHADOW, DOC SAVAGE, and THE SPIDER attracting new readers to the rough-paper format. Weird-menace magazines premiered around the same time with DIME MYSTERY MAGAZINE, SPICY MYSTERY STORIES, and TERROR TALES scaring the wits out of readers. The late thirties saw an explosion of science fiction pulps — led by John W. Campbell’s ASTOUNDING STORIES — with other titles such as FANTASTIC ADVENTURES and PLANET STORIES thrilling readers of all ages.

By the early fifties, the pulps were gone, killed by competition from paperback books, comic books, radio, television, and movies. But the fiction and artwork that appeared in the rough-paper consumables of the early twentieth century kept them alive in the hearts and minds of countless individuals. Haunting back-issue magazine shops, flea markets, science fiction conventions, and other venues, these hearty souls gradually assembled astounding collections of genre fiction, all published in the rough and ragged magazines known as pulps. Eventually, these collectors organized a convention dedicated to the premise that the pulps had a profound effect on American popular culture that reverberated through a wide variety of mediums — comic books, movies, paperbacks and genre fiction, television, men’s adventure magazines, radio drama, and even video and role-playing games. Today, we call this convention, PulpFest.

The summertime destination for fans and collectors of vintage popular fiction and related materials, PulpFest seeks to honor the pulps by drawing attention to the many ways these throwaway articles have inspired writers, artists, film directors, software developers, and other creators over the decades.

The Skipper 1936-12Why not come see what it’s all about? PulpFest 2016 will be paying tribute to the history of the pulps by saluting the 150th anniversary of the birth of H. G. Wells; the 120th anniversary of the debut of the first pulp magazine, THE ARGOSY; the 100th anniversary of the genre pulps such as DETECTIVE STORY and LOVE STORY; the ninetieth anniversary of the creation of the first science fiction magazine, AMAZING STORIES; the 80th anniversaries of the premieres of two exciting hero pulpsTHE SKIPPER and THE WHISPERER; and the tenth anniversary of Sanctum Books, well known for their reprints of THE SHADOW, DOC SAVAGETHE SPIDER, and other hero pulps. Our Guest of Honor will be author, editor, and pulp fan Ted White, the man who ushered in the Golden Age of AMAZING STORIES and FANTASTIC during the 1970s and wrote the Captain America novel THE GREAT GOLD STEAL and many other books. We’ll have all this plus a dealers’ room featuring tens of thousands of pulp magazines, vintage paperbacks, digests, men’s adventure and true crime magazines, original art, first edition hardcovers, series books, reference books, dime novels and story papers, Big Little Books, B-Movies, serials and related paper collectibles, old-time radio shows, and Golden and Silver Age comic books, as well as newspaper adventure strips. For a look at our planned schedule, please visit http://www.pulpfest.com/2016/01/coming-soon-to-columbus-pulpfest-2016/.

The convention will take place from Thursday evening, July 21st, through Sunday afternoon, July 24th, in the Columbus, Ohio Arena district at the Hyatt Regency hotel and the city’s spacious convention center. Start making your plans to join us at the “pop culture center of the universe” for PulpFest 2016.

(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 — who illustrated many of the Munsey magazines as well as the pulp, SHORT STORIES — painted the front cover art for the magazine. THE SKIPPER, including the first issue dated December 1936, featured cover art by Lawrence Donner Toney, a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago.)

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.)