PulpFest Profile — BLACK MASK

Mar 2, 2020 by

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 cite 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. However, when the magazine’s first issue — dated April 1920 — debuted one hundred years ago this month, it was billed as “Five magazines in one: the best stories available of adventure, the best mystery and detective stories, the best romances, the best love stories, and the best stories of the occult.”

At PulpFest 2020 we’ll not only salute the centennial of author Ray Bradbury’s birth and the 120th anniversary of the birth of WEIRD TALES artist Margaret Brundage, but we’ll also celebrate the 100th anniversary of BLACK MASK. Along with Bradbury and Brundage, BLACK MASK has inspired and continues to inspire creators the world over.

From its populist beginnings helping publisher H. L. Mencken fund THE SMART SET to its glory days under editor Joseph “Cap” Shaw, BLACK MASK published some of the finest hard boiled fiction from Carroll John Daly and Dashiell Hammett to Paul M. Cain and Raymond Chandler. Those were just for starters as the title also featured notable fiction from Vincent Starrett, Erle Stanley Gardner, Frederick Nebel, Raoul Whitfield, Frederick C. Davis, and John D. MacDonald. While BLACK MASK also showcased adventure, westerns, and romance stories; it will always be synonymous with the hard boiled detective and crime fiction that first graced its pages before exploding into virtually every media from newspapers comic strips to radio drama to the silver screen to television. BLACK MASK eventually lost its notoriety and eventually gained literary respectability when its leading lights were enshrined by The Library of America. Its legacy lingers as the pulp that taught young and old alike the difference between gunsels and molls and roscoes and blackjacks.

(The first issue of THE BLACK MASK — dated April 1920 — featured front cover art by William Grotz. A commercial artist who was active during the early twentieth century, Grotz contributed cover art to a variety of magazines including ACTION STORIES, THE BLACK MASK, FILM FUN, JUDGE, LIBERTY, NEEDLECRAFT MAGAZINE, and WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE.

Not long after Joseph T. Shaw became the editor of THE BLACK MASK in late 1926, freelance artist Fred Craft became the magazine’s primary cover artist. During 1927 and 1928 and again from mid-1934 through mid-1935, Craft painted almost every cover for the classic detective pulp magazine, including the January 1935 number. Beside BLACK MASK, Fred Craft also sold cover paintings to ACE-HIGH MAGAZINE, ACTION STORIES, FRONTIER STORIES, WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE, WILD WEST WEEKLY, and other pulps. Craft died in March 1935.

When Popular Publications took over BLACK MASK in early 1940, leading pulp artist Rafael DeSoto became the primary cover artist for the magazine. From mid-1940 until early 1947, DeSoto contributed about fifty covers — including the one for the February 1942 issue — to the magazine. He also painted covers for many other Popular detective pulps, including DETECTIVE TALES, DIME DETECTIVE, DIME MYSTERY, 15 STORY DETECTIVE, FLYNN’S DETECTIVE FICTION, NEW DETECTIVE, and, of course, THE SPIDER.

Many thanks to Neil Mechem for providing our image of the first issue of THE BLACK MASK.)

 

Thrilling Detectives

Jun 11, 2015 by

Thrilling Detective 1943-11

I have a little office which says “Terry Mack, Private Investigator,” on the door, which means whatever you wish to think it. I ain’t a crook, and I ain’t a dick; I play the game on the level, in my own way. I’m in the center of a triangle; between the crook and the police and the victim. The police have had an eye on me for some time, buy only an eye, never a hand; they don’t get my lay at all. The crooks; well, some is on, and some ain’t; most of them don’t know what to think, until I’ve put the hooks in them. Sometimes they gun for me, but that ain’t a one-sided affair. When it comes to shooting, I don’t have to waste time cleaning my gun.

Three Gun Terry Mack was the world’s first hard-boiled private eye. The creation of Carroll John Daly, Terry appeared in a pair of stories featured in THE BLACK MASK in 1923 and 1924. He was soon supplanted by Daly’s best known detective, Race Williams, who debuted in the June 1, 1923 issue of the magazine that would become synonymous with the hard-boiled detective story.

THE BLACK MASK was not the only rough-paper magazine where tough-guy detectives made their home. When Popular Publications launched their line of ten-cent pulps, they got the ball rolling with DIME DETECTIVE, another classic in the line of hard-boiled periodicals. Ned Pines’ Standard Magazines was right there with Steeger and Goldsmith, starting his chain of pulp magazines with THRILLING DETECTIVE in the very same month. The first issues of Popular’s and Pines’ new periodicals were dated November 1931.

“Action-packed, well-written and well-planned stories. Novels must be of the trip hammer type, with a murder in the first chapter and others later.” Those were the editorial requirements set forth by THRILLING DETECTIVE in a 1933 issue of THE WRITER. Although they were not always well-written or planned, no one could fault the magazine for a lack of action . . . nor corpses. Under the guidance of managing editor Leo Margulies and his hand-picked staff, THRILLING DETECTIVE ran “rough-and-tumble, corpse-ridden yarns” featuring “suitably hard-nosed and hard-boiled detectives.” As Margulies often opined, his line was “the fastest bunch of all pulps.”

On Thursday evening, August 13th, beginning at 8:40 PM, John Wooley and John Gunnison pay a visit to some of the continuing characters from the Thrilling line of detective pulps — Doctor Coffin, the allegedly dead Hollywood actor turned vigilante, created by pulp and film writer Perley Poore Sheehan; the workaday detectives such as department store detective Don Marko, the creation of Stewart Sterling (whose real name was Prentice Winchell); the extremely prolific Robert Leslie Bellem’s Hollywood gumshoe Nick Ransom who, like his better known counter-part Dan Turner, “torches a gasper” or “sets fire to a coffin nail” when he lights a cigarette; and the bindlestiff crimefighter, Baghdad, Hobo Detective, written by Milton Lowe and featured in a pair of stories that ran in POPULAR DETECTIVE.

Then we’ve got the wartime creation of “Walt Bruce” — an allegedly Chinese crimefighter known as Dr. Zeng who is actually the son of white missionary parents. Written by Bellem and W. T. Ballard, the Zeng stories came about through the encouragement of the Office of War Information, which thought that playing up our Chinese allies in stories was a wonderful idea. Dr. Zeng’s sidekick Lai Hu Chow, who is really Chinese, has an artificial leg in which he can carry weapons and other useful stuff.

Of course, there’s also Race Williams, one-time BLACK MASK big dog who famously boosted sales of the magazine every time he was featured on the cover. The end was coming into sight for Race and his creator. Carroll John Daly moved into comic books after the death of the pulps. Race appeared in a handful of stories published in THRILLING DETECTIVE before he found his way into SMASHING DETECTIVE STORIES during the early fifties.

John Wooley is the author, co-author, or editor of more than thirty books, including the recent HARD-BOILED CHRISTMAS STORIES. John also penned the script for the made-for-TV movie DAN TURNER, HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE, the award-winning independent film CAFE PURGATORY, and the documentary BILL BOYCE – MONEY ACTOR. He has also written comic books, trading cards, and thousands of magazine and newspaper stories, most of them in conjunction with his work as the music and horror-movie writer for the TULSA WORLD, a position he held from 1983 through 2006. He is currently a contributing editor and columnist for OKLAHOMA MAGAZINE and full-time freelance writer specializing in pop-culture subjects. This year, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Historians’ Hall of Fame.

John Gunnison is one of the foremost pulp dealers in the world. He’s the owner of Adventure House, a firm that not only deals in pulp magazines and other paper collectibles, but also publishes pulp replica editions and other material, including the much-admired HIGH ADVENTURE. John is the author of BAUMHOFER: PULP ART MASTER and BELARSKI: PULP ART MASTER, and co-author of THE ADVENTURE HOUSE GUIDE TO THE PULPS, one of the foremost reference works concerning pulp magazines. For Collectors Press he helped design Frank M. Robinson’s PULP CULTURE, Max Allan Collins’ HISTORY OF MYSTERY, Ron Goulart’s COMIC BOOK CULTURE, and other works. John was formerly the editor and publisher of THE PULP COLLECTOR, a leading pulp fanzine in its day.

Join the two Johns for a look at some of the most intriguing continuing detective characters that the Thrilling group published, along with a few of their creators on Thursday, August 13th, at 8:40 PM. To learn more about this and all of our PulpFest 2015 programming, please click the “schedule” button on our home page at www.pulpfest.com.

(Another leading author to appear in THRILLING DETECTIVE and other Standard detective pulps was Benton Braden. He got his start in 1933 by placing a story in Street & Smith’s CLUES ALL STAR DETECTIVE STORIES. A few years later, he found his way to Standard with a short novel entitled “Face Fixers.” It ran in the July 1936 issue of POPULAR DETECTIVE. Soon thereafter, he began the “Mr. Finnis” series for THRILLING DETECTIVE. It concerned a wealthy young bachelor who, “when he became the deadly foe of crime . . . his features seemed to have set as though they were granite. His eyes were smoldering, bitter, resolute in determination to kill or be killed.” Benton also wrote the “Percentage Kid” stories for Standard as well as the adventures of Willie Brann, a gumshoe with an insatiable appetite for peanuts who packed a “pair of gats which brought terror to . . . the underworld.”  Braden continued writing for the company through 1952. One of the Brann stories appears in the issue pictured here, the November 1943 number of THRILLING DETECTIVE. The cover artwork is by George Rozen.

To learn more about the Thrilling Group and THRILLING DETECTIVE and read some of its stories, pick up a copy of THRILLING DETECTIVE HEROES, edited by John Locke and John Wooley and published by Adventure House in 2007.)