Popular Yellowed Perils

Jun 28, 2019 by

Context is a challenge in politically correct times that seek to view the past through the myopic lenses of an eternal present. What remains of pulp fiction’s past is largely through the efforts of specialty publishers who keep these classic works in print for a niche market that still reads stories from a simpler, different — though not always better — world.

Much of the last century’s fantastic fiction sprung directly from colonial viewpoints of the British Empire. Among the xenophobic byproducts of colonialism in popular culture was the Yellow Peril, the paranoid delusion that Chinese immigrants were plotting to conquer the West. There was certainly crime in Chinatown: there is always crime among the economically underprivileged. However, what made the Yellow Peril thrive as a sub-genre of the thriller was the creation of a brilliant, amoral criminal mastermind

Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu became the personification of the Yellow Peril. Without the character’s introduction, the sub-genre would never have prevailed. Fu Manchu took the reading public by storm just before the outbreak of the First World War. The series remained a bestselling franchise up to the Cold War. Rohmer’s insidious fiend was everywhere: magazines (slicks, not pulps), books, newspaper strips, comic books, radio series, films, the theater, and eventually television.

Popular Publications gave readers the most memorable Fu Manchu imitations with Robert J. Hogan’s pulp title, THE MYSTERIOUS WU FANG, and its successor, Donald Keyhoe’s DR. YEN SIN. Wu Fang was pitted against G-man Val Kildare, an American variation on Fu Manchu’s nemesis, Sir Denis Nayland Smith of British Intelligence. Kildare, like Smith before him, was complemented by his own Watson, news correspondent Jerry Hazard.

Closely following the established Fu Manchu formula, Wu Fang’s unwilling femme fatale, Mohra, fell in love with Hazard. She would repeatedly betray her master to spare the lives of Kildare and Hazard. Mindful of the audience demographics for pulp magazines, THE MYSTERIOUS WU FANG featured the reader identification character of Cappy, a spunky newsboy and boy scout who improbably accompanied Kildare and Hazard on their globe-spanning adventures.

Popular Publications employed Rohmer’s artist, John Richard Flanagan, to provide his lurid Yellow Peril interior artwork for each month’s stories. While there were many Fu Manchu imitations in the 1930s, THE MYSTERIOUS WU FANG looked and read almost like the genuine article and was providing readers with a new short novel each month. After Popular Publications received a cease and desist letter from Rohmer’s attorneys, THE MYSTERIOUS WU FANG was promptly cancelled after its seventh issue. Afterward, Popular Publications reworked the concept with a similar character.

The replacement title was DR. YEN SIN. While there was no mistaking Donald Keyhoe’s Yen Sin as another variation on Fu Manchu, his nemesis was not another clone of Nayland Smith or Val Kildare, but a unique pulp hero who deserved greater recognition. Yen Sin faced Michael Traile, a G-man dependent upon yoga, due to a freakish medical condition that prevented him from ever sleeping. Traile was ably supported by yet another newspaper correspondent, Eric Gordon.

Dr. Yen Sin belonged to an international criminal organization, the Invisible Empire, where he was known by the code name, the Cobra. Keyhoe detailed the character’s backstory involving the abduction of the Russian Grand Duke Damitri and Michael Traile’s first encounter with Yen Sin in China after the Great War.

Unfortunately, these points were drawn directly from Sax Rohmer’s 1918 Yellow Peril thriller, THE GOLDEN SCORPION. It was part of the Fu Manchu continuity and featured Fo-Hi, known within the international criminal organization, the Sublime Order, by the code name, the Scorpion. Fo-Hi was likewise first glimpsed by the hero in China several years before the novel takes place. He was likewise involved with the removal of a Russian Grand Duke just before the First World War.

DR. YEN SIN made the same mistake that brought THE MYSTERIOUS WU FANG to a premature end by steering too closely to Rohmer. The third bi-monthly issue of DR. YEN SIN had just gone to press when Popular Publications cancelled the series following a further cease and desist letter initiated by Rohmer’s attorneys. Perhaps without John Richard Flanagan’s artwork, so synonymous with Rohmer’s work, they might not have attracted so much unwanted attention.

More likely it was a combination of factors, the most important of which was a monthly (or bi-monthly) pulp title imitating (and sometimes outdoing) Rohmer. This was perceived as a threat to Fu Manchu’s marketability, particularly since each new Rohmer novel was vied for by the slicks for serial rights. If the pulps now had their own Chinese criminal mastermind using Rohmer’s favored Fu Manchu interior artist, then Rohmer’s property diminished in value for both publishers and readers.

For just over a year, Popular Publications gave readers the next best thing to Rohmer’s Devil Doctor. THE MYSTERIOUS WU FANG and DR. YEN SIN are familiar, but stand on their own as classic pulp thrillers in the Yellow Peril sub-genre. Keyhoe, like Robert J. Hogan before him, is among the best of the Yellow Peril authors to follow in Fu Manchu’s wake.

Altus Press has reprinted all ten issues comprising the complete run of these two collectible titles as affordable digest-sized trade paperbacks. PulpFest 2019 will see the debut of the hardcover omnibus edition of DR. YEN SIN featuring bonus text features and introductory material not included in the trade paperback editions.

There is no denying the inherent racism of Yellow Peril fiction. Much like minstrel shows, the racism is its reason for existing. At its best, yellow peril fiction offered readers exotic thrills and excitement that dared them to imagine adopting the values and mores of a different culture, one that withstood Western imperialism and tempted readers with greater knowledge and power as well as the lusty allure of something far more dangerous and pleasurable than they could ever find back home.

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. We’ll be celebrating “Children of the Pulps and Other Stories” 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.

(In 1935 – 36, Popular Publications tested the market for a yellow peril pulp. It launched THE MYSTERIOUS WU FANG, beginning with the September 1935. All of the stories — including “The Case of the Suicide Tomb” — were written by Robert J. Hogan, best known as the author of the series, G-8 AND HIS BATTLE ACES. The pulp lasted for seven issues and featured cover art by Jerome Rozen, including the cover for the December 1935 number.

Next came DR. YEN SIN, again featuring cover art by Jerome Rozen. The series premiered with its May-June 1936 number and ran for three issues. All of the stories were written by Donald E. Keyhoe. He is remembered for his air war stories featuring Captain Philip Strange. Later in life, he became well known as a UFO researcher.)

Lost John Carradine Fu Manchu Screening at PulpFest

Jun 10, 2019 by

There are a number of Holy Grails that every collector seeks. It is said the quest is more important than the treasure. This is probably because few such treasures are ever discovered. For fans of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu series, one of the most obscure relics is a 1952 pilot film shot for NBC for a FU MANCHU television series starring John Carradine as the Devil Doctor. The pilot was never broadcast. A still has never been published in books or magazines. Many fans dismissed the pilot as nothing more than a rumor — an idea that was never actually filmed.

They were wrong.

William Cameron Menzies, the legendary Hollywood production designer, directed the highly stylized pilot film. It is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the 1912 Sax Rohmer story that started it all — “The Zayat Kiss.” Cedric Hardwicke plays Nayland Smith, the driven British colonial official obsessed with capturing the elusive criminal mastermind, Dr. Fu Manchu. John Carradine — appropriately menacing as a silhouetted figure behind a screen intoning his commands in an educated hiss that is far removed from the province of yellowface performances — is the most faithful Fu Manchu ever to grace the big or small screen.

Born out of imperialist Britain’s fear of a Yellow Peril emerging from the East, Rohmer ingeniously imbued his fictional villain with greater intelligence and integrity than his Western protagonists.  Rohmer’s initial description of the character in “The Zayat Kiss” is unforgettable and one he would strive to re-create over the years without ever falling into direct imitation:

“Imagine a person, tall, lean, and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true-cat green. Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present, with all the resources, if you will, of a wealthy government — which, however, already has denied all knowledge of his existence. Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.”

Dr. Fu-Manchu does not even make a physical appearance in the story, yet his presence pervades the atmosphere and hysteria of “The Zayat Kiss.” Set in a mad world filled with conspiracy theories, bizarre assassinations, and death traps, there was no way Rohmer’s story could not have been a smashing success when it debuted in print in October 1912. All of the ingredients were there to build a winning formula.

Thursday night, August 15, PulpFest 2019 will offer the first of three public screenings of a complete and pristine print of Carradine’s legendary lost classic. Also featured will be such rarities as the silent FU MANCHU serials made by Stoll Productions in the 1920s. Alongside the lost NBC pilot, these silent chapters are the most faithful adaptations of Sax Rohmer’s works ever attempted. There will be two encore presentations of the lost pilot on Friday afternoon, August 16, and Saturday night, August 17. The silent rarities screened with it during the encore presentations will be unique to each screening. This will allow repeat attendees to maximize their enjoyment. For reasons of copyright control, no copies can be made, distributed, or sold at these free public exhibitions that are open to any attendee of PulpFest 2019.

Join the licensed continuation author of the Fu Manchu thrillers, William Patrick Maynard, for these three very special screenings at PulpFest 2019. You’ll see John Carradine as Fu Manchu for the first time in 67 years and then enjoy the equally rare treat of seeing Fu Manchu serial chapters made nearly a century ago. You’ll bask in shimmering location footage genuinely shot on the streets and alleyways of London — including Limehouse — as it looked in the years when the names of Sax Rohmer and Fu Manchu were on everyone’s breath.

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.

(THE MYSTERIOUS DR. FU MANCHU — directed by Rowland V. Lee and starring Warner Oland in the title role — was released by Paramount Pictures in 1929. The first talking Fu Manchu movie, it was based on Sax Rohmer’s novel, THE MYSTERY OF DR. FU MANCHU. Set during the Boxer Rebellion in China, Dr. Fu Manchu’s wife and child are killed by foreigners. Enraged, he vows to take his revenge on the British army officers he holds responsible for the killings. The poster advertising the film — one of several — was created by an unknown artist.)