Pulp magazine

Pulp magazine

Pulp magazines (or pulp fiction; often referred to as "the pulps") were inexpensive fiction magazines. They were widely published from the 1920s through the 1950s. The term "pulp fiction" can also refer to mass market paperbacks since the 1950s.

Terminology and history

The name "pulp" comes from the cheap wood pulp paper on which such magazines were printed. Magazines printed on better paper and usually offering family-oriented content were often called "glossies" or "slicks". Pulps were the successor to the "penny dreadfuls", "dime novels", and short fiction magazines of the nineteenth century. Although many respected writers wrote for pulps, the magazines are perhaps best remembered for their lurid and exploitative stories, and for their similarly sensational cover art. Modern superhero comic books are sometimes considered descendants of "hero pulps"; pulp magazines often featured illustrated novel-length stories of heroic characters such as the Shadow, Doc Savage, and the Phantom Detective. However the pulps were aimed more at adult readers whereas comic books were traditionally written for children and adolescents and have only recently come to be written primarily for older audiences.

Pulp covers, printed in color on higher-quality (slick) paper, were famous for their half-dressed damsels in distress, usually awaiting a rescuing hero. Cover art played a major part in the marketing of pulp magazines, and a number of the most successful cover artists became as popular as the authors featured on the interior pages. Among the most famous pulp artists were Frank R. Paul, Virgil Finlay, Edd Cartier, Margaret Brundage and Norman Saunders. Covers were important enough to sales that sometimes they would be designed first; authors would then be shown the cover art and asked to write a story to match.

Later pulps began to feature a few interior illustrations, depicting elements of the stories. The drawings were printed in black ink on the same cream-colored paper used for the text, and had to use specific techniques to avoid blotting on the coarse texture of the cheap pulp. Thus, fine lines and heavy detail were usually not an option. Shading was by crosshatching or pointillism, and even that had to be limited and coarse. Usually the art was black lines on the paper's background, but Finlay and a few others did some work that was primarily white lines against large dark areas.

Pulps were typically seven inches wide by ten inches high, about half an inch thick, having around 128 pages. In their first decades, they were most often priced at ten cents, while competing slicks were twenty-five cents.

The first "pulp" is considered to be Frank Munsey's revamped "Argosy Magazine" of 1896, about 135,000 words (192 pages) per issue on pulp paper with untrimmed edges and no illustrations, not even on the cover. While the steam powered printing press had been in widespread use for some time, enabling the boom in dime novels, prior to Munsey, no-one had combined cheap printing, cheap paper and cheap authors in a package that provided affordable entertainment to working-class people. In six years "Argosy" went from a few thousand copies per month to over half a million.

Street & Smith were next on the market. A dime novel and boys weekly publisher, they saw "Argosy"'s success, and in 1903 launched "The Popular Magazine", which was billed as the "biggest magazine in the world" by virtue of being two pages longer than "Argosy". It should be noted that due to differences in page layout, the magazine had substantially less text than "Argosy". "The Popular Magazine" introduced the use of color covers to the pulp world. The magazine began to take off when, in 1905, the publishers acquired the rights to serialize a new work, "Ayesha", by H. Rider Haggard, a sequel to his very successful novel "She". In 1907, they raised the cover price to fifteen cents and added thirty pages per issue; this, along with a solid stable of authors, proved a successful formula and circulation began to approach that of "Argosy". This demonstrated that the market could support multiple competitors. Street and Smith's next key innovation was the introduction of specialized genre pulps, each magazine focusing on one genre such as detective stories, romance, etc.

At their peak of popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, the most successful pulps could sell up to one million copies per issue. Among the best-known titles of this period were "Adventure", "Amazing Stories", "Black Mask", "Dime Detective", "Flying Aces", "Horror Stories", "Marvel Tales", "Oriental Stories", "Planet Stories", "Spicy Detective", "Startling Stories", "Thrilling Wonder Stories", "Unknown" and "Weird Tales". cite book |last=Haining |first=Peter |title=The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines |year=2000 |publisher=Prion Books |id=ISBN 1-85375-388-2 ]

The Second World War paper shortages had a serious impact on pulp production, starting a steady rise in costs and the decline of the pulps. Beginning with "Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine" in 1941, pulp magazines began to switch to digest size; smaller, thicker magazines. In 1949, Street & Smith closed most of their pulp magazines in order to move upmarket and produce slicks. The pulp format declined from rising expenses, but even more due to the heavy competition from comic books, television, and the paperback novel. In a more affluent post-war America, the price gap compared to slick magazines was far less significant. In the 1950s Men's adventure magazines began to replace the pulp.

The 1957 bankruptcy of the American News Company, then the primary distributor of pulp magazines, has sometimes been taken as marking the end of the "pulp era;" by that date, many of the famous pulps of the previous generation, including "Black Mask," "The Shadow," "Doc Savage," and "Weird Tales," were defunct. Most all of the few remaining pulp magazines are science fiction or mystery magazines now in formats similar to "digest size", such as Analog Science Fiction and Fact and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The format is still in use for some lengthy serials, like the German science fiction weekly "Perry Rhodan" (over 2300 issues as of 2005).

Over the course of their evolution, there were a huge number of pulp magazine titles; Harry Steeger of Popular Publications claimed that his company alone had published over 300, and at their peak they were publishing 42 titles per month cite book | last=Haining |first=Peter |title=The Fantastic Pulps | year=1975 |Publisher=Vintage Books, a division of Random House |id=ISBN 0-394-72109-8 ] . Many titles of course survived only briefly. While the most popular titles were monthly, many were bimonthly and some were quarterly.

The collapse of the pulp industry has changed the landscape of publishing in that pulps were the single largest sales outlet for short stories; combined with the decrease in slick magazine fiction markets, people attempting to support themselves by writing fiction must now generally write novels or book-length anthologies of shorter pieces.


Pulp magazines often contained a wide variety of genre fiction, including, but not limited to, fantasy/sword and sorcery, gangster, detective/mystery, science fiction, adventure, westerns (also see Dime Western), war, sports, railroad, men's adventure ("the sweats"), romance, horror/occult (including "weird menace"), and Série Noire (French crime mystery). The American Old West was a mainstay genre of early turn of the century novels as well as later pulp magazines, and lasted longest of all the traditional pulps.

Many classic science fiction and crime novels were originally serialized in pulp magazines such as "Weird Tales", "Amazing Stories", and "Black Mask".

Notable original characters

While the majority of pulp magazines were anthology titles featuring many different authors, characters and settings, some of the most enduringly popular magazines were those that featured a single recurring character (these were often referred to as "hero pulps", because the recurring character was almost always a larger-than-life hero in the mold of Doc Savage or the Shadow). cite book |last=Hutchison |first=Don |title=The Great Pulp Heroes |year=1995 |publisher=Mosaic Press |id=ISBN 0-88962-585-9 ]

"Popular regular pulp fiction characters included":

*Big Nose Serrano
*Bran Mak Morn
*Buck Rogers
*Adam Zero
*Captain Future
*Conan the Barbarian
*Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective
*Doc Savage
*Doctor Death
*Dr. Yen Sin
*Domino Lady
*Flash Gordon
*Fu Manchu
*Green Lama
*Hopalong Cassidy
*John Carter of Mars
*Jules de Grandin
*Lord Lister AKA Raffles
*Nick Carter
*Operator No. 5
*Refugee Smith
*Secret Agent X
*Sexton Blake
*Solomon Kane
*The Avenger
*The Black Bat
*The Continental Op
*The Eel
*The Phantom Detective
*The Shadow
*The Spider

Kilgore Trout, the perennial character in the work of Kurt Vonnegut, is a fictional pulp fiction writer.


Another way pulps kept costs down was by paying authors less than other markets; thus many eminent authors started out in the pulps before they were successful enough to sell to better-paying markets, and similarly, well-known authors whose careers were slumping or who wanted a few quick dollars could bolster their income with sales to pulps. Additionally, some of the earlier pulps solicited stories from amateurs who were quite happy to see their words in print and could thus be paid token amounts.

There were also career pulp writers, capable of turning out huge amounts of prose on a steady basis, often with the aid of dictation, either to stenographers or machines, and typists. Before he became a novelist, Upton Sinclair was turning out at least eight thousand words per day seven days a week for the pulps, keeping two stenographers fully employed. Pulps would often have their authors use multiple pen names so that they could use multiple stories by the same person in one issue, or use a given author's stories in three or more successive issues, while still appearing to have varied content.

One advantage pulps provided to authors was that they paid "upon acceptance" for material instead of on publication; since a story might be accepted months or even years before publication, to a working writer this was a crucial difference in cash flow.

Authors featured

Well-known authors who wrote for pulps include:

*Poul Anderson
*Isaac Asimov
*Henry Bedford-Jones
*Robert Leslie Bellem
*Alfred Bester
*Robert Bloch
*Leigh Brackett
*Ray Bradbury
*Max Brand
*Fredric Brown
*Edgar Rice Burroughs
*William S. Burroughs
*Ellis Parker Butler
*Hugh B. Cave
*Paul Chadwick
*Raymond Chandler
*Arthur C. Clarke
*Eustace Cockrell
*Joseph Conrad
*William Wallace Cook
*Stephen Crane
*Ray Cummings
*Jason Dark
*Lester Dent
*August Derleth
*Philip K. Dick
*Arthur Conan Doyle
*Lord Dunsany
*C. M. Eddy, Jr.
*C. S. Forester
*Arthur O. Friel
*Erle Stanley Gardner
*Walter B. Gibson
*David Goodis
*Zane Grey
*Edmond Hamilton
*Dashiell Hammett
*Robert A. Heinlein
*O. Henry
*Frank Herbert
*Robert E. Howard
*L. Ron Hubbard
*Donald Keyhoe
*Rudyard Kipling
*Henry Kuttner
*Harold Lamb
*Louis L'Amour
*Emerson LaSalle
*Fritz Leiber
*Murray Leinster
*Elmore John Leonard
*Jack London
*H. P. Lovecraft
*Giles A. Lutz
*John D. MacDonald
*Horace McCoy
*Johnston McCulley
*Merriam Modell
*C.L. Moore
*Walt Morey
*Talbot Mundy
*Philip Francis Nowlan
*Emil Petaja
*E. Hoffmann Price
*Seabury Quinn
*John H. Reese
*Sax Rohmer
*Rafael Sabatini
*Richard S. Shaver
*Robert Silverberg
*Upton Sinclair
*Clark Ashton Smith
*E. E. Smith
*Guy N. Smith
*Jim Thompson
*Thomas Thursday
*Mark Twain
*Jack Vance
*H. G. Wells
*Tennessee Williams
*Cornell Woolrich

Sinclair Lewis, first American winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, worked as an editor for "Adventure (magazine)", writing filler paragraphs (brief facts or amusing anecdotes designed to fill small gaps in page layout), advertising copy, and a few stories.


*A. A. Wyn's Magazine Publishers
*Clayton Publications
*Columbia/Blue Ribbon/Double Action
*Culture Publications, originators of the "Spicy" line of titles, such as "Spicy Detective Stories"
*Dell Publishing
*Frank A. Munsey Co.
*Harold Hersey
*Hugo Gernsback
*Popular Publications
*Red Circle
*Street & Smith
*Better/Standard/Thrilling (The Thrilling Group)


In 1994, Quentin Tarantino directed a critically-acclaimed film titled "Pulp Fiction". The working title of the film was "Black Mask", [ [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110912/ "Pulp Fiction"] at the Internet Movie Database] in homage to the pulp magazine of that name, and embodied the seedy, violent, often crime-related spirit found in pulp magazines. The film helped to add the term pulp fiction to the vocabulary of many Americans who grew up in the decades after pulp magazines fell out of fashion.

After the year 2000, several small independent publishers released magazines which published short fiction, either short stories or novel-length presentations, in the tradition of the pulp magazines of the early twentieth century. These included "Blood 'N Thunder" and "High Adventure". There was also a short lived magazine which revived the title "Argosy". These were specialist publications printed in limited press runs. These were pointedly not printed on the brittle, high-acid wood pulp paper of the old publications, and were not mass market publications targeted at a wide audience. In 2004, Lost Continent Library published "Secret of the Amazon Queen" by E.A.Guest, their first contribution to a "New Pulp Era", featuring the hallmarks of pulp fiction for contemporary mature readers: violence, horror and sex. E.A.Guest was likened to a blend of pulp era icon Talbot Mundy and Stephen King by real-life explorer David Hatcher Childress.

"Moonstone Books", a comic book and prose anthology publisher, began publishing original pulp tales featuring characters such as "The Phantom", "Zorro", "The Spider", "The Avenger", "Domino Lady" and more in 2001.

In 2002, issue 10 of "McSweeney's Quarterly" was guest edited by Michael Chabon. Published as "McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales", it is a collection of "pulp fiction" stories written by some recent well-known authors such as Stephen King, Nick Hornby, Aimee Bender, and Dave Eggers. Chabon, in explaining the impetus of his vision for the project, writes in the Treasury's introduction, "I think that we have forgotten how much fun reading a short story can be, and I hope that if nothing else, this treasury goes some small distance toward reminding us of that lost but fundamental truth."

The British comic "2000AD" is popularly seen as a pulp comic for its hard-hitting anthology format.

ee also

*Gay pulp fiction
*Hard Case Crime
*Lesbian pulp fiction
*Science fiction magazine
*Serial (film)



* Lesser, Robert. "Pulp Art: Original Cover Paintings for the Great American Pulp Magazines" (Book Sales, 2003) ISBN 0-7858-1707-7
* Parfrey, Adam, et al. "It's a Man's World: Men's Adventure Magazines, the Postwar Pulps" (Feral House, 2003) ISBN 0-922915-81-4
* Gunnison, Locke and Ellis. "Adventure House Guide to the Pulps" (Adventure House, 2000) ISBN 1-886937-45-1
* Ellis, Doug. "Uncovered: The Hidden Art of the Girlie Pulps - Gold Medal Winner for Best Popular Culture Book BEA 2004" (Adventure House, -2003) ISBN 1-886937-74-5
* Locke, John-editor. "Pulp Fictioneers - Adventures in the Storytelling Business" (Adventure House, 2004) ISBN 1-886937-83-4
* Hersey, Harold. "The New Pulpwood Editor" (Adventure House, 2003) ISBN 1-886937-68-0
* Locke, John-editor. "Pulpwood Days - Vol. 1 Editors You Want To Know" (Off-Trail Publications, 2007) ISBN 0-9786836-2-5
* Robinson, Frank and Davidson, Lawrence. "Pulp Culture" (Collector's Press, 2007) ISBN-13: 978-1933112305

External links

* [http://www.blackmask.com/ blackmask.com] Stories from pulp magazines
* [http://www.thepulp.net/ ThePulp.Net]
* [news://alt.pulp Usenet group alt.pulp]
* [http://www.pulpuncovered.com/ Pulp Uncovered: A Pulp Fiction Festival in Providence, March 2007]
* [http://www.windycitypulpandpaper.com/ The Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention]
* [http://thepulp.net/PulpWiki/wikka.php?wakka=WikiHome PulpWiki: The Pulp Magazine Wiki]
* [http://www.adventurehouse.com/pulpdata/ultimate_a.htm Hero Pulp Index]
* [http://pulpgen.com/pulp/downloads/list_by_mag.php Pulp story downloads]
* [http://www.boldventurepress.com/ Pulp Adventurecon]
* [http://www.thrillingtales.net/ Thrilling Tales: the Pulp-Universe Role Playing Game]
* [http://www.pulp-heroes.com/ .45 Adventure: Crimefighting Action in the Pulp Era] .
* [http://www.mottimorphic.com/ Lost Continent Library Magazine]
* [http://www.moonstonebooks.com Moonstone Books]
* [http://www.fenhampublishing.com Fenham Publishing]

Cover art scans, indices, character summaries

* [http://www.cultureandthrills.com/catalog/category/59 CultureAndThrills.com] Large pulp collection viewable and for sale.
* [http://www.pulpgallery.com PulpGallery.com] Online collection of 8000+ pulp and pin-up genre magazine cover scans/photos.
* http://www.spittel.de/sf/heftromane_net/index.htm scans of the covers of post-1945 German language pulp magazines
* [http://www.philsp.com/lists/p_magazines.html Galactic Central's list of pulp magazines] , with links to indices and bibliographies.
* [http://users.aol.com/heropulp/ Hero Pulps]
* [http://www.geocities.com/jjnevins/pulpsintro.html "Pulp and Adventure Heroes of the Pre-War Years"] : Jess Nevins' compendium of over 1700 pulp characters.
* [http://community-2.webtv.net/drhermes/DRHERMESREVIEWSHome/ Dr Hermes Reviews] Reviews of hundreds of pulp novels and short stories
* [http://www.collectionscanada.ca/pulp/index-e.html Tales From the Vault! Canadian Pulp Fiction 1940-1952] Canadian pulp art and fiction collection.
* [http://www.noosfere.com/showcase/pulps__magazines_americains.htm] Covers and inside details of most SF pulps and digests.
* [http://libweb.lib.buffalo.edu/kelley/ Pulp Fiction Cover Art] from The George Kelley Paperback and Pulp Fiction Collection at the [http://buffalo.edu University at Buffalo]


* [http://www.pulpgen.com/pulp/downloads/index.html Pulpgen.com] Stories scanned from pulp magazines of the early to mid 1900s.
* [http://www.cliffhangercasefiles.com Cliffhanger Case Files] Original stories inspired by the Pulps of yesteryear.
* [http://www.sciencemonster.net/print/periodical.html Sciencemonster.net] A few stories scanned in their original context - not retyped.
* [http://www.mottimorphic.com/ Lost Continent Library Magazine] New adventure fiction and artwork, sultry and savage femmes in pictorials, and acclaimed pulp-related features, all in PDF format.


* [http://www.cnn.com/2005/SHOWBIZ/books/11/01/hard.case.books/index.html CNN: "Girls, Guns, and money" article November 2005]

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