Friday, January 1, 2016


When I was a kid it was easy to find old magazines and I started collecting them. If there were pulp magazines in the stores I haunted, I ignored them. They didn't have what I was really looking for: full color advertisements. Ads from the Forties, Fifties and Sixties fascinated me; growing up, I could still see vestiges of the world they portrayed all around me, from old-fashioned storefronts to fading advertising signs painted on the sides of buildings. What I wanted was Life, Look, Collier's and The Saturday Evening Post, and the fiction in the latter two magazines didn't interest me. I still have a few of all of these, though I had to winnow the collection down a few years ago. At that time, my main priority for preservation was the nonfiction articles. More recently I discovered an extensive online archive of Collier's at Ron Unz's website, Unfortunately, Unz's people had decolorized the interiors while scanning them. That was okay if you simply wanted to read the content. The odd thing was that I was suddenly more interested in the fiction, particularly the adventure, western and detective stories. Collier's was the American home of Dr. Fu Manchu (and, earlier, Sherlock Holmes), but along with the work of Sax Rohmer I discovered authors with whom I was but dimly familiar, or totally unfamiliar. I'd heard of Harold Lamb and Ernest Haycox but had never read anything from them, though I knew Alan LeMay as the author of The Searchers. Writers like Albert Richard Wetjen, Sidney Herschel Small and Jacland Marmur I did not know at all, but I found myself diligently downloading or printing every story of theirs I could find in Collier's. I became more curious about fiction in magazines contemporary with Collier's and discovered Unz's collection of scanned pulp magazines. For these decolorization wasn't an issue, for there was no reason to look at these but for the stories. Through Unz I discovered Argosy, possibly the greatest of pulps, more than 100 issues of which had been scanned for the site. To be honest, I'd never been entirely ignorant of pulps, but like many people growing up in the Seventies I identified pulp with the hero characters like Doc Savage and The Shadow, or with the Weird Tales authors like Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft. Argosy was like another world entirely, and Unz's smaller collections of Detective Fiction Weekly, Short Stories, Ranch Romances and others were worlds more. Yet for all the worlds Unz revealed, there were others to be discovered to which Unz couldn't take me. The site had nothing of Adventure or Blue Book, and my acquaintance with Argosy and Short Stories told me those were what I wanted.  I liked best the general-interest adventure magazines with stories set in many different places and eras, with westerns running second as an overall genre. I started buying pulps in the fall of 2013. With modest means, my collection grew in fits and starts. I now have about 50 magazines, with issues of Argosy not quite in the majority.

What do I like about true pulp fiction? Artistically, I like its clarity, especially when it doesn't come at the expense of literacy. I like authors who can write actual paragraphs, for instance, and those willing to take the trouble to write sentences establishing time and place instead of tossing them italicized into the air above the actual text like a TV or movie caption. I like that things happen in pulp fiction, and I say that as an admirer of much Modernist literature, as someone who read Ulysses and enjoyed it. I'm entertained by the swashbuckling, filibustering spirit of pulp adventure, even when it isn't politically correct. I suppose I am a person of the left if I must define myself politically, but I appreciate the guileless, guiltless honesty with which pulp writers reveal how they view the world, stereotypes and all, though pulp writers defy stereotypes more often than you might suspect. I also appreciate their acknowledgment of otherness, however caricatured it often is, as opposed to a bland, safe assumption of our time that people are all essentially the same in the way they act, think and, above all, talk. I can distance myself from pulp and analyze it as an expression of sometimes-ugly sentiments, but I can also identify with the impulse to explore and even conquer that probably still appeals to many a common reader. We needn't try to pin pulp down as one thing essentially, since there are worlds within worlds of pulp, each containing contradictory multitudes, and that's the beauty of it for me.

In this blog I explore the pulp multiverse and the wider storytelling culture in which pulps rose and fell. Pulp survives in many forms among us today, even as some of its more direct descendants have fallen by the wayside very recently. For as long as possible True Pulp Fiction will be a daily blog with at least one post a day. Much of the time that post will be the latest date on the Pulp Calendar, with appropriate covers from the various weeklies (especially Argosy) and biweeklies. Beyond the Calendar I plan to review individual stories and entire issues, from my own collection and other sources. You'll meet some of my new favorite authors and sample some of their work, and you'll see scans of at least the covers of the pulps in my collection. I may get more ambitious and show you some of the insides. I feel I owe an effort in that direction to the many people who are preserving the pulp heritage by scanning old issues for free sharing online. My hope is that people who enjoy the more exotic and obscure movies reviewed at my movie blog Mondo 70 -- and I really need to get back to the cult stuff there -- will be intrigued by the immeasurably more obscure and possibly more exotic content of pulp fiction, in stories that probably have been read by no more than a few hundred people living today, and possibly far fewer than that. I hope people will have as much fun reading this blog as I plan to have writing it, and if I inspire people to read pulp fiction they'll have even more fun.


  1. I'm not sure if you are aware of this site:
    It may be worthwhile to check it out.

  2. Boy am I aware of that site, but I appreciate this reminder to add it to my link list. You've probably noticed that someone added a few thousand pulps to that archive last week. If not, it's time to take another look.