Number 21, June 1998
Annual Fantastic Pulps Show & Sale
On The Money
A Message From The Collection Head
The Paper They’re Printed On
Pulp Magazines at the Popular Culture
Lost Heritage—American Nightmare Art
Selective Pulp Titles Held By The Merril Collection
Merril Collection Events
to SOL Rising page
Annual Fantastic Pulps Show & Sale
by Jamie Fraser
There was a noticeable increase in the number of
happy, smiling people in downtown Toronto on Saturday April 25.
Although it turned out to be a lovely day, the weather had little to do
with the influx of happiness; the credit really goes to the 2nd Annual Fantastic
Pulps Show & Sale, held at the Lillian H. Smith branch of the TPL at
College and Spadina.
Pulp magazines reigned supreme on the newsstands from
the early part of the century until their demise in the mid 1950s. The show
was a tremendous opportunity for collectors and the curious alike to see
and examine such famous magazines as The
Shadow, Black Mask, Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, and the classic Ranch Romances. There were dozens
of other titles and thousands of magazines in total. It was probably the
largest gathering of pulps ever held in Canada.
Almost two hundred eager attendees, each paying only
two dollars for admission, browsed through the tables of over twenty
dealers from across Canada and the United States. In addition to the pulps,
there were numerous other items including rare first edition copies of
science fiction and mystery classics, autographed pieces, original pulp art
and all types of pulp reprints and related material. Purchasers could buy
posters of pulp covers, even t-shirts with favorite pulp characters on the
front. The quality and range of material was truly remarkable.
However the dealers' room was not the only reason to
come to the show. Many people came to participate in the free tours of the
Merril Collection. This included a walk through the stacks as well as a
viewing of the sf artwork recently purchased. For
many members of the public just being allowed the opportunity to view rare
science-fiction classics was enough in itself to make their day.
This year's show featured two very special guests:
Alison M. Scott and Robert Lesser. Each is an expert in various areas of
pulp appreciation. Alison is one of the leading experts in the science of
paper conservation as well as being the head librarian at Bowling Green State University's Popular Culture Library in Ohio. Bob Lesser is one of the world's leading experts on pulp artwork, and author of
the recent book Pulp Art: Original
Cover Paintings for the Great American Pulp Magazines.
Together, our two guests conducted such a successful
lecture and slide presentation that we had to schedule another show later
in the afternoon. Only their exhaustion saved them from doing a third
presentation, but it did not keep them away from our Special Guests table
and the hordes of anxious fans waiting with questions and books to get
Although most of us were tired at show's end we still
felt that a celebration was in order. Approximately twenty-five of us met
for dinner at Old Ed's Restaurant and
closed 1998's Fantastic Pulps Show in good style.
Jamie Fraser is
a Toronto area book dealer specializing in genre fiction. He is
also a member of the Executive Committee of the Friends of the Merril
to top Home
At the Annual Meeting held in May I presented the
financial statements of the Friends and was pleased to report that our
revenues for the year were the highest they have ever been, as was the cash
balance in the bank at the end of the year. Since then, the balance has
grown further. In terms of cash, the Friends are in the healthiest position
they have ever been.
So too, we are healthy in terms of memberships. Each
year we attain a total membership of over one hundred. However, it usually
takes several months to reach the half way point and the rest trickle in
over the remainder of the year. This year is a surprise: we had almost
sixty members within a few weeks of the beginning of the membership year
(May). People have responded to reminder notices and have renewed by mail
and at events we have attended.
This helps the cash position, but so too has the
generosity of several other supporters. Over the last couple of years we
have been receiving regular contributions from book reviewers of new books
which we have sold at discounts at Friends events and other conventions,
adding a healthy chunk of change to the bank account.
In return for our members' support, we have provided a
multitude of events benefiting our members, various authors and the local
SF community as a whole. During our past fiscal year (April 1997 to March
1998) we had tables or other presences at Ad Astra,
Toronto Trek, Primedia, Word
on the Street, the Friends of TPL book sale, and the Academic Conference on
Canadian Science Fiction. We brought Nancy Kress to Toronto for a reading. We hosted a
reading by Robert Charles Wilson. We held book launches for David Nickle / Karl Schroeder, Yves Meynard
Scott McKay. We had a birthday party for John Millard, and' we held the
first annual Fantastic Pulps Show and Sale.
So far this year we have held a second successful
"Fantastic Pulps", launched Andrew Weiner's new book, and manned
a table at Ad Astra.
A busy schedule, both for the organization and for our volunteers (we can always use more of those—but
that's the subject of another piece, at another time).
Yes, it's nice to look at the bottom line and see that
we are financially healthy. However, our goal is not to have a lot of money
in the bank—it is to sustain and improve the health of the Merril
Collection itself. We have already discussed with staff several ways in
which we can spend part of our current funds to help immediate needs of the
But long term needs, as
expressed by the Toronto Public Library Board, will require funding from
the Friends, or raised by the Friends, on a much
Our success so far must be doubled, and doubled again,
and doubled again over the next few years.
We welcome your ideas as to how the Friends can raise
significant funds (tens of thousands of dollars). It's not a simple task,
but it must be done to help the Collection survive, and grow.
Larry Hancock is
current Treasurer of the Friends of the Merril Collection and a past Chair
of the Friends.
to top Home
by Lorna Toolis
Who knows what
evil lurks in the hearts of men?
(Librarians do ‑ that's why we have closed
stacks ‑ LT)
The second annual fantastic pulp show was a great
success this year, thanks to the hard work of the Friends of Merril and the
The thrill of pulp magazines is visceral—either
you get it or you don't. Civilization reels and is rescued from the lurking
peril by a hero or band of heroes. The cover art, like the content, is
As Robert Lesser, a noteworthy collector of pulp art
and one of the convention guests explained happily, "This is not living room art!"
Like the stories it illustrates, the art is striking,
occasionally lurid and always fun. As a culture we are too self conscious
to produce or enjoy art like this anymore; it may be that we were always
too self conscious to enjoy ourselves in public.
Even when pulp magazines were common, they were throw
away culture. An adult purchaser was expected to discretely abandon the
pulp as soon as he finished reading it. Parents would throw them out for
the teenager's own good.
Robert Lesser pointed out to his audience that many
artists of the time refused to sign the work they did for the pulps, as
they held it to be crass, commercial and accordingly beneath contempt.
The lurid cover art of the pulps went a long way to
establishing the sorry public image that science fiction labours under today, thus confirming that the
politically correct have been with us always.
The only literary form which
has less credibility than sf is romance fiction.
(Romance fiction currently sells something like 40% of all mass market
paperbacks). No matter how loudly people are told what they should enjoy,
they keep voting with their feet.
This is why the Merril Collection exists. Popular
culture is like keeping a diary. It is important that we should have the
ability to recall our dreams, even when we are older, more sophisticated
and prone to finding them embarrassing.
Enjoyment of genre fiction does not preclude enjoyment
of high culture as well. It is true that anyone looking at the covers of The Shadow or Weird Tales from the 1930s and 1940s could be forgiven for
thinking that our child within runs with knives, rather than scissors.
Nonetheless, cover art is not evidence of homicidal intent.
Pulp magazines used to be considered even more
reprehensible than science fiction currently is held to be. The pulps
eventually achieved respectability as a gift of their detractors. Enough
pulps were thrown out that the surviving issues were rarities and gained
greatly in financial value. There is nothing quite like money to convey
respect, in this, as in all other fields.
We no longer believe that Doc Savage or The Shadow
will come and rescue us. As a culture, we have come to believe in
organizations, rather than individual heroes, and villainous organizations
rather than villains, something which seems rather sad. Only in science
fiction can an individual can have any impact upon significant events.
Science fiction is also one of the remaining literary forms wherein telling
a story that is entertaining, instead of merely improving or stylistically
clever is required. The popularity of the form, regretted by so many
parents and teachers is therefore inevitable.
People still read the fiction in the pulp magazines,
they still enjoy the cover art, perhaps more now
than they did then, since now we have more with which to compare the
original magazines. It is important not to be afraid of writing popular
fiction. Art is what people create, what people care about.
What is worthwhile survives.
Lorna Toolis is the head librarian at the Merril Collection
of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy.
to top Home
There's an old saying that "War is hell." To
youthful Canadians growing up during World War II, it must have seemed
especially so when a government directive, passed on December 6, 1940, prohibited the importation of all U.S. comic books and pulp fiction
Known as The War Exchange Conservation Act, the
government's primary intent was to conserve dollars through the elimination
of "non-essential" purchases from the country's largest trading
partner. (On a sociological note, while this deprived kids of their Superman and Captain America fix, and working-class readers of familiar pulp
fiction titles, prestigious "slick" magazines like The Saturday Evening Post and Colliers were unaffected by the
One side-effect of the sweeping economic legislation
was the creation of a cottage industry, centered mostly in Toronto, which
quickly tooled up to pour out indigenous comic books and pulp magazines,
printed—as they liked to inform us—"on Canadian paper by
Canadians." Unfortunately, you can't start up a pop culture factory
overnight, and the results weren't always pretty. While comic book fans
were reasonably assuaged by homegrown heroes like Johnny Canuck and Dixon of the Mounted, pulp readers
were less well served. One of the new CanPulps,
the generically-titled Science
"By the purchase of this periodical, you are
giving Canadians employment, Canadians who are paying taxes, buying War
Savings Certificates and Victory Bonds, doing their bit to preserve a free
Canada and to maintain our prosperity ...... Ours are truly All-Canadian
magazines, conceived, edited and written in Canada by Canadians, spending our currency among ourselves, adding
to our country's business. They ARE NOT printed-in-‑Canada editions
of inferior American magazines, which freeze the Canadian money spent on
them for after-war profits and which do not build native industry."
Strong sentiments, but the truth was exactly the
opposite. All of the stories in the Canadian Science Fiction were lifted from U.S. editions of Blue Ribbon
Magazines' Science Fiction, Science
Fiction Quarterly, and Future
Fiction, edited by early fan-turned-pro Charles D. Hornig,
whose penurious rates resulted in substandard material cranked out by
There was also a Canadian edition of the venerable Weird Tales, but its publishers
wisely refrained from patriotic hyperbole, even though they did provide
original, and occasionally attractive, cover paintings.
Another magazine, Popular Publications' Super Science Stories, also went to
the trouble of commissioning original art, presumably to meet the stringent
demands of the War Exchange act. Basically, however, it reprinted stories
from the U.S. editions of Super Science Stories and Astonishing Stories, edited by Frederik Pohl. When the parent magazines folded in
1943, the Canadian magazine soldiered on with reprints from Popular's Famous
Fantastic Mysteries. Eventually it was re-titled Super-Science and Fantastic Stories, to reflect its altered
The sad truth is that, while Canuck comic books did
indeed serve to replace their U.S. counterparts in the hearts
and minds of young readers, and even supplied years of employment for local
artists and writers, few Canadian pulps achieved or even aimed for such
success. Of all the fiction magazines published in Canada during the
country's wartime cultural isolation, only two titles proved to be markets
for original science fiction, fantasy and horror—and one of these
lasted but a single issue.
The most ambitious of the so-called CanPulps was unquestionably Uncanny Tales (not to be confused with a U.S. title of the same name which
produced ten issues between April 1938 and May 1940). The first Canadian Uncanny debuted November 1940 (pre-dating
The War Exchange Conservation Act by one month) and was attributed to Adam
Publishing Company of Toronto. It, and the next three
issues, were actually substandard-sized magazines
closer to today's "digest" fiction magazines, each printed on
heavy paper stock. With the fifth issue the magazine became a true pulp in
size, featuring vivid full-color covers. The title would last for twenty-one
issues in all, running from that initial number in late 1940 to a final
release dated September/October 1943.
What distinguished Uncanny
Tales is that it was not a branch-plant publication merely lifting
material from other sources—at least not in its early incarnation.
The magazine's original mainstay was a pugnacious prize-fighter-turned-word
merchant named Thomas P. Kelley. Best remembered by pulp fans as the author
of three 70,000-word novels serialized in Weird Tales ("The Last Pharaoh" in 1937; "I
Found Cleopatra" in 1938; and "A Million Years in the
Future" in 1940), Toronto-based Kelley's total contribution to the
world of pulp fiction has yet to be itemized because of his use of numerous
pseudonyms in the CanPulps, the ephemeral nature
of the magazines, and because he worked too fast to bother keeping records.
For Kelley, his government's import restriction was a
blessing sent not from Ottawa, but from Heaven. No one has
ever come up with a list of all the Canadian wartime pulps, but there were
many of them, ranging from titles like Sky
Blazers and Private Detective
to Bill Wayne's Western Magazine. Kelley may have written for most if not
all of them.
'They were the
golden days for the Canadian freelance writer," he once enthused in a
newspaper article, "the days when the demand exceeded the supply. A
time when, even if you rewrote the story of Mary and her little lamb, you
had a chance of selling it."
And sell he
did. By his own account there were days when he turned out as many as three
4,000-word stories—detective, weird, western, and love yarns—but
was still unable to meet the demand. He claimed to have written every story
in the first few issues of Uncanny
Tales, using his name on what he thought were the best stories and
creating pen-names like Rex Hayes, Valentine Worth, Wellington Price, and
Gene Bannerman for the others. He is described on page 1 of that first
issue as "America's foremost Weird Story
Writer"—a judgment probably concocted by the author himself.
Despite Kelley's claim, at least two stories in issue
three were obviously not his. Well-known Canadian science fiction fan
Leslie A. Croutch contributed a piece titled "The
Phantom Train," and Toronto writer John Hollis Mason
supplied "Flaming Phantasm." Mason, a close friend of Kelley's
once confided in a letter to me: "Kelley had never studied narrative
technique; he was a natural story-teller. But his lack of conscious
technique threw him for a loop when he wrote a story called "The
Island of Death." I read it and knew it was wrong: it wasn't one story, it was two quite separate yarns. He split 'em and they were published in Uncanny Tales. I don't
think he ever quite forgave me for being able to put my finger on what was
wrong with that story, tho." It would appear
that natural story-teller Kelley really was the mainstay of the magazine
for most of its first two years of publication. Stories with titles like
"Murder in the Graveyard," "The Talking Heads,"
"Black Castle of Hate," "City of the Centaurs,"
and "Lady of the Tombs" all bear the flamboyant Kelley
touch. Writing as Valentine Worth, he even contributed a wish-fulfillment
title for war-weary Canadians-"The Man Who Killed Hitler" (June
Tom Kelley, who had once boxed middleweight as
"The Pride of Miami Beach," was, as a writer, at his best in long
form yarns suggesting the imagination of an Edgar Rice Burroughs with a
dash of Rider Haggard. Many of the stories published under his own name
reflected his interest in things Egyptian. Even the eponymous talking heads
of his 5-part Uncanny serial are
revealed to be the bodiless personages of "Atma,
the glorious Princess of Egypt, and Karamour,
last of the Pharaohs."
Tales may have begun life as something of a one-man show, with the
magazine's July 1941 issue Kelley's pseudonymous fictions were bolstered by
four stories reprinted from the U.S. Stirring
Science Stories—one by author/editor Robert W. Lowndes and three
others by author/editor Donald A. Wollheim
writing under his own name as well as that of Laurence Woods and Millard
Verne Gordon. Following that issue a number of Thomas P. Kelley serials
would be shored up with stories reprinted from the American Stirring Science as well as Comet, Cosmic Stories, Astounding
Stories, and Amazing Stories
Wollheim and Lowndes were regulars
from that point on with both original stories as well as reprints, often
appearing under pseudonyms. Wollheim's most
notable contribution to the magazine was his essay "Whither Canadian
Fantasy?" (December 1942) in which he failed to mention the name of a
single Canadian author. Science-fiction greats C. M. Kornbluth,
Frederick Pohl and Henry Kuttner also had work
appear in later issues—even if their bylines did not. Another name
worthy of note was that of Conan the Barbarian scribe Robert E. Howard,
whose posthumous poem "Always Comes Evening" was reprinted from
the February 1941 Stirring Science.
Uncanny's original cover art was handled by the likes of
artists Wilf Long, Walter Leslie, and K. P.
Ainsworth, among others. Described by author John Robert Colombo as
"ranging from vivid to vapid," the covers reflected the split-personality
of the magazine itself, from depictions of graveyard ghouls and monstrous
heads to giant city-smashing robots. For the most part the cover art
promised tales of the weird and horrific, suggesting little that would
indicate the magazine's increasing reliance on imported science fiction.
Perhaps reacting to criticism of its reprint policy, a
1942 issue voiced a lament on the dearth of Canadian science fiction and
fantasy writers. Ironically, Canadian author A. E. van Vogt, one of the
brightest lights of the Golden Age of science fiction was at that time
living in Toronto and turning out some of his finest classic work—but
wisely mailing it off to better-paying U. S. markets.
With its eighteenth issue (July 1942) Uncanny Tales announced that it was
forced to go bi-monthly due to wartime paper shortages. Following its
twentieth issue (December 1942) several months elapsed before a final issue
was produced dated September/October 1943. But long before that last issue
the magazine had ceased to be much of a market for original fiction, coming
to rely more and more on reprint material from lesser U.S. markets.
A rival magazine, Eerie
Tales, had boasted on its cover: "Every Story Original."
Published by C.K. Publishing Co. of Toronto, the magazine made good on
its claim but unfortunately lasted only one issue. It is now probably the
rarest of all the so-called CanPulps. Once again
Thomas P Kelley ("The Horror Man" as the cover proclaimed)
dominated the fledgling publication with one story and the beginning of a
serial written under his own name plus a number of other pseudonymous gems
bearing titles like "Horror in the Dungeon," and "The
Phantom Trooper." Under the Valentine Worth cognomen he even retooled
his "I Killed Hitler" story as "I Killed Mussolini."
Tales was too little and too late. With the end of World War II
Canada's embargo on foreign magazines was lifted and hundreds of vibrant,
exciting pulp titles began flooding on to newsstands just as they had in
the pre-war glory days. The undernourished and unexciting CanPulps quietly faded away, leaving little impression
at all. Canada's only pulp era had been
created by the war. Like the war, it soon passed into history.
has published four books on the history of the pulp fiction era, including
the Aurora Award, Arthur Ellis Award, and Bram Stoker Award-nominated
THE GREAT PULP HEROES. He is editor of the acclaimed NORTHERN FRIGHTS
to top Home
The Paper They’re
by Alison M.
I saw my first pulp magazine in the autumn of 1964. I
was in the third grade at Vista Elementary School in Kennewick, Washington. Every year, the PTA
sponsored a rummage sale to raise money for equipment and extracurricular
activities, and that year I had one dime to spend. Being a frugal child and
careful with my money (traits I have since lost), I roamed the classrooms
in which the sale was held for at least an hour, trying to decide what I
wanted most—a game, a toy, or a risky but tantalizing "mystery
I was turning the alternatives over in my mind when I
came upon a pile of books and magazines tucked away in a corner of the
kindergarten room. The first thing I saw in the nondescript heap that I
coveted was a copy of the Penguin Classics edition of The Odyssey, in the old-fashioned brown, cream, and black
cover. I didn't know Homer from Adam, but I was proud of my reading skills
and it looked like a very grown-up book. I could get it for a nickel and
still have something left for a brownie or a piece of cake at the bakery
Thoughts of the prestige value of the classics and the
practical value of dessert fled, however, when I encountered an altogether
glorious and thoroughly desirable object just a little lower down in the
stack. It was a copy of the September 1949 issue of Startling Stories, and I knew it was love at first sight.
I had read some science fiction for "young
readers"—Danny Dun and the
Anti-Gravity Paint by Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin
sticks in my mind—but this was the real stuff. The featured stories
were "The Hothouse Planet" by Arthur K. Burns and "The
Portal in the Picture" by Henry M. Kuttner
(a story that inspired my ongoing interest in alternative histories), but
what I really wanted was the cover of this magazine—which depicted a
woman holding a rifle and kneeling in the foreground of a grassy, open
space, while in the background a dinosaur was busily engaged in eating her male
companion. Here was glamour, strange new places, action, and excitement,
all dramatically captured in Earle K. Bergey's
entrancing illustration and transformed into something I could possess for
the terrific sum of ten cents.
I spent my entire fortune and carried my treasure away
in triumph; I kept it with me, through grade school, high school, college,
graduate school, and several different jobs, until I gave it to the Bowling
Green State University Popular Culture Library in 1994, near the thirtieth
anniversary of its purchase. In the course of my education as a literary
scholar and as a librarian, I learned a great deal about the history of
pulp fiction, its production, distribution, and reception, ranging from the
chemistry of wood-pulp paper manufacture to myth analysis of the
western-adventure story. I was particularly pleased when I felt I
understood printing processes thoroughly enough to explain to myself and
colleagues the differences between the paper used for those covers:
interior pages were printed on extremely cheap, rough-surfaced paper
manufactured from wood ground into a pulp, chemically treated, and formed
into sheets. The lignin inherent in the wood, combined with chemical
treatments, left wood-pulp paper with a high acid content; over time, this
leads to the characteristic yellowing and brittleness found in pulp
magazines, newspapers, and paperback books. By contrast, pulp-magazines
covers were printed on lightweight but good-quality paper stock, coated
with china clay to create a smooth printing surface that resists abrasion
and takes ink well. The clay used to produce the "slick" surface
of the paper has the incidental benefit of increasing the alkaline content
of the paper and thus slightly resisting the deterioration caused by the acidic
decay of wood-pulp paper.
The satisfaction that I take in my academic
understanding of pulp magazines, substantial though it is, nonetheless
pales in comparison to the pleasure that the magazines themselves excite:
pieces of portable literary and visual arts, pulps inspire admiration and
Alison M. Scott
is the head librarian at the Popular Culture Library of Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She is an expert in the science of paper
conservation and remains a student of the newest techniques in this field.
Due to her knowledge and interest, Bowling Green can boast of a superior collection in the area of
the permission of the author.
to top Home
Magazines at the Popular Culture Library
by Alison M.
Even among all the riches of the Popular Culture
Library's major collections of primary research material from the 19th and
20th centuries, our collections of materials documenting the pulp magazine
era stands out as magnificent.
The core of the collection is, of course, our Pulp
Magazine Collection, which contains more than 8,500 issues of nearly 400
different magazines. The collection has been developed entirely through the
generosity of donors. In 1986, H. James Horvitz gave us over 3,000 science
fiction and fantasy pulp magazines, including complete or nearly complete
runs of some of the greatest pulp magazines ever published—Amazing Stories, Astounding Stories, Doc Savage, Fantastic Adventures, Startling Stories,
Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Weird Tales—as well as lesser
known pulps like Captain Future, Magic Carpet, and Tales of Magic and Mystery. In 1987,
through the good offices of pulp collector, Fred Cook (who, to the great
loss of the pulp community, passed away in 1997), the Library acquired Robert
Kenneth Jones's collection of more than 2,100 pulps, including extensive
runs of Argosy, Blue Book, Detective Fiction Weekly,
Short Stories, and Western Story Magazine, among others. From the core of these two
acquisitions, the collection has continued to grow, incorporating smaller
donations from many different supporters, including Fred Cook, Kristin Ladnier, and Alison Scott.
Related materials include manuscript collections
documenting the life and careers of individuals who were part of the world
of pulps. Shirley Steeger, grande
dame of Popular Publications, has given the Library materials documenting
the career of her late husband, Harry Steeger
(along with bound volumes of Argosy).The
Carl Jacobi Collection documents the life and
work of this well-known writer of horror, fantasy, science fiction, and
adventure fiction and contributor to Weird
Tales, Wonder Stories, Short
Stories, Thrilling Mystery, Doc Savage,
Planet Stories, and other pulps
and includes letters from his forty-year correspondence with August Derleth, the founder and editor of Arkham
House, and his fifty-year correspondence with fellow-pulp writer, Hugh B.
Cave. The papers of Norman Daniels, creator of Tony Quinn, "the Black
Bat," whose adventures appeared in Black
Book Detective from 1939 to 1952, document his work for the pulps, as
well as his work in television and radio.
And last, but not least, the book collections of the
Popular Culture Library contain hundreds of volumes that reprint pulp
fiction, including Jeffrey Gailiun's gift in 1986
of 1,500 vintage paperbacks, Sheldon Jaffery's
gift in 1990 of a near-complete collection of the books published by Arkham House, and Loren Gould's gift in 1993 of more
than 7,000 volumes of horror and weird fantasy.
Alison M. Scott
is the head librarian at the Popular Culture Library of Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
to top Home
Heritage—American Nightmare Art
by Robert Lesser
This article is reprinted from Robert Lesser's introductory chapter in Pulp Art—Original Cover Paintings for the Great American Pulp
Magazines. New York: Gramercy Books, 1997. Edited
and reprinted with permission of the author.
The front cover of the pulp magazines from the 1930s
and 1940s... were created from magnificent paintings by artists who refused
to see that magnificence. They created a Golden Age of American Art, most
of this work still unknown and unrecognized—each a painted nightmare
superb in form, unique in content. American Nightmare Pulp Art is our lost
The pulp-magazine industry flourished during the Great
Depression's low bottom. Some publishers got rich, and the industry's army
of writers, artists, printers and workers had jobs: steady work, away from
bread lines, soup kitchens, and apartment evictions.
Printed on the cheapest paper—hence the
name—manufactured for two cents, wholesaled for a nickel, and
retailed on the newsstand for a hard-times dime, they were bought by the millions.
"They looked like a defeated
army returning home," the novelist
Herbert Gold wrote, about workers on the subway at night. Just by turning a
page, weary men without hope and their fantasy-hungry children could escape
into an enticing world filled with excitement and adventure. Just by
looking at the covers, they could enter a universe of distant planets with
creatures more intelligent, and beasts more dangerous, than any they knew
Cover art pre-sold the magazines visually, often with
flesh-creeping, brain-haunting pictures of men in pain and women in terror of what was about to happen to them.
Pulp cover fought pulp cover on the crowded newsstands of the Depression
thirties—and those with the most fright, excitement, and
senses-pounding colors per square inch won—one thin dime.
Approximately two hundred different titles and thirty
years of time comprised this factory for making art. Most of the pulp
artists were taught and trained just past the turn of the century in the
classical mode of representational painting. As with the old masters, oil
paint on canvas and board, paintbrush and palette were their tools. The
originals were about twenty by thirty inches in size, mounted on stretch
frames with room at the top for the later entry of the titles, price, and
story information. They would be photographed down in size for color
separation. After the magazine was printed, very often the painting, having
served its purpose. was trashed. The artists did
not request their return since they had no monetary value and their
attitude them was somewhere between indifference and shame. Often the next
month's painting for a new cover was painted directly over the previous
one; the canvas and the stretch frame had a cash value.
When the Popular Publications warehouse in the Bronx burned to the ground,
hundreds of paintings were destroyed. In 1961, when Conde
Nast bought Street & Street and moved to
high-rent uptown and were cramped for space, they called the artists:
"Do you want your artwork returned?" The Answer: "No!"
Street & Street had saved their art and it was a huge collection of the
very best. A small auction was held but there were no bids, no bidders.
Then the paintings were offered free to their employees; even at that
price, there were no takers. A tragedy in American art: the largest
collection ever saved was put on the street for Iron Mike, the sharp-spiked
roller-crusher at the back of a New York City garbage truck, to cut and rip
to pieces. The best of the best were lost forever.
Is it possible that an artist could be the worst judge
of his own work? John Newton Howitt created
approximately three hundred of the very best pulp cover paintings for
Popular Publications between 1933
and 1939. He was called the Dean of Weird Menace Art, the Premier Illustrator
of Modern Horrors. He painted human nightmares and imagined scenes from
inside hell: Horror Stories, Terror Tales, The Octopus, The Scorpion,
The Spider, Operator #5, and The
Whisperer cover art sold out the magazines as quickly as they hit the newsstands.
Howitt was trained at the Art Students League and
was born to paint. His paintings were carefully planned, with much sharp
detail; still, he produced as many as seven covers in a single month.
Despite praise, despite demand and a top reward of nine hundred dollars a
cover, he despised his own work. In his own words, "Honest and finely executed paintings constitute 'Fine Art'.
Occasionally it becomes 'Great Art.' But Good Art is not eccentric, does
not attempt to shock people nor to copy or rehash what has been good, but
is an honest expression of the basically well-trained artist "
Some believe the story that most of Howitt's paintings were returned and he had them stored
in a barn, that on one black night in a prudish rage of growing hatred against
pulp art he torched the barn. Perhaps the proof of the story's truth is
that almost none of his paintings seem to have survived.
At the first science fiction convention held in Manhattan in 1939, beautiful cover
paintings from the imaginations of Frank R. Paul, Virgil Finlay, and Wesso were
auctioned. The auctioneer began: "Ten
dollars? Do I hear ten dollars, anyone?...Five
dollars?... Two dollars?... A quarter?... No bidders?" So the auctioneer in anger
threw them high up into the air over the audience—and whoever caught
them owned them for free!
Midtown Manhattan/Lexington Avenue was pulp publishing's
geographical pinpoint. The artists and writers were there because their
publishers were there: the publishers were there because the printers were
there; the printers bankrolled the publishers to get presswork. Sometimes
the artists would take their paintings to Wagner's Photos and Prints on East Forty-Second Street and Pop Wagner would try to
sell a cover painting for ten bucks; he'd take five, or even two.
Some of the authors went uptown and upward to the
slick magazines and then to Hollywood and fame: Dashiell
Hammett, Earle Stanley Gardner, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Raymond Chandler, Ray
Bradbury, and Isaac Asimov, among others, all became well-known and
But hardly known at all were the pulp artists: J.
Allen St. John, Virgil Finlay, Frank R. Paul,
George and Jerome Rozen, Norman Saunders, Rafael de Soto, Walter Baumhofer,
Rudolf Belarski, Frederick Blakeslee, H. Ward,
Tom Lovell, Paul Stahr, John Coughlin, H. W.
Scott, Herbert Morton Stoops, and many others.
Why wasn't this art saved? Why is it so hard to find
today? Because pulp art is, to many, offensive art. Its pictures are filled
with pain, torture, violence and the threat of sexual violation and death
in motion. Your spouse and other family members would balk at hanging it in
the house; the neighbours might see it, and it's
not nice. Landscapes, seascapes, a bowl of fruit, a vase of flowers, a dog
or a cat or a horse, an emotionless canvas of abstract colored shapes, and
Norman Rockwell's Saturday Evening
Post paintings are nice.
Pulp art is hard whiskey: men's art fuelled on
testosterone. Unknown and unrecognized, without a deep anchor sunk into the
marketplace, it has remained—until the very present—a unique
American heritage that burned brightly on newsstands for two decades, a
lost inheritance future generations might never see or be able to claim.
Its neglect has been an American cultural tragedy.
to top Home
Titles Held by the Merril Collection
- Air Wonder Stories
- Amazing Stories
- Astonishing Stories
- Authentic Science Fiction
- Avon Fantasy Reader
- Beyond Fantasy Fiction
- Captain Future
- Famous Fantastic
- Fantastic Universe
- Fantastic Story Magazine
- Fantastic Adventures
- Fantastic Novels Magazine
- Future Science Fiction
- Galaxy Science Fiction
- Imaginative Tales
- Infinity Science Fiction
- Marvel Science Fiction
- Nebula Science Fiction
- New Worlds
- Other Worlds Science
- Planet Stories
- Satellite Science Fiction
- Science Wonder Quarterly
- Science Fiction Stories
- Science Fiction Quarterly
- Science Fiction
- Science Fantasy
- Startling Stories
- Startling Mystery Stories
- Stirring Stories
- Super Science Stories
- Tales of Wonder &
- The Spider
- The Shadow
- Thrilling Wonder Stories
- Uncanny Tales
- Universe Science Fiction
- Unknown Worlds
- Weird Tales
to top Home
Candas Jane Dorsey
Reading at the Merril Collection
Candas Jane Dorsey, winner of the
James Tiptree Award and The Crawford Award read
excerpts from her award winning novel Black
Wine (TOR) and from a work currently in progress. The reading was well
attended; approximately 40 people came to listen to Ms. Dorsey and to ask
questions after the reading. Ms Dorsey's reading was organized as part of
the Academic Conference on Canadian SF and Fantasy, which continued the
next day at the Merril Collection.
Andrew Weiner Reading at the Merril Collection
Over 60 people came to hear Andrew Weiner read from
his short story collection This is
the Year Zero on Wednesday, 13 May at the Merril Collection of Science
Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy. This
is the Year Zero was published by Pottersfield
Press and is currently available in bookstores.
North American Jules Verne Society tours the Merril
Members of the North American Jules Verne Society came
to tour the Merril Collection of Science Fiction on Saturday, 6 June,
during their annual convention, which was held in Toronto this year. Jules Verne
enthusiasts find the Merril Collection rewarding to visit due to the
extensive holdings of Verne material, including rare items, first editions
and unusual realia. The current exhibition in the
Collection, chosen by staff member Annette Mocek,
displays some of the more interesting pieces. The display will run until
The 1998 Academic Conference on Canadian Science
Fiction And Fantasy
The 1998 Academic Conference on Canadian Science
Fiction and Fantasy was held at the Merril Collection of Science Fiction
and Fantasy on June 13. Candas Jane Dorsey,
author of Machine Sex (1988) and Black Wine (1996) was the keynote
speaker. On June 12, the evening before the conference Ms. Dorsey gave a
reading in the Merril Collection's 3rd floor reading room. The following
day she began the conference by giving a keynote address
. Papers were presented by scholars over the course of the day to a
group of approximately 40 attendees. Nancy Johnston of Ryerson Polytechnic University was the conference organizer.
The Conference was assisted by The Canadian Council for the Arts, through
the Writers' Union of Canada, the Friends of the Merril Collection, Ryerson Polytechnic University and the National Science
Fiction and Fantasy Society.
to top Home