SOL Rising
Number 21, June 1998


2nd Annual Fantastic Pulps Show & Sale
On The Money
A Message From The Collection Head
Canada’s Uncanny Tales
The Paper They’re Printed On
Pulp Magazines at the Popular Culture Library
Lost Heritage—American Nightmare Art
Selective Pulp Titles Held By The Merril Collection
Merril Collection Events

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2nd 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 signed.

 

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 Collection.

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On The Money

by Larry Hancock, Treasurer

 

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 and Arrowdreams, 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 library.

 

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 grander scale.

 

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.

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A Message from the Collection Head

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 vendors.

 

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 extravagant.

 

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.

 

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Canada’s Uncanny Tales

by Don Hutchison

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 magazines.

 

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 restriction.)

 

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 Fiction bragged:

 

"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 pseudonymous names.

 

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 nature.

 

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 1941).

 

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."

 

While Uncanny 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 Quarterly.

 

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."

 

Unfortunately Eerie 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.

 

Don Hutchison 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 anthology series.

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The Paper They’re Printed On

by Alison M. Scott

 

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 grab bag."

 

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 table.

 

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 delight.

 

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 pulp magazines.

 

Reprinted with the permission of the author.

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Pulp Magazines at the Popular Culture Library

by Alison M. Scott

 

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.

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Lost 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 inheritance.

 

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 of.

 

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 respected writers.

 

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.

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Selective Pulp Titles Held by the Merril Collection

  • Air Wonder Stories
  • Amazing Stories
  • Amazing
  • Argosy
  • Astonishing Stories
  • Astounding
  • Authentic Science Fiction
  • Avon Fantasy Reader
  • Beyond Fantasy Fiction
  • Captain Future
  • Famous Fantastic Mysteries
  • Fantastic Universe
  • Fantastic Story Magazine
  • Fantastic
  • Fantastic Adventures
  • Fantastic Novels Magazine
  • Future Science Fiction
  • Galaxy Science Fiction Novel
  • Imagination
  • Imaginative Tales
  • Infinity Science Fiction
  • Marvel Science Fiction Stories
  • Nebula Science Fiction
  • New Worlds
  • Other Worlds Science Stories
  • Planet Stories
  • Satellite Science Fiction
  • Science Wonder Quarterly
  • Science Fiction Stories
  • Science Fiction Quarterly
  • Science Fiction Adventures
  • Science Fantasy
  • Spaceways
  • Startling Stories
  • Startling Mystery Stories
  • Stirring Stories
  • Super Science Stories
  • Tales of Wonder & Super‑Science
  • The Spider
  • The Shadow
  • Thrilling Wonder Stories
  • Uncanny Tales
  • Universe Science Fiction
  • Unknown Worlds
  • Unknown
  • Weird Tales

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Merril Collection Events

 

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 Collection

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 October.

 

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.

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2000 Friends of the Merril Collection