No, I'm not referring to the over-praised Tarantino film. The only way I can think of tackling this subject is to start with a brief description.

The pulp magazine market flooded the U.S. in the early 20th century, experiencing a golden age from the 20s to the 50s. Short stories and serialized novels were printed in cheaply produced newsprint and provided a source of affordable entertainment for working class Americans. These stories tended to be fast-paced, plot-driven, sensationalized genre fiction. Almost any subject could be a pulp: romance, western, science fiction, horror, crime, mystery, spicy mystery, aviation, railroad, true crime, and confessions. You name it and there probably was a magazine that catered to that angle. Thankfully, many of these stories were preserved and many authors became revolutionary fictioneers that influenced the storytelling world at large.

I like pulp fiction because these stories weren't normally concerned with pushing a political agenda like so many stories I've encountered lately. These works also came from an era before writers became overly preoccupied with the self-referencing and self-parodying of meta fiction (a fun diversion but essentially detracts from what a story is meant to do). When it comes down to it, self-awareness in fiction ends up revealing the author as a smart ass and if that smart assery doesn't measure up to Harlan Ellison's wit, then it just becomes tiresome. I don't even watch the Scream movies anymore because deconstruction has become a bore to me. The good old pulps didn't give a rat's ass for tricks like that. They were more concerned with delivering a straightforward and exciting tale. Not even comics offer that anymore (a least a considerable number of them don't.) That and pulps never became too intricate in storytelling for its own good.

Before anyone accuses me of being a crabby old fart pining for the good ol' days, I'm 39 and didn't know I was consciously reading pulp fiction until I was in my mid 20s. Some of these tales weren't politically correct but once I started reading with the mindset that I didn't have to agree with everything an author wrote and just enjoy the story, it became easier. What I got from these stories was usually a sense of unpretentiousness that was vacant in many school assignments and lists of what constitutes "literary fiction." The covers of these books evoked a different time when artists painted covers that offered more than the graphically designed upchuck that I have seen on many book covers these days. I've had a look at them and it's hard to tell one from another.

When it comes down to it, the pulps seemed less artificial and weren't ashamed big actually presenting a glimpse of what their pages contained. Some critics accused pulp fiction writers of basically prostituting their talents for cheap wages for a cheap medium. Author John D MacDonald wrote, "Pulp fiction was not some kind of whoredom. What you do, as a craftsman, is recognize the stipulations and the limits and the requirements if a specific market, an then, within those limits you write just as damn well good as you can." Very sound advice to any aspiring writer. Every medium has its dreck but the cream rises to the top and the same goes for the pulps.

I'm drawn to pulp or pulpy fiction because it won me over with its virtues that outweighs their faults. I found myself being entertained, delighted, and inspired by the likes of Robert Bloch, Dashiell Hammett, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E Howard, Manly Wade Wellman, Raymond Chandler, John D MacDonald, Fritz Leiber, C.L. Moore, Cornell Woolrich, Edmond Hamilton, and Fredric Brown.

Lately, I've gotten into The Shadow novels, written largely by Walter Gibson under the pseudonym Maxwell Grant. Gibson wrote nearly 15 million words on the Shadow which adds up to nearly 300 novels. The Shadow was the original nighttime vigilante who ruthlessly terrified and often killed criminals. These stories are heavy on atmosphere, using a touch of the gothic, The Shadow serving as a dark avenging angel whose mocking laugh chilled his enemies . Many of these stories could be summed up as hardboiled or golden age mysteries with the Shadow hunting down supervillains, serial killers, street thugs, and would-be world conquerors.

The Shadow can be traced back as the first superhero. Batman and Superman are given that credit but Batman's creators started Batman off with plagiarizing the Shadow. Indeed, Batman's first story in Detective Comics #27 was lifted outright from the Shadow novel Partners of Peril. Superman was largely inspired by Doc Savage (who was created because of The Shadow's success). Also, the Shadow was created in 1931 and had over a hundred novels out in magazine form before Batman debuted in May 1939. I'm not trying to bash Batman. I've been a huge fan of him since I was 5 or 6 but I am disappointed in DC Comics (I guess I shouldn't be surprised.) I digress.

At any rate, I've read 6 Shadow novels and running. Since the Shadow is associated with the macabre I hope to be writing more about him in the future. Gibson wrote some great prose and ingenious plots that were enormously influential. Special thanks goes to the Shadowcast (podcast on YouTube) ran by Razorfist for giving me a good start on reading this icon and for providing me the information on Gibson and The Shadow that I have shared here.

I've gone on longer than I planned but I hope you got something out of this piece. I'm a couple of generations removed from the pulp era but I feel that I'm a kindred spirit to those who read and loved these works when they were new.

Written by Nicholas Montelongo

No comments

The author does not allow comments to this entry