Cabinet 1: US Pulps
‘Pulp’ fiction is really a misnomer. The real pulps were fiction magazines such as Argosy, Black Mask, Marvel Tales, Flying Aces, and Weird Tales, all printed on inexpensive paper made from mechanical wood pulp scraps. At their peak – the 1920s and 30s – over 1 million copies per issue were sold. Over time ‘pulp’ has become shorthand for mass-produced formulaic fiction rather than high-brow literary publications.
The Pulps started in the United States and their scope was as wide as it was sensational. It included fantasy, detective, mystery, science fiction, adventure, westerns, horror, occult, and so on. Popular authors included Edgar Rice Burroughs (the first superstar of pulp), Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Max Brand (real name Frederick Faust), Raymond Chandler, Erle Stanley Gardner, Zane Grey, and H. P. Lovecraft.
Detective fiction was exceedingly popular. Sample names of a few PIs (private investigators) included Bob Larkin, who used a billiard cue as a weapon; ‘the Bleeder’, a haemophilic; Harlan Dyce, who was three foot tall and weighed 60 pounds; and Violet Dade, a former circus fat lady who ran a PI agency. And it seemed that every magazine carried the word ‘Detective’ in its title, with endless variation. The story titles have that short punchy effect; the covers are colourful and gloriously lurid.
*full call references are in the ‘Pulp Fiction’ hand-list.