Welcome to The Pulp Fiction Collection
‘She was curled up on the divan in my apartment…and she wasn’t my aunt, grandmother, or a visiting fireman. She was Lulu, the cutest, hottest belly-dancer this side of Farouk…’.
So begins Marc Brody’s The Bride Wore Black, one of the 900 or so Australian pulp fiction publications that were purchased in 2005 and form the Pulp Fiction Collection in Special Collections, Central University Library.
Thanks to: Tina Broderick, Merrin Brewster, Pam Treanor, Bob Sheppard, Graeme Flanagan, Toni Johnson-Woods, Ian Morrison, and Iain Sharp. Every effort has been made to contact copyright holders. Special thanks to Cleveland Publishing Pty Ltd, Australia (all rights reserved Cleveland Publications), to Horwitz Publications Pty, Sydney, Australia (all rights reserved Horwitz Publications), and to Lynn Maguire for the Robert Maguire Estate for permission to host images.
Pulp was of course the opposite of literary fiction; most of the stories were poorly edited and grammatically questionable. The dialogue is often awkward, the plots relatively simple, where bodies pile up, broken hearts mend quickly, and improbable coincidences abound. And despite its reputation, pulp fiction is conservative. There are a host of stereotypical males and females. Good guys verses Bad. Gender roles are unchallenged: men affirm their masculinity in war battles, gunfights, boxing matches and sexual promiscuity. They are the public face: they clean up mean streets, conquer new planets, right wrongs. Women act as guides, helpmates or love interests, but do not participate (in general) in the action.
The covers are memorable. They are remembered for their feverish depictions of ‘high-octane’ moments. They are famous for their half-dressed damsels in distress, the scantily clad dame. It didn’t matter that the crime series were about male detectives, the covers lovingly depicted sexually idealized women who posed, pouted and promised more than the stories ever delivered. There were also the guys, with their smoking guns, the fedoras, and the inevitable cigarette. Importantly, the covers communicated the type of book it was. At one glance, the buyer (reader) could easily recognize what he or she was getting: a sci-fi book, a crime story, romance, horror, etc. And if the lurid covers didn’t grab your attention, then the titles would. Who could resist Nude in a Boat, The Curse of Blood, Designed to Deceive, Blind Date with Death, or Nemesis for a Nude?
This exhibition offers a small selection of the Australian pulp fiction, published by firms such as Action Comics, Calvert Publishing, Cleveland Publishing, Currawong, Invincible Press, and Horwitz Books during the 1940s to late 1970s. Detective fiction, westerns, science fiction, sports, war tales, and romance feature. Importantly, many of the titles were distributed to New Zealand and were eagerly devoured by local readers. The authors (mostly fictional) include Marc Brody, Larry Kent, Carter Brown, and J. E. Macdonnell. The stories are formulaic and somewhat repetitive. Indeed, one writer (Audrey Armitage – co-author of the K.T. McCall books) said: ‘We’d be given a picture of the cover and were given the title, along with a few words. From that you prepared the plot and wrote the story. One of the rules of the game was that you started off with a body - either two in bed or somebody dead.’ And to contextualize these Australian Pulps, a select number of early American magazines such as Weird Tales, Dime Detective, The Shadow, and Spicy Detective are on display as well as items that highlight the current status of Pulps in Australasia. Please enjoy.