We here at Comics Bulletin are proud to present to you Pulp Never Dies, a new column looking at the resurgence of Pulp from our friend and New Pulp pioneer Tommy Hancock.
A Column Explaining, Discussing and Exploring New Pulp
By Tommy Hancock
You’ve had a hard day. Sure it’s rough saving your corner of civilization in whatever way you’ve chosen to every single waking moment of your life. You come in, hang your weapons of choice on the nail behind your door, sling your battered fedora across the room, and settle in for a nice, peaceful night. Peaceful, that is, within the four walls and sparse furniture around you. You’re hoping for anything but peace as you get ready to let loose the dogs of war and everything else in your mind, to escape to dark alleys and wide skies, to underground worlds and planetary peril. Yep, right there in front of you on the coffee table, your latest selection of comics, books, DVDs and even your mp3 player of choice. Full of all those heroes you love and adore. Names that cause tension and passion, excitement and cheers to rise in your chest. You know the ones I mean. Peculiar Oddfellow. The Rook. Dillon. Unit 13. Mars McCoy. Hardluck Hannigan. Death Angel. Ah, yes, great-
What? What do you mean? You don’t know those names? Really?
What about The Spider? Or The Black Bat? Or Doc Savage?
Oh, you’ve heard of them, huh? But only from your dad’s reminisces when he was a kid or in some musty old bookstore? Or even worse, in comics and movies over the years that weren’t all that great?
I bet you thought I was going to list off some rather familiar comic cape-and-mask types, didn’t you? The ones you’ve read for years that just don’t seem to go anywhere new and exciting anymore. Nope. The cast of colorfuls I recited previously aren’t from the current comic stable, at least not historically. Many of them are only a handful of years old, honestly. But, oh the places they go. What, you want to know more about them? Thought so.
Welcome to New Pulp.
But to be honest, before I can walk you through the nuances and wonders of New Pulp, we probably need to discuss one half of that phrase. Pulp. Not the remains of some valiant orange at the bottom of your breakfast glass, no, but Pulp in terms of fiction. Now, I shudder to put those two terms together because if I do, your first impulse will be to connect everything I say from here on out to a well-known movie starring a former Sweathog. And although that film has its merits and even has connections to Pulp in some ways, that’s not the right leg to kick this discussion off on.
Pulp began as a medium of literature. Without diving into history that many others in articles, essays, and books explore and debate much more eloquently than I ever could, magazine publishers of the early 20th Century began looking for ways to produce fiction cheaply. They chose to do this in a couple of ways. First, they recruited writers who were desperate to be published and many who, by the time of the Depression, were just desperate to work to write exciting, fast paced stories filled with action, adventure, and violence for basically pieces of pennies per word. And believe it or not, writers flocked to this opportunity. The second way publishers kept overhead down was by the choice of paper they printed on. They utilized paper manufactured from pulped wood, which essentially was a rough product, no shine or shimmer, just inked words on gray, coarse pages. Sounds like a lost cause from the beginning, doesn’t it? Stories from hack writers printed on paper that you probably wouldn’t- well, you know…
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Pulp magazines sold in the millions during their heyday, that being from the late 1920s through the 1940s. And as far as writers go, let’s toss out some names. Lester Dent. Louis L’Amour. Walter Gibson. Robert Heinlein. Dashiell Hammett. Yep. And the list of notable legendary authors that first plied their wares for a pauper’s pittance can go on and on for the rest of this column.
Pulp was popular for many reasons, one of the main being that it was cheap. Newsstands of the 1930s and 40s were literally filled to overflowing with magazines full of fiction cover to cover that could be purchased for the low, low price of 10 to 25 cents. And I don’t mean mags with just a few pages, oh no. Whole novel length stories often lurked between audaciously, evocative painted covers, most of the titles exceeding a hundred pages monthly.
Another major factor to the success of pulp magazines had to do with the stories themselves, both in content and genre. Not only did characters like Doc Savage and The Shadow rise to prominence, laying the groundwork for another type of literature to come along that would contribute to the death of Pulps-that would be comic books, folks-but pulps covered far beyond the Hero type stories. Science fiction, horror, western, crime, even romance stories found homes and massive followings in Pulp magazines.
As previously noted, however, the popularity of pulps waned in the early 1950s for reasons that, again, others have tackled with more research and aplomb than I can. Even though the publications vanished from the newsstands like the phantoms that appeared in some of their pages, pulp had done something that no one really figured on, as far as I know. The in your face, frenetic, sometimes lurid stories and the characters within them that populated the pulps had captured the imagination of its readers. Fans of these doses of action and violence clung to their interest, sought out copies to make sure they had full runs of various titles, and discussed pulps in all forms and fashions back and forth between themselves, almost from the moment the last magazine disappeared from the stand forever. And some of those fans found within their love for the medium a spark, an inspiration. They became motivated to carry on where their revered authors had left off, at least in spirit, and began writing their own pulp stories. They created new characters, but they wrote with the same wild abandon, peppered tales with good guys, bad guys, weapons of total destruction, and outlandishly delicious plots replete with twists and turns like no hairpin turn you’ve ever seen. Maybe the likes of Doc Savage and The Shadow were tangled up in the web of copyright and ownership, but that was all right. New writers wrote new stories with new characters in them and new artists picked up pens and brushes and painted new works depicting new adventures. New Pulp, as a concept, was born.
This, in my opinion, is where pulp went from being a medium to being Pulp, a genre of literature. This is a point many will and have argued with me, but also a few have supported me. Some believe that pulp is simply what it started out to be, a medium for getting stories out there. Others see pulp as a style, a way of writing. And I agree with both of those. But I feel like it has also become more, it has grown into a genre of writing. Those who don’t agree with this say that it can’t be a genre because it covers such a wide angle of types of stories, everything from sci fi to western to straight hero fare. And that fact is indeed true. But, and this can be fodder for a later column, because of the style of writing it is and the certain things that have to be in a story for it to be a Pulp tale, it, again in my view, qualifies as a genre. And New Pulp is an aspect of that.
Although New Pulp tales have been written since essentially 1955 or so, a major surge has occurred in thi
s area in the last several years. Moonstone Entertainment, a publisher known for its collections of new tales featuring classic Pulp characters such as The Avenger and The Spider, was probably one of the first outfits that jumped whole heartedly into reaching into the past and bringing these fantastic characters and this great genre of writer punching and flying into the present, matching new writers, both comics and prose, up with these great ideas to create New Pulp for the future. And with the advent of the internet, Print on Demand publishing, and e-books and the like, others quickly followed suit. Companies with names like Wild Cat Books, Airship 27, Pulp 2.0 Press, White Rocket, Pulpwork Press, Pro Se, Granton City, PulpEmpire, Seven Realms…and the list not only goes on, but it gets added to every day. And that’s just book (and some comic) publishers.
With there being such a massive and increasing amount of creators and companies producing New Pulp material (companies that aren’t on that list include such luminaries, by the way, as Simon and Schuster…yep, that Simon and Schuster) some of us within the field thought it was high time that this hard working, enterprising group of creators be given an identity, a brand of sorts. One was developed and is now appearing on various New Pulp works from all sorts of creators and publishers. It even has an image of New Pulp’s very own spokesperson-The Pulptress. Created by me for my own publishing concern, Pro Se Press, The Pulptress also serves as a voice and focus for the New Pulp Movement. Making her real life debut at PULP ARK, the first ever New Pulp convention held this past May in Arkansas, The Pulptress is a character that personifies everything good about New Pulp-the action, the fun, the variety, and much more. Yep, New Pulp is alive, active, and aggressive.
All of this information is edifying and hopefully interesting, but a big question still goes unanswered. Just what sort of stories qualify as New Pulp? For that matter, what’s the definition of Pulp, regardless if it’s new or old. This is a query and conundrum that fans, creators, publishers, and critics have struggled with probably since the first pulp magazine hit the stands. How do you quantify something that covers many types of tales and has been written by multitudes and scores of writers? How do you define Pulp?
Defining New Pulp
Several New Pulp creators actually tackled this question not too long ago and came up with a definition that many are using. And it’s the one I subscribe to…so here goes-
Yep. A mouthful, ain’t it?
This is a technical description that we use as creators to define it amongst ourselves. It gets the point across, but isn’t something that you can easily tell an uninitiated person you want to be a fan of New Pulp and expect them to understand it. That’s what the next column will be about, the ‘layman’s definition’ of Pulp and, vis-à-vis, New Pulp.
Of course, many people would say that the best way to explain something is not to define it, but just to show it and let the people see what it is. Well, okay, then, let’s do that. Each installment of this column will contain a chapter from a serialized New Pulp tale, something that will show you just what it is I’m talking about. And these will be complete tales, not just excerpts, but full stories spread out over several columns. And then when the first is done, we’ll start another.
This first tale is from the recently released THE ROOK: VOLUME SIX by Barry Reese, published by Pro Se Press and stars two characters of Barry’s creation, one he is fairly well known for (The Rook) and another he’s recently created, but will be making a name for himself soon (Lazarus Gray). So sit back, ignore whatever universe rescuing catastrophe you have to face tomorrow and enjoy some New Pulp.
And remember- PULP NEVER DIES.
Come read Darkness, Spreading Its Wings of Black: Chapter I: Birds of a Feather (An Adventure Starring Lazarus Gray & The Rook) written by Barry Reese on our companion Pulp Fiction section.
Tommy Hancock is a New Pulp author, publisher, podcaster, convention organizer, and all around New Pulp supporter. A Partner in Pro Se Productions, Tommy has been published by various New Pulp Publishers and is currently at work on projects for Moonstone, Airship 27, and other companies. Tommy is the organizer of the New Pulp Movement and also is the Editor in Chief of All Pulp and the creator and one of the co-hosts on PULPED! The Official New Pulp Podcast