A Column Explaining, Discussing and Exploring New Pulp
By Tommy Hancock
At some point in an adventurer’s life, it’s bound to happen. Every hero deals with it as some point. No matter how hard the explorer prepares ahead of time, every pith helmeted wonder falls to it at least once. Capes, masks, guns, knives, witty repartee, cold logical reasoning– none of it can prevent it or ever sees it coming. It will happen. To every one of us.
We will get derailed– sidetracked. Go down a dark alley expecting three horse faced goons with saps standing in front of a dead end wall and at some point you’ll find the wall is gone and a little girl in an antiquated dress is standing there asking which way the white rabbit went. The explorer wipes sweat from his forehead with his battered fedora, shoves the hat back on his tousled hair, and instead of grabbing the squat golden idol he’s reaching for, he gets a handful of scaly alien worms that want to lay eggs in his belly.
New Pulp writers who feel like they have something to say to a public that probably is too busy reading the latest 52 from DC fall victim to gaping holes opening up before them without warning, distractions that snap at them like alligators rising in rhythm from a pond. Some of us over and over and over.
Just call me Pitfall Harry.
Tommy Showing Off How Nimble He is
You may notice, if you’re an avid bloodhound type follower of PULP NEVER DIES (not that I have any of those, mind you) that it’s been a bit since the column graced the fantastic site that hosts it or anyone’s computer screen. One of the things about being a guy who not only writes, but eats, breathes, wears, and sleeps New Pulp is that things get busy. And I don’t mean ‘Oh this is my hobby’ busy, I mean ‘Man, if only I were getting paid for this’ hectic crazy busy. Due to that, as of this column, PULP NEVER DIES will go to a monthly format, around the first knell of the bell announcing a new month. Nothing will change about the style or content of the eccentric esoteric passages which I share with you, but there will be a neat addition or two in columns to come.
That is not, however, the monumental barrier that blocked me from continuing on the path I started us all on last column. For those just joining us, I opened a vein of New Pulp wide like the Grand Canyon previously, putting Super Hero New Pulp front and center. Not only did I take advantage of this being my very own stage and promote, pimp, and prevaricate about my contribution to this sub genre of New Pulp, but I promised and pledged to delve and dive into other Super Hero works that populate the New Pulp field with my very next entry. Of course, I also promised that that would come out the next week and we see how well that turned out.
So, let me say that I indeed will lead you, my intrepid, hardy readership into the lights and shadows of Super Hero New Pulp with the very next entry. As a matter of fact, the next two or three columns will give you everything you could possibly want in Mask and Capes Powered Pulp. But as I have eluded too probably far too frequently, something else has arisen, reared its intriguing head that draws my thoughts, opinions, and rants toward it like the enchanting sway of a giant cobra. Not only does it draw me away from forward progression, it actually sort of takes us all back a bit to where I started these interesting interludes with you. Back to terminology. And, honestly, even into some of my own history. My growth and development into the New Pulp writer and voice I am trying to be today.
Let’s talk evolution. Evolution of terms, evolution of styles, even evolution of authors and creators. Is this going to have a great narrative flow? No, probably not. This is really stream of consciousness, throw-out-my-thoughts-and-see-where-the-splatter-lands sort of column writing this time around. Will it make sense? Not important, as long as it sparks some sort of reaction in you, be that love, hate, or that always present visceral ‘Just What in H-E-Double Hockeysticks is this hick smoking?’
Among all the things I now do in the name of New Pulp, I was and am first and foremost a writer of New Pulp tales. In a sense, I have always been a writer of New Pulp, ever since I wrote stories in junior high starring all of my friends as various heroes plucked away from our small Arkansas school to fight demons and gangsters and the such. These weren’t only stories that we convinced our English teacher, Mrs. Sifford, that we were going to turn into a movie so she would let us use class time to practice. No, these were Pulp tales back when the only thing I knew about Pulp was bronze skinned or slouch hatted. And writing these types of stories early on sent me searching. Searching not only for stories to read like the ones I wanted to write, but for other people who wrote what I wrote, who had these over the top, grandiose fantastical tales of heroes and villains and worlds on the brink of destruction and betting on one more nick of time salvation from somewhere. This was my quest, my holy grail.
Lucky for me I was a child of the 1980s who became a college student in the early 1990s. You know, not just the kid who was hauling Doc Savage Omnibuses to English Class or the kid aware of the fact that anyone who chose to put The Shadow’s head on a Michelin Man like robotic body should suffer a long and painful demise. But I was there when something happened that not only sent me on my way to what I am now and am still becoming, but something that made the Pulp Renaissance we are experiencing today totally possible.
I was a kid who was there when the Internet went public.
I won’t waste time telling all of you what you already know. How the internet changed everything. How it’s because of the world wide web that not only do so many more people know so much more about this mysterious thing called Pulp, but also that there are so many purveyors and publishers of New Pulp. What I will tell you, though, is what the Internet meant to me. Because of being able to reach out and basically touch the whole world through my desktop monitor, I learned a new term in the early to mid 1990s. One that literally changed everything for me.
Although the term was new to me at the time, Fan Fiction has been around since the first person totally obsessed or at least inspired by some fictional character they enjoyed wrote their own story, their own tale starring that character, their own continuing adventures. That may very well have been Robin Hood, King Arthur, even Beowulf for all we know. The term really gets associated, however, with writing that rose out of fandom for certain mediums in the Twentieth Century, including comic books, movies, and Pulps. Iconic characters and epic stories rose out of the early to mid 20th Century, really forming a sort American Fiction Pop Culture Pantheon for fans to enjoy, invest, and become entrenched in.
And did they…did we ever.
Almost in some cases from the beginning of the popularity of comics and Pulps and to a lesser degree initially, movies, TV shows, and even radio, fans have written stories. Their own takes on the characters they love. Some even published fanzines, magazines written by fans for fans. No one asked permission because it was just a bunch of guys and gals writing stories for their own enjoyment and sharing them with their like minded friends. And many of these missives as well as their
manufacturers are now lost to the sands of times, forgotten bleeps on the radar of pop culture just because that’s how it goes sometimes.
But there were some though, many actually, who stood out. Who gained notice and notoriety for their unique ideas and concepts on established characters. Who went on beyond their field of fandom and actually wrote the characters they cherished so much and got paid for it. Many who, if you asked comic or Pulp fans today, would be considered leaders in both fields, particularly in the Silver Age and beyond of comic books. They did their time willingly and joyfully in mimeographed magazines and even exchanges via envelope with other fans and reaped the greatest reward from that. To be recognized for their talent and devotion. They became professional creators. Paid, established writers and artists and publishers who went from being fans who wrote unauthorized stories based on their favorite heroes and villains for their own pure enjoyment to being fans who wrote the official versions of their favorite heroes and villains for the enjoyment of the masses.
The advent of the internet saw a major boost in fan fiction. No longer was it necessary to sit in your garage and Xerox magazines, though some of us did that well into the early 2000s, but you could now post your stories, with the appropriate disclaimers and such, on websites. Sites that people all over the world could read. You could tell your own tales of those adventurers and fanatics that fueled your imagination and somebody just might read them. That appealed to me in so many ways. And to many others as well.
Many would say that fan fiction’s Golden Age would have to be the fanzines that rose out of Comic fandom particularly in the 1950s, 60s, and beyond. I’d agree with that whole heartedly and go even farther as to say fan fiction’s Silver Age was the mid 1990s well into the 21st Century. When writers and artists who had been told for years that Comics and movies were impossible to break into and that ancient mediums like Pulp and Audio drama were basically dead decided to take matters into their own hands and write the characters they adored into worlds and woes of their own creation. And oh boy did we ever do that.
Now, that’s not to say that we didn’t push boundaries or step on toes. I happen to be the proud owner of a ‘Cease and Desist’ letter concerning an iconic character that I wrote into a fan fiction tale of mine (And by the way, I immediately ceased and desisted) in the late 1990s. Even with the minor bumps here and there, we as fan fiction writers in that period were simply walking in the footsteps of those before us. Telling tales we wanted to tell with those characters that meant so much to us.
And, still thanks to the wonders of modern technology, many of us continued walking the gilded path already laid out for us, following the legends that came before. We stayed fans, but left the fan fiction behind. We became professional writers and artists and publishers. Some went on into comic books, others into audio and even video work, telling tales of both their idols of the past, but also of their own creations, stars of the future.
And some of us, quite a few to be honest, went ahead into what most people, if they even knew that it existed, would have relegated to be as extinct as Dodo birds and nickel hamburgers. We jumped off the deep end right into creating New Pulp.
Even though on the surface some of the New Pulp stories may appear to be fan fiction simply because some of them use characters who have existed since the 1930s or even before, there are clear indicators that they are not fan fiction as most of us understand it. Unlike the fan fiction writers and artists that grew out of the Comic fandom of the mid 20th Century, New Pulp creators are blessed with the opportunity to write some long established, some of them largely forgotten, characters from the hey day of Pulp, Comics, Radio, etc. This is of course because so many characters, including classics like Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, and rarer names from the Pulps like Moon Man and Secret Agent X, have shaken off the coil of copyright and moved into the Public Domain. This means anyone can write these characters. And publish their stories. And sell them to the masses. And receive money for them. And with the development of both Print on Demand publishing and the growing market for digital works and e-books, these same creators can actually become Publishers.
I was a fan fiction writer. And I loved the hell out of that period in my writing development. Was it a career at that point? No, not in the sense that I made anything monetary off of it. But it was a time to be creative, to play in sandboxes that I always dreamed of playing in, and to share ideas and time with kindred spirits.
I am a professional New Pulp writer. Some will scoff when I say that. That’s okay. I am a Professional, not only by my definition, but as stated by many others, because I write stories, novellas, and novels, some based on Public Domain characters, some original, and I get paid for them. Not just by publishing my own stories through my own company, but by having stories published by other outfits. Am I getting rich? Not by the generally accepted standards of judgment for that, no. But I am not writing solely for my enjoyment or to share it for free with whoever comes across my website. There are dollars going into my pocket.
Fan fiction has its place and always will have. The internet is still full of sites that tell unauthorized stories about the big S or everyone’s favorite vampire slayer or the latest light saber duel or whatever has captured the imagination of fans. But there’s also a decent and growing number of sites and outlets that sell books written by devotees of Pop Culture that feature long lost characters as well as original creations, books that sit on library shelves and are featured in bookstore spinner racks, works that are being adapted into audio drama and other mediums that are being sold in those formats as well. And yes, some of us rose out of the ranks of fan fiction and some of us are even proud to say it.
But don’t forget that part of that some of us…are also writing for Moonstone….IDW…Black Library…Airship 27…Pro Se…Wild Cat…and many, many other companies.
Next time, we put our capes and spandex back on. Promise.
Until then- If it‘s time to blaze your own two fisted double barreled trail, remember- PULP NEVER DIES.
Chapter VI of Darkness, Spreading Its Wings of Black continues here.
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