The comics as we know them are rooted in that late great period of American writing known as Pulp Fiction. The pulps encompass a variety of genres including adventure tales, detective stories, cowboy tales, science fiction, romance and more. Many well-known authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Ray Bradbury got their start in and continued to write for the pulps. As a writer it seems an enviable way to make a living and if you were good it was possible to do so. It wasn’t without its difficulties and the Great Depression put a dent into the livelihood of these writers as happened in so many other professions.
I became attracted to the pulps after reading a few that my grandfather, the Major wrote. From there it became a full-fledged love affair and I got the obsessive collecting bug along with the desire to know all the minutiae. I’ve learned a lot more about the pulps through some of my fellow pulpsters and there are so many fascinating stories about the writers as well as great reprints that make for good reads. My fellow dangerous dame, Laurie Powers, discovered a memoir of her grandfather, the prolific pulp writer Paul S. Powers which she edited and wrote an introduction to, entitled Pulp Writer: Twenty Years in the American Grub Street. You can also read some of her grandfather’s tales of the Wild West in Riding the Pulp Trail published by Matt Moring’s terrific reprint press, Altus Press. Altus Press has come out with some great titles recently with the ever erudite Will Murray contributing. Matt’s books are attractive and well-done and enticing to read.
John Locke’s smart and slyly amusing book, Pulp Fictioneers gives a great overview of the writers, the editors and the publishers and is a must for any serious fan. His press Off-Trail Publications has a number of my favorite books. I recently finished Outdoor Stories by J. Allan Dunn, which I love, love. They’re well-written romantic adventure stories that will transport you out of any doldrums on the high seas of life. I’m in the midst of The Land of Ophir, by Charles Beadle that is so exciting that it makes my heart race. No kidding. I have to put it down and catch my breath. Look out Avengers! Here’s a link to a review of one of Off-Trail’s latest publications, If She Only Had a Machine Gun, crime stories by Richard Credicott, which believe it or not as much of a girl as I am, I read and thoroughly enjoyed. The story behind this publication, edited by John and Rob Preston, is also a fascinating tale and will give you some idea of the passion of the pulpsters when they’re hot on the trail. Comic book geeks have nothing on these guys!
So how does comics come into play here. Well, for one thing, many of the artists and illustrators crossed over from the pulps to the comics. David Saunders has been researching this area of the comic book/pulp fiction history for quite some time. His father, Norman Saunders, was an artist for many of the pulps owned by Harry Donenfeld who later became the partner of my grandfather, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson in DC Comics, which Donenfeld ended up owning after what can be described as a very impolite takeover. David has published a couple of beautiful art books on the pulp genre, one of his father’s work and also that of H. J. Ward. And in the We’re all Connected department David gave a talk this spring at Lehman College Art Gallery about the beautiful painting of Superman by Ward that ended up at Lehman College. It just so happens the Gallery is run by my best friend from high school Susan Hoeltzel, a wonderful artist. If you’re saying to yourself, big deal–we went to high school far, far away in Fairhope, Alabama!
MWN started writing for the pulps sometime in the early 1920’s with the earliest known story, “The Wolves,” appearing in McClure’s, August 1924. His last known story to appear in print was “Rifles for the Apaches,” appearing in Triple Western, Winter 1956 and was a reprint from an earlier appearance in Giant Western. There are writers who are more prolific but there are very few who spanned such a diversity of work from the pulps to comics to military strategy and writing on current events of the day not to mention his visionary articles of inventions and how he saw the future. This background in pulp fiction writing formed one of the foundations of his intentions for the new comic books. As Lloyd Jacquet noted in an essay from 1957 about those early days, “Now we had a little bookshelf in the Major’s office, … and on it were placed some of the new ideas which we were constantly cooking up…Major Nicholson’s pulp magazine background helped here, for it was a natural step from the general title of comics…to the western and the detective, aviation and so forth, that were even then the backbone of the pulp magazine sales on the newsstands all over.” Jacquet goes on to detail how Adventure Comics came about and its connection to pulp fiction.
And if your impression is that’s all in the past, Michael R. Hudson and all the talented guys at Sequential Pulp, an imprint under Dark Horse Comics are doing an amazing job putting out graphic novels of some of the best known and well-loved pulps. Check out their page on Facebook. It’s very exciting to see them bring this genre into graphic form.
My pal Alexander Simmons, He Who Wears Many Hats, has taken the pulp genre to heart with his Blackjack comics. The main character is Aron Day (BlackJack), a black man in his early thirties, a soldier of fortune and the time is the 1930’s. You can see all the possible great story lines. I caught up with Alex last November at the Pulp Convention in New Jersey hosted by Rich Harvey. I love these comics. I gave them as Christmas presents to my younger male relatives who promptly became devoted fans as well. Not to mention that I looked like a cool Aunt! Here is Alex with one of the artists for BlackJack, a very talented Eric Battle. You have to admit, this is about as cool as it gets!
Lots of my favorite pulpsters were also in attendance at Rich Harvey’s annual Pulp AdventureCon in Bordentown, New Jersey. I always enjoy this event because so many of the heavy hitters in pulps are in attendance and it’s a nice intimate setting. Thanks again, Rich!
Gary Lovisi with his book Dames, Dolls and Delinquents. I love this book!!!
And here they are, three of the world’s great pulpsters. Ed Hulse of Blood n Thunder, Scott Hartshorn and Walker Martin, Primo Pulp Collectors.
Pulpfest 2012 is just around the corner. It’s going to be a great event in a brand new venue. Here are two of the grand guys who do much of the heavy lifting for putting it together. Be sure and check out the website. I’m counting the days!