Pulp magazines (often referred to as "the pulps") were inexpensive fiction magazines that were published from 1896 to the late 1950s. The term "pulp" derives from the cheap wood pulp paper on which the magazines were printed. In contrast, magazines printed on higher-quality paper were called "glossies" or "slicks". The typical pulp magazine had 128 pages; it was 7 inches (18 cm) wide by 10 inches (25 cm) high, and 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) thick, with ragged, untrimmed edges.
The pulps gave rise to the term pulp fiction in reference to run-of-the-mill, low-quality literature. Pulps were the successors to the penny dreadfuls, dime novels, and short-fiction magazines of the 19th century. Although many respected writers wrote for pulps, the magazines were best known for their lurid, exploitative, and sensational subject matter. Modern superhero comic books are sometimes considered descendants of "hero pulps"; pulp magazines often featured illustrated novel-length stories of heroic characters, such as Flash Gordon, The Shadow, Doc Savage, and The Phantom Detective.
The first "pulp" was Frank Munsey's revamped Argosy magazine of 1896, with about 135,000 words (192 pages) per issue, on pulp paper with untrimmed edges, and no illustrations, even on the cover. The steam-powered printing press had been in widespread use for some time, enabling the boom in dime novels; prior to Munsey, however, no one had combined cheap printing, cheap paper and cheap authors in a package that provided affordable entertainment to young working-class people. In six years, Argosy went from a few thousand copies per month to over half a million.
Street & Smith, a dime novel and boys' weekly publisher, was next on the market. Seeing Argosy's success, they launched The Popular Magazine in 1903, which they billed as the "biggest magazine in the world" by virtue of its being two pages (the interior sides of the front and back cover) longer than Argosy. Due to differences in page layout however, the magazine had substantially less text than Argosy. The Popular Magazine did introduce color covers to pulp publishing, and the magazine began to take off when in 1905 the publishers acquired the rights to serialize Ayesha , by H. Rider Haggard, a sequel to his popular novel She . Haggard's Lost World genre influenced several key pulp writers, including Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Talbot Mundy and Abraham Merritt. In 1907, the cover price rose to 15 cents and 30 pages were added to each issue; along with establishing a stable of authors for each magazine, this change proved successful and circulation began to approach that of Argosy. Street and Smith's next innovation was the introduction of specialized genre pulps, with each magazine focusing on a particular genre, such as detective stories, romance, etc.
At their peak of popularity in the 1920s-1940s,the most successful pulps sold up to one million copies per issue. In 1934, Frank Gruber said there were some 150 pulp titles. The most successful pulp magazines were Argosy , Adventure , Blue Book and Short Stories , collectively described by some pulp historians as "The Big Four". Among the best-known other titles of this period were Amazing Stories , Black Mask , Dime Detective, Flying Aces , Horror Stories , Love Story Magazine , Marvel Tales , Oriental Stories , Planet Stories , Spicy Detective, Startling Stories , Thrilling Wonder Stories , Unknown , Weird Tales and Western Story Magazine .
During the economic hardships of the Great Depression, pulps provided affordable content to the masses, and were one of the primary forms of entertainment, along with film and radio.
Although pulp magazines were primarily an American phenomenon, there were also a number of British pulp magazines published between the Edwardian era and World War II. Notable UK pulps included Pall Mall Magazine , The Novel Magazine, Cassell's Magazine , The Story-Teller , The Sovereign Magazine, Hutchinson's Adventure-Story and Hutchinson's Mystery-Story.The German fantasy magazine Der Orchideengarten had a similar format to American pulp magazines, in that it was printed on rough pulp paper and heavily illustrated.
During the Second World War paper shortages had a serious impact on pulp production, starting a steady rise in costs and the decline of the pulps. Beginning with Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in 1941, pulp magazines began to switch to digest size; smaller, thicker magazines. In 1949, Street & Smith closed most of their pulp magazines in order to move upmarket and produce slicks.
Competition from comic-books and paperback novels further eroded the pulps’ marketshare, but it was the widespread expansion of television that sounded the death knell of the pulps.In a more affluent post-war America, the price gap compared to slick magazines was far less significant. In the 1950s, men's adventure magazines began to replace the pulp.
The 1957 liquidation of the American News Company, then the primary distributor of pulp magazines, has sometimes been taken as marking the end of the "pulp era"; by that date, many of the famous pulps of the previous generation, including Black Mask, The Shadow, Doc Savage, and Weird Tales, were defunct.Almost all of the few remaining pulp magazines are science fiction or mystery magazines now in formats similar to "digest size", such as Analog Science Fiction and Fact and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine . The format is still in use for some lengthy serials, like the German science fiction weekly Perry Rhodan (over 3,000 issues as of 2019).
Over the course of their evolution, there were a huge number of pulp magazine titles; Harry Steeger of Popular Publications claimed that his company alone had published over 300, and at their peak they were publishing 42 titles per month.Many titles of course survived only briefly. While the most popular titles were monthly, many were bimonthly and some were quarterly.
The collapse of the pulp industry changed the landscape of publishing because pulps were the single largest sales outlet for short stories. Combined with the decrease in slick magazine fiction markets, writers attempting to support themselves by creating fiction switched to novels and book-length anthologies of shorter pieces. Some ex-pulp writers like Hugh B. Cave and Robert Leslie Bellem moved on to writing for television by the 1950s.
Pulp magazines often contained a wide variety of genre fiction, including, but not limited to,
The American Old West was a mainstay genre of early turn of the 20th century novels as well as later pulp magazines, and lasted longest of all the traditional pulps. In many ways, the later men's adventure ("the sweats") was the replacement of pulps.
Many classic science fiction and crime novels were originally serialized in pulp magazines such as Weird Tales , Amazing Stories , and Black Mask .
While the majority of pulp magazines were anthology titles featuring many different authors, characters and settings, some of the most enduring magazines were those that featured a single recurring character. These were often referred to as "hero pulps" because the recurring character was almost always a larger-than-life hero in the mold of Doc Savage or The Shadow.
Popular pulp characters that headlined in their own magazines:
Popular pulp characters who appeared in anthology titles such as All-Story or Weird Tales :
Pulp covers were printed in color on higher-quality (slick) paper. They were famous for their half-dressed damsels in distress, usually awaiting a rescuing hero. Cover art played a major part in the marketing of pulp magazines. The early pulp magazines could boast covers by some distinguished American artists; The Popular Magazine had covers by N.C. Wyeth, and Edgar Franklin Wittmack contributed cover art to Argosyand Short Stories. Later, many artists specialized in creating covers mainly for the pulps; a number of the most successful cover artists became as popular as the authors featured on the interior pages. Among the most famous pulp artists were Walter Baumhofer, Earle K. Bergey, Margaret Brundage, Edd Cartier, Virgil Finlay, Frank R. Paul, Norman Saunders, Emmett Watson, Nick Eggenhofer, (who specialized in Western illustrations), Hugh J. Ward, George Rozen, and Rudolph Belarski. Covers were important enough to sales that sometimes they would be designed first; authors would then be shown the cover art and asked to write a story to match.
Later pulps began to feature interior illustrations, depicting elements of the stories. The drawings were printed in black ink on the same cream-colored paper used for the text, and had to use specific techniques to avoid blotting on the coarse texture of the cheap pulp. Thus, fine lines and heavy detail were usually not an option. Shading was by crosshatching or pointillism, and even that had to be limited and coarse. Usually the art was black lines on the paper's background, but Finlay and a few others did some work that was primarily white lines against large dark areas.
Another way pulps kept costs down was by paying authors less than other markets; thus many eminent authors started out in the pulps before they were successful enough to sell to better-paying markets, and similarly, well-known authors whose careers were slumping or who wanted a few quick dollars could bolster their income with sales to pulps. Additionally, some of the earlier pulps solicited stories from amateurs who were quite happy to see their words in print and could thus be paid token amounts.
There were also career pulp writers, capable of turning out huge amounts of prose on a steady basis, often with the aid of dictation to stenographers, machines or typists. Before he became a novelist, Upton Sinclair was turning out at least 8,000 words per day seven days a week for the pulps, keeping two stenographers fully employed. Pulps would often have their authors use multiple pen names so that they could use multiple stories by the same person in one issue, or use a given author's stories in three or more successive issues, while still appearing to have varied content. One advantage pulps provided to authors was that they paid upon acceptance for material instead of on publication; since a story might be accepted months or even years before publication, to a working writer this was a crucial difference in cash flow.
Some pulp editors became known for cultivating good fiction and interesting features in their magazines. Preeminent pulp magazine editors included Arthur Sullivant Hoffman ( Adventure ),Robert H. Davis ( All-Story Weekly ), Harry E. Maule ( Short Stories ), Donald Kennicott ( Blue Book ), Joseph T. Shaw ( Black Mask ), Farnsworth Wright ( Weird Tales , Oriental Stories ), John W. Campbell ( Astounding Science Fiction , Unknown ) and Daisy Bacon (Love Story Magazine, Detective Story Magazine).
Well-known authors who wrote for pulps include:
Sinclair Lewis, first American winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, worked as an editor for Adventure , writing filler paragraphs (brief facts or amusing anecdotes designed to fill small gaps in page layout), advertising copy and a few stories.
The term pulp fiction can also refer to mass market paperbacks since the 1950s. The Browne Popular Culture Library News noted:
Many of the paperback houses that contributed to the decline of the genre–Ace, Dell, Avon, among others–were actually started by pulp magazine publishers. They had the presses, the expertise, and the newsstand distribution networks which made the success of the mass-market paperback possible. These pulp-oriented paperback houses mined the old magazines for reprints. This kept pulp literature, if not pulp magazines, alive. The Return of the Continental Op reprints material first published in Black Mask; Five Sinister Characters contains stories first published in Dime Detective; and The Pocket Book of Science Fiction collects material from Thrilling Wonder Stories, Astounding Science Fiction and Amazing Stories.But note that mass market paperbacks are not pulps.
In 1991, The Pulpster debuted at that year's Pulpcon, the annual pulp magazine convention that had begun in 1972. The magazine, devoted to the history and legacy of the pulp magazines, has published each year since. It now appears in connection with PulpFest, the summer pulp convention that grew out of and replaced Pulpcon. The Pulpster was originally edited by Tony Davis and is currently edited by William Lampkin, who also runs the website ThePulp.Net. Contributors have included Don Hutchison, Robert Sampson, Will Murray, Al Tonik, Nick Carr, Mike Resnick, Hugh B. Cave, Joseph Wrzos, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Chet Williamson, and many others.
In 1992, Rich W. Harvey came out with a magazine called Pulp Adventures reprinting old classics. It came out regularly until 2001, and then started up again in 2014.
In 1994, Quentin Tarantino directed the film Pulp Fiction . The working title of the film was Black Mask,in homage to the pulp magazine of that name, and it embodied the seedy, violent, often crime-related spirit found in pulp magazines.
In 1997 C. Cazadessus Jr. launched PULPDOM, a continuation of his Hugo Award-winning ERB-dom which began in 1960. It ran for 75 issues and featured articles about the content and selected fiction from the pulps. It became PULPDOM ONLINE in 2013 and continues quarterly publication.
After the year 2000, several small independent publishers released magazines which published short fiction, either short stories or novel-length presentations, in the tradition of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century. These included Blood 'N Thunder, High Adventure and a short-lived magazine which revived the title Argosy. These specialist publications, printed in limited press runs, were pointedly not printed on the brittle, high-acid wood pulp paper of the old publications and were not mass market publications targeted at a wide audience. In 2004, Lost Continent Library published Secret of the Amazon Queen by E.A. Guest, their first contribution to a "New Pulp Era", featuring the hallmarks of pulp fiction for contemporary mature readers: violence, horror and sex. E.A. Guest was likened to a blend of pulp era icon Talbot Mundy and Stephen King by real-life explorer David Hatcher Childress.
In 2002, the tenth issue of McSweeney's Quarterly was guest edited by Michael Chabon. Published as McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, it is a collection of "pulp fiction" stories written by such current well-known authors as Stephen King, Nick Hornby, Aimee Bender and Dave Eggers. Explaining his vision for the project, Chabon wrote in the introduction, "I think that we have forgotten how much fun reading a short story can be, and I hope that if nothing else, this treasury goes some small distance toward reminding us of that lost but fundamental truth."
The Scottish publisher DC Thomson publishes "My Weekly Compact Novel" every week. [ citation needed ]It is literally a pulp novel, though it does not fall into the hard-edged genre most associated with pulp fiction.
From 2006 through 2019, Anthony Tollin's imprint Sanctum Books has reprinted all 182 DOC SAVAGE pulp novels, all 24 of Paul Ernst's AVENGER novels, the 14 WHISPERER novels from the original pulp series and all but three novels of the entire run of THE SHADOW (most of his publications featuring two novels in one book).
The dime novel is a form of late 19th-century and early 20th-century U.S. popular fiction issued in series of inexpensive paperbound editions. The term dime novel has been used as a catchall term for several different but related forms, referring to story papers, five- and ten-cent weeklies, "thick book" reprints, and sometimes early pulp magazines. The term was used as a title as late as 1940, in the short-lived pulp magazine Western Dime Novels. In the modern age, the term dime novel has been used to refer to quickly written, lurid potboilers, usually as a pejorative to describe a sensationalized but superficial literary work.
Weird Tales is an American fantasy and horror fiction pulp magazine founded by J. C. Henneberger and J. M. Lansinger in late 1922. The first issue, dated March 1923, appeared on newsstands February 18. The first editor, Edwin Baird, printed early work by H. P. Lovecraft, Seabury Quinn, and Clark Ashton Smith, all of whom went on to be popular writers, but within a year, the magazine was in financial trouble. Henneberger sold his interest in the publisher, Rural Publishing Corporation, to Lansinger, and refinanced Weird Tales, with Farnsworth Wright as the new editor. The first issue under Wright's control was dated November 1924. The magazine was more successful under Wright, and despite occasional financial setbacks, it prospered over the next 15 years. Under Wright's control, the magazine lived up to its subtitle, "The Unique Magazine", and published a wide range of unusual fiction.
Argosy, later titled The Argosy, Argosy All-Story Weekly and The New Golden Argosy, was an American pulp magazine from 1882 through 1978, published by Frank Munsey until its sale to Popular Publications in 1942. It is the first American pulp magazine. The magazine began as a children's weekly story–paper entitled The Golden Argosy. In the era before the Second World War, Argosy was regarded as one of the "Big Four" pulp magazines, - the most prestigious publications in the pulp market, that many pulp magazine writers aspired to publish in. John Clute, discussing the American pulp magazines in the first two decades of the twentieth century, has described The Argosy and its companion The All-Story as "the most important pulps of their era."
Otis Adelbert Kline born in Chicago, Illinois, USA, was a songwriter, an adventure novelist and literary agent during the pulp era. Much of his work first appeared in the magazine Weird Tales. Kline was an amateur orientalist and a student of Arabic, like his friend and sometime collaborator, E. Hoffmann Price.
Popular Publications was one of the largest publishers of pulp magazines during its existence, at one point publishing 42 different titles per month. Company titles included detective, adventure, romance, and Western fiction. They were also known for the several 'weird menace' titles. They also published several pulp hero or character pulps.
Horror Stories was an American pulp magazine that published tales of the supernatural, horror, and macabre. The first issue was published in January 1935, three years after the weird menace genre had begun with Dime Mystery Magazine. Horror Stories was a sister magazine to Terror Tales, whose first issue came out a year earlier. The title went on to become one of the major pulp magazines of the 1930s.
Detective Story Magazine was an American magazine published by Street & Smith from October 15, 1915 to Summer, 1949. It was one of the first pulp magazines devoted to detective fiction and consisted of short stories and serials. While the publication was the publishing house's first detective-fiction pulp magazine in a format resembling a modern paperback, Street & Smith had only recently ceased publication of the dime-novel series Nick Carter Weekly, which concerned the adventures of a young detective.
Weird menace is the name given to a subgenre of horror fiction and detective fiction that was popular in the pulp magazines of the 1930s and early 1940s. The weird menace pulps, also known as shudder pulps, generally featured stories in which the hero was pitted against sadistic villains, with graphic scenes of torture and brutality.
Arthur J. Burks was an American pulp fiction writer and Marine colonel.
Windom Wayne Robbins was an American author of horror and weird fiction. His work was primarily published in the Popular Publications catalog of weird menace pulp fiction. His first published short story was Horror's Holiday Special in the July 1939 issue of Dime Mystery Magazine.
Henry James O'Brien Bedford-Jones was a Canadian-American historical, adventure fantasy, science fiction, crime and Western writer who became a naturalized United States citizen in 1908.
Ormond Orlea Robbins was an American author of hardboiled detective fiction and weird fiction. His work was primarily published in the Popular Publications catalog of pulp fiction. The most part of his work for Popular Publications was attributed to his pen names Dane Gregory and, occasionally, Breck Tarrant.
The Thrill Book was a U.S. pulp magazine published by Street & Smith in 1919. It was intended to carry "different" stories: this meant stories that were unusual or unclassifiable, which in practice often meant the stories were fantasy or science fiction. The first eight issues, edited by Harold Hersey, were a mixture of adventure and weird stories. Contributors included Greye La Spina, Charles Fulton Oursler, J. H. Coryell, and Seabury Quinn. Hersey was replaced by Ronald Oliphant with the July 1 issue, probably because Street & Smith were unhappy with his performance.
Strange Stories was a pulp magazine which ran for thirteen issues from 1939 to 1941. It was edited by Mort Weisinger, who was not credited. Contributors included Robert Bloch, Eric Frank Russell, C. L. Moore, August Derleth, and Henry Kuttner. Strange Stories was a competitor to the established leader in weird fiction, Weird Tales. With the launch, also in 1939, of the well-received Unknown, Strange Stories was unable to compete. It ceased publication in 1941 when Weisinger left to edit Superman comic books.
Ghost Stories was an American pulp magazine that published 64 issues between 1926 and 1932. It was one of the earliest competitors to Weird Tales, the first magazine to specialize in the fantasy and occult fiction genre. It was a companion magazine to True Story and True Detective Stories, and focused almost entirely on stories about ghosts, many of which were written by staff writers but presented under pseudonyms as true confessions. These were often accompanied by faked photographs to make the stories appear more believable. Ghost Stories also had original and reprinted contributions, including works by Robert E. Howard, Carl Jacobi, and Frank Belknap Long. Among the reprints were Agatha Christie's "The Last Seance", several stories by H.G. Wells, and Charles Dickens's "The Signal-Man". Initially successful, the magazine began to lose readers and in 1930 was sold to Harold Hersey. Hersey was unable to reverse the magazine's decline, and publication of Ghost Stories ceased in early 1932.
Captain Future was a science fiction pulp magazine launched in 1940 by Better Publications, and edited initially by Mort Weisinger. It featured the adventures of Captain Future, a super-scientist whose real name was Curt Newton, in every issue. All but two of the novels in the magazine were written by Edmond Hamilton; the other two were by Joseph Samachson. The magazine also published other stories that had nothing to do with the title character, including Fredric Brown's first science fiction sale, "Not Yet the End". Captain Future published unabashed space opera, and was, in the words of science fiction historian Mike Ashley, "perhaps the most juvenile" of the science fiction pulps to appear in the early years of World War II. Wartime paper shortages eventually led to the magazine's cancellation: the last issue was dated Spring 1944.
Anthony Melville Rud was an American writer and pulp magazine editor. Some of his works were published under the pen names Ray McGillivary and Anson Piper.
Science-fiction and fantasy magazines began to be published in the United States in the 1920s. Stories with science-fiction themes had been appearing for decades in pulp magazines such as Argosy, but there were no magazines that specialized in a single genre until 1915, when Street & Smith, one of the major pulp publishers, brought out Detective Story Magazine. The first magazine to focus solely on fantasy and horror was Weird Tales, which was launched in 1923, and established itself as the leading weird fiction magazine over the next two decades; writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard became regular contributors. In 1926 Weird Tales was joined by Amazing Stories, published by Hugo Gernsback; Amazing printed only science fiction, and no fantasy. Gernsback included a letter column in Amazing Stories, and this led to the creation of organized science-fiction fandom, as fans contacted each other using the addresses published with the letters. Gernsback wanted the fiction he printed to be scientifically accurate, and educational, as well as entertaining, but found it difficult to obtain stories that met his goals; he printed "The Moon Pool" by Abraham Merritt in 1927, despite it being completely unscientific. Gernsback lost control of Amazing Stories in 1929, but quickly started several new magazines. Wonder Stories, one of Gernsback's titles, was edited by David Lasser, who worked to improve the quality of the fiction he received. Another early competitor was Astounding Stories of Super-Science, which appeared in 1930, edited by Harry Bates, but Bates printed only the most basic adventure stories with minimal scientific content, and little of the material from his era is now remembered.
Bruno Fischer was a German-American author of weird and crime fiction.
Rudolph Belarski was an American graphic artist known for his cover art depicting aerial combat for magazines such as Wings, Dare Devil Aces, and War Birds. He also drew science fiction covers for Argosy in the 1930s and covers for mystery and detective novels.
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