We’re happy to announce the availability of the latest volume in Murania’s Classic Pulp Reprints series. William Corcoran’s The Purple Eye, originally published in the August 1933 issue of Dime Mystery Magazine, isn’t just a rattling good yarn. It’s an historically important one as well, being the template for such Popular Publications hero pulps as The Spider and Operator #5.
The protagonists in those magazines didn’t battle pretty thieves or racketeers. Month after month they were pitted against megalomaniacal master criminals with enormous armies of henchmen. These power-mad malefactors waged war against entire cities (most often New York) and terrorized citizens with the constant threat of mass annihilation caused by various means—a plot device we’ve dubbed “death from everywhere.” The Purple Eye was among the earliest such criminals to appear in pulps, and, fittingly, he appeared during the darkest days of the Great Depression, when readers hungry for escapist entertainment accepted stories dealing with apocalyptic menaces—no matter how fanciful—because everyday life was only slightly less difficult to cope with.
Corcoran, who generally wrote for such classy pulps as Argosy, Blue Book, and Adventure (and briefly edited the latter title), was among the better storytellers plying their trade in rough-paper magazines. He is little known today, but we’re hoping that republication of The Purple Eye, back in print for the first time in more than 80 years, will boost interest in this forgotten pulpateer.
As for the Purple Eye . . . well, we’ll let him introduce himself, in this preface (probably written by an editor rather than Corcoran) to that 1933 Dime Mystery book-length novel:
It is almost too easy, this business of terrorizing a great city. That is, it was easy—until the man called Wayne Saxon arrayed himself against me. Since then things have become more difficult. Several of my most carefully planned murders have unexplainably miscarried. And one or two of my enemies, safely within the net, have made good their escape. Something which never before occurred! For once a man has stood before the Purple Eye and received sentence—that man must die!
But enough of Wayne Saxon and the slight trouble he has caused me. His death now is merely a matter of days. And in the meantime I shall dwell for a little upon more pleasant things. . . .
One of the secrets of my success is the fact that, unlike the ordinary criminal, I have made no attempt to conceal myself in the usual way. I do not hide from the police; I ignore them. And being ignored, they have so far seen no reason to suspect me. Even Saxon, thought he has fought me in the open and undercover in various clever ways, has not the slightest idea of my real identity.
I have killed a man as he rode beside my enemy in New York’s crowded streets. I have kidnapped his best friends from beneath his very eyes. I have brought despair to the police and terror to the rulers of the underworld. Millionaires tremble in their hand-made boots when they receive my grim warning of death to come. And shop-girls grow afraid of the dark when they hear of my latest exploit.
The city of seven million souls is mine to do with as I please. I am its most exalted king—and the wages of my court is death!
Once more the ancient Brotherhood of Baktuun has seized the reins of power from hands no longer strong. And the fear of violent, ugly death is present in very home, on every city street, in every office and workshop!
Mine is the greatest criminal mind the world has ever produced. And I have no foolish modern qualms about my calling. I like murder . . . I glory in it!
Millionaire sportsman and globetrotting adventurer Wayne Saxon returns to New York during the Eye’s reign of terror and, for reasons of his own, dedicates his life to finding and eliminating this madman—within the law when possible, but without when necessary. Will he succeed?
You can order The Purple Eye now right here. Shipping begins next week.
I’ve added a dozen new items — most of them desirable pulps, several in ultra-high-grade condition — and removed many that sold recently. I did a lot of business at the recent Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, where pop-culture collectibles of all kinds were snapped up by a record 3,000 attendees.
Below you’ll find scans of a few particularly neat pulps I’ve just listed for sale in the Collectibles section. They’re reasonably priced and will probably go quickly, so if you have any interest, don’t hesitate to pull the trigger.
Check back here regularly for future updates, as I frequently come across pulps and pulp-related collectibles I don’t need myself but am interested in passing along to other collectors.
Walter B. Gibson was already quite an accomplished fellow when in December 1930 he accepted the freelance writing assignment that assured his prominent place in American popular culture. Born on September 12, 1897 in Germantown, Pennsylvania, Gibson worked as a newspaper reporter, non-fiction ghostwriter, and composer of crossword puzzles. His main interest was magic, and in addition to practicing the art of prestidigitation himself (during the late Twenties he served as president of the Society of American Magicians’ Philadelphia chapter) Walter ghosted books for famous illusionist Howard Thurston and Harry Houdini, posthumously in the latter case. He also edited the short-lived magazines Tales of Magic and Mystery (1927) and True Strange Stories (1929).
With the Great Depression in full swing, the indefatigable Gibson hoped to supplement his income by writing mystery novels, currently enjoying unprecedented popularity in America. Walter believed that his background and experiences, coupled with his love of magic and trickery, would enable him to craft complex puzzle plots guaranteed to stump all but the most perspicacious armchair sleuths.
As fans of The Shadow already know, the character had been created as a narrator of mystery stories written for Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine and dramatized on the Detective Story Hour, a 30-minute radio program that premiered on July 31, 1930 and was broadcast every Thursday evening. Writer Harry Charlot came up with The Shadow, whose sepulchral tones and sinister chuckles elicited shudders from listeners. Although the series was intended to promote Detective Story Magazine, Street & Smith responded with alacrity when followers of the radio program besieged their local newsstands demanding copies of “that ‘Shadow’ magazine.” The firm’s general manager, Henry W. Ralston—whose S&S experience dated back to the dime-novel days—saw an opportunity to revive the single-character magazine while capitalizing on the public’s burgeoning interest in The Shadow. He ordered editorial director Frank Blackwell to produce a Shadow pulp, and Blackwell delegated that responsibility to editor Lon Murray, who knew Gibson and recommended him to Blackwell. According to some sources, Ralston would have been happy with a rewritten Nick Carter novel, but the magician-journalist from Pennsylvania—who would use the pen name “Maxwell Grant”—had other ideas.
Most pulp-fiction aficionados and readers of this blog know what happened next. Gibson’s first novel, a 75,000-worder titled “The Living Shadow,” appeared in the first issue of The Shadow, a Detective Magazine, cover-dated April 1931. That issue sold out in short order. The second, July 1931, featured “The Eyes of The Shadow.” Intended as a quarterly, the magazine’s frequency was changed with issue number three, which carried a new title—The Shadow Detective Monthly—and presented “The Shadow Laughs.”
Walter Gibson didn’t just flesh out the character created by Harry Charlot as nothing more than a menacing voice; he created a saga with recurring themes, characters, and locations. His Shadow was—at least initially—a man of mystery, an enigmatic crime fighter who by the light of day masqueraded as several people, most frequently a globe-trotting millionaire named Lamont Cranston. The Shadow’s own identity and background remained deep in the series’ background, although here and there Gibson dropped tantalizing clues about the character’s past. A legendary figure feared by New York’s underworld, the Master of Darkness (as Walter soon nicknamed him) employed a network of agents and seemed to have near-limitless resources with which to wage his never-ending war against criminals. To New York police commissioner Ralph Weston and most of the NYPD he was a figment of the imagination, but Inspector Joe Cardona knew The Shadow to be real.
The magazine’s popularity was such that in 1932 Walter Gibson was informed that henceforth it would be published semi-monthly, requiring him to write 24 novels of approximately 60,000 words each in a 12-month period. By now deeply committed to the series and enjoying his work, Gibson signed his first yearly contract. He completed those 24 novels—some 1,440,000 words, all told—in less than ten months. And on a manual typewriter to boot, pounding the keys so hard and fast that his fingers sometimes bled.
The punishing schedule forced Gibson to modify his working methods, especially after he crowded one story with unnecessary characters and a dizzying succession of incidents that rendered the yarn nearly impossible to follow. In order to ensure the maintenance of a high level of quality, editor John Nanovic (who had taken over from Lon Murray) and Gibson met regularly with Henry Ralston to chart The Shadow’s future. Walter prepared plot outlines that the three men discussed in detail, and he incorporated changes as necessary before proceeding with the actual writing. In this manner he avoided the hang-ups that typically bedeviled fast-writing pulpateers working on tight deadlines. Gibson found that he could bang out a 60,000-word novel in eight days, producing roughly 30 pages per eight-hour day.
The mysterioso atmosphere of the early Shadow novels gradually dissipated as reader demands for constant action increased. Ever the magician, Walter found myriad ways in which to introduce gimmicks based on magic tricks, and he relied heavily on misdirection to lead readers astray. By early 1934 the series had hit its stride, creatively speaking. But the proliferation of imitators began to eat away at the magazine’s circulation, which at its peak surpassed 300,000 copies per issue. The Shadow Magazine changed course in mid-1937 when Gibson in a yarn titled “The Shadow Unmasks” finally revealed the Master of Darkness to be Kent Allard, a World War I ace and world explorer thought to have been lost in the Guatemalan jungle after a plane crash. The Shadow was forced to assume his real identity when plot complications made it temporarily impossible for him to continue his masquerade as Lamont Cranston. Thereafter Allard appeared at regular intervals, even though the Shadow radio show (which by now revolved around the Master of Darkness) left no doubt that Cranston and The Shadow were one and the same.
The series began to falter in the late Thirties. By 1941 it had become stale and, even worse, puerile. The previous year Street & Smith had launched Shadow Comics, which exposed the character to a larger but younger audience. Gibson began scripting the four-color stories as well as the pulp novels, and whether by author accident or editorial design The Shadow Magazine gradually lost its appeal to older readers.
In 1943 the magazine shrank to digest size as a concession to wartime paper rationing and Gibson was instructed to cut back on the master villains and other remnants of the lurid pulp era. The digest Shadow novels, averaging 30,000 words, played up Margo Lane (a product of the radio show incorporated into the pulp series with mixed results) and with few exceptions sported routine whodunit plots. John Nanovic had left Street & Smith and his Shadow Magazine chores were assumed by Charles Moran, William de Grouchy, and Babette Rosmond; during the latter’s tenure as editor the magazine’s title was changed to Shadow Mystery. Increasingly unhappy, Gibson was frozen out in 1946 following a salary dispute. At Rosmond’s suggestion his successor, Bruce Elliott, eliminated The Shadow altogether and made Lamont Cranston a medium-boiled detective.
Street & Smith permitted long-time Love Story Magazine editor Daisy Bacon to revive the Shadow magazine in 1948. She restored it to pulp size and brought Walter Gibson back into the fold. But the ensuing five issues, however satisfying they might be to today’s pulp collectors, failed to recapture the title’s once-sizable audience and by 1949 Gibson had lost his meal ticket for good. (Adding insult to injury, Street & Smith also dropped its comic-book line that year.)
Walter continued writing for the comics, penned true-crime stories, and even tried his hand at science fiction during the Fifties. He never stopped trying to revive The Shadow, and in 1963 he wrote an up-to-date adventure of the Master of Darkness, published by Belmont as a mass-market paperback titled Return of The Shadow. Sporadic reprint volumes and revivals of the radio show kept the character alive, and today The Shadow still enjoys considerable popularity.
Walter B. Gibson lived long enough to see new generations discover The Shadow in one form or another, and he cheerfully regaled young and old fans with stories about the halcyon days of pulp publishing at various conventions before his death in 1985 at the age of 88.
I got into pulp collecting with the goal of compiling a set of The Shadow Magazine, which under several title variants ran to 325 issues. I acquired approximately 220 issues before abandoning the project, having read too many stinkers. The character no longer holds for me the appeal he once did, nor does the prose of Walter B. Gibson. But his was nonetheless a towering achievement in the world of pulp fiction, and it’s entirely fitting that we acknowledge and celebrate his 118th birthday.
As of today Blood ‘n’ Thunder‘s subscription policy is changing to reflect a decision I recently came to. BnT will cease publication as a periodical next year with issue #50, scheduled for Fall 2016. Since launching the zine in 2002 I’ve done a pretty lousy job of adhering to its stated quarterly schedule anyway, and as various aspects of my life have changed in recent years, BnT must change along with them.
Therefore, those whose subscriptions expire with the just-published #45 will be offered a renewal price of $50 for the remaining five issues to come. This will provide more than the subscriber’s customary 20-percent savings inasmuch as #50 will be a jumbo-sized magazine with a cover price of $19.95 or more. (I’m already thinking about the last issue’s contents, because I expect to go out with a bang.) The five-for-$50 deal will also extend to those who decide to subscribe for the first time before issue #46—Fall 2015—is published this coming November. At that time I will stop offering subscriptions and the last few issues will be available only on a single-copy basis at the cover price of $12.50 postpaid. So if you want the discount enjoyed by subscribers, this is your last opportunity to get it. I’ve just revised the site’s Subscription page to conform with this change of policy.
The cessation of publishing on a quarterly basis (more or less) doesn’t mean Blood ‘n’ Thunder is going away. It will continue as a series of irregularly published books—each running to 200 pages or more—that will include collections of essays grouped by theme. My plan is to publish at least two of these per year, timed for release in Spring at the Windy City convention and in Summer at PulpFest. There might be a third volume each year, depending upon my schedule. Of course, I’ll continue to publish the Classic Pulp Reprints series and other Murania Press books.
As of this writing the final subscriber copies of the latest BnT have been ordered and are being shipped directly from the printer. I got some of them in the mail before leaving for PulpFest, but most were ordered this week once I’d returned from Columbus and decompressed for a day or two. Those of you who don’t already have your copies can expect them in next week’s mail.
The issue debuted at PulpFest — I had to get copies shipped overnight from the printer to get them in Columbus on time — where it was well received by attending subscribers and single-copy purchasers. So far, based on the very limited feedback I’ve received, my article on Famous Fantastic Mysteries seems to be the issue’s standout.
Last Thursday morning 5:30 rolled around pretty damn early, but I managed to drag myself out of bed to hop into a rented minivan with my buddy, rare-book dealer Nick Certo, and drive down to Trenton, New Jersey. We had agreed to meet friends and fellow pulp collectors Walker Martin and Digges La Touche at the former’s home, from which we would begin the long drive to Columbus, Ohio, for the seventh annual PulpFest.
We hit Trenton shortly before 7:30 and were zooming our way westward a few minutes later. I do most if not all the driving on these excursions, and although Walker (who habitually takes the front passenger seat) white-knuckles it for the duration of each trip, I’ve never lost a passenger yet. Not that I haven’t been tempted a few times. Generally, though, I consider these long drives part of the fun. There’s always plenty of good-natured banter and it’s fun to hear Walker and Digges wax nostalgic—as they invariably do—about the early Pulpcons and the great bargains they scored in years past.
We ran into some construction-related delays but arrived at the Hyatt Regency around 5 p.m., by which time dealer set-up was already underway. Early-bird shoppers were admitted to the huckster room at 6, and it was a good thing I had the Murania Press table laid out on time: I sold several hundred dollars worth of merchandise in just a few hours.
PulpFest is known for its extensive and meritorious programming, and even though the convention doesn’t officially begin until Friday morning the committee decided several years ago to offer a full slate of Thursday-night programming as an accommodation to early arrivals looking for something to do. The dealer-room action prevented me from attending two panels I very much wanted to see: one with John Wooley and John Gunnison on the “Thrilling Group” detective pulps, the other with Anthony Tollin, Will Murray, and Michelle Nolan celebrating the 75th anniversary of Street & Smith’s entry into the comic-book field with Shadow Comics.
I was scheduled to do a 10 pm presentation on the “Thrilling” Western pulps. I’d packed a CD with cover scans before going to bed Wednesday night but had neglected to include my notes, left on my desk and forgotten when I awoke groggily and staggered out of the house the next morning. What’s more, I was exhausted from the long drive. But the presentation seemed to come off pretty well—even though I hardly knew what I was saying—and Michelle Nolan subsequently assured me that, amazingly, I hadn’t made any factual errors.
Friday morning found my friends and I waking up early and scarfing down breakfast at a nearby eatery we discovered during PulpFest’s first year at the Hyatt. (This was the fourth.) Then it was back to the huckster room, which opened to dealers at 9 a.m. and to the public an hour later.
Business was pretty brisk. I had the new issue of Blood ‘n’ Thunder on hand, so between distributing copies to subscribers in attendance and making sales to other con-goers I watched two stacks of the zine dwindle rapidly. My supply of back issues also was depleted gradually, and I sold a few pulps and books as well. The crowd, while not appearing to be record-breaking in size, seemed enthusiastic and willing to spend money. A number of my regular customers had to skip this year’s PulpFest, though, and their absence had a deleterious effect on my bottom line.
As usual, afternoon programming slots were commandeered by New Pulp authors who read selections from recent works. Scheduled for these events were Jason Scott Aiken, John Hegenberger, Duane Spurlock, and Scott Urban. Unfortunately, I always miss the afternoon readings because I’m manning the Murania Press table, taking periodic breaks to shop around the room.
The rarest, most impressive item in the dealer room was a copy of the August 1913 issue of Street & Smith’s New Story Magazine. This number begins the serialization of “The Return of Tarzan,” second of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ stories featuring the immortal Ape Man, and sports a Tarzan cover by legendary illustrator N. C. Wyeth. Doug Ellis, chairman of the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention, snapped up this beauty, which is pictured below. The purchase price was $1,900. It’s a fabulous addition to what is already a world-class collection and Doug rates congratulations for getting it.
After dinner I joined Will Murray and Philip M. Sherman in a panel discussion covering Thrilling Group editorial director Leo Margulies, “the Little Giant of the Pulps.” Phil, who was Leo’s nephew, brought his personal insights into the man as well as a fascinating selection of rare family photos presented in a slide show. I thought the panel came off pretty well and most people seemed to agree. PulpFest committee member Mike Chomko called it one of the highlights of the weekend.
I wanted very much to see the rest of the evening’s programs but exhaustion had caught up with me and I went up to my room at 8 p.m. hoping to get a good night’s rest. Tired as I was, though, I did more tossing and turning than sleeping. So I missed brief presentations by special guests Chet Williamson and Weird Tales artist Jon Arfstrom, along with several panels. Regular Blood ‘n’ Thunder contributors were well represented on Friday night: Tom Krabacher, Rick Lai, and Nathan Madison joined John Haefele and Don Herron for a discussion of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, while Will Murray and Garyn G. Roberts teamed with Michelle Nolan to offer a brief history of the comic books issued by Thrilling Group publisher Ned Pines.
For several years the devotees of science-fiction writer Philip José Farmer have held their annual Farmercon in conjunction with PulpFest and given our attendees the benefit of their expertise and enthusiasm. Jason Aiken, Chuck Loridans, and Frank Schildiner teamed for a Farmercon presentation titled “The Weird Tales of Philip José Farmer.”
A pretty impressive Friday night, don’t you think?
Saturday saw the arrival of many walk-ins who, presumably, couldn’t make the Friday session because they were at work. But it seemed to me that sales trailed off nonetheless, and all day Saturday I didn’t do as much as business as I had in a few hours during the Thursday-night set-up.
The afternoon programming session found New Pulp author Ron Fortier moderating a discussion covering “The Heirs of Weird Tales” and a presentation on one of the Unique Magazine’s top illustrators, Lee Brown Coye. That evening Tom Krabacher led a panel including Don Herron, Morgan Holmes, Will Murray, and Garyn Roberts. The topic: editing Weird Tales.
I especially enjoyed “The Thrilling Adventures of Rudolph Belarski,” a biography and career story put forth by pulp-art historian and BnT contributor David Saunders, whose father Norman was one of the industry’s giants. David, a warm and gregarious guy in person, affects an air of diffidence when making his PulpFest presentations, but his command of the subject is such that one isn’t taken aback by his low-key manner. The Belarski family photos were interesting and David chose some wonderful covers to demonstrate Rudy’s proficiency.
Following the presentation of 2015’s Munsey Award to long-time pulp historian and collector Steve Miller, Adventure House’s John Gunnison took up his gavel yet again to conduct a PulpFest auction. This year he got off easy; there were only 81 lots, and anything that didn’t elicit a $20 opening bid was passed upon. Past PulpFest auctions haven’t always featured desirable material, but this year’s offerings included some nice items that sold for reasonable prices. I bid on several lots and would have won at least two had I not been so conservative.
Sunday is typically a nothing-burger of a day. The convention advertises dealer-room hours as 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but most hucksters begin packing up as soon as the doors open in the interest of making a fast getaway. By noon the whole room begins closing up and people start saying goodbye. That’s always the most depressing part of the weekend.
PulpFest chairman Jack Cullers on Sunday told me that total attendance was “between 450 and 500.” I found that hard to believe; my own guess would have been 300 to 350. Later Jack revised the figure downward to “about 420,” but I’m still skeptical. Not that it really matters; by my lights the show seemed extremely well organized and executed. I quit the committee last year but could tell that a lot of time and energy had been expended on the 2015 PulpFest.
Since we have a long drive back to New Jersey, my little group has made a tradition of staying an extra night at the Hyatt and enjoying a leisurely Sunday dinner that doubles as a post-mortem of the show. The general consensus was that this year’s PulpFest was every bit as much fun as the previous six. Kudos to Jack Cullers, Mike Chomko, Chuck Welch, Barry Traylor, and their family members who pitched in to make last weekend a memorable one.
The long wait is over; the big event is about to begin. This Thursday I head to Columbus, Ohio, with three good friends in tow, to attend the 7th annual PulpFest, where the country’s devotees and collectors of pulp fiction will congregate to buy, sell, talk, and trade vintage rough-paper magazines — along with books, digests, paperbacks, and related items. I had planned to post something on the convention today but I’m turning this space over to guest blogger Walker Martin, who actually penned the piece below for Steve Lewis’ most excellent blog Mystery*File. Some readers of this blog follow Steve’s as well, but I know there are many who will be unfamiliar with it. So Walker’s enthusiastic endorsement of the convention will be new to them.
In the interest of full disclosure I will point out that the aforementioned Mr. Martin is one of the friends who accompanies me every year on the drives to Chicago (for the Windy Ciy con) and Columbus. And now, without further adieu, here’s Walker. . . .
The last couple days I’ve been thinking about PulpFest which will be held August 13 through 16, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio. That’s this Thursday coming up! I’ve been deluged by logical and sane looking collectors and non-collectors all asking me the same question: Why bother attending PulpFest? They have shown up at my house; they have called me on the telephone; they have sent me e-mails.
Enough is enough! Here’s a list of excuses for not attending that I hear all the time, followed with my rebuttal for each one.
1 — I have no money! Sorry but I’ve attended many a Pulpcon in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s and I went with very little money. Are there no credit cards? Are there no credit unions? Are there no non-collecting spouses to borrow money from? Even when I had the money, I often blew it before the convention by visiting local bookstores like Bonnett’s and Dragon’s Lair in Dayton, Ohio. If not in the bookstores, then in the hotel rooms of friends who let me see what they were bringing to sell. I learned to go without much cash but I brought a few boxes of pulps to trade and sell at my table.
2 — I’m in poor health and too sick to attend. Sorry again! I had a friend who had a terminal illness and came to Pulpcon anyway. Another friend actually collapsed at the convention and died soon after. I myself once threw my back out three days before the show and my doctor and chiropractor both told me to forget making the long drive to the convention. I felt like I was crippled for life but managed to squeeze into the car and drive out even though I had to stop numerous times near hotels because I thought I was not going to make it. I could then rent a room and lay there for a couple weeks until I could stand. It took me 16 hours instead of the usual nine hours but I made it. I spent the entire convention standing because sitting down caused back spasms.
3 — I have no space [or] I live in a small apartment. Collectors always make space for the things they love! When I first met uber-collector Bob Lesser in the 1970s he had an apartment full of Disney toys. This was NYC and the apartment was tiny, with a path from the front door to the bed and another path to the bathroom. Otherwise, every inch was toys, robots, paintings. He’s still there, and the place is just as cramped. I once ran out of space and hunted for over a year until I found a bigger house. I went to dozens of open houses and looked at hundreds of houses. I finally found a big house. Unfortunately I soon filled it up with books and now I need a bigger place! The old story . . . .
4 — My wife is a non-collector and forbids me to go. Tell me about it! I’ve been married over 40 years and I’ve heard it all. I still go and I still collect. Lester Mayer told me at the 1990 Pulpcon at Wayne, New Jersey that his wife thought he was a business meeting, and that if she knew he was at the convention she might burn his pulps. Collectors have to become masters of deception and great liars to defeat the non-collector. Many a time I’ve lied and many a time I’ve smuggled books into the house in the dead of night while “she who must be obeyed” slept the innocent sleep of the non-collector. Non-collectors exist to be ignored. . . .
5 — I can’t get off from work. Sorry, but not a valid reason. My employers always knew I was a rabid book collector who always without exception took off a week during Pulpcon in the summer. I made sure that my vacation request was in as early as I knew the convention dates. Once they sorrowfully told me I couldn’t go because of some work bullshit. I went anyway and left it to them to ignore my absence without leave or put up with one pissed-off book collector. I realize the employment situation is different nowadays but which is more important, your job or your collection, your marriage or your collection? Right, your collection.
6 — Who cares about the convention? I can buy my pulps off eBay, etc. In the 1920s and 1930s the dime-novel collectors existed. But they didn’t have a convention and the hobby died off. As did the hobbyists. Now I know of only a few in existence and dime novels are just about worthless. If I had a tableful of dime novels priced at a buck apiece, most collectors would scurry by in disgust. We have to support the two big pulp conventions: Windy City in Chicago and Pulpfest in Columbus. If we don’t, then one day we will wake up and the pulps might be dead. These shows garner a lot of attention and people keep talking about the pulps because of the efforts of Mike Chomko, Jack Cullers, Barry Traylor, Doug Ellis, John Gunnison, and others.
7 — And finally, the best reason for attending! Pulp conventions are a hell of a lot of fun. Not only do you get to roam around a gigantic dealer’s room full of books and pulps but you get to meet and talk to some of the greatest collectors and dealers. These will lead to future deals and contacts. Plus you can eat and drink with these guys! (Though I seem to be one of last of the drinkers.) And the panels! All day and all night we’ll be discussing pulps and books. What’s cooler than that?
8 — Walker, it’s too late! Like hell. There are hotels with rooms available nearby. What’s the most important thing in a serious collector’s life? His collection, without a doubt. We work, we slave, we march on to the bitter end where we will eat dirt in the boneyard. We live lives of quiet desperation and worry about the afterlife. Go to Pulpfest and collect some books and pulps! You only live once. . . .
The following essay has been adapted from my introduction to Jack o’ Judgment & Captains of Souls: Two Novels by Edgar Wallace, published last year by Stark House in a handsome trade-paperback edition. I’m posting it now because I wanted to update the blog and, frankly, have no time to write something substantive as I’m hard at work on the Murania Press publications that will debut at PulpFest.
The recent boom in small-press reprints of works by obscure crime writers and pulp fictioneers has revived interest in a good many storytellers previously forgotten. And yet, strangely, the movement to date has largely ignored Edgar Wallace, an astonishingly prolific British author who was in his time emulated, and imitated, by a host of thriller writers on both sides of the Atlantic. Very little of Wallace’s prodigious output remains in print, despite the fact that for many years one of every four books sold in Britain bore his name on its cover.
Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace was born in London on April 1, 1875, the illegitimate son of British stage performers who gave him up for adoption. Taken into the family of “fish porter” George Freeman, the boy shared a cramped home with ten siblings. This modest upbringing led young master Richard to seek employment at an early age, and only upon applying for a job that required the presentation of a birth certificate did he learn the truth about his parentage.
Leaving school at the age of 12, he toiled in various positions until joining the British army at 18. Upon being discharged Wallace—by now using the surname of his birth father—wangled a job as South African correspondent for the Reuters international news agency. The young journalist learned a great deal about Africa and its people while honing his ability as a writer and breaking several important stories. He returned to England an ace reporter for the London Daily Mail, mingling effortlessly with members of upper and lower classes alike. Moreover, he developed an uncanny knack for ferreting out news under extraordinary conditions, often relying on shady characters for tips. This experience stood him in good stead when he turned to writing fiction.
In 1905 Wallace self-published his first novel, The Four Just Men, under the auspices of Tallis Press. As an inducement to potential buyers unfamiliar with his byline, he offered 500 pounds in prize money to readers who solved the mystery surrounding a supporting character’s death at the hands of the Just Men. For this purpose the book included a form that could be filled out, detached, and mailed to the Tallis Press office. The first prize was 250 pounds; the others were lesser amounts. In preparing promotional copy for the contest Wallace failed to restrict the number of entrants, and while the novel was a huge best-seller he actually lost money because a larger-than-anticipated number of applicants correctly guessed the murder method. (He actually received financial aid from the Mail, which feared his poorly conceived scheme would reflect badly on the paper.) The newly minted author paid dearly for underestimating his readers but established himself as a thriller writer to watch. In the long run his contest payout was money well invested.
Much of Wallace’s early fiction drew upon his experience in Africa. The exploits of his first series character, Sanders of the River, reflected typical Victorian-era attitudes regarding British colonialism. Commissioner Sanders maintained order among squabbling native tribes using considerable ingenuity and relying on his vast knowledge of human nature. Most readers today find Sanders condescendingly paternalistic at best and arrogantly racist at worst, but in the 20th century’s first two decades Wallace’s tales in this series were well received and collected in book form on both sides of the Atlantic.
During the First World War, Edgar Wallace wrote about such heroic AEF aviators as Tam o’ the Scoots and the Companions of the Ace-High, whose careers were documented in Everybody’s Magazine and The Popular Magazine respectively. After the War he increasingly turned to the production of crime thrillers, especially when the firm of Street & Smith purchased American rights to much of his output for one of its most successful pulps, Detective Story Magazine. By this time his yarns were appearing regularly in such British periodicals as The Strand, The Thriller, The Grand Magazine, and The Detective Magazine.
Wallace cleverly rebuffed requests for exclusivity from American pulp-magazine publishers and placed his yarns with multiple houses; during the Twenties his works were just as likely to be seen in Doubleday’s Short Stories and Munsey’s Flynn’s and Detective Fiction Weekly as in Detective Story. As his fame grew in the United States, he frequently sold to the prestigious slicks, including Collier’s, Cosmopolitan, and The Saturday Evening Post.
Wallace enjoyed particular success in the pages of Detective Story, which serialized more than two dozen of his novels and published multi-entry series of short stories featuring his most popular recurring characters, The Ringer and The Three Just Men. One of his earliest contributions to the venerable Street & Smith pulp was “Jack O’Judgment,” which ran in six weekly installments from March 9 through April 13, 1920. It was published in hard covers the next month by the British house Ward Lock and then again the following year by the Boston-headquartered firm of Small, Maynard & Company.
“Jack O’ Judgment” is a key title in Wallace’s oeuvre. A pulpy thriller through and through, it marks the first major work in which he employed a “mystery man” protagonist whose motivation remained unknown until the closing chapters. Garbed in slouch hat and cloak, his face masked, Jack mocks his adversaries with a shrill laugh, talks of himself in the third person, and leaves a jack of clubs as his calling card. He appears seemingly out of thin air and vanishes without a trace. For reasons known only to himself, this wraith-like figure has sworn vengeance on “Colonel” Dan Boundary, head of a blackmail ring responsible for the deaths—both suicides and murders—of numerous people whose darkest secrets have been used against them. The Colonel is also sought by Scotland Yard, represented in this story by young inspector Stafford King and distinguished commissioner Stanley Belcom. The inevitable love interest is furnished by Maisie White, stage actress and daughter of Boundary’s former partner.
“Jack O’ Judgment” crackles with suspense and melodrama while exhibiting its author’s strengths and weaknesses as a storyteller. Wallace often wrote (or dictated) his thrillers at white heat, and while his speedy composition imparted a breezy quality to these compulsively readable tales, it frequently produced embarrassing lapses in plot and characterization. The early chapters of “Jack,” for example, make a great to-do about incriminating documents collected and hidden by Boundary’s clerk, Olaf Hanson, who is working undercover for the police and seems destined to play an important role in the proceedings. Wallace, however, summarily dispatches Hanson in the novel’s first Detective Story installment and the vitally important papers are never again mentioned, even though the principal characters all know of their existence. Other inconsistencies abound but can’t be reported here lest I spoil your enjoyment of the story. Odds are they escaped the notice of Detective Story readers who digested the yarn in weekly portions of ten thousand words.
But therein lies the point: Edgar Wallace thrillers usually move at such a breathless pace, and are crowded with so many exciting incidents and colorful characters, that errors of continuity often go undetected. It doesn’t matter that the characters are two dimensional or that certain narrative devices are reused ad infinitum. The author is a master at drawing readers into a world of his own creation. Wallace’s London is especially magical; its familiar landmarks are carefully and realistically described—the journalist’s penchant for conveying shrewd observations in terse sentences is obvious here—but his imagination conjures up a sort of phantom city in which seedy and none-too-bright underworld denizens rub shoulders with grotesquely disguised criminal masterminds and independently wealthy Scotland Yard inspectors.
Don’t believe any author who claims not to pay attention to reviews. He might discount the good ones and ignore the bad ones, but believe me, he pays attention. I’ve been extremely fortunate to receive uniformly favorable notices for my books, most recently the award-nominated Distressed Damsels and Masked Marauders, and previously Filming the West of Zane Grey and The Films of Betty Grable. But the reviews for The Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide to Pulp Fiction have been uncommonly laudatory, particularly on Amazon, where the book has received nothing but five-star ratings.
Nonetheless, I was bowled over the other day to come across a write-up on the Guide posted by one S. Craig Zahler. Every author appreciates well-informed criticism and thus craves the approbation of fellow travelers and professional scriveners. So to me it’s especially rewarding to be praised effusively by someone as accomplished as Mr. Zahler. He’s written four novels to date, including the noir Westerns Wraith of the Broken Land and A Congregation of Jackals (the latter a nominee for the Western Writers of America’s Spur award), and the gritty crime thriller Mean Business on North Ganson Street. Additionally, he’s scripted an indie horror film, Asylum Blackout (2011), and recently made his directorial debut with Bone Tomahawk (2015), which stars Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, and Matthew Fox. The latter film, to which he also contributed the original screenplay, is currently in post-production. Westerns, crime thrillers, horror movies—sounds like a born pulp fan to me. And indeed, he is. So I was more than delighted to stumble over his review of the BnT Guide—which, at the risk of seeming immodest and self-serving, I reprint below:
Although online searches and stumbling through websites can unearth a wealth of information on many subjects, I like to reward individuals who go through the extra effort of writing, laying out, and printing a book on whichever subject I’m interested in researching. I’ve purchased guides on progressive rock albums, television horror movies from the seventies, direct-to-video cult films, Western television shows of the Fifties and Sixties, American martial arts films, country music, anime, heavy metal, soul music, and other niche subjects. Not until I read The Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide to Pulp Fiction had I read a guide that intelligently and tastefully delivered the promise of its premise.
As a longtime fan of H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, R.E. Howard, Max Brand, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Isaac Asimov, and David Goodis, I had hoped that a guide on pulp magazines would reveal to me some lesser known, but comparably skilled authors from the pulp milieu. This information lies in great abundance in Ed Hulse’s book. Although I have not read this tome cover to cover, I have read the major part of the book, and many of the chapters multiple times. The wit and good taste that the author shows when discussing the subject of pulp fiction led to my discovery of scores of forgotten works that deserve rediscovery.
This valuable guide is neither the slobbering work of rabid fan who likes everything, nor the work of a snobby elitist who feels superior to the material about which he writes, but a collection of smart, zesty essays—arranged by genre—of somebody who appreciates the varied aims of various pulp magazines. The rich and meticulously crafted tales of the stately Adventure, the apocalyptic visions of Operator #5, the hyperventilating bloody mania of The Spider, the aggressive modes of detection employed by those fellas in Dime Detective, the depravity of the Red Circle shudder pulps, the grandeur of Astounding Stories, the eldritch charms of Weird Tales, and the merits of many other genres and subgenres are critically and fondly discussed by the wellspring of pulp knowledge that is Ed Hulse. Wanna know which pulps to read as the best of their genre? Follow the advice of Mr. Hulse. Wanna know which exact issues of each magazine are the exemplars? Follow the advice of Mr. Hulse. Wanna know about the evolution of a particular magazine or genre? Get this book.
Heeding the thoughtful words of this sage of the yellow page, my library and life have been bettered and my list of favorite authors has dramatically been altered. Thank you, Mr. Hulse for opening the pulpwood door behind which stand such incredible talents as Norvell W. Page, Bruno Fischer, Arthur O. Friel, L. Patrick Greene, Harold Lamb, Frederick C. Davis, D.L. Champion, and many others.
Now that’s what I call a review!
Full disclosure: I’ve met Craig Zahler, who has now attended several meetings of the Gotham Pulp Collectors Club and conveyed to me in person his appreciation for the Guide. But no, I didn’t pay him to write this glowing review (just in case some of you wise guys were about to ask), and didn’t know he had written it until I saw it on line.
If you consider yourself a serious fan of vintage pulp fiction, there’s still time for you to take Mr. Zahler’s advice and “Get this book.” How, you ask? It’s a cinch: just click here. Better yet, you can get the Guide along with a one-year subscription to Blood ‘n’ Thunder, with a 25-percent discount for both, here.
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