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PulpFest 2017 Report

Posted in Conventions,PulpFest on August 1, 2017 @ 11:18 pm

Last weekend found me mingling with some 300 rabid enthusiasts gathered at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel in Mars, Pennsylvania, not far from Pittsburgh. The occasion? The ninth edition of PulpFest, the annual convention of pulp-fiction fans and collectors. Having moved from its original home in Columbus, Ohio, the summer event was making its debut at a new venue.

And what a venue. I’ve been attending conventions of various kinds for exactly 50 years now but have rarely set foot in a hotel more perfectly suited than the Double Tree for the event it hosted. The dealers room, where most of the weekend’s action took place, ran to more than 13,000 square feet and was beautifully designed and lit. The programming room—where the panels, presentations, and Saturday-night auction were staged—was right next door, a not-insignificant convenience.

The Double Tree has been undergoing renovation and, quite frankly, is a far more impressive facility than its out-in-the-boonies location would suggest. The hotel’s design and layout is quite appealing, the sleeping rooms are sizable and well-appointed. Also, the convention rate included free breakfasts for guests every morning—including the services of an omelette chef. Easily a $15 value.

The 13,440-square-foot dealer room. Photos by Karen Davis Cunningham.

PulpFest (of which I was one of the original founders) early on distinguished itself with the variety and quality of its programming, and this year’s confab boasted a typically stellar lineup of events. The convention’s theme this year was “Hardboiled Dicks, Dangerous Dames, and a Few Psychos,” to which the various readings and discussions adhered faithfully. The Farmercon, PulpFest’s yearly adjunct devoted to the works of Philip José Farmer, presented a panel discussion featuring Win Scott Eckert, Frank Schildiner, and Art Sippo, with Mike Croteau weighing in on Farmer’s connection to Robert Bloch. Win also read from Farmer’s The Scarlet Jaguar.

Jeffrey Marks was on hand with “Hardboiled and Dangerous: The Many Characters of Erle Stanley Gardner,” and Altus Press head honcho Matt Moring supplied an overview of Dime Detective that included some very interesting tidbits of related info, such as circulation figures for Black Mask. Tom Krabacher and Walker Martin commented on Gordon Young’s Adventure Magazine series featuring Don Everhard, a rough-paper tough guy now believed to have had more influence than previously suspected on the hard-boiled school of pulp fiction.

Guest of Honor Gloria Stoll Karn, who painted dozens of covers for such Popular Publications pulps as Black Mask, Detective Tales, and Rangeland Romances, was introduced by pulp-art historian David Saunders, who compiled a terrific selection of her art for his slide show. A petite and still lively nonagenarian, Gloria related some choice anecdotes about her tenure as a Popular cover artist and seemed delighted to field questions from fans and sign examples of her work after the Saturday-night event.

Adventure House’s John Gunnison and son before their “wall o’ pulps.”

As always, the New Pulp contingent dominated afternoon programming with readings by authors Ron Fortier, Frank Schildiner, and Win Scott Eckert. Additionally, Ron moderated a New Pulp panel discussion featuring his fellow fictioneers Fred Adams Jr., John Bruening, Wayne Carey, Michael Maynard, and Charles Millhouse.

I have to confess that I never attend the afternoon events, being occupied with crassly commercial pursuits in the hucksters room. But based on reports heard after the fact, I should’ve sat in on a reading from last year’s Robert Bloch’s Psycho: Sanitarium by its author, distinguished horror/fantasy writer Chet Williamson. Various friends told me it was first rate, as is the book itself.

Adventure House’s John Gunnison and veteran PulpFest dealer Joe Saines deserve kudos for their handling of a longer-than-usual Saturday-night auction in which approximately 280 lots were gaveled over a period of more than three hours. Items from the estates of two recently deceased pulp collectors (one of them Blood ‘n’ Thunder contributor Larry Latham) were auctioned off, with multiple groups of Western Story Magazine issues making particularly strong showings. Items coming under the headings of effluvia and ephemera fetched some hefty amounts; a brace of Shadow promotional decals sold for more than $500, and bidding got heated for an empty trunk that belonged to Don Everhard creator Gordon Young.

Exhibit arranged by the son of prolific pulp illustrator Gould.

Although attendance was down from previous years (perhaps owing to uncertainty over the new location’s feasibility), everyone with whom I interacted seemed to have a good time. Business was relatively brisk at my table after a slow start on Friday; I brought approximately six dozen pieces of Murania Press inventory and went home with just three. My collectable pulps, digests, and paperbacks sold pretty well too, although I dumped two boxes of the latter into the auction just to make additional room for all the stuff I bought at the show.

The general consensus was that moving PulpFest to Pittsburgh and the Double Tree took the sting out of abandoning our long-time Columbus headquarters. (Actually, it was the Hyatt that did the abandoning, informing chairman Jack Cullers last year that our group was too small to justify turning so much square footage over to us—”Thanks, but no thanks, guys, find another venue.”) Frankly, I thought the new digs reinvigorated the convention. I liked the Hyatt, but the Double Tree’s amenities and overall convenience (did I mention the free parking and easier load-in for dealers?) make it infinitely more attractive from where I sit.

The small community of pulp-fiction aficionados is well served by PulpFest and the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention, which unfolds every spring. Both events are organized by unselfish volunteers who work all year long to make their respective conventions fun and memorable. In 2017 they succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. If you’ve never been to a pulp show and are interested in vintage rough-paper fiction, you really owe it to yourself to pay a visit. The web sites for these shows can be found here and here; bookmark them today and follow them in the months ahead as 2018’s meetings begin to take shape.

CORRECTION, August 3 — In posting the original report I was remiss in neglecting to acknowledge and thank the PulpFest committee members: Jack and Sally Cullers, Mike Chomko, Chuck Welch, William Lampkin, and Barry Traylor. Thanks also to the volunteers who gave up a nice summer weekend to placate several hundred goofy collectors.

Legendary artist (and pulp aficionado) Jim Steranko dropped by to say hello.


19 thoughts on “PulpFest 2017 Report

  1. Agreed on all counts, Ed. Great venue with excellent amenities and conscientious staff. Easy parking at an ideal price (free). And excellent programming throughout the weekend. This was my ninth consecutive Pulpfest, and if this is the plan for the future (or foreseeable future), I’m in!

  2. This was my first Pulp convention and it exceeded my expectations. Great hotel with friendly staff. Wonderful making new friends. Such a fantastic weekend, which was over way too soon.

  3. Good con report, Ed, and it was good to see you again at Pulpfest. I agree that it was an excellent convention and a fine hotel for us. I just wish more p ujlp collectors had come. Those who Didn’t *really* missed a great weekend.

  4. Excellent report, covering the auctions and the talks. I remember seeing your van at the end of the convention and wondering if it was going to be able to move at any speed at all. 🙂

    • Yes, the van practically crawled all the way back to New Jersey. I was sorely tempted to jettison at least one of the passengers to pick up speed. Unfortunately, the new-model vans don’t have ejector seats.

  5. Ed, thanks for the fine report. Your kind words are appreciated. PulpFest does hope to return to the DoubleTree by Hilton Pittsburgh — Cranberry in 2018. Hopefully, those pulp fans who resisted the three hours of travel from Columbus, Ohio will return to the fold. It’s my hope that they’ll realize that folks from the East Coast and New England have been driving for 10 – 15 hours for decades, traveling to Ohio for PulpFest and, before it, Pulpcon. Three hours is nothing!

    • Mike, your comments to this thread just made me realize an egregious omission to the con report: acknowledgment of you and the other committee members. I’m addressing that right now with a correction to the post. I feel safe in speaking for all my readers when I say you folks did an outstanding job this year as always.

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  7. This was indeed a very nice show/venue. I had missed four of the nine Pulpfests but won’t be missing any more.

    Good food, nice bar, loads of books and fine people.

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