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PulpFest 2019 Report

Posted in Conventions,PulpFest on August 23, 2019 @ 4:54 pm

Last Thursday morning, August 15, found me with four old friends and fellow pulp enthusiasts headed for Pittsburgh in a 14-seat rental van packed with boxes of pulps, books and other collectibles we planned to sell at the 11th annual PulpFest. It was a picture-perfect day and spirits were high.

For the third consecutive year PulpFest was staging its annual summer confab at the Pittsburgh-Cranberry Double Tree by Hilton hotel, which reposes in neither Pittsburgh nor Cranberry but at the edge of Mars (not the planet, just a small municipality outside Pittsburgh). It’s a terrific venue for an event like ours, with a spacious ballroom holding the 100-plus vendor tables employed by PulpFest exhibitors. An adjoining meeting room, while somewhat smaller, is more than ample for the con’s programming needs.

We rolled into the Double Tree parking lot shortly after 4 p.m. and unloaded the van. Dealer set-up had begun at 3 and a bonafide feeding frenzy was already underway: Adventure House’s John Gunnison was debuting a recently acquired collection and his tables were already crowded with early birds and other dealers feverishly pouring through dozens of boxes. I made a bee-line for John’s exhibit and muscled my way into the throng of pulp-lusting buyers. Although it later turned out that I’d already missed many choice items, within minutes I amassed a stack of pulps that John’s wife Maureen salted away until I could return for a more careful search. The show was off to a good start.

Thursday’s feeding frenzy. I’m in the light blue shirt.

PulpFest has always distinguished itself with carefully planned programming, which started on Thursday evening after the dinner hour. The convention formally begins on Friday, and in earlier years the Thursday-evening session was more or less a throwaway to entertain early arrivals having nothing to do. There would be one or two casual presentations, maybe the screening of a pulp-related movie. More recently, Thursday prime-time programming has been just as extensive as that on Friday and Saturday night. As always at PulpFest, the presentations offered ample variety. Things got underway with Gene Christie’s tribute to pioneering Munsey editor Robert H. Davis, whom he dubbed “the Grandfather of Science Fiction.” Bold Venture Press editor-publisher Rich Harvey followed with a centennial celebration of Zorro, who first appeared in an August 1919 issue of All-Story Weekly. I took the stage with a slide show of stills and posters from movies adapted from stories first published in pulp magazines. Next up was an 80th-anniversary appreciation of Fritz Leiber’s beloved Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. Newly minted PulpFest committee member William Patrick Maynard polished off the evening’s entertainment with a Fu Manchu film festival, presenting an ultra-rare TV pilot starring John Carradine as Sax Rohmer’s Devil Doctor and a seldom-seen episode from a 1923 British series of Fu Manchu short subjects.

Mind you, all this took place before the convention officially got underway.

Friday opened with a goodly amount of foot traffic and brisk business. This year’s PulpFest was the best in several years for Murania Press. I had ordered up from my printer what I thought would be a sufficient quantity of the newly revived Blood ‘n’ Thunder. About half the copies sold during dealer set-up on Thursday, and the others were gone by 11:30 Friday morning, just 90 minutes into the convention. Turns out I could easily have sold another 15, maybe 20 copies. I also sold four complete sets of the ten-volume “Forgotten Classics of Pulp Fiction” series as well as numerous “loose” books from the group. I had restocked last year’s revised second edition of The Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide to Pulp Fiction and sold all but one of those.

Some of these sales were made to newbies—people attending their first PulpFest. In fact, I spotted quite a few new faces at this year’s con, indicating the show hasn’t exhausted its growth potential. According to convention chairman Jack Cullers, total attendance was approximately 430, a big increase over last year’s turnout.

Dealer-room traffic remained steady throughout Friday and Saturday. I got the sense that most exhibitors had a good show. There didn’t seem to be any phenomenally rare items for sale, but I noticed some very high-grade copies of popular titles at the tables of high-end dealers Richard Meli and Todd Warren. And there were exceptional bargains to be had by those who took the time to look for them.

Friday’s daytime programming included readings by five “New Pulp” authors, including the aforementioned Bill Maynard (Rohmer-authorized chronicler of Fu Manchu’s exploits) and Christopher Paul Carey, writer of ERB-authorized adventures of characters from the Burroughs universe. Well-known author attendees Chet Williamson, Will Murray, and John Locke did book signings outside the dealer room near the registration area.

The PulpFest dealer room.

Frankly, the Friday and Saturday prime-time programming deserves more coverage than I have room for in one blog post. While I missed a number of presentations, attendee feedback was unusually strong and after the fact I heard nothing but good things about them. Friday had men’s-magazine buff Wyatt Doyle discussing Argosy, Adventure and Blue Book (all of them pulps that evolved into men’s mags). Sherlock Holmes and his pulp connections were examined next, and David Saunders followed with a talk on female pulp artists. John Wooley and John Gunnison took a humorous approach to examining Dashiell Hammett and the detective story. The evening programming wrapped with twin presentations covering pulpish influences on The Twilight Zone and one of its writers, Charles Beaumont.

Saturday’s “New Fictioneers” readings were performed by John Bruening, Roger Alford, Sara Light-Waller, and Win Scott Eckert (filling in for Christopher Ryan, whose pressing deadline kept him from attending the show), with book signings conducted by Win, Nicholas Parisi, and John Wooley. Burroughs Bibliophile head honcho Henry Franke staged an ERB-centric art show that afternoon as well.

The evening entertainment began with a group meal and proceeded to the annual business meeting, which thankfully lacked any drama. The committee reported that next year’s PulpFest would once again be staged at the Double Tree, and that was that. Immediately thereafter the 2019 Munsey Award for outstanding service to the pulp-fan community was presented to George Vanderburgh, publisher of the long-running Battered Silicon Dispatch Box line of pulp-fiction reprints. PulpFest committee member William Lampkin, last year’s winner, did the honors.

Bill Lampkin presents the Munsey to George Vanderburgh.

FarmerCon XIV then occupied the dais with a panel discussion titled “Farmer of the Pulps: A Harvest of Influences.” PulpFest has hosted this contingent’s annual get-togethers for many years now, and the Philip José Farmer fans always provide entertaining presentations. A celebration of the remarkably prolific pulp scribe Arthur J. Burks wrapped up the informational programming and set the stage for this year’s auction.

A relatively small group of items—just over 100 lots—were auctioned off, and I have to say, the assortment was pretty motley. Auctioneers John Gunnison and Joe Taine, working in tandem, did their usual fine job but had little of value to work with. The low point was reached when they were forced to solicit bids for a She-Ra lunch pail. No, I’m not kidding. (Amazingly, the item sold.)

An encore presentation of the Fu Manchu films rang down the curtain on PulpFest’s programming. The dealer room opened on Sunday at 10 a.m. but, as always, most vendors were packing up by noon. As is customary, some dealers (including this one) were offering last-minute bargains. I took in several hundred dollars that morning and immediately raced to other tables to snap up goodies I hated to leave behind. In fact, I made my last purchase—a sharp copy of Unknown‘s first issue—while my friends were packing up our van.

The drive back to New Jersey was brutal, owing to torrential rainfall that for considerable lengths of time had drivers averaging 20 to 30 miles per hour on Interstate 80, where the speed limit is 70. But we had plenty of time to conduct our own PulpFest post-mortem, and the consensus view was that (auction aside) the 2019 convention was the best in several years. My only gripe with the event was the absence of a half-dozen or so good friends I regularly see at this show.

As always, thanks go to the PulpFest committee: Jack and Sally Cullers, Mike Chomko, Bill Lampkin, Bill Maynard, Barry Traylor, and their various family members who chip in. Great job, y’all! I’m already looking forward to the 2020 show!

P.S.  I meant to include photo credits but have already forgotten from whose Facebook pages I cribbed these photos. Please let me know if I grabbed one or more of your pictures and I’ll give you proper credit!

Making my “Pulp Page to Silver Screen” presentation.

5 thoughts on “PulpFest 2019 Report

  1. The next best thing to attending Pulpfest is reading about Pulpfest, so thanks for taking the time to post this report. The four days flew by super fast and I only gained 4 pounds drinking and eating like I was 30.

  2. Ed, the DoubleTree is indeed in Cranberry. It’s Cranberry Township. The town of Mars is actually a few miles away, but the hotel is covered by the Mars post office. Hence the address in Mars, PA.

    That was Wyatt Doyle rather than Bob Deis who covered the evolution of ARGOSY, etc. into men’s adventure magazines.

    Finally, Win Scott Eckert filled in for Christopher Ryan who, due to a deadline, had to cancel his appearance at this year’s PulpFest. We hope that Chris will be on hand for PulpFest 2020. It will take place at the DoubleTree from August 6 – 9. Our theme will be “Bradbury, BLACK MASK, and Brundage.”

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