The Incredible Pulps: A Gallery of Fiction Magazine Art, edited by Frank M. Robinson. Collector’s Press Inc. 2006.
Remember all those lurid covers from pulp fiction’s heyday? Remember the sexy ladies in the D cup bras and torn panties who were always getting menaced by giant bugs and space aliens and evil scientists? The magazines had titles like Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Tales, Wonder Stories, Adventure, Dime Detective Magazine, and a hundred others. They were cheap and lurid and gaudy, but they were the home of luminaries like H. G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Clark Ashton Smith, Alfred Bester, H. P. Lovecraft, Cornell Woolrich, Raymond Chandler, Max Brand, Louie L’Amour, and a thousand others. For a brief moment in time, before TV became our national opiate, you could go down to the corner newsstand and surround yourself with a glorious array of titles, all of them claiming wonder on top of wonder in order to get your dime.
Now, The Incredible Pulps: A Gallery of Fiction Magazine Art, edited by Frank M. Robinson, has brought back a little taste of the past. This small book is meant as a teaser, a 175 page sampling of the hidden treasures that lurk in forgotten steamer trunks and used bookstore shelves all across America. The book is divided into categories (Science Fiction, Horror, Mystery, and Western and Adventure), each containing about thirty to fifty pages of pulp magazine covers. Every page is in full color, and the relief is large enough that you can almost feel the creamy thighs of the sexy strumpets drawn by H. J. Ward for the “spicy” covers, or get splattered by frothing spit from the horses drawn by Walter Baumhofer for the Western covers.
In addition to the artwork, Frank M. Robinson’s introduction gives a nice overview of the pulp era. He talks about some of the longer running pulps, and also a few of the short-lived titles, such as Zeppelin Tales and Gun Molls Magazine. He mentions a few artists, a few major publishers, and quite a few writers. He also describes the changing social milieu that begat, and eventually caused the demise of, the pulps.
Unfortunately, this book doesn’t provide an in-depth coverage of any one title or category. This is more of a representative quick peek. No book could effectively cover all the titles there ever were, anyway. You would need a library full of coffee table books to do that. And this little book is no coffee table book. It’s small enough to fit in your coat pocket, and that might make it a good resource to take with you to comic book conventions. For me, the real joy of this book was flipping through the pages and reading the fine print on the covers, seeing some of my favorites from the pulp era featured in a particular issue with their “new” story.
If you are a lifelong fan of the pulps, or even if you’re new to the wonder of the fiction magazines that used to be, this little book has something for you. Enjoy!