Books from the Crypt

I love this website.

Most of you know I’m a huge fan of the pulps from the 30s, 40s, and 50s.  If you ask me, this is a category of literature that has been shamefully ignored by those mavens of academic good taste who forced all that George Elliot and Thomas Hardy on us back in college.  Just as the blues can claim to be America’s unique contribution to music, so too can the pulps be called America’s unique contribution to popular literature.

Yes, I know there was a long history of popular magazines in Britian during the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Yes, I know that such notables as Dickens, Kipling, Wells, Doyle, and Stevenson all contributed regularly to those magazines.  But the American pulps were the pinnacle of the form.  They were steeped in lurid commercialism, the writing was frequently clunky,  even sloppy in places, but they satisfied a basic need for escape and adventure that underlies the best in literature and storytelling.

But their merits as good literature notwithstanding, the pulps also have a place in the history of popular entertainment.  You see, the pulps flourished in a world with very few TVs, and a good many of them went out of business as more and more TVs entered American homes.  It seems to me that the pulp-to-TV conversion in American tastes represents one of the only instances in which one form of media wholly supplanted some other form of media.  That would seem to suggest an event of some cultural significance.  Maybe the reason behind it is laziness.  I mean, let’s face it, it’s easier to sit in front of the TV and watch a show about a private eye fighting crime and loving half-naked women than it is to read a poorly printed digest magazine about a private eye fighting crime and loving half-naked women.  I can’t really blame the American consumer for making the switch.  Not everybody loves to read.  But that doesn’t stop me from bemoaning the demise of a great form of literature.  Nor does it dissuade me from calling for America’s academia to rise to the challenge of reclaiming pulp literature and giving it the credibility it so richly deserves.

Which brings me to Books from the Crypt.  I love these guys.  Academia may have not noticed golden nugget under their nose, but there is a growing movement online to bring back the pulps in all their former glory, and the guys at Books from the Crypt are at the vanguard of that movement.  I am a modest collector of pulp magazines.  With mouths to feed and bills to pay and a limited bank account with which to make it all work, there is only so much I can do to indulge my hobbies, but these guys seem determined to make the work of collectors such as myself a little easier.  They offer a secure way to buy a variety of titles, and they also post a daily scan of pulp covers…and let’s face it, the covers were awesome.  Plus, each daily scan lists the contents from that particular issue, an invaluable tool for collectors.

Go check ’em out.


Those Incredible Pulps!

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!

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