Pulp magazines were long gone before I was even a gleam in my father's eye and yet they have always held a tremendous fascination for me and are one of the very few things I collect today. The great thing about collecting pulps is that while many range into the thousands of dollars, many more such as the Sci-Fi pulps of the 50's are very affordable. "The Incredible Pulps: A Gallery of Fiction Magazine Art" focuses on one of the main reasons that people collect pulps...the incredible artwork, particularly those covers that just had to have mesmerized kids and adults back in the 30's and 40's.
Writer Frank M. Robinson (who also wrote the very excellent Pulp Culture) provides a brief, but enlightening history of pulp magazines, beginning with Argosy Magazines decision to move from slick magazine, to all-fiction pulp. One of the great things about pulps is that they virtually could appeal to any person due to the diversity of subject matter. The pulps covered it all: crime, mystery, western, romance, adventure, war, horror, Sci-Fi, sports...if it had a possible audience, there was probably a pulp to suit them. But perhaps the most popular were the hero pulps featuring characters like The Shadow, Doc Savage, and The Spider. The popular misconception was that the pulps were written by hacks but some of the great writers of the first half of the 20th century wrote for pulps, among them: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ray Bradbury, H.P. Lovecraft, and Frederick Faust AKA Max Brand.
But this book is not about the stories, but rather that beautiful, often terrifying and downright shocking artwork. The artists are as legendary as the writers: Virgil Finlay, J. Allen St. John, George Rozen, and Frank Kelly Freas to name just a few. It was their job to create covers that would grab the attention of readers in a very crowded and competitive market. Today their works are worth thousands and many of them are on display in this great collection.
The book reprints hundreds of pulp covers and is divided by four main genres: Sci-Fi, Horror, Mystery/Detective, Adventure/Western. The book provides the name and date of the issue and the artists name if known. Tragically, so many of the artist names have been lost to history. The covers are reprinted beautifully and seemingly from flawless copies of the pulp. Frank Paul was one of the very early greats and did many classic covers for Amazing Stories in the 20's and 30's. He was a man well ahead of his time and his imagination was limitless as his paintings foreshadowed many technical advances that would not take place for decades. J. Allen St. John is best know for his Tarzan illustrations but a great cover in this book features Burroughs' other great character John Carter of Mars from Amazing Stories January 1941, for the story John Carter and the Giant of Mars.
My favorite pulps have always been the horror and weird menace pulps. So gruesome were some of the covers that the government eventually had to step in and force the publishers to clean them up a bit. One great cover is by Grave Gladney for Dime Mystery August 1937, showing a woman about to be sliced in half by a very large paper cutter.
George Rozen may be my favorite pulp artists of all-time. His Shadow covers were beautifully sinister. The cover to Shadow January 1933 is one of the all-time great covers showing a skeletal shadow emerging from behind a curtain. You think gore is a product of modern times? Then check out Rudolph Relarski's cover to Thrilling Detective from August 1940. It shows a table full of decapitated heads and a man locked in a stock, about to be the next victim of an evil Asian's sword. The book reprints numerous Rozen Shadow and Doc Savage covers.
It's really a great little book that anyone who is a pulp or pop culture illustration fan will love. I do have a couple of minor complaints though. First, there are no cover reprints from Weird Tales, arguably the most famous pulp ever. I can only assume that since Weird Tales is still being produced that perhaps the rights could not be obtained. Since there is no Weird Tales covers there are no examples, and not even a mention of Margaret Brundage, one of the truly great pulp cover artists. That aside, I highly recommend this book.
Reviewed by Tim Janson