Recently, I was asked to create ten illustrations for an upcoming pulp fiction style anthology of short stories. It was an opportunity I couldn’t resist, and so I am in the midst of reading ten short stories, and pulling together elements of the stories to create an illustration for each one that will entice readers to turn the page and read the ensuing story.
What is pulp fiction?
From 1896 through to the 1950s, pulp fiction referred to short story anthologies that were printed on rough, low-quality paper manufactured from wood pulp. In other words, the book was printed on cheap paper, which meant it also had pages with ragged, untrimmed edges. The peak of popularity for pulp fictions was in the 1920s and 1930s, and as World War II engulfed the world– which seriously affected pulp production and costs associated therein — and pulp fiction became a victim of the attractive newcomers on the block: comic books, paperback novels,and, of course, television.
Were there pulp fiction characters with a following?
Long before comic books, pulp fiction was known for such fictional characters as Buck Rogers, Captain Future, Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage, Lord Lister, The Phantom Detective, The Shadow, Tarzan, and Zorro, to name a few.
The Phantom Detective was none other than the wealthy playboy, Richard Curtis Van Loan — a world-famous detective whose real identity was only known by the Phantom Detective and Clarion newspaper publisher, Frank Havens.
And who hasn’t joked around with friends that “only The Shadow knows” when asked about things that are — or should be — kept secret? The man with the wide-brimmed black hat and the crimson-lined black cloak over a black three-piece business suit — aka Kent Allard aka Lamont Cranston aka countless other characters — was the first hero to delve into questionable activities to secure justice.
Yes, he believed in burglary if that was the only way to get proof against criminals. Yes, he believed in scaring criminals half to death to get at the truth. Yes, he believed that gunning down criminals was acceptable if no other option seemed viable at the time of the shooting. He was a dark superhero that emerged from trials and tribulations that the Great Depression brought to the masses.
And those are just two from among many of the pulp fiction heroes, superheroes, and villains that readers followed from month to month back then … some of whom have successfully transitioned via other media into the 21st century.
Were there any pulp fiction authors whose names might be recognized these days?
Some of the writers are names that we still recognize in this generation: Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, William S. Burroughs, Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Arthur C. Clark, Arthur Conan Doyle, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zane Grey, Dashiell Hammett, Robert A. Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Rudyard Kipling, Louis L’Amour, Jack London, H.P. Lovecraft, Mark Twain, Jack Vance, H.G. Wells, and Tennessee Williams.
It may be nearly unbelievable that such respected and renowned authors as these wrote pulp fiction, but they did and the literary world is all the richer for it.
What kind of stories are usually found in pulp fiction?
This genre relies on sensational stories that focus on the main character’s struggles against inner and outer forces that create moral and ethical dilemmas for him or her. Dark, powerful, evil forces beyond the main character’s control threaten to upset the world as the main character knows it, and the conflict must be resolved.
Now that you know the opportunity to illustrate the stories in Joel Mark Harris‘ upcoming anthology of short stories, “Amazing Adventures” was one I couldn’t resist. Watch for more info on this project in upcoming weeks, along with the unveiling of all ten illustrations. Until then, readers and visitors, keep following your passions!