Karen Haber Reviews The Art of the Pulps edited by Douglas Ellis, Ed Hulse & Robert Weinberg

Locus Magazine, Science Fiction FantasyThe Art of the Pulps, Douglas Ellis, Ed Hulse & Robert Weinberg, eds. (IDW 978-1-68405-091-8, $49.99, 240pp, hc) October 2017.

Pulp magazine lovers should be delighted with The Art of the Pulps: An Illustrated History, the first definitive visual history of the genre magazines that provided popular “literary” entertainment before the birth of paperback books, circa 1900-1949. The Art of the Pulps is a treasury of pulp magazine facts, cover art, and interior illustrations.

More than 400 examples of the best pulp graphics, many from the editors’ own collections, are exquisitely reproduced here and organized into chapters ranging from action pulps to spicy pulps, including Crime and Detective, Horror, and Science Fiction and Fantasy along the way.

For lovers of pulp nostalgia and lurid covers, this is a first-rate invitation to wallow, thanks to editors Douglas Ellis, Ed Hulse, and the late Robert Weinberg. Each genre is introduced by an overview, followed by chronologically arranged covers and interior graphics, and essays on spe­cial-interest topics. Beautifully reproduced illus­trations accompany insightful commentary on the magazines, publishers, artists, and writers, with special attention given to great pulp authors H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, and great pulp artists Norman Saunders and Walter Baumhofer.

The cover art and endpapers give a sense of good fun to the proceedings. Superb color repro­duction – scans taken from original covers and illustrations – on glossy paper and with intelligent design allows the art to be well featured, with full-page bleed images introducing each genre chapter. It goes from birth to death in 240 pages. And yes, Virginia, there is an index.

The chapter on science fiction and fantasy pulps features the distinctive work of Frank R. Paul, Margaret Brundage, Hannes Bok, Frank Kelly Freas, Norman Saunders, Hubert Rogers, Virgil Finlay, J. Allen St. John, Edd Cartier, Earle Bergey, Harold W. McCauley, Lawrence Sterne Stevens, and James Bama among the many artists whose work is shown and cited.

It’s not news to anyone that certain pulp magazine covers – Horror and Mystery pulps in particular – specialized in lurid images of un­clothed women being assaulted in various ways, bound and chained, and awaiting dismemberment, scientific experimentation, and/or rape by aliens. Happily, the editors chose to directly address these sick, degrading illustrations in “Sex & Sadism in Weird Menace Pulps”, an essay by Ed Hulse. He writes: “For sheer tastelessness there was no topping the weird menace mags published by Mar­tin Goodman, who would soon begin building what even­tually became the Marvel Comics em­pire….” Hulse even suggests that these covers and the result­ing outcry against them may have led to the death of pulps as popular literature for the working class. Nevertheless, these offensive images are lovingly reproduced as part of the book’s visual record.

In the book’s afterword, “The Death of the Pulps and Rise of Paperbacks”, Ed Hulse offici­ates at the gravesite, placing blame for the end of pulps where he sees fit, and enumerating a few reasons why paperbacks succeeded where pulps failed.

Essay contributors to the book include Mike Ashley, Laurie Powers, Michelle Nolan, David Saunders, Will Murray, John Wooley, and Tom Roberts, and there is a foreword by F. Paul Wilson.

The Art of the Pulps is a must for any pulp fans, anywhere.

This review and more like it in the February 2018 issue of Locus.Locus Magazine, Science Fiction Fantasy

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