Pulp Fiction it will probably last generations from now, but the resonance of its name may already be lost to history. Pulp magazines, or “pulps” as they were called, once had a special meaning for lovers of adventure stories, detective stories and science fiction, horror and fantasy. Named after the cheap paper they were printed on, pulp magazines could be said to have largely shaped the pop culture of our contemporary world, publishing acclaimed authors such as HG Wells and Jules Verne and many unknown newcomers. of which she became household names (in certain houses) such as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Philip K. Dick.
Beginning in the late 19th century, the pulps opened up a publishing space that was flooded by comics and popular novels such as those of Stephen King and Michael Crichton in the second half of the twentieth century.
They varied greatly in quality and subject matter, but all shared certain interests. Sexual taboos are explored in their bare essence or through various genre devices. Monsters, aliens, and other features of the “weird” are prevalent, as are the forerunners of the DC and Marvel superhero empires in characters like Shadow and Phantom Detective.
Unlike higher-rent “slicks” or “glossies,” pulp magazines were allowed to go where respectable publications feared to tread. Genre fiction now spawns multi-million dollar franchises, one after the other, purged of much of its obscene pulp content. But scrolling through the thousands of back issues available at Pulp magazine archive will give you an idea of how raw such magazines used to be – a quality that survived in the underground comics and zines of the 1960s and later in genre tabloids such as Scream Queens.
The huge archive contains thousands of digitized editions of such titles as e.g If, True detective mysteries, Witchcraft and sorcery, Weird stories, Uncensored Detective, Captain Billy’s Whiz Bangand Adventure (“America’s Most Exciting Fiction for Men!”). It also features early celebrity rags like Picture movie and Silence Silenceand retrospectives as Dirty picturesa 1990s comic reprinting the often quite misogynistic pulp art of the 1930s.
There’s great sci-fi, a fair amount of spooky teenage boy wish-fulfilment, and plenty of lurid, noir appeals to fantasies of sex and violence. Swords and sorcery, guns and bound pin-ups, and lots of creature elements. We could say that marrows were once the identification of mass culture and have now become its ego.
Enter the Pulp magazine archive here.
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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him on @jdmagnes