Pulped Fictions

Doc Savage as envisioned by Doug Kaluba

Mirroring the proliferation of pulp magazines like Black Mask, Weird Tales and Detective Fiction Weekly during the Great Depression, today during the Great Recession, there’s been a blossoming of what’s been termed New Pulp. While there is overlap between this readership and the mystery and crime community, there are divisions. Yet due to the relative ease of creating e-books, downloading pdfs and print on demand options — thus being able to produce books without demanding a sizable inventory (plus various pulp characters from the ‘30s like Captain Future and Secret Agent X have fallen into public domain, while others have been licensed), established lovers of pulp and those curious to sample its fare have a range of material to enjoy.

So let’s define terms here. My buddy Tommy Hancock, a writer, editor, publisher and impresario of all things new pulp has noted, “Pulp is fast-paced, plot oriented storytelling of a linear nature with clearly defined, larger than life protagonists and antagonists, creative descriptions, clever use of turns of phrases and words, as well as other aspects of writing that add to the intensity and pacing of the story.” I’d add that another aspect of New Pulp, carrying over from the likes of today’s mystery and crime fiction, there is more characterization, more depth given to the main characters than just having surface qualities.

Via Tommy’s Pro Se Press, and other small press publishers such as Moonstone and Airship 27, new adventures of old favorites like The Avenger (created by Walter Gibson who wrote the Shadow and Lester Dent who created and wrote Doc Savage – the one and two, respectively, bestselling 1930s titles), the Black Bat, and the Domino Lady, have been resurrected in short stories, novels, comics and new audio recordings. There’s been new Doc Savage novels written by pulpster Will Murray and the Shadow, last realized on the screen in a fairly decent 1994 movie with Alec Baldwin, has again been revived in comics.

The Spider, begun as a knock-off of the Shadow by a competitor back in the day, has been in new prose and comics stories put out by Moonstone and Dynamite – with the latter having writer David Liss cast him in a modern setting. But New Pulp has also meant writers creating their own characters to the horror of the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Pat Buchanan (really, Buchanan, Obama’s reelection is the end of white America?…but I digress) they ain’t your daddy’s pulp heroes.

Derrick Ferguson is a black writer who writes various characters of various ethnicities including his two headliners, the black adventurers Dillon and Fortune McCall. Charles Saunders has written novels of a character called Imaro in what is called the sword and soul, an offshoot of the Conan, Red Sonja, et al. genre of sword and sorcery stories, and women writers such as Carole McDonnell and Kimberly Richardson, offer up women of color in the traditionally male dominated territory of pulp.

There is some acknowledgement of present-day sensibilities in new pulp – i.e, a black or Asian character, if the story is set in the past, wouldn’t be portrayed in a racist one dimensional manner as was often the case in stories from that era. Pulp plots often have twists and turns, the stakes are raised as we go along, and the heroes can be flawed but justice, to a greater or lesser degree, triumphs. In Black Pulp, an upcoming anthology I’m contributing to and co-editing with Mr. Hancock, the aforementioned Ms. Richardson, and Messrs. Ferguson and Saunders along with several others, will put forth their tales of pulpiness.

I did mention there’s been audio adaptation of old and new pulp stories, but how sweet is it that jazz saxophonist Scott Robinson, who played in the Charles Mingus Big Band, has done a CD called Bronze Nemesis? With his Doctette of swingin’ cats, Robinson produces some haunting renditions inspired by Doc’s stories like “Fortress of Solitude,” “The Secret in the Sky,” and “He Could Stop the World.”

Is pulp cool or what?


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