The Art of the Pulps: Review

    • Hardcover: 240 pages
    • Publisher: IDW Publishing; Illustrated edition (October 24, 2017)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 168405091X
    • ISBN-13: 978-1684050918
    • Product Dimensions: 10.1 x 1 x 11.3 inches
    • Shipping Weight: 3.6 pounds
    • Hardcover: $31.44

    I suspect that I am very much like many other fans of the SF genre in finding genre art to be as fascinating and worthy of attention as its literature.  Were this not so, little space and time would be given to the Art Show at conventions and our publications would lower their prices by foregoing cover illustrations (as some are wont to do owing to fiscal restrictions).

    Visual appeal certainly seems to be responsible for capturing many a fan (and many a fan-turned-pro) if their statements are anything to go buy:  Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, Moore and others have all stated that they were originally attracted to the genre by magazine covers depicting other-worldly visions – giant ants, exploding spaceships, robots and planetary vistas.

    My own story is similar, being captivated by the John Berkey illustration for Heinlein’s Starman Jones (depicting the crew working their astrogator’s stations aboard a spaceship):  I’d never seen the inside of a starship before…what were they so intent on?  What do those instruments do?  What might one see through that viewer?  Where were they…and where were they going?

    Over the years I have accumulated a fair collection of SF related “coffee table” books of artwork…and I’ve been mesmerized and fascinated by each and every one of them:

     And now a new one to add to my collection, the absolutely stunning THE ART OF THE PULPS An Illustrated History edited by Doug Ellis, Ed Hulse and Robert Weinberg.

    I’d love to share some of the interior layouts and cover art selected for this volume, but my attempts to scan without creasing a page would not do the book justice.  I will attempt to convey with words, however inadequate that may be.

    Unlike most of my art book holdings, The Art of the Pulps focuses on the entire pulp magazine field, from sports to westerns and from science fiction to true love stories, not missing detective, war, aerial adventures, horror, hero, or titillation along the way.  One glance will tell you that walking past an old-style newsstand during pulp’s heyday must have been like walking through an everyman’s art gallery.

    Designed to attract, intrigue, scandalize and spur impulse buys, the covers of the pulps, regardless of genre, were eye popping, vibrant and action-filled.

    Art of the Pulps begins with a comprehensive introduction by author F. Paul Wilson, who relates his own exposure to the pulps at 13 (stories from Weird Takes in a Wollheim anthology) and an encounter with one of the great collectors and re-sellers, Gerry de la Ree (a man who I purchased some of my own collection from).  I know well the feeling when Mr. Wilson states “My first view of these covers was an electrifying epiphany.  Love at first sight.  They spoke to me.”

    Mr. Wilson then goes on to try and explain the allure of these sometimes lurid images:

    The art you’ll see here, the cover paintings and interior illustrations of the pulp magazines, relied heavily on “inward dreamings”.  The science fiction pulps, for instance, depicted fantastic technologies, bizarre spaceships…and the like that never were, and most likely never will be. They showed us the future, not the way it might look, but the way we wished it would look – chock full of bright colors and cool gadgets.

    Wish fulfillment realized on the cover of a dime magazine.

    Wilson then conducts a short course, based on his years collecting the pulps, in how to go about viewing this unique art form:  there are illustrative tropes as well as literary ones and here is the list of things to keep an eye out for:

    An intervening hero: a secret passage/trapdoor: a crooked politician: an ethnic mobster: yellow peril: a damsel in distress: some sort of bondage: skull/skeleton: a madman/mad scientist: your choice of blood, lucre or weapons: partial or complete nudity (shielded by strategically placed objects.

    The introduction concludes with a brief survey of other things to look for among the various pulp genres, the sports, romance and other rags.

    It’s a fine introduction that whets the appetite for what is to follow.

    Douglas Ellis (who – full disclosure – requested my review copy from the publisher) regales us with a history of the pulps.  I’ll leave Doug’s history for the reader who picks this book up, except to quote the quote he opens his history with, as it more than amply encapsulates the entire experience:

    What were the pulps? Cheaply printed, luridly illustrated, sensationally written magazines of fiction…Were they any good?  No.  They were great.  Charles Beaumont.

    other than to say that he accurately relates the history of this medium, taking us back to 1896 and Munsey’s The Argosy, which was quickly followed by The Popular Magazine and The All Story Magazine, three ventures that set the stage for the all-fiction pulp magazine, that eventually gave birth to the specialist pulps, a foreshadowing of the sub-genre fiction markets we see today.

    There then follow a number of chapters devoted to each of the various genres – adventure pulps, detective pulps, western pulps, the war and aerial warfare pulps, (remember, these were published when biplanes were still a common sight), the sports pulps, the romance and true love pulps, horror and weird pulps, science fiction and fantasy pulps, the hero pulps, the racy pulps, each detailing important titles and important artists. These are then followed by chapters devoted to specific artists and specific authors.

    (Side note: Mike Ashley, history king of the SF magazine field, is tapped to cover the science fiction pulps and I was very pleased to read the following, where Mike notes that Frank R. Paul’s sometimes over-the-top fantastic visions of the future were harming the perception of the new genre:

    …also harmed the image of science fiction, which was aggravated further when pulp publisher William Clayton launched a rival title, Astounding Stories of Super Science, from January 1930. Whereas Gernsback had hoped the stories would encourage readers to explore science and technology, Clayton wanted pure explosive adventure. What’s more, Astounding was a genuine pulp, whereas Gernsback’s magazines had been the full flat size, often called “bedsheet”.)

    I don’t think anyone should be surprised by the fact that I spent much of my time paging through The Art of the Pulps on the science fiction section. But it doesn’t matter which pulp genre appeals to you personally, you will find yourself equally fascinated by all of them.

    If you already have a collection of pulp art books, The Art of the Pulps will undoubtedly fill some holes with its comprehensive coverage. If you don’t own any pulp art books, The Art of the Pulps is the one to start with. Just for a moment, pretend you are 10, or 11, or 13 again, meeting legendary pulp collector Gerry de la Ree for the first time and he has just opened the door to reveal your own electrifying ephiphany.

    FURTHER READING: Phil Stephenson-Payne maintains a visual inventory of the pulps at GalacticCentral. You can get some small idea of the breadth and depth of the pulp field author’s Ellis,, Hulse and Weinberg had to review for The Art of the Pulps by taking a look. You’ll want to reserve several hours.

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