Did you know that many of your favorite novelists were influenced by pulp magazines? So were many of your favorite movies, comic books, and TV shows.
You may have never seen a pulp magazine. You might think “pulp fiction” is just the name of a popular movie. Yet that movie got its name from pulp magazines. And like many others, movie reviewer Roger Ebert grew up reading pulps. So did SF author Philip José Farmer.
When people say that a story is “pulp,” they often mean that it’s like those published in the pulp magazines: lurid and full of action. But I’m going to use “pulp” to refer only to pulp magazines. The first pulp magazine was The Argosy, first published in that format in 1896. Pulp magazines experienced their peak between 1920 and 1940. For the most part, pulp magazines died down in 1957. After that, publishers moved to the digest format. You can still find some digest magazines at your newsstand. Examples include Analog Science Fiction and Fact (which started as a pulp magazine); The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction; Asimov’s Science Fiction; and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.
The pulp magazines got their name because they were printed on a cheap type of paper. You might come across random issues in a flea market or antique store, but the paper is almost always yellowing with bits of the stories flaking away.
Although I picked up a couple of flaking pulp magazines at a booth in an antique store, I didn’t know much about pulps. Sure, I knew a few things: many of the authors I grew up reading got their start in the pulp magazines; some pulp magazines are collectible; and comic icons like Stan Lee of Marvel Comics were influenced by pulp magazines. I also knew that influential pulp magazine Weird Tales served as the debut for many pioneering science fiction, fantasy, and horror authors. And I was familiar with pulp heroes like The Shadow and Doc Savage, who had their own radio shows back when my father was growing up.
Then I learned that some modern companies were reprinting pulp magazines. Entire magazines in some cases. When I had a chance to read an eBook reprint, I jumped in it! And boy, was I stunned. The first issue of The Spider magazine is just as startling to a modern reader as it would have been to someone reading it in the 1930s. Sure, most…