Category Archives: Vintage pulp paperback covers

Pulp Friday: American Pulp – How Paperbacks Brought Modernism to Main Street

American-Pulp-Princeton-University-Press-2014-681x1024

I’ve always been fascinated by how relatively insignificant objects you’ve lost in the course of moving around in life can later come to hold important meaning. An example for me is a black and white photograph of my father on holiday in Queensland’s Surfers Paradise in the early 1960s. It was destroyed when my friend’s shed, in which I stored all my possessions while travelling overseas, burnt down. I find it hard to recall what else was lost, but I remember that photo. Dad is sitting in a chair on the beach, wearing dark sunglasses and reading a paperback by the prolific Australian pulp writer Carter Brown.

Two things gave me cause to think about this picture recently. The first was the hype around the Anzac Day centenary commemorations – I’ll explain that connection later. The second was reading US academic Paula Rabinowitz’s beautifully written, highly original work, American Pulp: How Paperbacks Brought Modernism to Main Street.

Most people view pulp as either exploitative lowbrow culture or highly collectable retro artefact. Yet pulp has a secret history which Rabinowitz’s book uncovers. Her central thesis is that cheap, mass-produced pulp novels not only provided entertainment and cheap titillating thrills, but also brought modernism to the American people, democratising reading and, in the process, furthering culture and social enlightenment.… Read more

Pulp Friday: The Day of the Locust

Day of the LocustMost people are familiar with the 1975 John Schlesinger film, The Day of the Locust, starring Donald Sutherland, Burgess Meredith and Karen Black.

But long before it appeared in cinemas, The Day of the Locust was an influential novel by US author, Nathanael West. Today’s Pulp Friday offering is the 1957 edition of the novel by Bantam Books. I have no idea who did the stunning cover image for this paperback version.

Both the novel and the film are set during the Great Depression and focus on a young artist who comes to Hollywood and is soon sucked into a nightmare world of hustlers, struggling actors and actresses and various other low life denizens on the fringes of the movie business. It is often viewed as one of the best books written on the underbelly of the American dream.

Nathanael knew of what he was writing about in The Day of the Locust, having worked for a time as a screenwriter for RKO pictures.

Pulp Friday: The Name of the Game is Death

The Name of the Game is Death

Today’s Pulp Friday offering will be familiar to fans of hardboiled crime fiction, the 1972 edition of The Name of the Game Is Death, by Dan J Marlowe, published by Fawcett Gold Medal.

Although Marlowe is not well known today, aficionados acknowledge he had a major impact on the genre. His books are often compared to Jim Thompson and he influenced writers such as Steven King, and no doubt many others.

I first heard of The Name of the Game is Death during an interview I conducted last year with New Jersey-based Wallace Stroby for issue 17 of Crime Factory (that interview is available in full here). I asked Stroby about some of the lesser-known sixties pulp paperback crime writers who had influenced him, and he nominated Marlowe and, in particular, this book.

Originally published in 1962, The Name of the Game Is Death begins with three criminals pulling a bank heist in Phoenix, Arizona. One of the team is killed in the attempted getaway, another flees to Florida with the money, while the third, the narrator, plans to meet up with him later when police attention has died down. When the accomplice breaks contact, the narrator suspects something is up and travels to the small town from which the accomplice last contacted him, to see for himself what has happened.… Read more

Beat Girls, Love Tribes, Real Cool Cats draft cover & pre-order information

test pulp cover layout-3b (1)

I’m incredibly proud to be able to show you the draft cover to the upcoming book I’ve co-edited with Iain McIntyre, Beat Girls, Love Tribes & Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction & Youth Culture from the 1950s to 1980s.

Iain and I were both keen to do an examination of pulp fiction that went beyond simply focusing on paperback covers, as most pulp fiction related books do and I am sure we and the twenty plus writers who contributed to this tome, have delivered.

Beat Girls is first comprehensive account of the rise of youth culture and mass-market paperback fiction in the postwar period in the US, UK and Australia. It is not just a comprehensive selection of covers, but an in-depth look at the authors, how they worked and what influenced them. It is a must-read for anyone interested in retro and subcultural style and popular fiction.

As the young created new styles in music, fashion and culture, pulp fiction followed their every step, hyping and exploiting their behavior and language for mass consumption. From the juvenile delinquent gangs of the early fifties, through the beats and hippies, on to bikers, skinheads and punks, pulp fiction left no trend untouched. Boasting wild covers and action-packed plots, these books reveal as much about society’s desires and fears as they do about the subcultures themselves.… Read more

Pulp Friday: Pulp Confidential: Quick & dirty publishing from the 40s & 50s

Dope Island

When I first started researching the history of Australian pulp paperback publishing I thought libraries would be crammed with old papers from the various publishers who churned the books out in the fifties, sixties and seventies. I have since realised that paper takes up a lot of space to store and space is something that is at a premium at most libraries, be they public or university.

That is assuming individuals even had the presence of mind to realise that the records relating to pulp publishing were something worth keeping for future generations.

This is why Pulp Confidential: Quick and dirty publishing from the 40s to 50s, an exhibition currently showing at the State Library of NSW, is so interesting and unusual. The exhibition showcases papers, manuscripts, correspondence and artwork relating to Frank Johnson Publications, a small pulp-publishing operation active in Sydney in the 1940s and 1950s.

Johnson was member of the Sydney bohemian set in the twenties. He had high literary pretensions but moved into pulp publishing in response to the gap in local reading material resulting from the tariff placed on foreign imported printed matter in 1938.

Johnson died in 1960, after which the State Library wrote to his family, asking whether they had kept his papers. His daughter responded five years later, saying there was a considerable amount of paperwork relating to Johnson’s work in a shed at the back of her house.… Read more