The Bloody Pulps: The World Builders. Part 2

The creators of some of the most interesting, creative and thought provoking fictional universes were themselves, extraordinary people.  Last time, we learned about Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard and how both men crafted worlds unlike anything that had come before in popular culture.  Now, let’s take a look at some other remarkable writers, some you’ve heard of…others have disappeared into the inky veil of obscurity.

H.P. Lovecraft

Worlds Built:  The Cthulhu mythology, The Necronomicon, Herbert West: Re-animator, Miskatonic County Massachusetts  (The fictional Massachusetts setting of many of Lovecraft’s horror stories.)

Born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1890, Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a sickly, withdrawn child.  He was homeschooled until he was 8 years old.  He was in public school for only a year until his mother pulled him out, he didn’t return to public school until he was a teenager.  Lovecraft’s door to door salesman father had suffered from a psychosis brought on by syphilis and was committed to a psychiatric hospital.  Like the aforementioned Robert E. Howard, Lovecraft was very close to his mother.  Unlike Robert E. Howard, Lovecraft also had the emotional support of his grandfather.  It was Lovecraft’s grandfather that nurtured his writing by telling him his own, original horror stories.  Lovecraft became distraught and deeply depressed after his grandfather’s death, suffering from a nervous breakdown while in high school.  Lovecraft also suffered from night terrors, claiming that he would see ghastly, demonic creatures in his dreams that would try to kill him.  Later, Lovecraft’s mother would also suffer from a nervous breakdown, however her condition was much more severe and she was hospitalized in the same psychiatric hospital her husband had been admitted to decades before.

Lovecraft used his personal experiences to fuel his stories.   The author explored the frailty of the human condition and human psychology in many of his most famous horror stories.  In these stories, Lovecraft would introduce the concept of elder, cosmic deities such Cthulhu, a massive sea dwelling creature of immeasurable evil.  First appearing in Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu story in Weird Tales Magazine, in 1928.

While Cthulhu debuted here, the ghost table remains the most popular character.

While Cthulhu debuted here, the ghost table remains the most popular character.

The story would lead to many more encounters with ancient, alien gods, most of which were set in Lovecraft’s fictional Miskatonic County in Massachusetts.  Much like Stephen King’s Castle Rock, Maine (The setting for Cujo, The Dark Half, and Needful Things), Lovecraft’s Miskatonic gave his stories a smooth continuity, similar to what a comic book fan would find in the Marvel, or DC Universe (Well, at lest before the New 52 ruined everything).

Lovecraft helped create and popularize the “Weird Horror” genre and inspired countless, writers and artists ranging from the aforementioned Stephen King to Richard Corben.  Shortly after Lovecraft’s death in 1937 at age 46, his publisher, contemporary and friend August Derleth expanded on many of the Cthulhu stories and Mythology, even organizing all of the “Elder Gods” and assorted cosmic beings into a Pantheon of sorts.    Even now, decades after Lovecraft’s death, his work has grown on its own and the Cthulhu Mythology continues to be expanded upon.

The newest expansion to the Cthulhu Mythos. Art by Murray Groat.

The newest expansion to the Cthulhu Mythos. Art by Murray Groat.

MOVIE COUNT:  24-ish.  There has been about 24, give or take films based on H.P. Lovecraft’s stories.  The problem is that many of these films are either loosely based on Lovecraft stories or they are the combination of two stories.  (Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna both did some really good adaptations of Lovecraft with the Re-animator series, but they combined many elements from other stories.)  Many of the 80s, schlock-fest inspired Lovecraft adaptations were so loose, they were barely close to the Lovecraft Mythos.  The best has to be The Call of Cthulhu, a film many said could never be made.  This film by Andrew Leman was a low budget ($50,000) re-telling of the 1928 story and was made to look as if it came from the Black and White, silent era.  It is an amazing testament at what a great script, great director and great cast can do for a movie without needing a multi-million dollar budget.

http://www.cthulhulives.org/store/storeDetailPages/coc-dvd.html

Comic Connections:  Marvel had quite a few adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories appearing in their bronze age horror comics, and later in their adults only MAX titles.  I highly recommend Richard Corben’s H.P. Lovecraft’s Haunt of Horror.  DC comics never really did any direct adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft, but Hellboy creator Mike Mignola had Batman meet the Lovecraftian horrors.  IDW would later have many of their licensed characters encounter Cthulhu and his ilk.  That meant the Transformers, Ninja Turtles, G.I. Joe and others fought the same menace, it was a pretty entertaining and ambitious project.

C.L. Moore/Henry Kuttner:  (Moore):  Jirel of Joiry, and Northwest Smith (Kuttner):  Graveyard Rats, The Salem Horror (Together): Vintage Season, Mimsy were the Borogoves

Like many of C.L. Moore’s contemporaries, the writer suffered from illnesses as a child and found solace in literature, thus nurturing her love of the written word.  Moore would eventually create Jirel of Joiry, a sword wielding warrior woman from Medieval France who would battle against Supernatural forces.  Moore’s next most popular character was Northwest Smith, a spaceship pilot and smuggler, much like Han Solo.  Northwest Smith was a loveable rouge who lived by his own code of ethics.  Sometimes, like in the story Shambleau, Smith’s moral code would come back to bite him.  In this classic tale, Northwest Smith rescues a beautiful young woman from a mob who wants to kill her.  Smith trusts the woman and takes her in, soon falling under her Medusa-like spell.  The woman is revealed to be a Shambleau, a creature with “hair” that is really hundreds of snake like coils that grant her victims bliss, while his life force is being sucked out of him.

The late Kurt Cobain seen here with his daughter, Frances Bean Cobain and his wife, the Shambleau.

The late Kurt Cobain seen here with his daughter, Frances Bean Cobain and his wife, the Shambleau.

 

Henry Kuttner grew up in poverty in San Francisco.  He worked for his Literary Agent uncle and soon found himself writing his own stories.  This led to his first sale, The Graveyard Rats, one of his creepiest horror stories involving a cemetery Caretaker who tries to rid the grounds of massive rats, but soon finds that they are stealing newly buried corpses and living with a giant, underground dwelling zombie creature.  While Kuttner wrote his own great horror stories, he was also an avid fan of other writers.  Like Robert E. Howard and C.L. Moore, Kuttner corresponded with H.P. Lovecraft and helped contribute to his Cthulhu mythology.  Kuttner loved the work of C.L. Moore so much that he obsessed about a crossover with the sword and sorcery character Jirel and the space faring Northwest Smith.  Moore and Kuttner continued to correspond with each other on this and other stories.  During this correspondence, Kuttner would write The Quest for the Star Stone, the only crossover between Jirel of Joiry and Northwest Smith.

Kuttner soon learned that the C.L. Moore who wrote his favorite stories was in fact a woman, Catherine Lucille Moore.  Moore’s publishers had urged her to use her initials rather than her full name, foolishly believing that the reading public was not ready for a female science fiction and fantasy writer.  The two met in person and eventually married, creating a very influential partnership.  The two used so many pseudonyms and worked so prolifically that it is often hard to tell where Kuttner’s contributions begin and where Moore’s end.

Like CatDog!

Like CatDog!

One of my favorite Moore/Kuttner stories is called Vintage Season.  The story is about a man who rents out his mansion to strange visitors who talk about how they are there to see a grand spectacle.  The man soon learns that the visitors are in fact time travelers who came to the past to see a massive meteorite strike the city.  The travelers claim that they can stop and warn many people about the tragedies they witness, but they don’t want to keep their culture from developing.  The man tries to warn people about the time travelers by writing a journal, however he is killed by a strange new plague (That the time travelers knew about) and his house and the note were destroyed in a controlled fire meant to quarantine the city.  It’s a dark, yet compelling analogy to explorers poisoning the lands they visit.

Sometimes it is very difficult to tell weather you are reading a Kuttner story because Moore would often write under his name.  Since Kuttner was a man and this was a much more misogynistic era (1930s-1950s), his pay scale was much higher than Moore’s so, she would often use his name.  Due to this practice, Kuttner is often unfairly under appreciated, many Pulp historians claim that some of his best stories are written by Moore.  Separately, the two were amazing writers in their own right, together they created some very influential pulp fiction under a number of pen names.  C. H. Liddell, Lawrence O’Donnell, and Lewis Padgett were all aliases for the pair of talented writers.

MOVIE COUNT:  3.  There are two direct adaptations of “Lewis Padgett” stories.  Mimsy were the Borogoves, a story about space age toys sent to the past to enlighten children and save the dying future was loosely adapted as The Last Mimzy (2007).  The Twonky was a comical story about a robot like device that gives its owner everything he wants, until the owner realizes how frustrating that can be.  This story was adapted rather well in 1953 as a sci-fi comedy.  The aforementioned Vintage Season was turned into the 1992 film, Timescape.  The movie is needlessly more complex and muddles the intent and scope of the original story.  It’s a decent enough science fiction film, but a horrible adaptation.

Comic Connections:  As far as straight out adaptations, I can’t find any.  However, Henry Kuttner wrote a lot of Golden Age Green Lantern stories that have a very cool science fiction spin on them.  His run spans 1944-1946 and most of the stories were short, 13 page features.  Most comic books of that era were anthologies containing a 13 page feature and other shorter stories.

M.L. Strayer

World’s Built:  The Trees of Eternity, Mercury Heights, Doc Saga, October

By far, Margaret Louise Strayer is the most obscure of all of the Pulp fiction Authors that I have explored in this series.  Born in 1913 in Oklahoma to a farming family, Margaret was no stranger to poverty.  Her father, a notorious drunk died in a fight in a local bar.  His distraught wife died while giving birth to their youngest child, Margaret’s brother Bertram.  Margaret and her siblings were all relocated to San Francisco, where they lived with their wealthy Maternal Aunt, Louise Hastings.  Hastings was a very intelligent woman and made sure all of her new wards were literate and well educated.  Hastings had a large collection of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, among other fantasy and science fiction literature.  Margaret fell in love with these books, as well as the OZ adventures by Frank L. Baum.  Her favorite of the OZ series was Tik-Tok of Oz, an adventure starring Betsy Bobbin, a young girl from Oklahoma.  Margaret found a lot of joy in the books and this soon fostered her love of writing.

Strayer’s first story, Weary are the Lost was published under the name M.L. Strayer in Blue Ribbon Fantasy Magazine in the spring of 1928, when she was only 15!  The story was the first appearance of arguably her most well known creation, Doc Saga.  Doc Saga told the story of a sword wielding young female thief, Olandra in Medieval Europe whom inadvertently steals from an old wizard.  This “wizard” is in reality a brilliant scientist, detective from Modern Day (1928) San Francisco known as Doc Saga.  He insists that Olandra returns with him to his time and become his apprentice.  What she doesn’t know is that Doc Saga is dying and she is to become his replacement.  The story ends with Doc Saga dying at the hands of his arch-foe, the master criminal Raynard Crane and Olandra taking his mantle.  Later stories see Olandra finally killing Raynard, giving in to her savage side.  In 1935’s Passage of crime, Olandra finally passes on the Doc Saga mantle to her friend and sometimes assistant, the young priest, Nathanial West.  The Nathan West version of the character and his arch villain, the ghost like, October became so popular that a radio show, titled The Doc debuted in 1937 and lasted for two years.  The radio show ended after the actor playing October was embroiled in a string of murders, resulting in his unsolved disappearance.

The radio show controversy left Strayer shaken and she took a five year hiatus, returning in 1944 with the Trees of Eternity first published in Sinister Mysteries.  The story about ordinary people being granted amazing powers was a minor success and resulted in three more stories, Arbor Vitae, Arbor Mortus, and Rotten are the Apples.  The final story marked the return of Doc Saga and the first appearance of Mercury Heights a mysterious dimension where the good Arbor Vitae comes from.  Mercury Heights and its heroes would spin off into their own stories that lasted several years.

In 1952, M.L. Strayer married J. Talbot Jr, a horror writer and heir to a typewriter manufacturer.  This marriage led to Strayer’s darkest stories, including the return of October, but as a bitter, hard boiled anti-hero whom battled the forces of evil.  Stayer and Talbot retreated to their cabin in the Northern California redwoods and wrote many stories.  During this collaboration, readers were introduced to the Dark Stag Lord, Hysol.  This immortal creature was the dark creator of the evil Arbor Mortus and led an army of possessed animal/human creatures.  The 1954 story All Things Must Crumble tied all of Stayer’s creations together in an epic battle between good and evil, resulting in a cliff hanger that was meant to lead into a full length novel.  The novel however was never published.  in December 1954 Strayer’s cabin was engulfed in flames in a mysterious fire, she and her husband were assumed to have died, however no bodies were ever recovered.  Strayer was 41, her husband was 45.

All of the information on Strayer was found in a now out of print book titled, Strayer Stories: The life and stories of M.L. Strayer by A. Campbell.  Campbell included his rare, August, 26, 1954 interview with Strayer and Talbot.  In my opinion, the interview gave a glimpse at the life of two very talented and very troubled individuals.

Movie Count:  There were no movies based on any of Strayer’s work.  It was far too underappreciated and obscure.

Comic Connections:  I once read a comic adaptation of a Nathanial West era Doc Saga story from Kitchen Sink Press waaaay back in the 80s.  I bought it at a yard sale for a quarter and now I can’t find any trace of its existence.  The art was pretty cool, like something out of Heavy Metal.  The story was far darker than its original counterpart.

 

Thus ends this installment of the Bloody Pulps.  I’m going to take a break from the series for a little while to return to comic reviews and family antics, but in the next Bloody Pulps I will try to include some of that interview….once I rummage through my stuff and find my copy of the Strayer Stories.

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The Bloody Pulps: The World Builders part 1…

Pulp fiction has roots that stretch all the way back to the Victorian era (As discussed in our previous installment) and still influence pop culture and literature to this day.  Zorro, Tarzan, Conan the Barbarian and The Shadow are all Pulp magazine characters that still enjoy a following.  While many people know the characters much more than their creators, these men and women, much like those in the comic book industry did much more than create characters.  They were world builders.

Edgar Rice Burroughs

Worlds built:  The Tarzan Universe, Barsoom (The Martian word for Mars, it is the setting of the John Carter adventures), The Pellucidar (A secret place deep beneath the Earth).

Burroughs was as close to the Most Interesting Man in the World as any real guy could get.  He had a brief military career, he was a ranch hand, a drifter, a businessman and later a writer.  Hell, he’s even Wes Anderson’s Great-Grandfather.  While he was seemingly a Jack of all trades, he became a master of one.  Burroughs stories ignited the imaginations of millions and they still do to this day.  Burroughs created a marketing empire with Tarzan, one that made him millions.  There were Tarzan comics, Tarzan movies, Tarzan action figures, Tarzan Ape repellent and more…

"Ape Repellent! I know when I'm not wanted fellas!"

“Ape Repellent! I know when I’m not wanted fellas!”

Burroughs would even have his characters crossover, an occurrence that comic book fans have become very familiar with.  My favorite crossover was Tarzan at Earth’s core in which the Jungle lord ventured into the Pellucidar and met its strange inhabitance.  Tarzan would become good friends with the English explorer, David Innes who eventually became ruler of the Pellucidar.  This friendship was the springboard for a comic book that Dark Horse released where they brought Tarzan, Pellucidar and the Predator together in one crazy mash up.  The story is written by one of my favorite comic book creators, Walter Simonson with art by the talented Lee Weeks, I highly recommend it if you want a modernized (by modern authors, it’s still set in the past) taste of two of Burroughs’ coolest creations…with an added bonus of vitamin Predator.

Burroughs even created a whole freaking town in Southern California…well, sort of.  ERB bought  a massive ranch and called it Tarzana.  A town developed around the ranch and adopted the name.  Writer, Military Man, City Planner, and Great Grandfather to a quirky director,  he really was the most interesting man in the world!

MOVIE COUNT:  Ugh, don’t even try…there are more Tarzan movies than there are stars in the sky…here’s the ERB totals.  There are 34 authorized Tarzan movies from 1918-1998, 8 unauthorized Tarzan films from the ’30s-’80s.  (Not including the weird, Andy Warhol directed porn-esque Tarzan starring Dennis Hopper.) There were 5 animated Tarzan films as well, bringing the total of Tarzan inspired movies to….47.  7 other movies, based on the Pellucidar and Barsoom mythology, respectively were made.  That brings our grand total to 54 Edgar Rice Burroughs movies.  Now his grandson needs to make one.  Wes Anderson’s Tarzan starring Jason Schwartzman.

"I'm Tarzan, I assume that makes you Jane, right?  Forget these apes, Let's go listen to some John Lennon and make out."

“I’m Tarzan, I assume that makes you Jane, right? Forget these apes, Let’s go listen to some John Lennon and make out.”

Comic Connections:  The aforementioned Tarzan/Predator: At The Earth’s Core 1-4 (Dark Horse Comics), Tarzan Lord of the Jungle # 29 (Last issue of the Marvel series, featured Tarzan aboard the Titanic.)  Weird World’s # 1 (DC Comics, collection of ERB adaptations featuring John Carter and David Innes.)  Warlords of Mars (Dark Horse Comics.  Another Dark Horse Crossover, this time giving us the first officially sanctioned meeting between John Carter and Tarzan (There was a rare John Carter/Tarzan novel that was completely unauthorized, the Burroughs Estate sued the publishers into oblivion so it’s damn near impossible to find a real copy.)  A cool story by Bruce Jones with great art by Bret Blevins.

Robert E. Howard

Worlds Built:  Solomon Kane’s world, Cimmeria (where Conan lives), Kull the Conqueror’s world

While Robert E. Howard created some of the most influential and highly regarded adventure stories of all time, his career was short and his life was tragic.  Howard was the son of a Texas Doctor who constantly spent their money on get rich quick schemes and his mother contracted tuberculosis and suffered for decades.  Robert E. Howard became a very introverted man, working many odd jobs to make a living.  His mother fostered his interest in writing and poetry and he eventually submitted a caveman adventure to Weird Tales, a small, suffering pulp magazine.  This would begin in a long relationship between Howard and Weird Tales that would eventually bring us, The Shadow Kingdom, the first appearance of the barbaric Kull of Atlantis and arguably the first modernized Sword and Sorcery story ever published.

"You mean, I Gandalf was not the first!  I will use my magnetic powers to destroy you...oh, wait..."

“You mean I, Gandalf was not the first! I will use my magnetic powers to destroy you…oh, wait…”

Howard would later introduce Solomon Kane, a mysterious puritan warrior who would battle evil in all it’s forms.  Howard’s most popular character would evolve from a rejected Kull story.   The original Kull story, entitled By This Axe I Rule, evolved into the first Conan the Barbarian epic, The Phoenix on the Sword.  Oddly enough, Howard would release By This Axe I Rule in its originally intended form starring Kull and many passages are identical to the Conan story.   Conan quickly became Howard’s most popular character.  The writer did more than just create a memorable, savage character, he created an entire world known as Cimmeria and a chronology of events known as the Hyborian age.  This guy was creating immersive, geeky worlds years before our favorite comic book writers had the chance.  While Howard’s endless imagination created strange landscapes and eerie new worlds, he never left his native Texas.

Many Robert E. Howard scholars would later theorize that the author suffered from mental illness.  Many people in Howard’s hometown felt he was eccentric and even crazy.  It’s hard to argue, considering that Howard would shadow box while walking down the street, wear shortly hemmed pants so he didn’t trip if he got into fights and carried a gun just in case his enemies attacked him.  Even Howard’s contemporary and successor to the Conan stories, L. Sprague De Camp claimed he suffered from an Oedipus complex, writing “the neurotic Howard suffered from an Oedipean devotion to his mother and… from delusions of persecution.”  While most of these claims of mental stability are made by people with no background in psychology, it is evident that Howard was suffering from Depression due to his mother’s ill health.  When Hester Howard went into a coma, the doctor’s told her son that she would not wake.  Robert went to his car and shot himself in the head with the very handgun he kept to ward off his supposed enemies.  He was only 30 years old.  Despite his short life and writing career, Robert E. Howard is still a major name in Pulp Fiction and his characters and worlds remain wildly popular, having spun off into several memorable and not so-memorable movies.

MOVIE COUNT:  6 films were based off of popular Robert E. Howard stories.  Conan the Barbarian (1982. Starring future California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger), Conan the Destroyer ( 1984.  Also with Arnold), Red Sonja (1985. Starring Brigitte Nielsen and Arnold), Kull the Conqueror (1997. Starring Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo and Tia “Cassandra from Wayne’s World” Carrere), Solomon Kane (An obscure adaptation from 2009) and finally Conan the Barbarian (A dreadful remake from 2011)

Comic Connections:  Marvel comics did an amazing run on the Conan character with various titles ranging from King Conan, Conan the Barbarian to Conan the conscientious ice cream vendor.  (One of those is made up.)  Many of the stories were written by Roy Thomas with art by Barry Smith and John Buscema.  Roy Thomas and Barry Smith would take an obscure Howard character, Red Sonya of Rogatino and transport her from 16th century Austria to the Hyborian age of Conan for his comic stories.  Despite the fact that the chainmail bikini wearing Red Sonja character we all know was not  created by Robert E. Howard, many people confuse the two.  Kurt Busiek, one of my favorite writers of all time (read his Astro City and be AMAZED!) did some awesome Conan adaptations for Dark Horse Comics.  The Tower of the Elephant is by far my all time favorite.

Next time… H.P. Lovecraft, C.L. Moore and finally M.L. Strayer.

The Bloody Pulps Part 1: From Pennies to Pulp

As Nerds, it is important to know where your geeky heritage comes from.  What was the evolution of your desired dorky passion? As you may or may not or may know, Rock and Roll sprang out of Blues and Country music is a derivative of Bluegrass and Folk.  Comic Books had a similar birthing process that can be traced back to comic strips and Pulp Magazines.  The comic strip part is obvious…the Pulp part, not so much.

Classism ruled every aspect of Victorian England, literature, notwithstanding.  While the upper class with a disposable income were able to treat themselves to the contemporary literature of the day, such as the works of Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde, the poor had no such luxuary.  Publishers sought to capitalize on this poorer market and began publishing serialized adventure stories on cheap paper that soon became known as the Penny Dreadful, partially because of their dreadful production quality, but also due to the lurid, racy nature of some of their stories.  (Although this was Victorian England we’re talking about…a woman flashing an ankle was thought to be scandalous.)

The Kardashians of 1874. I think the littlest one is Khloe.  What's a Kardashian?

The Kardashians of 1874. I think the littlest one is Khloe. What’s a Kardashian?

The Penny Dreadful gave us such lasting stories as Sweeney Todd and Varney the vampire.  Varney was a predecessor to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Sweeney Todd would later change his name to Johnny Depp.  America had its own variation on the Penny Dreadful, it just happened to cost 9 cents more.

"TEN CENTS! That's an outrage!"

“TEN CENTS! That’s an outrage!”

The dime novel was introduced in America as a cheap way to give those who couldn’t afford contemporary literature something to read.  Early stories included heavily edited, condensed versions of popular novels.  Even some old Penny Dreadful tales were collected and reprinted.  Later Dime Novels would focus on soap opera style romance, wild cowboy stories and eventually hard boiled, over the top detective adventures.  As paper prices increased publishers were forced to increase the prices on dime novels, some going as high as 15 cents, while still being called a dime novel. (Because dime and a nickel novel sounded stupid!)  Many of these Dime novels were originally aimed at a younger audience, but once the prices increased, that audience started to disappear.  Frank Munsey, publisher of the Golden Argosy, a boy’s adventure magazine decided to switch gears and target an older demographic with a lot more spending money.  In 1896, the Argosy, the world’s first pulp fiction magazine was launched.

Okay, Tarantino had nothing to do with the first Pulp Fiction

Okay, Tarantino had nothing to do with the first Pulp Fiction

In order to make the transition, Munsey borrowed the whopping sum of $300 (roughly $8,150 in 2013) from a friend to publish the stories on a newer, cheap wood pulp paper.  The Argosy featured the work of muckraking author, Upton Sinclair and Western writer Zane Gray.   In its peak, the Argosy went from selling 40,000 copies a month to 500,000.  With the success of The Argosy, Munsey debuted All-Story Magazine, which premiered the first work of Edgar Rice Burroughs, including the first Tarzan story.  The Argosy and All-Story set the stage for many other imitators and created the format that would be the industry standard.  Since there were so many pulps being produced, it’s rather hard to pinpoint the most influential of all time, as they spanned multiple genres and many of them featured the same writers, often using pseudonyms in order to make ends meet in the tough economic times.

The many genres of pulp included Westerns, Science fiction, crime (and “True” crime which usually wasn’t true in any literal meaning of the word.), Horror, Fantasy and later the Adventure Hero genre.  That later genre which would include characters like the Shadow, the aforementioned Tarzan, Doc Savage and others would later help inspire costumed super heroes that we know today.

"Yes, my power the ability to eat ANYTHING...but even I wouldn't eat a Cinnabon!"

“Yes, my power the ability to eat ANYTHING…but even I wouldn’t eat a Cinnabon!”

In 1930, writer Phillip Wylie would introduce one of the first super powered characters, Hugo Danner.  Hugo’s father, Abednego experiments on his pregnant wife without her knowledge, granting the unborn child amazing powers.  Early in his childhood, Hugo discovers he has super strength and super speed.  However, nowhere in the story does Hugo ever wear a costume or even fight crime, he goes through life trying to help people, but is feared and hated.  (Spoiler of an 83 year old story ahead….)  After becoming a star football player and accidentally killing an opponent with his super strength, he joins the French Foreign Legion during WWI, and becomes a phenomenal soldier due to his bullet proof skin.  Once home, Hugo’s strength is feared and he is arrested and tortured…to no effect since he is invulnerable.  The story ends with Hugo doing some soul searching on an archeological expedition.  He climbs a mountain and asks God for guidance.  He is promptly struck by lightning and killed.  It’s a bleak end for the first super powered “hero”, however 8 years later it helped inspire Superman in the pages of Action Comics # 1.  It sounds more like Spider-Man’s luck combined with Superman’s powers.

"If you think this is silly, what if I had Dr. Octopus' brain?  That'd never happen!"

“If you think this is silly, what if I had Dr. Octopus’ brain? That’d never happen!”

While Phillip Wylie certainly crafted a very influential story, he was far from being a very influential writer.  There were many others however, who not only found success in the pulps but transitioned to novels and literary fame, while other brilliant writers were swallowed up by obscurity.  In our next installment, we will discover the secret lives of pulp writers, both famous, infamous and completely unknown.  Be here for The Bloody Pulps Part 2:  The World Builders!

NERDS OF MASS DISTRACTION TEASER: “Who is M.L. Strayer?”

There comes a time when a Nerd decides that it is best not to pigeon hole yourself completely.  Yes, I love comics more than is legally allowed by almost all States in the Union, but I also love other nerdy forms of expression.  Homemade Tron costumes, Songs that honor Doctor Who, and Coke/Mentos jetpacks are all great examples of nerd art, another can be found in the classic pulp fiction magazines of days far gone.  In our next installment, we’ll meet mysterious Pulp writer M.L. Strayer, learn about the plight of minority writers of the Pulp era and explore the worlds of sword and sorcery, science fiction, hard boiled crime and super heroics.  Stay tuned….

nerdsofmassdistractionpulp