Retro-Pulp

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A term which recognizes the renewed interest in Pulp fiction magazines and characters long after the pulp era had finished. To some extent one might argue that this began even before the end of the pulps. The last sf pulp magazine, Science Fiction Quarterly appeared at the end of 1957 (issue dated February 1958), and it had been clear for the last three or four years that the pulps were a dying breed, being superseded by the Digest magazines and pocketbooks. Even so, Raymond A Palmer defied the trend and converted his digest-sized Other Worlds back into pulp format with its November 1955 issue, but it ceased in September 1957, continuing as the digest-sized nonfiction Flying Saucers. A few other pulps continued, notably Ranch Romances until 1971, the same year that Science Fiction Yearbook (see Treasury of Great Science Fiction Stories) also ceased, as did the old stalwart Adventure, which had converted to digest for its last few issues.

Barely were the presses cold, than Leo Margulies, who had spent his whole working life in the magazine business and was a dyed-in-the-wool pulpster, revived Weird Tales in Summer 1973 (having acquired the title to the magazine some years earlier) and issued it in a pulp format, though with trimmed edges and with paper of slightly better-than-pulp quality. The magazine was poorly distributed and lasted only four issues, adding to the impression that the pulp magazine was a dinosaur. The same view prevailed five years later when Joel Davis issued Asimov's SF Adventure Magazine, edited by George Scithers. Aimed at a juvenile readership (who would not remember the pulps) it was published in the large-pulp letter format, seeking to recapture some of the atmosphere, but it did not succeed and ceased after four issues.

Despite this, the revival of pulp fiction had proved popular in paperbacks. Since 1964 Bantam Books had successfully reprinted the Doc Savage novels whilst Corinth Publications reprinted novels from various hero and weird-menace pulps. Die-hard pulp-fiction fans retained their interest in a number of dedicated Fanzines notably The Pulp Era (Winter 1963-Spring 1971) edited by Lynn Hickman, Xenophile (March 1974-March 1980) edited by Nils Hardin, Pulp (Fall 1970-Fall 1981) edited by Robert Weinberg, Echoes (June 1982-August 1998) edited by Tom and Ginger Johnson, The Pulp Collector (Spring 1985-#24, 1994) edited by John P Gunnison, Pulp Vault (February 1988-August 1996, with a long-delayed final issue in April 2011) edited by Doug Ellis, The Fantasy Collector (December 1988-November 1996) continued as Pulpdom, edited by Camille Cazedessus Jr, which is still published, Purple Prose (July 1995-July 2003) edited by Mike Chomko, and Blood 'n' Thunder (Summer 2002-current) edited by Ed Hulse, which is also still published. The affection for the old pulps was evident in Allen Steele's spoof, "The Death of Captain Future" (October 1995 Asimov's), which won the Hugo for best novella.

This interest, combined with the growth in computer-aided design and publishing, has led to a revival of several former pulp magazines, including Weird Tales for a fourth time (after a brief run in pocketbook size) in Spring 1988, published by George Scithers and deliberately designed to emulate the pulp format. More recent print revivals include Strange Tales in 2003 (in various formats), edited by Robert M Price, Startling Stories by Ron Hanna, first in 2007 in the letter-size format, but shifting to pulp format in Fall 2008, and Thrilling Wonder Stories, edited by Winston Engle, for just two issues in Summer 2007 and Spring 2009. Gary Thomas, who had previously produced two issues of the paperbound Cyber-Pulp Magazine (June-September 2004) later published Dark Worlds (July 2008) and Dark Worlds Adventures (January 2009) in mock-pulp format to the extent of simulating faded pages and creased covers.

Not all magazines sought to reproduce the pulp format, but still strove to replicate the atmosphere and content of the pulps. Robert M Price, who edited the long-running Lovecraftian magazine Crypt of Cthulhu, for a period issued a number of matching retro-pulp magazines in chapbook format, including Astro Adventures (January 1987-June 1989), which survived eight issues. In the same sf pulp tradition, Tom and Virginia Johnson, who had published Echoes, subsequently issued a computer-printed letter-size monthly Startling Science Stories (August 1997-March 2000) continued as Alien Worlds (April 2000-June 2003).

As far back as 1975, Byron Preiss had edited a series of eight books, Weird Heroes, a mixture of novels and short stories published in pocketbook format. The series, which sought to revive interest in the old hero-pulp characters, but with new Superheroes, was promoted as the "new American pulp" and was moderately successful, but fell between the Comic-book and Pulp markets. There have been several recent efforts to explore the hero-pulp medium, such as Cyber Age Adventures published by Frank Fradella, which began as an Online Magazine in 1999, became a Print Magazine in June 2005 and was revived as I, Hero magazine in December 2010. A Thousand Faces, edited by Frank Byrns, which began in March 2007 is a downloadable, print-on-demand series which has more successfully reinvented the hero pulp.

Adventure House, a commercial pulp publishing and selling enterprise run by John Gunnison, started Pulp Review in December 1991 to reprint stories from the pulps. The small chapbook-size magazine soon inflated into a review-size format, close to that of the standard pulps, but on good quality paper. It was retitled High Adventure from November 1995 and has continued to appear regularly. For the most part it reprints from the mystery and hero pulps but has also published occasional sf-related material.

Ideally, magazines had to have the feel of the old pulps, rather than just the related nostalgia. Argosy was revived in January 2004 by Lou Anders, but in a smart, boxed, paperbound edition a little larger than pocketbook size, and on slick paper. It caught the press's attention, but only lasted for three expensive issues and did not rekindle the pulp ethos, rather it emulated some aspects of Steampunk. The internet may not at first seem the right place for pulp magazines, but a number have appeared, again emulating content rather than appearance, although all with striking artwork. The first was Astounding Tales (June 2004-March 2006), produced by Arthur Sanchez and Keith P Graham, which sought to be a tribute to the original Astounding but fell foul of legal ramifications over the use of the title. Others, whose titles explain their Space Opera affiliation, include Ray Gun Revival (began July 2006) from John Cooke, Spacesuits and Sixguns (Winter 2007-Fall 2008) from Dave Duggins, Laser & Sword Magazine (Winter 2008-Fall 2009) from (and entirely written by) Adam Graham and Comets And Criminals (began October 2011) from New Zealand's Samuel Mae. [MA]

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