Friday, 21 August 2020

Walker Martin: Collecting and Reading Black Mask

[In a recent mail thread with Walker Martin, I was joking about how his set of Black Mask would have kept him safe from the coronavirus, if only he hadn't sold it. He could have read every issue while saying to his family - "See, a Mask a day keeps you safe." 

Because he's a nice guy, he responded to this sick humor with a mail about collecting Black Mask. Sensing an opportunity for a free article on this blog, i asked him a few more questions and he responded to those too. The result is what you have before you today. 

If you want more in this vein, tell Walker that. Leave a note in the comments section - you don't have to have a Google login to do that.] 

Your question about Black Mask has started me thinking about how I collected the set and then read most of it.  In fact, I've often said once you complete a set and then read much of it, the next step in the collecting process is to sell it.

I may have told you this story before and some of it I wrote online for Mystery File back when I started the Collecting Pulps: A Memoir series but it all started when I was drafted into the army in 1966.  The Vietnam war was heating up and I was headed for an infantry company when the army discovered I knew how to type thus possibly saving my life. I now had plenty of time to read and while in the PX I noticed Ron Goulart's The Hardboiled Dicks.

US Army PX - inset image of Ron Goulart's The Hardboiled Dicks
US Army PX - inset image of Ron Goulart's The Hardboiled Dicks

Saturday, 18 July 2020

REVIEW: Queen of the Pulps: The Reign of Daisy Bacon and Love Story Magazine

Daisy Bacon at work in her office in the Street and Smith Building
Daisy Bacon at work in her office in the Street and Smith Building

Among the pulp genres, the love pulps are the ones with the highest circulations and the least discussion. This has been true for a long time. The early pulp fanzines I've seen were from the 1930s, Fantasy Fan and Phantagraph among them, and they focused on science fiction/fantasy. Later pulp fanzines covered the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Burroughs Bulletin being the most prominent among them; the hero pulps, of which Bronze Shadows might have been the first; and a few focused on Frederick Faust/Max Brand. In the 1970s and 1980sThe Pulp Era, Xenophile and Echoes were also slanted toward science fiction/fantasy and the hero pulps. Detective and mystery fandom had their own zines, but discussion of the pulp era stories was limited. Very few people actively collected, and even fewer read the pulps - Black Mask, Dime Detective, Clues - that we now collect avidly.
Love, adventure, westerns, sports, aviation - the pulps that actually sold the most, were the least discussed. And while the rest had at least some discussion, there was nothing I'm aware of written on the love pulps other than Daisy Bacon's guide to writing for the love pulps - Love Story Writer. When i read it a few years ago, I was struck by how similar her guidelines were to those I've seen for the other pulps targeted at adults, regardless of genre. But enough of my musings. Why should you read this book? Laurie tells it better than i could:
Because the woman in question, Daisy Sarah Bacon, was an editor whose magazine, Love Story Magazine, probably touched more women during her twenty-year career than any other woman of her generation. Her influence was felt far and wide by a group of readers who suffered silently through the Great Depression, who had very little leisure time on their hands, and whose only source of entertainment was the family radio, an occasional movie, and reading pulp fiction magazines that sold for a dime or fifteen cents.
Daisy was the defender of the "modern girl." She told them it was okay to work and be married. She presented the possibility that they could even make more money than their husband. She told them that they could have it all but, in no uncertain words, they needed to buck up and not wait for a man to hand it to them. She was what one journalist called a "violent, vociferous feminist," decades before the term "feminist" even became part of the common lexicon.
Queen of the Pulps: The Reign of Daisy Bacon and Love Story Magazine is the story of Daisy as the editor of that magazine from 1928 until 1947. Under her management, Love Story Magazine hit a rumored circulation of 600,000 copies a week in the late 1920S and early 193os, a record never surpassed by any other pulp fiction magazine. Under her guidance, Love Story became the go-to magazine for hundreds of thousands of readers every single week for almost twenty years. Love Story's success ushered in a wave of imitators that fueled the red-hot romance magazine industry that began in the 192os and didn't die away until the 195os.
Daisy wasn't the editor of just Love Story Magazine. Over her twenty-three career at Street & Smith, she was manager of seven other periodicals, some of which were the most storied icons to emerge from the pulp fiction phenomenon. Some were under her management for their entire runs: Real Love, Ainslee's Smart Love Stories, and Pocket Love. For others, she replaced their previous editors: Romantic Range, Detective Story Magazine, The Shadow, and Doc Savage magazines during their last years as pulp fiction magazines.
In telling Daisy's story, Laurie has done a superb job. I am in awe of how much research must have gone into this book. Lucid writing and excellent photos tell a family history that's funny and poignant by turns. With the contextualization of place and time (Street and Smith's offices, the linotype machines) it all comes together into a beautiful journey through a successful and eventually embittered, semi-monastic life.
Don't run out and buy this book; it's much easier and safer to order it online from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. And while i enjoyed the book, it didn't turn me into a love pulp collector. But it did turn me into a Laurie Powers collector. We will have our own convention someday :-)

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Three interviews with pulpsters - Richard Matheson, Leigh Brackett and Curt Siodmak

Three interviews with pulpsters who would go on to write great movies. These interviews are taken from the University of California Press' Back Stories series.
Leigh Brackett: Journeyman Plumber
Interview by Steve Swires

She wrote that [The Big Sleep] like a man. She writes good.
Howard Hawks, quoted in Hawks on Hawks

Leigh Brackett with director Howard Hawks at work on Rio Bravo
Leigh Brackett with director Howard Hawks at work on Rio Bravo

Leigh Brackett wrote scripts for Hawks' The Big Sleep (1946), Rio Bravo (1959), Hatari! (1962), El Dorado (1967), and Rio Lobo (1970), as well as for Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973). Besides being one of the few successful women screenwriters, she was one of the earliest successful women science-fiction writers, having entered the field professionally in 1939. Her best-known character is the larger-than-life swashbuckling hero Eric John Stark, who first appeared in the pages of Planet Stories in the 1940s and who returned in a series of novels she wrote for Ballantine Books.

(This interview was conducted several years before her death and the posthumous release of The Empire Strikes Back, her final screen credit.)

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Pulp Round-Up May 2020 (Coronavirus edition 1)

Here are a few things to keep your mind off the current circumstances for a while:
Ohio man donates a collection of comics, paperbacks, pulps and magazines to University of South Carolina. They needed two 26 foot trucks to move it.

Northern Illinois University to digitize ~4000 dime novels and story papers from Street and Smith. The project will provide images and full texts of the works, catalog records for the volumes and indexed entries for every story, series and author, to augment an existing online bibliography of dime novels that can be found at NIU will partner with academic libraries at Villanova University, Stanford University, Bowling Green State University and Oberlin College on this effort.

A profile of illustrator and painter H. D. Bugbee, who painted pulp covers for Cowboy Stories, Wild West Weekly, Western Story and Ranch Romances, among others.

Here's a recent profile of Black Mask writer Fred Nebel. Altus Press has reprinted quite a few volumes of his stories from Black Mask. Street Wolf, which collects most of his non-series stories, is a good introduction to his style with a mix of different types of stories. Tough As Nails is a great introduction to the hard-boiled school of Black Mask fiction, as written by Nebel. And if you like that, you have to get the four volumes of his MacBride and Kennedy stories: Raw Law, Shake-down, Too Young to Die and Winter Kill.

Something I've long been irritated by is the dismissal of genre writing as unworthy of critical appraisal. Here's someone with a background in movies, talking about this

No time to read at home? Busy with chores? Let HorrorBabble do the reading for you. They produce professionally read short weird stories from a variety of authors including H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Allison V. Harding, Manly Wade Wellman, Clark Ashton Smith, Henry Kuttner and many other excellent authors and stories.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Early SF story: The Human Brick by Mary C. Francis

It's been a while since i posted some fiction on this blog. So here's a story i read about when i was glancing through The Moons of Mars: A History and Anthology of The Scientific Romance in the Munsey Magazines 1912 - 1920, by Sam Moskowitz.

The author, Mary Cornelia Francis, was born in Ohio, started a career in journalism in the Cincinatti newspapers in 1889 and moved to New York by 1895. She visited Cuba, carrying the American flag 400 miles on horseback to present it to Bartolomé Masó, then the Cuban president. She was also an active suffragist and a supporter of William Taft. She worked on his re-election campaign. Taft lost to Woodrow Wilson.

Mary C. Francis, from the collection of the Library of Congress
Mary C. Francis, from the collection of the Library of Congress

During this active life, she also found time to write 10 stories for magazines (9 appeared in the Munsey magazines - All-Story, Cavalier, The Scrap Book and Munsey's Magazine) and four novels. This may have been her only speculative fiction story.



My name is James Randall, and I am the “Human Brick." I am a man built into a wall in a house in New York City, where I have been for the past ten years, and I know all that goes on about me, for, with brief exceptions, I have never lost consciousness.