No, I am not talking about Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction here. But what is Pulp Fiction anyway? The real pulp fiction goes back to the magazines that used cheaper pulp paper in order to sell in great volume to a voracious reading public. These magazines had their heyday in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s.
It was fiction for the people, for the guy on the crowded subway going to work, or the busy mother with five kids who got a little reading time at night. It was for the people who wanted to be caught up in a fictive dream. It was not written in a style aimed at some elite literati. Pulp fiction can be characterized as fast-paced, plot-oriented storytelling of a linear nature with clearly defined, larger than life protagonists and antagonists, creative descriptions, clever use of turns of phrase and other aspects of writing that add to the intensity and pacing of the story. About the American dream gone wrong and how crime does not pay. And it produced many superb writers along the way who transcended the genre.
The first “pulp” was Frank Munsey’s revamped Argosy Magazine of 1896, about 135,000 words (192 pages) per issue on pulp paper with untrimmed edges and no illustrations, not even on the cover. While the steam-powered printing press had been in widespread use for some time, enabling the boom in dime novels, prior to Munsey, no one had combined cheap printing, cheap paper and cheap authors in a package that provided affordable entertainment to young working-class people. In six years Argosy went from a few thousand copies per month to over half a million.
Some of the renowned authors such as Isaac Asimov, Jack London, Ray Bradbury, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Philip K. Dick, H. G. Wells, Mark Twain, and Rudyard Kipling wrote for these pulps. While the majority of pulp magazines were anthology titles featuring many different authors, characters and settings, some of the most enduringly popular magazines were those that featured a single recurring character. These were often referred to as “hero pulps” because the recurring character was almost always a larger-than-life hero.
Some of the Popular Pulp Characters:
Pulp magazines often contained a wide variety of genre fiction, including: adventure, detective/mystery, sports, war, science fiction, and fantasy.