Friday, March 20, 2015


As many of you are aware, I'm a big fan of classic pulp magazines. I'm sure I don't rank with most collectors, but I have a sizable personal collection, more than anyone else I know. I've got some very good books, too. I have the first appearance of "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper," the seminal short story by Robert Bloch. I have the first appearance of HP Lovecraft's "The Terrible Old Man." (Both of these are in issues of WEIRD TALES, by the way.) A couple of years ago, I decided to actually read every issue I had.

Whoa, I hear you say. Did you actually open these issues up and read the stories inside? Are you mad?! Those magazines are falling apart. Just reading them lowers the value!

Maybe that's true. I remember showing one of my favorite issues of WEIRD TALES to a friend. And then I opened the mylar sleeve it was in to show him the contents. He was horrified by this. Here's the thing, though: as beautiful as these magazines are, they're essentially worthless without the stories inside. If I didn't read them, they would hardly be worth owning.

This is the issue I showed him.

(As a side note, many years ago I ordered a few hard-to-find books by Joe R. Lansdale from the man, hisownself. I wanted TEXAS NIGHT RIDERS, which was a special edition Cemetery Dance did of an old book Lansdale had published under the name Ray Slater. However, by the time I inquired about it, he didn't have it anymore. He gave me a call to let me know that he didn't have it, but he did have the earlier edition. I told him that I would be happy with that because I'm not interested in how the book appears. It's the story inside that matters.)

(I just read back that paragraph, and I realized I made it sound like Lansdale and I are close friends, and we hang out all the time. That is not the case, even though it would be supercool if it was. I didn't want to give you the impression that he and I know each other and are on first name basis, or anything like that.)

Now that I've read my way through the entire collection, I've got a few interesting observations I'd like to share with you all.

1. There were a lot of regular writers in these magazines, and they were all very popular in their day. However, they're all but forgotten now. There were some writers who appeared in almost every issue of several titles, but I've never heard of them before. And I'm very good with classic horror, SF and mystery authors.

There's an unfortunate reason for this: these writers weren't all that great. They filled a few cheap pages with the requisite amount of words, and that was it. I don't want to call them hacks, because that's unfair. I don't know them or the rest of their work, but I'll just say these stories did not interest me.

2. Aside from these authors, there are a lot of others who wrote one or two stories and just vanished off the face of the earth. Again, these writers were not that great in the first place, but every once in a while, I found one  whose disappearance confused me. It's a rarity to find such a diamond in the rough, as they say, but I cannot describe the high I felt whenever this happened. Remember the first time you read your favorite author? That's the high I'm talking about.

3. Points 1 and 2 lead me to this: we remember the greats for a reason. The Blochs and the Heinleins and the Kuttners and the Sturgeons and the Lovecrafts and all of their ilk are remembered today because they were fucking awesome back then. Every time I found a piece by them in my pulps collection, I knew I wouldn't be disappointed. I rarely ever was. (Because no one is perfect. Bradbury let me down with one story, for example, but he was just a kid back then.)

These three points make reading the pulps kind of aggravating. I'd say a quarter of my collection was good. However, there is one thing I can say with utter confidence about every issue: no matter how bad the stories might have been, the art was always incredible. Virgil Finlay was in just about every one of these magazines, and he is probably the greatest artist of his generation. I'd put him up against anyone in the museums. Even some of his lesser known colleagues were fantastic. When you got to the late 'Fifties and early 'Sixties, the overall quality of the artwork went down a bit, which might have been a contributing factor to the extinction of the pulps.

The long and short of it: I'm glad I read them all. I would feel like a phony if I hadn't. More often than not, I was disappointed with the stories, but I was rarely disappointed by the artwork. I'm glad I've packed it all in my head, and if you ever get the chance to read an old pulp, especially from the 'Thirties and 'Forties, I highly recommend it.

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