Pulp It Up
I recently dropped the ball on a personal project. Gareth Michael-Skarka of Adamant Entertainment put out a call for submissions for his new magazine, Thrilling Tales – billed as “Pulp for the New Millenium.” I’m guessing most people who know me understand what the hero pulps were all about, but just in case, let’s review.
Pulp magazines – particularly, the hero pulps – were more or less the predecessors to modern comic books, but were written largely for adults. Born in the Great Depression, cheap to buy and easy to read, the pulps provided a short escape from grim reality. Heroes were born here, heroes such as Doc Savage, The Shadow, and The Spider. These were larger-than-life vigilantes, men who went beyond the pale in the pursuit of justice or adventure. In later years, in my own adolescence, Indiana Jones became the standard by which many of us were introduced to the pulp hero concept. I went looking for whatever I could find that would give me the same excitement I got watching Indy race from boulders, or outwit the Nazis.
I found them, in the local library and the bookstore alike. Of course, as with anything else in popular culture, the quality varied. Still, I have fond memories of finding the reprinted Doc Savage stories and climbing a tree to read them on summer afternoons, and listening to re-recorded versions of The Shadow’s radio program. I enjoyed the pulps, and am always happy to see people trying to bring them back.
Back to the present day. I wrote a submission – Alec Shane and the Lethean Chant. It’s not a bad action/adventure story, based in prewar Afghanistan and the German attempts to sway the Afghan Kings into joining the Axis cause. I realized after writing it, though, that I didn’t like the hero. He didn’t stand out the way a pulp hero should, and every time I tried to go back to rewrite it I found myself stymied by how to make him something special. I put the project on the back burner and went about my life.
The first issue of Thrilling Tales was published on Valentine’s Day, 2008. Seeing the cover made me grin, and despite the rather high price point I decided to order a copy of my own, to see what I might have missed. And sweet Hugo Gernsback, I’m glad I did.
The stories are good, solid, fun stuff. There are wicked Bolsheviks, Chicago mobsters, Nazi U-Boats and lost civilizations. There’s gunplay and fisticuffs on every page, and a chase in every other scene. You’ve got heroes ranging from Commando Cody to Doc Faustus, from Agent 13 to The Corpse. I’ve had to limit myself to reading one story every night before bed, because I wind up just giggling myself to sleep over how much love the writers have for the genre.
Now again – it is genre, and the basics of the genre are pretty straightforward. The good guys are good. The bad guys are bad. Crime does not pay and the enemies of America are the enemies of Good. Still, I’m a dyed in the wool bottle-throwing leftist, and I have a great time with the stories. They’re simple, but they’re a helluva lot of fun.
During a break in the day yesterday, I popped open the laptop and started banging out a new story. The Lethean Chant will still get rewritten, someday, and thanks to the other authors in this magazine I have a much better idea of how to get across the feelings I want my pulp-era heroes – and villains – to inspire. I owe them a debt of thanks, and one to Mr. Skarka for publishing the magazine in the first place.