Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Pulp Fans From Afar

As an editor at the Pulp Magazines Project, one of my primary duties is to read and answer many of the emails and correspondences we receive, and let me assure you, we receive a good deal! Everything from research inquiries, to offers of pulp scans, to simple thanks for putting many of these hitherto-lost treasures online for all to read, and I do my best to answer all to the best of my ability. The measure of appreciation, whether in the form of Facebook “likes,” and Twitter followers, or the aforementioned emails, is truly inspiring, and bodes well for not only the continuance of pulp fandom, but also its growth in the years to come.
As I said, a good number of emails come the PMP’s way, and they range from questions pertaining to a particular series, or author; to appraisals of pulp values; to basic information regarding the medium, from new fans who just happened across the site. Shortly after starting work on the PMP, I received one email in particular which stands out, and has led, on my part, to a greater understanding of both what pulp magazines have meant, and continue to mean, to those who cherish the literature found therein, and just how broad that spectrum of readers truly is.
The letter in question was from a Mr. Jiří Valík, in the Czech Republic, reproduced verbatim here because I believe the spirit of the text would be lost otherwise:

Dear Pulp magazines project,
Im sorry for my simply and insufficient english. I´m 50 years old man, and I was born in east europe as ordinary men without better school. In the chilhood we must learn russian language. We hated it. For many of us, our dream was western world, western stands for life, work, and also western culture, with Marylin Monroe, John Carter, ... Now in autumn of life I have sometime free time, and I spend it in learnin english, as self-learn person.

Your webside is very good aid for it and very inspirational, because recommendered literature as Jack London or Waltter Scott, and similar astonishing novels, has difficult grammar. Thank You for this amazing work, thank you for remmebrance of childhood with dreams full of hopes.
                Very much successes in 2014.          J. Valík

I found this tremendously fascinating, as it had never occurred to me that pulp magazines could be used as a method of instruction in English, in other countries.
 The notion of pulp magazines as a conduit for teaching English has been addressed before; Erin Smith, in her work Hard-Boiled: Working Class Readers and Pulp Magazines (Temple University Press, 2000) examined, among other topics, the ads appearing in Black Mask that promised to teach readers (native, and non-native, alike) how to speak “just plain, every-day, straight-from-the-shoulder, man-to-man English – the kind you and I use every day,” for the purposes of expanding potential social mobility, or employment opportunities. This, as far as immigrants are concerned, is in a similar vein to the many "Americanization" programs common at the turn of the century, geared towards the assimilation of an ever-increasing immigrant population into the American fold. Mr. Valik’s experiences differ in a significant way from that narrative, however – he is not an immigrant, but rather a citizen residing in his homeland, reading the “plain, every-day, man-to-man English” of the pulps as a self-educative measure, one gladly undertaken.

While my curiosity was certainly piqued by Jiří's use of pulps in pursuing a better understanding of the English language, his comments regarding learning Russian in school, and his youthful dreams of Western cultural icons intrigued me further. I emailed back, thanking him for writing and for sharing his interests, and asked him to elaborate further, particularly on how he came across the PMP, and what he enjoyed the most in these scanned texts:

Thank you for your mail Mr. Madison. Very much.

Your site I found  with headworld John Carter + pulp magazine in google.
John Carter, Tarzan and similar heroes in the seventies was publicly burn in our school stove, despite sorrow and anger all young boys. Just now in 2013/14 on free websides I realize how many another else goodys and badies we can learned. The best magazine and story on your site I realize part´s in Blue Book. Amazing work of illustraror from the thirties help for imagination in reading (and dreaming).
Thank your for your work. The scans in this site are gorgeous, and it has unusual taste for reading. I sometime visit the gutenberg site, it is too perfect but without enchant old pages.
The specific flavor this scans is very inspirational. More inspirational than TV or new cinema.
Compliment with great english, is funny for me. I know that it long way before me, but I am on the road (with sentence Jack London). Fluent reading is goal, just as the buying reprint´s magazines from Amazon.

Pulp Magazines Project is new and I wish him very many reader´s and fan´s.
Thank also to you.

American pulp heroes, fueling imaginations and dreams of boys half a world away, despite their banning by official censors – can there be any stronger statement of a medium’s fundamental importance and cultural significance? I do not believe so. It is one thing to learn that that these stories had fans abroad; that is interesting enough, in and of itself. But to hear from someone who, not only read pulps despite their banning, but so valued them, along with the Western ideals they represented in one form or another, that he actually began tracking them down, decades later? 

I am fairly certain this is an aspect not touched upon a great deal on the part of pulp historians, and one I would like to investigate further; the pulp’s role as a kind of subversive literature, in the face of socialist or authoritarian censors, in other nations, in addition to its (possible) role as a method of instruction in American history and culture. Absolutely, it is well-known how films, rock music, and other aspects of Western popular culture infiltrated the Iron Curtain, despite the best efforts of the “thought police” – but the fantastic, wholly American-born literature of the pulps as another aspect of that rebellion, is something I had never considered prior. The notion that a literary form that, for many years and decades, has been maligned by popular and academic writers alike could have served such a purpose is worthy of acknowledgement, and I am grateful for Mr. Valik’s bringing it to my attention.

I am looking forward to further correspondences with Mr. Valik; although his modesty forces him to disagree, his English is obviously improving with each email I receive, and to think that the pulps, and the PMP, have played some small part in that, alongside his own dedication and passion for the literature, is a good feeling, indeed. I am also pleased to say that Mr. Valik’s enthusiasm for the pulps, and the stories and characters they carried, has not subsided, if his most recent letter is any indication:

I watch periodically three webside in U.S. (your Pulp, Gutemberg and, and I must say for practicality Gutemberg and Archive are very good, but for inspiration is best The Pulp Magazines . . . I wish to you the increasing popularity for Magazines Project, and thank for new May issues!

     To Jiří, I say thank you for your readership; you’re a true pulp fan and we are happy, and honored, to have you aboard!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Eisner Award Nomination! and Other News!

It has been a while since my last posting, but these last few months have not been uneventful, in the least. And I wanted to wait until I had a schedule that allowed me to post more regularly (or at the very least, more often than the 4 or 5-month interval seen this time around), and I am hoping I am at that point, now.

The first bit of news I have I am extremely excited about, and it is something I learned about over the weekend, just as I was getting home from a talk on Pulp History I had given. I, or rather my book Anti-Foreign Imagery In American Pulps and Comic Books, 1920-1960, has been nominated for an Eisner Award, in the category of Best Scholarly/Academic Work for 2014! I am extremely humbled and honored by this nomination in and of itself, as well as for the company into which it places me, among both past, and my fellow current, nominees. There is some time before the Eisners are actually awarded at San Diego Comic-Con later this summer (which I am hoping to make it out to), but between now and then, and certainly beyond, I will always take pride in this nomination, and I thank both the nomination committee, as well as the many friends that have offered their congratulations these last few days.

While the Eisner Award nomination is the big news of the day for me, I still want to recap some of the things I have been working on recently, as it has been rather hectic, but also productive. Shortly after finishing my last entry for Comics Through Time: A History of Icons, Idols, and Ideals, edited by Dr. Keith Booker and due out next October from Greenwood Press/ABC-CLIO, I was asked by Patrick Scott Belk to serve on the Editorial Board of his pulp-archive resource, the Pulp Magazines Project. That was a tremendous honor as well, and something I have enjoyed a great deal; not only do the e-mails from fans who appreciate the project demonstrate that interest in the pulps is growing, but the varied research requests from readers has opened up avenues of inquiry that I otherwise may never have encountered - every request I can help fulfill, completely or even partially, has proven beneficial to my own learning, as much as to the reader, if not more so. There has been one correspondent in particular, whose interest in the pulps truly demonstrates the uniqueness, and continued value, of the pulp medium, and I hope to share his story here soon enough.

I am also currently working on the final components of what I hope will be my next book, a complete history, spanning 120+ years, of Richmond's Tredegar Iron Works; long known as the "Krupp of the Confederacy," very little has been written concerning the site's history beyond those four years of Civil War. Desiring to write a history of the site, within an overview of one of the industries (that of iron and steel) that was instrumental in America's rise to global, economic superpower, my research has taken me from the records of its namesake in Tredegar, Wales to the complete, and understandably massive, collection of Tredegar Company archives currently housed at the Library of Virginia.

Cabinet Card of Frank Andrew Munsey, c. 1887
While working on the Tredegar history, however, I have been compiling resources and information for yet another project, a project I have been readying for well over three years now - a new, booklength biography of the originator of the pulp medium, Frank Andrew Munsey. Personal papers, photographs, first-hand remembrances - a great deal of research material will go into this work, and I am looking forward, very much so, to getting back to Mr. Munsey's story, full-time. Two recent boons to this project have been some original photographs of Munsey I have been lucky enough to acquire (including an original cabinet card from 1887), as well as several copies of a short-lived publication Munsey produced in the service of the Republican party during the hard-fought 1884 presidential campaign between Grover Cleveland and James G. Blaine - circulated for only several months (if that) before election day, I have never seen any actual copies of the title, Munsey's Illustrated Weekly (not to be confused with Munsey's Weekly, later Munsey's, which debuted several years later), until finding these few issues for sale.

Ravencon 2014 - April 25-27, Richmond, Virginia

This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to be a guest at Ravencon, a science fiction/fantasy convention held here in Richmond for several years now; Ravencon's uniqueness comes from the focus it places on literary sf and fantasy, more so than a many conventions these days, and this emphasis is readily visible when glimpsing through the list of panels held, or browsing the Dealer's
Room which was, by my estimation, composed largely of booksellers, to the tune of perhaps 60%. It was in the Ravencon Dealer's Room that I picked up a collection of Lord Dunsany's works, as well as a Frazetta-clad, collected edition of Sword of Mars and The Synthetic Men of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Saturday, the 26th, I participated in two programs; first, a solo presentation on Pulp History, particularly as it relates to science fiction, and second as a member of a panel discussing the history of Batman, as this June happens to mark the 75th anniversary of his first appearance. Held at the Doubletree by Hilton Richmond-Midlothian (formerly the Holiday Inn Select Koger Center) the venue is one where a number of local conventions have been held for years, whether they be science fiction, comic, anime, and more; Ravencon is now in its ninth year, and (per its literary emphasis) is named in honor of Edgar Allan Poe, who spent much of his youth in Richmond, the city that boasts the Poe Museum, the largest repository of Poe artifacts in the world (and home of the Southern Literary Messenger, the magazine Poe was editor of for some time).

Ravencon 2014 Program - Cover Illustration by 
Artist Guest of Honor Ed Beard Jr.
This was not the first presentation I have given at local conventions regarding pulp magazines, but Ravencon was different for me. Usually, I am speaking to audiences who have little to no experience with the pulps, nor with the stories or authors to be found in their pages; my goal in giving talks is, to a large extant, to hopefully garner interest in the medium on the part of newer fans, who already follow sf and fantasy fiction, whether in comics, films, novels, etc. At Ravencon, it became apparent to me rather quickly that I had an audience different than the last few I have spoken to, in that it was a mix of those who had little prior knowledge of the genre, alongside those who had some experience with it, either in the form of back issues, or, in the case of one gentlemen present, in memories from his youth - an ensemble audience which made for an interesting exchange during the Q&A portion of the presentation. I had a number of con-goers, older and younger alike, inquiring if there were any sources from which to obtain copies of the pulps, or sites online where issues have been uploaded for digital consumption; in the case of the latter, I was happily able to point them towards the Pulp Magazines Project.

While the presentation went well, and, as I said, great questions were posed, it made me realize that I should retool my program a bit, to go beyond just an overview of the medium's history (which is certainly beneficial when speaking to an audience not familiar with the pulps), to include more in-depth information on particular authors and stories as well, for those listeners already knowledgeable in the general outline of pulp history. It is a good lesson to learn, and something I will work on before my next presentation. 

I am also interested in (and would be thankful for) any suggestions that any of you may have regarding pulp presentations I could give, again, to audiences that are largely new to the medium, aside from a general pulp history (albeit with an emphasis on sf); any ideas?

This weekend, we have another convention coming to Richmond (actually, to the same hotel Ravencon occupied), the fanzine convention Corflu, which I am helping with in regards to set-up and other "behind the scenes" work tonight and Friday, and that's where I am off to now!

Until next time, thanks for checking in!