Monday, August 11, 2008

Groovy Flashback: "Pulp Nostalgia"

Ol' Groove's a bit under the weather today, so instead of leaving you high and dry with no post for the day, here's a piece I did for my old "Groovy Agent's Pad" blog on June21, 2006.
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Back in the Groovy Age, you could go to any library, drugstore, grocery store, five-and-dime, or bookstore and find a treasure-trove of paperbacks reprinting the exploits of heroes (and anti-heroes) of the Golden Age of pulps (mostly 1930s vintage). What a world of wonders these books opened up for ol' Groove! Though more expensive than my beloved comics (a normal comic at the time was going for twenty to twenty-five cents, while paperbacks went from about ninety-five cents to a buck and a quarter), these superheroes of the printed page found their way into my sweaty little palms with some regularity--especially those starring Tarzan, Doc Savage, the Shadow, Conan, and the Avenger! Now, at the time I didn't know that these were the archetypes of fellas like Superman and Batman--I just knew they were awesome!

In reality, I'd been introduced to these heroes through comics. True! Marvel was publishing Conan and Doc Savage (first in a standard color comic, later in a black and white magazine), while DC was churning out Tarzan (Marvel took over the reins in the late 70s), Justice, Inc. (the Avenger--couldn't confuse the original with Marvel's super-team, y'know), and the Shadow. (There's another future column for ya!) So, I had a few issues of each of the above-mentioned heroes in my comicbook collection before I discovered their original pulp stories reprinted in paperback form via great publishers like Pyramid (The Shadow), Bantam (Doc Savage and The Avenger), Ace (Conan), and Ballantine (Tarzan).

I know, many of them started publishing their books well before the Groovy Age, but I'm not cheatin'! Nope, 'cause as I said in the first paragraph, by the time the Groovy Age was in full swing, the book racks were filled with pulpy goodness. Not only that, but the aforementioned companies kept most of the pulp heroes in print all throughout the 70s.

The Groovy Age of pulp reprints sported the most dynamic and eye-catching covers you could imagine! Jim Steranko (former comics savant) provided haunting covers for the Shadow. Neal Adams (him again!) grabbed your eyeballs with his Tarzan covers. Ace was smart enough to continue using the tried-and-truly astounding covers by Frank Frazetta on their Conan reprints. By the mid-70s, the awe-inspiring James Bama handed the Doc Savage covers over to a variety of lesser-known artists until Bantam tapped emerging superstar Boris Vallejo (Vallejo also took over the Tarzan covers after Adams stopped doing them). What a visual feast! You could buy the books for their covers alone and feel like you were getting a deal!

Ah, but then you'd be cheating yourself from some great reading! Action, adventure, and intrigue flew from the pages of these pulsating paperbacks! No one could write an action scene like Lester Dent (aka Kenneth Robeson). No one could set up a mystery like Walter Gibson (better known as Maxwell Grant). For sheer savagery, nobody beats Robert E. Howard. And for grand adventure, Edgar Rice Burroughs has no peer. These authors proved that pulp nostalgia during the Groovy Age wasn't just a fad, but a way to keep the work of great authors (and, of course, their signature characters) alive. Ah, I know what you're thinking. "Doc Savage, Tarzan, the Shadow, the Avenger, Conan--is that it? Is that the whole 'pulp nostalgia' gamut?" Nope. Those were just Ol' Groove's favorites (and still are!). Burroughs' Martian series (another fave--another column!), Captain Future, Kull, and Solomon Kane were also dusted off and given new life in paperback. There were lots of others, too, but Ol' Groove couldn't keep up with everything back then (a buck a week allowance only went so far)! But hey, Google is your friend if you want more info.

For those of you who remember the Groovy Age of pulp paperbacks, I hope I've taken you for a short and sweet walk down memory lane. For those of you who've never had the pleasure of perusing those pulp paperback pleasures, eBay is filled with 'em, so try a few! (But you'd better not be the one outbidding Ol' Groove when I go after a copy myself!)

4 comments:

  1. Wow. This is amazing. Just last night I was reading about the origins of the term 'Sword and Sorcery' and it's subgenre 'Sword and Planet', which spurned me to remember I must dig out my Conan and Tarzan paperbacks (a couple of which you pictured)and look into John Carter on Mars. Thanks for being on the same wavelength and the great post!

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  2. Thank you for reading! Glad to hear from a fellow pulp fan. Do check out John Carter. A Princess of Mars is a classic; not quite up to Tarzan of the Apes, but very close.

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  3. Good stuff! I discovered Conan through the Marvel comic, and had to buy the whole series of books by Ace. At the same time, I found ERB's John Carter books on the racks, with those gorgeous Michael Whelan covers and a very comic-book like logo for the titles. And right next to them were the Marvel Novel Series books, prose stories of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, The Hulk, Doctor Strange, Captain America, The Avengers, etc. Good stories, too, as most were done by actual comic book writers, like Marv Wolfman.

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  4. Shame the Marvel Comic Doc Savage covers,don't make the quality of the James Bama one,despite his often use of the weird,widows peak hair cut.The Marvel version was far too busy,with silly lasers and construction men blasting Doc every which way.Bama focussed on a single pose for The Man of Bronze.with something either place behind him or confronting him generally.Thank god,everyone else,did continue this type of over busy art.Now,if only Artist could give Doc the Clark Gable hair of the original pulps and foreget the wacky,bronze crewcut.

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