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Pulp magazines from the 1940s still thrill

This reader bypassed comic books for pulp magazines featuring detective stories in the 1940s.

Comic books were big stuff for kids in the 1940s. But I forgot all about the comics after I picked up my first “pulp” magazine.

It was 1945 when I began stopping at a secondhand shop in Johnson City known as Pat’s Trading Post.

“Pat,” a kindly old fellow whose real name was Woolford B. Watson, sold comics at half the newsstand price, allowing poor kids like me to get extra mileage out of our meager allowances.

Not yet in my teens, I’d first come to Pat’s for those bargain comics. But the gaudy covers on the pulps quickly caught my attention, and their fast-moving, thrill-packed stories proved irresistible.

So-named because of the cheap paper these magazines were printed on, pulps were action-packed cover to cover. To me, their heroes were even more riveting than those in comic books.

For example, there was the “Black Bat,” an extraordinary crime fighter whose exploits were featured in a magazine called Black Book Detective. Tony Quinn, the man who adopted the name Black Bat, was a district attorney and supposedly blind.

Blind as a Bat?

At one time he really had been blind, but then a dying police officer bequeathed his eyes to Tony. After an operation restored his sight, Tony discovered he could see even in total darkness.

He put this remarkable ability to good use by becoming the Black Bat, an eerie-looking nocturnal figure that criminals came to dread.

Clad entirely in black with a hood covering his head, he prowled the city in search of clues to crimes the police seemed powerless to solve.

Another pulp superhero, the “Phantom Detective,” also had a double identity. In everyday life, Richard Curtis Van Loan was a wealthy New York socialite.

Fed up with cocktail parties and golf, he studied criminology and molded himself into an expert detective. A master of disguise, he had a folding makeup table built into the back of his supercharged bulletproof sedan.

Crime-Fighting Reporter

One hero with a single identity was Johnny Castle, who appeared in Thrilling Detective.

Johnny was a wisecracking sports reporter at a New York newspaper, but he attracted murder like a picnic attracts ants. His pretty girlfriend, Libby Hart, usually assisted in solving the murder cases he was forever becoming entangled in.

Of all the pulps I used to buy at Pat’s, I remember none more fondly than Weird Tales.

This magazine was instrumental in launching the careers of such well-known writers as H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch and Robert E. Howard.

Typical of the stories was “The Final Hour” by Chester Geier, which appeared in the January 1947 issue. It’s about an incurably ill author who offers his soul to Satan for 7 more years of life so he can finish a monumental book.

At the end of the 7 years, Satan comes to collect his due. But he goes away thwarted when he discovers that the man’s soul is already gone—the author has literally poured his heart and soul into his book!

The magazines I’ve mentioned are but a fraction of those printed in that era. Jungle Stories, Sky Fighters, Unknown Worlds, Foreign Legion Adventures, Sea Novels and Super Science Stories are but a few more.

Pulps, like movie serials, Big Bands and the 15-minute radio soap opera, were a colorful and important part of America’s entertainment past. Because of the inferior paper they were printed on, few survive today, but the happy memories I have of them will never deteriorate.

By Gene Tipton
Johnson City, Tennessee

To view a gallery of more pulp magazine covers, click here.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Joyce February 9, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Amazing Stories, June 1943, featured a story by Don Wilcox; “The Land Of The Big Blue Apples”. I was 13 when I found the magazine in my Grandparents’ basement in 1948.(Left when my uncle moved out.) The story was ridiculous and funny and changed my reading taste from then on. I became totally hooked on Sci-Fi and devoured Asimov, Heinlein,Tenn, etc. Those were the GOOD days!!

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P.J . Wilkerson February 17, 2012 at 12:43 am

Being the daughter of a Minister in a small town, I wasn’t allowed to read it if it didn’t come from the town library…Even got in trouble getting book “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” Mother thought it was too racy for me and went and told the librarian so…I read it years later, and couldn’t see what Mom objected to when I was 14.

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Diana Kitch May 7, 2012 at 4:15 pm

If you were a PK (preacher’s kid) you had to be straighter than the straight and narrower than the narrow in those days!

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Walt March 13, 2012 at 7:12 pm

The SPIDER was my pulp magazine favorite. A buddy, about a year older, loaned me some he had and I was hooked at about 12 years of age. I still have two Spider rings I bought in those days – one glowed in the dark.
Other types becme favorites, too, especially Flying Aces and others about WWI flying heroes. The Adventures of Doc Savage was always good captivating.
Later I got into the SciFi books and became a big fan of those, as well. I’m sure those mags had a great influece in making me the avid reader I have been all my life. (I’ll hit 84 in May.)

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John April 5, 2012 at 11:22 am

Hello,
I’m looking for information on pulp magazines of the early ’40′s. Specifically any that might have focused on doppelgangers as part of a storyline. Would be greatly appreciated.

John

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Neal August 25, 2012 at 11:35 pm

There is an annual convention called Pulpfest for fans and collectors of vintage popular fiction and related materials.

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Laurette Richin November 9, 2013 at 6:32 pm

My Dad wrote for these when he was a young man…

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