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?
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.
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.
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.