New Pulp and Old Paperbacks

As the name I’ve chosen for my publishing company attests, I’m a big fan of pulp fiction in all its lurid forms. As a result, I’m always on the lookout for interesting articles, posts and blogs devoted to the tacky joys of classic pulp fiction.

Hence, I was pleased to come across this appreciation of the paperback adventure series of the 1960s and 1970s by Greg Hatcher at Comics Should Be Good. It’s a great post and – since it’s a comic site – one that is illustrated with lots of old time paperback covers.

Now I’m familiar with the big names of the men’s adventure paperback genre such as Mack Bolan a.k.a. the Executioner (whom I kept getting mixed up with Marc Bolan, singer of T. Rex to my infinite confusion) or Remon Williams a.k.a. the Destroyer. Alas, I’ve never read either series, largely because they weren’t available over here. I have read the Nick Carter – Killmaster series, because I once came across a stack of them at a surplus sale of the Bremen University Library of all place. They were largely forgettable fun, though I still wonder just how a stack of pulp paperbacks ended up at a university library. Probably a donation, but who on Earth would donate a stack of pulp paperbacks to a university library? Maybe they were someone’s research project or thesis.

However, of far bigger importance to me were the “Romanhefte”, Germany’s take on the pulps, novelette length stories published in little digest sized magazines and sold at newsstands across the nation. Kids weren’t supposed to read “Romanhefte”, because they were bad for us and reinforced the status-quo and supposedly caused all sort of horrible cases of delinquency. I’ve actually witnessed a teacher confiscating a classmate’s Geisterjäger John Sinclair (horror pulp featuring a proto urban fantasy hero). As might be expected, the fact that parents and teachers did not want us to read “Romanhefte” made them largely irresistable. And so I secretly enjoyed the adventures of John Sinclair, Perry Rhodan, Atlan, G-Man Jerry Cotton, Professor Zamorra, Kommissar X, Butler Parker, Mister Dynamit and others.

The influence of the pulps and their German brethren, the “Romanhefte”, on my own writing can be seen most clearly in the Silencer series, but also in New York City’s Finest and the Zane Smith/Shoushan Kariyan stories. I’ve also toyed with the idea of writing a few short adventure stories in the style of the men’s adventure magazines of the 1950s and 1960s with their lurid covers, albeit minus the problematic racial and ethnic politics of the originals. Talking of men’s adventure magazines, here is an appreciation of the genre at the New York Times of all places.

Finally, I’d like to mention a film along those lines that I love a lot, the little known Jake Speed from 1986. Made in the wake of the success of the Indiana Jones and Romancing the Stone movies, Jake Speed features the hero of the series of men’s adventure paperbacks popping up in the real world to help a young woman rescue her sister from a gang of human traffickers. In spite of shoddy production values and the problematic racial politics that seem to be inherent in the genre (Could we maybe just once have an adventure story without any racial stereotypes that make you cringe?), Jake Speed is a lot better than it has any right to be and it’s telling that I still have fond memories of this film more than twenty-five years after I first saw it.

Unfortunately, Jake Speed is one of those movies that have simply vanished. It is no longer available anywhere and indeed my off-the-TV VHS recording of Jake Speed is the reason I keep my old VCR around, just in case I get the hankering to watch it. However, here is a trailer. And yes, that is John Hurt, premier Alien victim and War Doctor, as the villain. Here’s another clip of Hurt being villainous.

Jake Speed, the writer of adventure novels turned his own character, was very obviously an influence on the Silencer, though I was totally oblivious of the fact, until it was time for another Jake Speed rewatch.

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One Response to New Pulp and Old Paperbacks

  1. The closest I got to reading pulp fiction were the original Ian Fleming novels. I had a good friend back in my Air Force days who absolutely loved the Doc Savage series.

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