The 86th Floor
The Bloody Pulps
(a small portion of a longer, comprehensive piece by Jim Steranko,
from his History of Comics, Volume 1)

The nation was in the mood for swift justice!

It was an era of crime, of Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd. Crime was front page news. There were crimes of passion, crimes of revenge, crimes for gain, crimes for kicks.

The movies countered with their own brand of violence, with Bogart, Garfield, Greenstreet, Cagney and Edward G. Robinson. And bullet for bullet, the pulps matched them all.

the pulps

  Pulps were untrimmed magazines named for the soft paper flecked with shreds of wood fibre on which they were printed. Publishers used pulp paper because there was nothing cheaper available. Pulps had little to do with quality! The key word was quantity! Publishers became successful by relentlessly asking themselves this question: How can I print more books, more often, more cheaply?

Those who most frequently answered that enigma made fortunes. Sometimes made fortunes then lost them. Profit margins were often as small as several hundred dollars per issue after everyone was paid. If everyone was paid! The idea was to have as many copies of as many books on the newsstands as possible.

Many titles were started only to be dropped after a few issues. Some bombed with a single issue. Others scored and lasted for decades. A few were so successful that publishing empires were built around them.

Pulps measured 9-1/2" x 71/2" and had 114 to 162 pages between full color enamel stock covers. Most had 128 pages which featured a lead novel of some 50,000 to 60,000 words and a half dozen short stories totaling an additional 20,000 words.

Some pulps were issued weekly, some monthly, others bi-monthly or quarterly, but at most times 250 titles were on newstand display. Every month chalked up a staggering total of twenty million words! Those words told every kind of story imaginable, no plot was too remote, no idea too fantastic. Newsstand browsing in those days became an adventure.

The pulps were cheaply printed, luridly illustrated, sensationally written and cost a thin dime. They were aimed at the masses, the vast lower and middle classes who needed an inexpensive medium of entertainment. But pulps did more than simply entertain; they thrilled, startled, fascinated, horrified, shocked and astonished. And one thing more, they sold!

A fraternity of dime noveleers created hundreds of characters amid thousands of stories to satiate the public's omniverous appetite for pulp fiction. Long before the comics, the pulps boasted dozens of super heroes. Not super in the sense of x-ray vision or the ability to fly, pulp heroes were usually men whose senses were modified. Somehow, it all seemed to be within the realm of believability.

-- Jim Steranko

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