Thursday, April 12, 2012

Pulp with Pictures

The illustrated pulp magazine was a mainstay and the standard for its time. There's little doubt about that. But what about the pulp reprint books and the new pulp volumes that are coming out and growing in popularity... Do they also benefit from the old-fashioned pulp experience of being illustrated stories? Or has that day passed, and with the reigning standard being that of the purely textual novel, are pictures no longer needed for stories for adult readers?

Well, you know us here at Bad Girls, Good Guys, and Two-Fisted Action... when we have a question or two burning in our craniums, we scope out the usual suspects and ask 'em. 

Which do you prefer as a reader -- illustrated pulp stories or those without illustrations?

Art by The Savage Scribe
John F. Allen: As a reader, I find myself drawn to pulp stories without illustrations. This is not to say that I don’t like illustrated pulp stories however, I think that when I’m reading a pulp story I want to let my own imagination guide me in determining the way the characters look, the way the scenes look and the overall feel of the story. I feel that there are some advantages to having illustrations accompany a pulp novel or collection.

Bill Cunningham: Sometimes the illustrations add to the story, but often I find they conflict with my own mental image of the characters. On the other hand not having illustration leaves room for more story...

M.D. Jackson: For me the illustrations are part of the magic of the whole pulp experience. When I collect old original pulp magazines they have to be illustrated. It doesn't even matter if the illustration is any good, just being illustrated is part of its charm. I love the whole experience of the old pulp magazines and the illustrations are, for me about 50 percent of the equation.

Lee Houston, Jr.: In all honesty, I think it depends upon the genre. I can see having art in almost everything except science-fiction. That would the one genre where I would prefer to have the images left to my imagination.

Ed Erdelac: This may go back to when I was a kid and couldn't read. I would conjure stories around the illustrations. I really enjoy the plates in the old pulps - even the later collections with Frazetta art. They're a surprise to look forward to as you read along.

What are the advantages of having illustrations in a pulp novel or collection?

Art Basil Wolverton
John F. Allen: One of the advantages is to give the reader a fantastic piece of artwork to go along with the story, capture a scene from the story and impart it into the reader’s mind. Another advantage is that it allows for the reader to get a glimpse into the intent of the author as captured by the illustrator. That is provided that the illustrator has indeed captured the vision of the writer.

M.D. Jackson:
As an illustrator myself I am naturally biased in that direction. Illustrating is what I do, it's how I ply my trade and when I was publishing Dark Worlds Magazine illustrations were a key part of the whole package. Having illustrations, particularly ones done in the traditional "pulp" style helped to identify us with the pulp magazines. One look at a printed edition ad there was no doubt about what you were going to get.

Lee Houston, Jr.: You certainly have an idea of what is going on and what the characters look like. This definitely works best for me in swashbuckling tales and mysteries, so you can keep better track of the suspects and situations and ponder along with the detective on duty to figure out just who did what and how, let alone why.

Ed Erdelac: I still like the illustrated versions, especially the reprints of The Shadow complete with ads. It recreates the whole experience, I think.

What are the advantages of not having art inside the pulp novel or collection?

Art by Virbil Finlay
John F. Allen: I do think that there are also some advantages to omitting illustrations in pulp fiction pieces as well. One advantage is that without illustrations, the reader is allowed to rely solely on their own imaginations to make interpretations on the look and feel of characters, setting, and scene as laid out by the author. It also gives the reader an impartiality to an illustration that they might find distracting or just plain ugly. Lastly, it would avoid there being any kind of disconnection between the author’s vision and/or intent and the illustration as interpreted by the illustrator.

M.D. Jackson: The main disadvantage was reproducing that experience in electronic editions. Formatting an illustrated publication for Kindle or other e-reader add s an extra level of pain and suffering to what is already a major annoyance. Some of our electronic editions had to eliminate the illustrations completely. While it is true that if a story is good it should be able to stand on its own, when I am craving the pulp experience, I want the story to be enhanced by those illustrations.

Lee Houston, Jr.: Sometimes the artist interpretations don't match your imagination, which is why I prefer fewer in science fiction. But with all that said, if illustrations originally accompanied a tale, I prefer to have them reprinted with the story to get the full feel of both the tale and the period it was originally produced in. The difference is noticeable when comparing such things like the Shadow paperback reprints of the 1970s to the Nostalgia Ventures' reprints of today.

Ed Erdelac: Well, when you read you picture the characters and situations in your mind. You take the words the author uses as a jumping off point, extrapolating their appearance from your own unique experiences and perspectives. That's why the movie is almost never as good as the book to most people. A filmmaker can never make the movie that's in everyone's mind's eye. So when you include illustrations in a book there's a chance of not gelling with the reader's concept of your story. Less than stellar art can be a turn off too.


For more information: John F. Allen | Ed Erdelac | Lee Houston, Jr. | M.D. Jackson | Bill Cunningham