Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Grandchildren of Pulp (Or, How I Learned That Pulp Never Really Died) -- part 2

Last week, we talked with Bill Cunningham about the legacy of pulp. This week we're honored to revisit the topic, only with another pulp creator, B. Chris Bell.

What happened to the heroes of the pulp era as the 30s became the 40s and 50s, and how did they change?

Bell: A lot of them faded out. The popularity of Science Fiction made many heroes more science oriented. More of them got interested in the opposite sex (think Captain Zero). I think eventually Doc Savage became James Bond. 

How did this change reflect the changing times and what readers were looking for from popular stories?

Bell: After the war a lot of men came home and the old pulp excitement didn’t seem so real. So we got writers like Jim Thompson, David Goodis and Charles Willeford. Protagonists were far from heroes, and home was no longer a safe place. Paperbacks whose covers promised more sex than ever before while rarely living up to it became the norm. And then came Spillane. As genre markets moved to paperbacks the appeal was to be an “adult.”

At which point do you feel pulp shifted toward the more gritty and bleak version called noir? What triggered that?

Bell: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and one of America’s most conformist eras. A lot of these guys were veterans who had become counter culture, and then, later on, the baby boomers began to explore new areas of expression. Remember, by the late forties we already had beatniks.

Between the heyday of noir and the birth of new pulp, what was going on in the publishing world that still carried on the tradition of the classic pulp story? Were they simply dead and gone, or was some other type of fiction keeping the "faith" alive?

Bell: Many of the adventure heroes went into paperback series ala Nick Carter or the Destroyer. Detective fiction had series like Mike Hammer and Ross McDonald’s Lew Ayres. The format changed, some heroes went to the movies and comic books, new ones appeared in the paperbacks.

Finally, what are the proofs in popular fiction today that pulp style and tone is here to stay, no matter what the marketers call it?

Bell: The greatest proof is that so many of those old heroes are still around and still loved. People will always enjoy reading exciting adventures of people triumphing over impossible odds. A good yarn is a good yarn.

For more info about Chris and his work, visit http://chicagobagman.blogspot.com/