Monday, May 10, 2010

Pulp Art

dicks, hard-hitting caped crusaders - no matter your age, these images roil your DNA. Whether it was Sam Spade then or Easy Rollins now, Doc Savage or Indiana Jones, Buck Rogers or Han Solo, the Shadow or Neo, the Spider or Spider-Man, our collective alter ego sprang in large part from the detective, sci-fi, adventure, and horror pulps that sold by the millions during the Depression. Cheap paper, bottom-barrel printing, and a 10-cent cover charge led to ferocious newsstand competition; publishers pushed the bounds of accepted taste, depicting starlets in distress (and not much else), brawling gangsters, leering freaks, and gibbering aliens.

Pulp artists worked under blunt constraints: When a publisher theorized that red and yellow enticed men, artists ladled those colors onto Dime Detective and Dime Western; romance magazines went with green and blue for the ladies. Often the action drifts into flat color or inert shadow to allow space for titles such as Captain Satan, King of Detectives and story teasers like "Drunk, Disorderly, and Dead!" Under brutal deadlines, artists boiled the cover story down to one eye-grabbing scene. As Robert Lesser, the man who amassed this singular collection, points out in the show's catalog, "It's like walking into a movie in the middle. [The artists wanted] to create sufficient curiosity to get your dime." In a defining example by Norman Saunders, a woman bathed in red darkroom light develops an 8 x 10 glossy of a shooting; behind her, the photogenic gunman bursts through the door, .45 automatic leveled at her head. Art imitates lowlife. {Read on}

Why wasn't this art saved? Why is it so hard to find today? Because pulp art is, to many, offensive art. Its pictures are filled with pain, torture, violence, and the threat of sexual violation and death in motion. . . . Pulp art is hard whiskey: men's art fueled on testosterone. Unknown and unrecognized, without a deep anchor sunk into the marketplace, it has remained—until the very present—a unique American heritage that burned brightly on newsstands for two decades, a lost inheritance future generations might never see or be able to claim. —Robert Lesser in Pulp Art (Castle Books)

We shall be adding more to this post as a part of a series