Welcome to my Universe…
I did not set out to create a united world with my stories set in the 1930s but it is not easy for me to ignore constructs and previous research when I write new material. And in the process of writing one story in one ‘genre’ I often see story possibilities in other directions. For instance, in writing a detective tale for Dr. Shadows I see the possibilities of a horror tangent that would be more appropriate to the Skullmask, etc.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
First came my love for the period and the writing style born in it: depression area pulp writing!
Pulp magazines were so named because of the cheap wood pulp they were produced on. They reigned supreme from the 1920s, well in to the late 1940s with their sensationally garish colored covers and daring purpled prose within.
It was an era of covers painted in bold strokes and larger than life characters painted with equally bold strokes of the typewriter keys. It was a world that has faded into the mists of time; devoured by and then reborn into its own offspring, the paperback novel.
The so-called ‘bloody’ pulps ran the gambit from Range Romances, to Battle Aces, Gangster Molls and Fantastic Planetary Stories; but it was in the areas of detective and heroic fiction—that they soared the highest.
Black Mask, the high watermark in gumshoes, gave us Phillip Marlow, Same Spade, the Continental Op, Race Williams, Oscar Sail and countless variations of the first, & truly, American deductive champions.
The Hard-boiled Private Eye.
Meanwhile (as they say), back on the magazine racks, a phenomenon occurred: the Hero Pulp was started by Street and Smith publications; a company with a long history in periodicals (including dime novel hero Nick Carter.) The company decided to embrace the new medium, radio, with the Street & Smith hour, where a narrator would read stories from their detective magazines as an extended commercial for the book. As a gimmick, they named the narrator ‘The Shadow’, with no thought to any other effect than to make the stories a bit spookier. No biggie, or so they thought.
Soon however, letters poured into the publisher wanting to know more about this mysterious host. The publisher, W. A. Ralston and Editor John Nanovic, quickly decided to rush a magazine titled, “The Shadow” into production to protect a potentially lucrative property.
They had no idea who or what the Shadow was, but they knew just the right guy to write it; a magician/journalist cum pulp writer named Walter Gibson.
It was the perfect marriage of man and material: Gibson (under the house name of Maxwell Grant), created a fascinatingly dark & mysterious crusader who, with his army of aides and agents, fought a constant war against the forces of gangdom.
The magazine was an instant hit selling out month after month so consistently that Street & Smith began to print issues every other week!
Other publishers jumped on the band wagon with lesser ‘dark avengers’ over the next few years: George Chance-the Green Ghost, The Green Lama (of the Tibetan variety), The Black Bat, The Red Mask, Street & Smith’s own The Whisperer, and the most successful and colorful of all The Spider.
None equaled the heights the Shadow achieved in the ensuing decade of the hero pulp!
Street & Smith succe eded lightening in a bottle a second time in 1933 with a counterpoint to their dark Avenger in a bronze crusader named Doc Savage.
No lurker in the shadows this time, the good Doctor was a science based good guy who did his combat with evil in the naked light of public exposure. Again the perfect scribe was found to write/create him in Lester Dent, a former telegrapher, inventor and adventurer.
Many lesser Titans followed in Doc’s wake—Capt. Hazzard, The Avenger, Thunder Jim Wade, Captain John Fury, The Skipper etc. but none held a candle to the metallic man’s success.
Just as the dime novel was eclipsed by the pulp the magazines evolved into digests and paperback books.
Many pulp characters appeared directly, or strongly influenced, their comic book off-springs as well. Most notably the Man of Steel Superman owes much to the Man of Bronze, Doc Savage.
A few of the pulps limped along as digests and a vast number of pulp stories, novel length and the short stories, were reprinted into paperback form. Thus, an era was disappearing.
This is where I come into the story directly. In 1964 Bantam Books began to reprint the Doc Savage books with dynamite James Bama covers (the pulp had ceased publication in 1949) aiming, & rightly so, at the growing science fiction market. It caused a resurrection of many of its pulp brethren and inspired scores of imitators and pastiches.
I made up my mind then to visit that time through characters that lived there but not someone else’s characters. There is a whole school of writing that ascribes to writing new stories of old (public domain) characters, which is well and good when continuing the official continuity such as Will Murray has done with his exceptional Doc Savage stories—but otherwise, I feel it is a little sacrilegious and somewhat like poaching. (I’ve since written in a couple of stories that continue other people’s characters-even working on a Lester Dent pre-Doc Savage character following in my hero’s footsteps but, all were ‘sanctioned’ by publishers or the writer’s estates.)
I sought to create characters that could have graced the newsstand in the golden decade of the ‘30s and would have fit in as ‘just one of the guys
My first original-and one might say ‘gateway’-character was firmly in a bronze shadow- The Granite Man, Dr. Shadows ( whose given name was Anton Chadeaux). He was a ‘science hero’ with purely heroic motives who owed as much to George Chance-The Green Ghost, and the Green Lama (being he is Buddhist) as Doc.
I chose the year 1937 as the starting point for my pulp-verse because in my estimation it was a lynchpin year when the post war years and the depression was changing into what some might call ‘the modern era’, when a certain innocence was to be lost in the horror of WWII.
I was not content to visit the era with only one original pulp hero, however. I cast my eye toward the Shadow, the Spider and his ilk (and a little to the comic strip Phantom) and created my generational dark hero “The Skullmask.’ The Skullmask is really the one ‘hero’ who is many, for any who where the mask in a quest for just vengeance acquire the memories of all those who have worn it before.
Both of those characters I placed firmly in a ‘real world’ that I meticulously researched, but it was a ‘real world that co-existed with the classic pulp characters I loved. Not that they interact directly with ‘famous’ folk of times past, but these ‘legitimate’ period characters are acknowledged as readily as historical persons.
I could not stop with a hero and a dark avenger, however, because the newsstands in the ‘golden era’ had a great variety of fare and I wanted to explore other genres.
One of those genres was the Dime Mystery ‘reporter of the unusual’. Moxie Donovan is one of a long line of reporter heroes that stretch all the way back to O’Henry’s 1905 short story “Calloway’s Code” and up to Kolchak the Nightstalker. Intrepid reporters were a natural for the pulp scribes to pen since they knew the world of the fourth estate having, many of them, been reporters before they turned to ‘honest’ fiction writing.
My hero was out to scoop the other papers but gave us a two for one journalistic good guy and the reporter of the unusual in Moxie Donovan and his eventual mate Maxi, who was a showgirl at the series start.
I did not stop with those three series.
There was still the hardboiled adventurer-in-search-of-redemption mold to be explored. Such a character that might have graced the pages of Argosy or Adventure. That fellow is Gideon Synn, the ivory adventurer. Of course, I had to give even that hero a little ‘spin’ so he has something no other pulp hero had as a regular feature in his tales- his sister! They are the first crime fighting sibling duo that I know of.
Another ‘genre’ excursion was the Sovereign Wolf detective tales. Sovereign is a Native American marshal who fights crime with a different attitude. In a sense he spans the western and ‘odd’ detective categories.
I’m not done yet, of course, there is Declinn Blayde a frontiersman, Gideon Rizk a swashbuckling pirate and Josiah Silence, and a western bounty hunter (written under my Gideon Teel nom-de-plume), Though these stories predate the 30’s milieu they might have appeared in pulps of the era.
Then, of course, I have the contemporary stories with Jon Shadows, son of my 1930s hero and Deacon Furie, S.A. S. soldier.
All these characters I mention inhabit the same world, either meeting, acknowledging or mentioning each other in a large patchwork of stories.
Mind you, these tales are not part of an alternate timeline or series, like my “The Cowboy and the Conqueror” or Dr. Argent or the Hairy Khetar Time Cop tales or Renfairies stories, but a self contained in a ‘straight line,’ where any ‘major events’ outside of our normal history are ‘secret and don’t change the ‘big picture.’
So there you have it my ‘pulpverse’ that has evolved into and will continue grow, as my literary ‘world’. I am sure as I explore other corners of my cluttered mind and discover new facets of real history to exploit.
I’m sure I’m not done…