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Category: Pulp

A Tale of Finlay, Part 2

A Tale of Finlay, Part 2

“The Conditioned Captain” illustration by Virgil Finlay
(from Startling Stories, May 1953)

In last week’s Finlay post, I told the tale of how, back in the last week of March 2005, I’d acquired 15 Virgil Finlay originals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was an incredible purchase, but within six weeks it led to my acquisition of five more Finlay originals. Needless to say, that six week period was the greatest Finlay run of my collecting career.

I’d bought the Midsummer Night’s illos from California bookseller Peter Howard of Serendipity Books. At the time I bought them, he told me that his consignor on these had a few other Finlay originals which he thought he’d be handling for him. A week later, on April Fools’ Day, I received an email from Howard offering three more Finlay originals.

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A Dream of Finlay

A Dream of Finlay

Virgil Finlay art from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)

To sleep, perchance to dream.

And if you’re lucky, perhaps that dream will come true. 

If that dream is to buy fifteen Virgil Finlay originals in one fell swoop, then mine came true on the first day of spring sixteen years ago. Thereby hangs a tale. Though with apologies to the Bard, ‘twas neither Hamlet nor The Taming of the Shrew, but another play that figures therein. 

Almost from the moment his work first appeared in Weird Tales – debuting in the December 1935 issue – Finlay was the greatest interior illustrator in the pulps. Enamored of his work, Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright immediately engaged Finlay’s services for a side project, even as that issue of Weird Tales was hitting the newsstands.

Wright wanted to bring out an eight volume set of William Shakespeare’s plays in inexpensive editions (under the banner “Wright’s Shakespeare Library”), profusely illustrated. In Finlay, he felt he’d found the perfect partner for his project. He commissioned the then 21-year old Finlay to draw a total of 25 illustrations for the first volume, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Finlay completed this work in the last two months of 1935, and the volume saw print at the end of that year.

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Lin Carter’s Imaginary Worlds #1 History of Fantasy

Lin Carter’s Imaginary Worlds #1 History of Fantasy

Imaginary Worlds (Ballantine Books, June 1973). Cover by Gervasio Gallardo

I’m the age Proust was when he died, and Lin Carter books are my Madeleine cake.

The covers transport me to the sunny afternoon garage sales of my teens. Picking up one — they’re tiny compared to today’s paperbacks — and riffling the yellowing pages, and I’m thirteen years old, on a hill-walking holiday in Wales, rummaging in a small town charity shop while the rain rattles the dirty glass window. And later, playing Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D was my edition!) in a stuffy teenage bedroom in a Victorian house where the hundred-year-old window slammed down and nearly took off the DM’s leg as he was smoking a roll-up while perched on the ledge…

And like the D&D games of my mid teens, Lin Carter’s books never quite lived up to the potential of the promised exoticism. In our case, we were teenagers with limited life experience. We did very well, as far as it went, and our DMs were patient and I argued too much. Lin Carter, several times married, a Korean war veteran — the Vietnam sequence that kicks off the Callisto books reads very authentically —  cosmopolitan New Yorker, experienced editor, has less excuse.

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The Shadow Knows A Good Pulp Painting When He Sees It!

The Shadow Knows A Good Pulp Painting When He Sees It!

Detective Story Magazine, December 2, 1919. Art by John Coughlin

I thought that today I’d tell the tale of a painting by the talented and prolific John Coughlin, which was used as a pulp cover not once but twice.

Its first appearance was over a century ago, as it graced the cover of the December 2, 1919 issue of Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine. At that time, it illustrated “Eyes of Blue” by Arthur P. Hankins. But its more famous appearance came a dozen years later.

Street & Smith created the character of The Shadow to narrate “The Detective Story Magazine Hour” on radio. That weekly program was launched on July 31, 1930 to promote Detective Story Magazine, and dramatized a story from the current issue. The character of The Shadow was a huge hit, and listeners began asking their news dealers for copies of that Shadow magazine. Sadly for Street & Smith and their prospective customers, there was no such magazine.

Not surprisingly, they soon decided to rectify this and publish a Shadow pulp to cash in on this interest, but uncertain of its prospects, they made it a quarterly. They also didn’t want to incur the expense of buying new cover art for the first issue, dated April 1931. So they decided to recycle a painting in their inventory that featured a Chinese man – Modest Stein’s cover for the October 1, 1919 issue of Street & Smith’s The Thrill Book. Author Walter Gibson was then told to set part of the first Shadow story (“The Living Shadow”) in Chinatown, and they used Stein’s old cover, adding a shadow to the cover in production.

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Vintage Treasures: Orphans of the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein

Vintage Treasures: Orphans of the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein

Orphans of the Sky (Ace Books, 1987). Cover by Carl Lundgren

Robert A. Heinlein never really did it for me. Even in my teens, when I was devouring any science fiction between covers, I didn’t get the appeal. I never read his juveniles, and I bounced hard off of Friday. I found Stranger in a Strange Land dull and unbelievable, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress resisted every attempt I made to get past the first 20 pages.

Why’d I make so many attempts? Because the first Heinlein I ever read, the slender paperback novel titled Orphans of the Sky, was a slam-bang adventure tale set on a six mile-long spaceship that twisted my head around. It was packed full of interesting characters and genuine surprises, and fit in well with the pulp SF by Asimov, Charles R. Tanner, and Edmond Hamilton — and movies like Star Wars and Alien — that was filling my head up at the time.

Orphans of the Sky fit the mold of pulp SF because it was pulp SF. It was originally published (as two separate novelettes, “Universe” and “Common Sense”) in Astounding Science Fiction in 1941 and follows the adventures of Hugh Hoyland, a scientist’s apprentice on the enormous generation ship Vanguard, whose inhabitants have long since forgotten their origins. When Hugh is captured by mutants and begins to learn the true nature of the Vanguard, he leads an onboard mutiny that changes the fate of everyone.

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My Greatest Antique Fair Find

My Greatest Antique Fair Find

The Master Mind of Mars (A. C. McClurg & Co, 1928).
Cover by J. Allen St. John

Today, I thought I’d share the story of our greatest antique fair find.

Deb and I enjoy going to flea markets and antique shows when the weather is nice. Even if we don’t buy anything, it’s a fun way to spend a couple of hours walking outside while looking at a wide variety of items for sale. We’ve been lucky enough on several occasions to get some good pulp and paperback buys at these shows.

Our greatest find at one of them happened over 20 years ago, when Deb and I went to an antique fair in Chicago.

The Windy City was a hotbed of pulp activity in the first half of the 20th century, with several publishers based there. As a result, many artists and authors also lived there. Among the pulp artists who called Chicago their home were Margaret Brundage, Harold McCauley, Harold DeLay, Hugh Rankin, Jay Jackson, Curtis Senf, Robert Gibson Jones, Joseph Tillotson (also known as Robert Fuqua), Julian Krupa, Malcolm Smith, James Settles and Rod Ruth.

Perhaps the greatest of all of the pulp artists that lived in Chicago was J. Allen St. John. His name immediately brings to mind the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs, as he illustrated many of Burroughs’ novels of Tarzan, John Carter and others in pulps, slicks and hardcovers. For many years, St. John had his studio in the Tree Studio Building on Ohio Street in downtown Chicago. (Incidentally, my law firm held an event at Tree Studio a few years ago, and it was very cool to be able to walk around it, though we weren’t able to go into St. John’s old studio.)

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Our Most Unusual Pulp Adventure

Our Most Unusual Pulp Adventure

10 Story Mystery, April 1943, and The All-Story Detective, October 1949

Based on my experience, I think that non-collectors often view us collectors as somewhat crazy. They just don’t approach things the way we do, particularly when it comes to whatever particular obsession drives us. They don’t understand why we collect, and they don’t understand what we do to collect, and they don’t understand that the desire to collect can often override what most folks would consider to be common sense.

Case in point: Many of my non-collector friends are often horrified when I relate to them the tale of our most unusual pulp collecting adventure.

On a late fall day about 15 years ago, I read an ad in an antiques magazine regarding an upcoming auction in a neighboring state. The auction mentioned pulps and showed a few. So Deb and I got up very early the day of the auction and drove for several hours. The auction was being held in a large, unheated building, and both of us were quite cold the whole time. We’d arrived with enough time to quickly browse through the material – there were several lots of pulps among the hundreds of lots being auctioned, but most of the material was non-genre, everything from tools and hardware to furniture to farm equipment to household items to architectural salvage. None of the pulps were particularly rare, but many were in nice condition.

I think the auction began around 11:00 a.m. Unfortunately, there was no order to it. Whatever item happened to strike the auctioneer’s fancy at any given moment would be auctioned off, with no rhyme or reason as to when something would be coming up. After a while a few pulp lots came up, which I won, but then he moved on to other things, leaving most of the pulp lots still to come. Every hour or so, he’d get to a few more pulp lots, and then switch to something else. Needless to say, it was extremely frustrating.

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Startling Stories Returns

Startling Stories Returns

The first issue of Startling Stories in 65 years, courtesy of Wildside Press and Douglas Draa. Cover uncredited.

Startling Stories was one of the grand old ladies of the pulp era. Published by Standard Magazines between January 1939 and October 1955, it was one of the few SF magazines of the 30s to outgrow its pulp roots and become a serious market of adult science fiction, eventually publishing stories by Arthur C. Clarke, Leigh Brackett, Jack Vance, Ray Bradbury, A.E. van Vogt, Henry Kuttner, C.L. Moore, Edmond Hamilton, Fletcher Pratt, and many others.

I’m delighted to report that Startling Stories has been revived as part of the stable of magazines at John Gregory Betancourt’s Wildside Press. The editor is Douglas Draa, who also helms the revived version of Weirdbook.

The first issue of the revived magazine — and the first new issue of Startling Stories in 65 years — was published on February 1st. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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Bran Mak Morn: Social Justice Warrior

Bran Mak Morn: Social Justice Warrior

Worms of the Earth by Robert E. Howard (Ace Books, 1979). Cover by Sanjulian

“Worms of the Earth” was published in Weird Tales in November of 1932, and was thus described in the table of contents as “a grim shuddery tale of the days when Roman legions ruled in Britain–a powerful story of a gruesome horror from the bowels of the earth.” It features Bran Mak Morn, the King of the Picts, one of Howard’s barbarian characters. A quasi-Faustian tale, the story dramatizes Bran Mak Morn’s greatest transgression, a dark pact the king makes with diabolic force to avenge his dying and brutalized race: the Picts.

Many consider “Worms of the Earth” one of Howard’s masterpieces, truly haunting and enigmatic, its impact lingering long after a reading, like a stagnant tobacco smell or a leathery flapping of shadowy wings. The story is also notable for its inclusion of allusions to H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos, specifically the ancient Mesopotamian god “Dagon” and the sunken city of “R’lyeh,” home to dreaming Cthulhu. Undoubtedly, the story’s themes of racial degeneracy and the violent power of geologic time are steeped in Howard’s legendary 1930s correspondence with Lovecraft.

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Weird Tales Deep Read: July 1936

Weird Tales Deep Read: July 1936

Weird_Tales_July_1936

Margaret Brundage for Red Nails

We return to the golden age of Weird Tales to consider the eleven stories in the July 1936 issue. This time around we’re dealing with many familiar authors, led by the triumvirate of C. L. Moore, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard, one H. P. Lovecraft short of perfection. The big three present classic tales from their popular fantasy series (Northwest Smith, Zothique, Conan). The other familiar names deliver more of a mixed bag, but for the most part come through with decent offerings.

Edmond Hamilton, a prolific pulpster for WT and countless other genre magazines contributes one of his weakest efforts in a tale concerning germs from space. The August Derleth and Manly Wade Wellman stories are both decent, if slight, and the Arthur Conan Doyle reprint, for a change, rises above the level of curiosity.

Of the eleven stories, seven are contemporary (64%), three are set in the future (27%), and one in the past (9%), though it’s a little complicated because two stories use framing devices that cut across temporal periods. Six take place in the United States (55%), one starts in the US then goes off on a round the world tour (9%), two are in fictitious realms (18%), one in France (9%), and one on the Moon (9%).

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