In October 1931, Popular Publications launched their two longest-running pulp heroes: The Spider and G-8.
The Spider is nominally a Shadow clone, but that doesn’t do him justice. The first two stories were written by R.T.M. Scott, author of Aurealus “Secret Service” Smith, an earlier and somewhat popular character. However, I have heard rumors he really didn’t write these two stories, but his son who worked at Popular did. This Spider was more in the line of an amateur detective, though he had a spider stamp he used on the criminals he killed.
With the third story, Norvell Page took over and soon turned The Spider into an over-the-top vigilante hero, fighting over-the-top weird-menace super villains that we all know. Unlike most of his covers, which show a handsome Spider wearing a domino mask and slouch hat, The Spider in the stories wore a hat and mask, but also a fake hunchback, a fright wig, and fake fangs. He laughed maniacally. His view was the only good crook was a dead crook, and he littered the back alleys and crime dens with plenty of good crooks. Then he made sure to stamp them with his spider sign so everyone knew who did it. He outlasted G-8 with 118 stories.Read More
Creating a series staring the villain is hard, but it has been done. Fu Manchu, by Sax Rohmer, is probably the most well-known. He appeared in over a dozen novels for about 50 years.
More successful is the French character Fantomas, who ran 32 volumes over a couple of years by two authors (they were doing a new novel every month!), then another 10 novels over 25 years by one of them.
And both of those characters have spawned movie and comics versions of their stories, and a slew of copycats.
But in the pulps, while hero pulps were very successful, attempts at series starring a villain weren’t so successful. A pair of them modeled on Fu Manchu didn’t get a dozen stories total.Read More
Pulps have their share of bizarre pulp heroes. But perhaps the strangest is The Skull Killer.
Never heard of him? Well, he didn’t star in his own pulp series, but was the hero in a pair of “villain pulps” where the villains were the stars: The Octopus and The Scorpion.
While the Skull Killer was clearly inspired by The Spider, he takes it further by having two other identities. He is rich playboy Jeffrey Fairchild, son of a doctor who had attended medical school but never practices medicine. But his next identity is that of kindly old Dr. Skull, who works in the city slums. A white wig and makeup completes his disguise. His final identity is that of The Skull Killer, a relentless vigilante who stamps the forehead of criminals he kills with a skull stamp (sound familiar?). However, it doesn’t seem as though the Skull Killer has any kind of consistent disguise.Read More
Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention has been running in Chicago around April for 15 years (since 2000). Every year they have been publishing a convention booklet of articles and reprints (both fiction and non-fiction from the pulp era) titled Windy City Pulp Stories, which is a great resource.
The ones I have are trade paperback size, and the recent ones have ranged from 130 to 150 pages in length. Most are themed. Since the eighth volume they have been published by Black Dog Books, and because they use print-on-demand, these volumes are easy to get from Amazon and the like. The earlier ones are not as easy to find.
I have several volumes, and will cover what I have.
#3 (2003) Edited by Cat Jaster and Doug Ellis, this volume has several articles, bios, and some fiction. The articles include an article on Will Murray about the creation of the villain from the Doc story, “Repel.” Another article looks at the films shown at the Convention. There is an article, bio and a sample of fiction from pulpster Hugh B. Cave, and a bio and sample of fiction from Frank Robinson.Read More
One of the more unusual pulp heroes is the short-lived Captain Satan from Popular Publications.
Lasting five issues of his own series in 1938, the magazine was really a renaming of Strange Detective Stories. After two issues of that magazine, which focused on “bizarre, thrilling, eerie-laden, mystery stories” and featured a host of bizarre crime fighters (Seekay appeared in the first two), the title was renamed to Captain Satan.
After five monthly issues, it was ended and soon retitled back to Strange Detective Stories. That is the only example I know of this happening.
While it is very common among comic books to re-title failed comics to save on postal registration, this sometimes also happened in the pulp field. But this is the only time I know of a re-title going back to its original name.Read More
In the next in this series of articles, I take an overview of one of the major pulp publishers and their pulp heroes: Popular Publications.
Established in 1930, Popular Publications was solely a pulp publisher. Unlike others, they never got into comic books (though it was considered) or books, nor were they part of a larger publishing conglomerate. Popular was established by Harry Steeger, who had been an editor at Dell and had started some previous short-lived publications.
Popular was notable for their weird menace pulp stories, a genre they created, and this element affected all their pulp heroes to different levels. Depending on how you look at them, they are either the second or third most successful pulp publishers, and supposedly their pulps outsold Street & Smith’s so maybe they could be considered number one. This also enabled them to buy out other pulp publishers (like Munsey, and later picking up many of Street & Smith’s titles when they stopped publishing pulps). And they are one of the few hero pulp publishers that did several villain pulps. Finally, they are notable for publishing what most consider the last original pulp hero, Captain Zero.Read More