Wednesday, October 26, 2011
I'm Back! / The Birth of the Girlie Pulp
A somewhat unrelated image to what follows, but hey - what good's a post with no pictures, eh? An almost untouched image from a pristine batch of Spicy Stories and Gay Parisienne I recently acquired, some of which will no doubt be showing up here. Probably more for Thanksgiving than Halloween, but still, pumpkin! Enoch Bolles is the artist, Spicy Stories December 1934, Donenfeld Magazines. I'll put the whole issue up when the scan is completed.
It's been a while! It seems I've taken a prolonged siesta from blogging here at Darwin Scans, but my fascination with scanning and old magazines never rests, so let's just chalk it up to percolation and see what bubbles up here, shall we? I was in the middle of writing a post on editing techniques which I never did finish (I'll finish it one of these days!) and apparently lost my will to type. It's back, though, so on with the program. I've long mentioned a planned series on the birth of the girlie pulp, and I'll proceed in that direction directly. Or indirectly.
The girlie pulps are something of a bastard class among many pulp collectors and scholars, referred to as "not quite" true pulps and otherwise relegated as below merit for serious study or appreciation. Perhaps it's the fact the girlies are antecedents to what would become easily dismissible as pornography or the fact that the fiction within doesn't appeal to the red-blooded smash-em up tastes of the largely male remainder of pulp fandom that excludes the girlies from inclusion within the mainstream of pulp appreciation. Art collectors and pin-up aficionados seem to make up the bulk of collectors of these magazines hunted largely for their cover art by the likes of Enoch Bolles, Earle Bergey, Peter Driben, H.J. Ward, and Norman Saunders, which is quite understandable as the covers and interior art in the girlies remains instantly appealing. But there is so much more to these magazines. Most noticeably, these magazines contain a unique brand of fiction.
To the modern eye, the stories within might seem mere filler or trite, off-blue bits of titillation between the naughty illustrations, the risque jokes, and photo inserts of naked and semi-naked flapper beauties. Indeed, a number of fellows whose opinion on pulps I respect very much don't think too highly of the stories in the girlie pulps. Ed Hulse in his fantastic The Blood 'N' Thunder Guide to Collecting Pulps (which I wish I had read when I first started collecting and would recommend to anyone interested in where to find the most notable stories in the pulps as a first resource) explains in his introduction regarding what material he chose to cover, "And we've excluded from detailed consideration the various girlie pulps whose appeal rests more on their provocative covers and "art photos" than on their fiction, which ranges in quality from acceptable to execrable. The exceptions - the "Spicy" titles published by Harry Donenfeld and Frank Armer - are covered in sections devoted to their respective genres." (Beyond Ed's dismissal of the stories, I'd note that the Spicy line from Culture/Trojan are not in my estimation girlie pulps - the terrorized damsels in distress on those covers are wholly inconsistent with the inviting lasses that adorn the traditional girlie pulp covers, and the brand of fiction within those titles are more accurately of the detective, western, adventure, science-fiction or, more sinisterly, weird menace genres with a little sex appeal thrown in than of the type of fiction more commonly found in the girlies). Francis Smilby dismisses the fiction as having "no literary merit". Or my pal Jack recently commented on his Enoch Bolles blog regarding an issue of Stolen Sweets, "The interior of the magazine was peppered with naughty drawings, spiced with girls peeled of heir nighties, and stuffed with overripe stories featuring endless variations of the male conquest-all equally unappetizing. Of all my attempts I've never been able to shovel through more than a couple paragraphs." But it was exactly this fiction that proved most popular and appealing in these magazines and led to the explosion in their numbers in the mid to late-20s (specifics on this later), and I hope to help redeem some of the authors that wrote in these mags in my series here. Many of the stories are exercises in screwball, romantic comedy and quite inventive or fun in their use of slang to describe the never-ending battle of the sexes, so I'll be selecting some of the good ones for closer examination. And beyond the fiction, I also want to consider whether the girlie pulps represented a path not taken in the evolution of the girlie magazine. Most of the editors were women. Many of the writers were women. Many of the letters from readers were from women. Is it possible that these risque magazines catered to a more-inclusive audience than the gentleman's magazines of today? That this medium didn't preclude the girls and embodied a wider sexual revolution of the day?? But before I get to the first girlie pulps, I want to look at the soup they came out of, both in terms of the cultural zeitgeist of the roaring 20s (the highpoint of the American magazine - Gerard Jones' Men of Tomorrow notes that early in the decade there were over 2,000 mags in print at one time) and in terms of their magazine predecessors and contemporaries - the stage and film mags, the humor mags, the flapper guides, and the art photo pubs of the day. In the process, I also want to give some adoration to two great books on the subject of the girlie pulps, Doug Ellis' Uncovered: The Hidden Art of the Girlie Pulp, an incredibly well written and researched book on the subject, and Francis Smilby's Stolen Sweets, an aesthetic appreciation of the art of the girlies. I'll start my series with the Smilby book and a look across the pond at La Vie Parisienne and the girly mags of France, the so-called cradle of erotica.
But before I get down to the birth of the girlie pulp and better defining just what is a girlie pulp, I want to do a post on the broader question of "just what is a pulp, anyways?" Next time...Tomorrow in fact -