by Mac Adams
Here’s a trend I saw a few years ago that became bigger than I ever expected: the return of the Pulp genre. For the uninitiated, “Pulp” is a vaguely-defined genre that had its heyday from—roughly—the 1920’s to the 1930’s. Pulp was adventure stories, some were Westerns, Swords and Sorcery, Detective, and War stories, as well as the first superheroes, prior to the launch of comic books in the 1930’s. While a few Pulp characters appeared in early comics, most got their start in prose works, usually novellas. Pulp stories were had a high degree of action and violence, implicit sex, and often weird, pseudo-scientific of outright fantastical elements, such as lost cities, bizarre chemical serums, and implausible twists of evolutionary fate.
A while ago, I noticed something as I was surfing the web. There were a lot of new stories being written about classic pulp heroes, not only comic books but genuine prose works for the likes of Doc Savage, the Domino Lady, and The Avenger (and I thought everybody but me and maybe one guy on Wikipedia had forgotten The Avenger even existed).
Granted, the Pulp genre hadn’t exactly died out; Indian Jones is a Pulp movie series, and the comic series Hellboy is very Pulp-y. Zorro, Tarzan, and Conan were Pulp heroes, so anything involving them qualifies, but, this is different from what I was seeing, and I have to wonder, why?
Firstly, I think it has something to do with the timing. By this point, most Pulp characters are in the public domain, so writers don’t have to either work through big companies or jump through complex legal hoops to get the rights to play with the icon characters from their parents’ or grandparents’ days.
Another factor might be that publishing companies have noticed the popularity of nostalgia-based movies and decided to jump in the game, taking advantage of the aforementioned shift into the public domain of many of these characters. After all, these types of stories were all popular once, why can’t they be so again, especially if back issues were popular? Besides, there’s always the secret rule of story-tellers, if you think it can sell, buy it before the other guys do!
Still, I’m happy this trend is happening. I enjoy weird ideas, and Pulp was pretty weird (look up the actual stories of Tarzan, not the movies, the actual novels; he fights DINOSAURS). It’s also re-introducing a lot of old ideas to a new generation, revitalizing work that a lot of people spent a lot of effort and imagination on. So, I say: bring on the nostalgia!