by Darin Lowery
Before there was Playboy there was pulp.
Sometimes known as dime store novels or pulp fiction, collecting vintage paperback books has grown in recent years. Decades ago they were found on metal racks at newsstands, drugstores and train terminals for fifty cents and under. Today prices start at five dollars and up at antiques malls and can reach hundreds of dollars on the Internet.
Categories range from science fiction, westerns and gangster tales; juvenile delinquent diaries and sports stories, with steamy novels of suburban adultery and booze soaked weekends being extremely popular. The target market was primarily male; think of these trashy tales as ‘bodice rippers’ for men. The cover art is the driving force, then and now, and it’s a shame many of the artists, besides name painters like Robert Avati and Robert McGuiness are now forgotten. Lurid illustrations tempted readers to take a peek. I once had a copy of a book entitled Little Tramp, the cover that of a scantily clad, bedraggled young lady sitting on a doorstep. Sadly, I sold it along with a dozen others.
The first paperback was published in 1939 by Pocket Books. This was a major innovation in that previously books were hardcover and therefore bulkier. Paperbacks were also cheaper to produce and to purchase. Advances in offset printing assured brighter colors, thus catching the eye of customers. By the early 1950’s the paperback was here to stay.
Often times the titles themselves smack of titillation and scandal: Joy Street, Passion by Proxy, Queer Affair, Beatnik Party, Lust Fire, Badge of Shame, Manhandled, You Asked for It, Finger Man and Gutter Gang are some of the better ones. To be sure, many respectable authors were published in this form- John Updike, J.D. Salinger, and Pearl S. Buck, to name a few. While not overtly sensational, the covers of these books still possessed an alluring quality. Still, the best in my book are the illustrations and stories of the demimonde.
Pulp fiction ‘for the ladies’ at the time primarily consisted of sugar coated romance- think ‘new nurse meets young doctor’ – and the aforementioned ‘bodice rippers’- those stories which featured a hunky, handsome guy carrying a damsel away from a gloomy castle. Today’s romance novels are much sexier, and the cover illustrations show just how far women have come with regards to turning the tables and objectifying men.
Log onto the Internet and do a ‘vintage pulp fiction’ search, and you’ll find a treasure trove of titles and covers. Pick up a few and toss them on your cocktail table. You’re sure to start a novel discussion at your next party.
go to https://www.vintagepbks.com/ for more info and great covers!