Monday, April 9, 2012

Pulp Perusals: Was Billy the First?

During a recent visit to the corporate headquarters of the company that is kind enough to give me a day-job, as often happens when I catch up with colleagues I only see on an occasional basis, the lunch conversation drifted around to what writing projects I was working on. When I mentioned I was writing a couple of pup stories, several people asked what exactly did I mean by “pulp”, because as far as they knew Pulp Fiction began and ended with a Tarantino movie. But then someone asked a question I hadn’t considered before. Who was the first pulp writer?

According to most research the first "pulp" was Frank Munsey's revamped Argosy Magazine published in1896. Reading the entry on pulp magazines on Wikipedia, one phrase caught my eye: “prior to Munsey, no one had combined cheap printing, cheap paper and cheap authors in a package that provided affordable entertainment to working-class people.” (emphasis mine).

The writers were so “cheap” that the creators of those early Argosy stories went unnamed, and it was the publisher rather than the writers that was given the kudos as the catalyst for change.

But the more I thought about it I realized that if we consider pulp as a writing style rather than a distribution method, then the search for the first "pulp" writer opens up many more candidates and rolls the clock back even further.

I quoted Tommy Hancock’s introduction to this very website in my December column, but I think it bears repeating here when trying to answer this particular question. Hancock defined pulp as “layered storytelling, the one-two punch of the dialogue and the action, and the over the top antics, characters, and resolutions that made readers believe in the amazing, the fantastic, and the incredible.” -

Given that definition, I'd propose a certain gentleman from a small town in the British midlands as a possible candidate for the premier writer of pulp – No other than Mr. William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon.

I can almost hear you wondering what I've been drinking? (Actually I have – but only a couple of Buds). Can I be serious in nominating the greatest writer in English literature as the developer of the antecedent of what we like to think of as "pulp fiction”?

First a little background to back up my hypothesis. Over the last few years I’ve been doing a lot of background research for novel featuring the aforementioned Bard, and I believe there is a reasonable argument to back up my strange idea.

Consider the following:
• Shakespeare wrote for the mass media of his time, the theater, where the vast majority of the audience were the working class.
• As a theater owner he employed other cheap writers to produce different adventures.
• It's argued that in fact for several of his plays he also worked with some of those other cheap authors.
• Or if you believe some Shakespeare himself was the cheap writer who acted as a front for others who couldn't be seen to be writing for the masses.

No matter who did actually sling the quill and ink, the stories attributed to Shakespeare feature the first use of serial characters and heroes, great adventures, strong characters, lots of action and intrigue, all set in incredible and occasionally fantastic settings.

Sounds a lot like "pulp" to me.


And to round off this month’s column, sit back and enjoy the concluding part of THE RAVEN: NAMELESS HERE FOR EVERMORE by Rick Klaw, and myself.

For those who wish to catch up you can find the previous installments here:
Part 1 -
Part 2 -
Part 3 -
Part 4 -
Part 5 -

(Part Six – The Conclusion)
By Alan J. Porter & Rick Klaw

Lala Ward, hated waiting for men. The only one she had ever waited for was Edwin Wilkes, (she still couldn’t think of him under any other name). Despite the entreaties from both the police Captain and that insufferable Brit, she had decided to sneak a look to see what was happening in the warehouse. The shot she heard as she opened the car door was enough to convince her to drop any attempt at subterfuge. She knew Edwin was in trouble. Lala put her strong dancers legs to good use and soon found out that the lock on the warehouse’s side door offered little resistance to a well placed high kick.

She rushed into the warehouse, and was surprised to see that it was basically one large room. The Captain and the Englishman stood off to one side watching her as she walked in. It was as if they had been expecting her at that very moment.

There was the body of a thuggish looking man on the other side of the room, and in the center The Raven, on his knees. Strange gurgling sounds like half strangled sobs were emanating from his throat. The floor nearby was covered in glass shards; pieces of a mirror as far as she could tell.

Then she saw the man in the chair. She couldn’t see his face, but she recognized the clothes. Despite her best intentions, she screamed his name. “Edwin!”
She never recalled actually moving to his side, she was just there. Holding his blooded head in her arms, sobbing and saying his name over and over, as if by some miracle it would bring him back to life. How long she continued with this fruitless ritual was also lost to memory. It may have been minutes, but most likely it was just a few seconds. “Who?” she demanded, almost screaming the question.

The Raven’s sobbing stopped. His gravelly voice spoke. “The Boss.”
“Where is he?” demanded the grief stricken girl.
“I am here?” she heard the new shadowy voice, but it seemed to come from the direction of the stricken vigilante. “I’m afraid your friend made a much better actor than a spy.”
‘Enough!” interrupted The Raven’s voice.
“But why should I, Raymond?”
“Raymond is gone, only The Raven remains.”
“But you are not alone in there, are you Raymond? Where ever The Raven goes I will be there.”
“No! The Raven was meant to protect Raymond from you.”
“But who would protect poor Raymond, from The Raven.?”

Lala slumped to the floor by Edwin’s body, her back to the wall, insensitive to the shattered glass on the floor cutting into her hands and legs. She stared at the cloaked figure having this strange surreal conversation with himself.

She needed answers to this nightmare she had stumbled into. Looking straight at Malone, her voice quivered, “The Raven and The Boss, they are both…?”
“I’m afraid so Missy.”
“Then Raymond killed Edwin?”
“I believe that is one possible interpretation of events,” agreed the Englishman.
“Why?” Lala reached out towards Malone and the Englishman, almost in supplication.
“Because, that’s what he, or at least The Boss, had been hired to do.”
“And The Raven?” As she spoke, Lala dropped her hands to the floor once again, but this time she moved her right hand a little way further forward. Still looking straight at the two men, her fingers searched until they connected with the cold metal shape she had spotted earlier. “Was that all a charade?”
“No I don’t believe it was.” The Englishman continued, “To Raymond, The Raven was a protector, a ….”

The loud report of The Raven’s discarded .45 reverberated around the warehouse. The vigilante’s confused mutterings ceased as the bullet entered his forehead, and removed the top part of his head along his signature black hat.

Lala Ward gently placed the smoking gun down on the floor. She gazed across the room at the two men as if the last few minutes had never happened. She spoke calmly, “if you two gentlemen don’t mind, I’d like to be alone with Edwin,” she looked in he direction of the Englishman, “sorry I mean Edward, for a while.”
“Ach, I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” said the shocked Malone.
“Of course my dear, I totally understand, come Malone, let’s leave the young lady to say goodbye. What harm can it do?” Pointing in the direction of Finn’s still unconscious form, the Englishman continued, “We need to take out what you Americans would term the garbage.”
Lala Ward watched them lift the large thug from the floor and struggle through the door. Reaching up she ran her fingers through Edwin Wilke’s blood matted hair. “A protector….”
After unceremoniously throwing Finn into the back of the squad car, Malone and the Englishman returned to the warehouse. All that awaited them was the two dead bodies of Raymond Vandemeer and Edward Sparrow. No mater how many parts each man had played, they’d only had one life to live.

Malone did a quick visual sweep of the room.
“It seems the bird has flown the coop,” said the Englishman.
“Looks like herself tisn’t the only thing to have flown,” Malone pointed in the direction of the vigilante’s body. The man’s scarf and guns have gone.”
The Englishman smiled, and muttered to himself, “and The Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting.”
Captain Malone still shared the latest tittle-tattle over supper with the missus and he still solved crimes. Though he was surprised to realize that he missed the clandestine meetings, and often looked back on the myriad cases they had solved together, before it all went wrong. Sure, later other masked men emerged, some of whom he even worked closely with, but none of them were The Raven.

Sometimes at night while roaming the streets, he'll hear a crumble of a boot on a nearby rooftop and even catch a glimpse of a dark cape. On those occasions, Malone goes home, opens a special bottle of brandy, and has a drink for a departed friend.
From her vantage point on top of the old Manhattan Theater, she scanned The Great White Way from Times Square back down towards Central Park. A sharp report of gunfire split the evening air ….

1 comment:

  1. Great deduction, my dear Mr. Watson... err, Porter.


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