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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Pulp Art: Original Cover Paintings for the Great American Pulp Magazines, Gramercy Books, 1997

(A Suspended Animation "classic" from 1998.)

Anyone with even a slight interest in pulp magazines will want a copy of Robert Lesser's Pulp Art: Original Cover Paintings for the Great American Pulp Magazines. For $20, it is a remarkable bargain.

Some anthologies of pulp stories have included reproductions, not always in color, of pulp covers. The best of these is Tony Goodstone's Pulps: Fifty Years of American Pop Culture (Chelsea House, 1970), but it comes nowhere close to Lesser's work.

The quality of reproduction is remarkable; most of the illustrations are at least as large as the original covers.

Noteworthy is the use of the original paintings without the distracting title logos and list of contributors and stories. In some cases, a small inset shows the cover as it appeared on newsstands. The difference is striking.

Even though typescript detracted from artwork, it was necessary, the best and quickest means to lure a buyer. The quantity of cover text varied, but most seem to have understood the need to keep the art uncluttered even as artists knew to provide some "free" space. Clutter tended to increase over the years.

Comic book readers will recall sometimes vitriolic letters from readers outraged by any increase in the use of word balloons or blocs of text on Marvel or DC comics covers. The editors usually argued that word balloons helped explain the covers and stories and increased sales.

Lesser compiled a good and representative collection of covers and arranged them thematically. In most cases, he avoided using some famous covers which have been reprinted too often. His selections prove convincingly that most covers were not salacious.

There are short and interesting essays by writers and artists familiar to comic collectors: Forrest Ackerman, Jim Steranko, etc.

Neophytes and veterans can profit from this book. I knew little previously about Rafael de Soto and his work for Spider and Detective Tales.

This and Goodstone's book, along with Peter Haining's Terror (A & W Visual Library, 1976) are the cornerstones of any pulp collection.

Reviewed by Dr. Jon Suter.