Avi Abrams, the creator of darkroastedblend and a long-time friend of this blog, spoke to me recently about the fine art of pulp magazines. In the following interview, Avi talks about his fascination with pulps and how to collect and care for them.
ephemera: What makes pulp magazines such a highly desirable collectible?
Abrams: Pulps were chock-full of exciting fiction and lurid in-your-face art. Crammed in 200 or so pages you can often find one full novel, two novelettes, and five stories--all with great action, color, and, if it's sci-fi genre, stimulating ideas. Consider it being as almost the opposite to the 500-plus page trilogy bricks that crowd the shelves in Chapters.
In some ways there were the literary equivalent of 'manga' - the thrilling, highly visual tales of the Age of Superheroes in the 30s and later the Space Age of the 50s. In the best pulps, such as Astounding Stories and Weird Tales, the quality of fiction has been uniformly very high, with top writers submitting their best work--sometimes the only market for them in the absence of hardcover book publications, and with Hollywood 'silver screen' being very predictable and dull.
So, in other words, if you are an avid reader--not just a collector--then owning pulps means hours of delightful reading entertainment, plus most fiction found there is extremely rare today, and still not reprinted.
ephemera: It makes you wonder why more people don't collect them. Is it because pulp magazines are more fragile than other magazines or books? What can collectors due to preserve the pulps they own? Can damaged pulps be fixed?
Abrams: The term pulp points to the substance they were printed on--a very fragile low-grade paper, yellowish and brittle, with characteristic wooden pulp smell. This makes collecting pulps a precarious occupation, as they crumble with age more than any newspapers, and, if you're prone to reading them, do not hold well after you flip all the pages. Besides, many pulps available on the market today for cheaper price lack the cover; they are called 'coverless', as dealers ripped the covers off unsold issues...and if you have the cover intact, the corners and edges were untrimmed, quick to tear off or become ragged.
There is hardly anything you can do to preserve them--other than handle them with care--this is why pulps in good condition command higher and higher prices on eBay with every year, and the issues in the worst condition are often bound together in a sort of hardcover collection volume, and sold that way. Many rare issues are beyond help--and require digitizing, scanning, and preserving the contents in the digital form. A few libraries have magazine collections--but they are extremely valuable and are treated as such.
ephemera: What are the most highly prized pulp magazines? Do you have any of these show stoppers in your collection?
Abrams: The full run of Weird Tales is something of a treasure, and only two libraries in the world have it. I can speak only for pulp magazines in the fantastic genre--the issues with early stories of H. P. Lovecraft, Edmond Hamilton, Clark Ashton Smith, and some rare science fiction pulps with Philip K. Dick stories--all command a higher price. I attempt to collect as much fiction of Edmond Hamilton and Leigh Brackett as I can-- and all these issues are high-in-demand. Larger-format Amazing Stories and Astounding Stories from the 30s--all are beautiful investments, as the interest in super-science and the Age of Wonder seem to be coming back in recent years.
ephemera: What advice do you have for anyone considering building a pulp magazine collection? Are there books or resources available?
Abrams: I would advice to buy the issues you'd like to read yourself, some of it may depreciate faster, but you'll have the added pleasure of owning some grand fiction that is not available today in any other form. You should have some 'core' issues in the best condition possible, and look for early appearances of prominent writers, such as Bradbury and Dick. Also, look at the cover artist and the illustrations inside--issues with artists like Hannes Bok and Virgil Finlay are more valuable.
Pretty good guide and resource--available in any Chapters today--is Science Fiction Collectibles: Identification and Price Guide by Stuart W. Wells. And for all vintage SF-related info, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction by Peter Nicholls (1974 edition) is the best.
Most of all, enjoy the color and action of the most rewarding adventure and 'wonder' fiction of all times--published between the dog-eared covers on the crumbling yellow paper--while they still exist in original, not digitized form.
ephemera: Thanks, Avi. This has been a fun, educational, and enlightening interview, which I'm confident will help a lot of collectors, and may even inspire a few people to start collecting pulps. Click here to read Avi's SF pulp reviews.
Search Abebooks for the books listed in this interview.