Arts preview: PulpFest 2013: Preserving an American pastime

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From the July 25, 2013 edition

An apocalyptic menace has acquired biological warfare and threatens to use it on the entire population. It’s up to secret service agents, known only by their assigned number to strike him down. These agents answer to almost nobody. They handle this threat and other outrageous threats against the United States, and they operate almost outside of the law to get it done. Sound familiar?

What about the serial killer whose modus operandi is to take the law into his own hands and kill off bad guy because the law can’t get them all?

These sound like the premises of beloved TV shows “24” and Dexter,ure. But don’t give these shows storyline credit just yet; these plot devices go back a hundred years, when Jack Bauer was better known as Operator 5 and Dexter was billed as The Spider. And instead of their stories splattered on television sets, they were shared in pulp magazines, 200-page publications from the 1920s that printed popular fiction stories on the cheap and for the masses.

But the similarities don’t stop there, notes Ed Hulse, committee member of the annual PulpFest, Ohio-based convention held this weekend where hobbyists sell pulp mag lots, original pulp mag art and self-published pulp mag-related fare.

“A lot of the comic book superheroes were adapted or blatantly ripped off from pulp characters,” Hulse said. “The first Batman comic book story in 1939 was actually plagiarized from a novel in 1936 starring (pulp magazine character-turned-paperback character) The Shadow. It’s the same plot; just put Batman in for The Shadow.”

Borrowing from old ideas is nothing new, but Hulse said PulpFest is less about exposing creative plagiarism and more about connecting with a younger crowd to teach them about the true roots of their favorite storylines and the importance of sharing history lesson.

“Our culture is set up to be about the new and fresh. The older stuff gets lost because as a society we have such short attention spans,” he said. “But the pulps were so influentialhis is what people did for enjoyment and escape. But then the pulps died off in the ’50s because there was too much competition for the entertainment dollar and TV happened. People who wrote those went to TV and wrote old stories for shows. We think its important that Americans have an idea of where this stuff comes from

These uninformed masses are part of what makes PulpFest so successful; 15-20 percent of the 300-400 attendees each year are those who hear of these old-new connections—perhaps at Hulse’s pre-PulpFest lecture at OSUand come to browse. The others are fans and collectors wh come from all across the country but mostly from the Midwestthe most concentrated area of fans and collectors, Hulse said.

These fans and collectors can browse the dealer’s room, which houses 150 tables covered in buyable fare, from one of the tens of thousands of pulp magazines up for sale to original pulp mag artwork created from the likes of Norman Rockwell, M.C Wyatt and J.C. Leyendecker. They can also buy items like post-WWII collectable paperbacks and hardbacks of pulpy stories—which were more convenient than their pulp magazine predecessors but held the same pulpy lure with their charactersand self-published books written by New Pulp authors, who will be giving readings of their works to interested attendees

Attendees can also enjoy the panel discussions and presentations relating to pulp magazines and this year’s theme of the Hero Pulp specifically (this year marks the 80th anniversary of Hero Pulp’s birth), as well as take part in the pulp auction, where estate items from deceased collectors will be sold as well as other items. The event will also showcase the winner of the Munsey Award, an honor given to someone in the pulp community who has taken great lengths to make sure the pulp memory stays alive, Hulse said.

In fact, maintaining the pulp memory is what the history lessons, new-old connections and the event overall are intended to do, said.

“Old (pulp collectors and enthusiasts familiar with the original works) are dead or dying,” he said. “So we try to appeal to a younger crowd. We want to preserve this stuff.”