When not reading or tracking down another acquisition for his collection, über-collector Walker Martin writes about reading and collecting for Steve Lewis’ excellent Mystery*File blog and for newsgroups such as pulpmags and WesternPulps. The article below is © 2013 Walker Martin and used with permission. Accompanying photographs are unaccredited.
During the dates of July 25 to July 28, 2013 an event happened in Columbus, Ohio that may have been not important to non-pulp and non-book collectors, but if you collect and read these great artifacts then you know that something very special occurred. I attended almost forty pulp conventions when the old Pulpcon was the big summer event during 1972-2008. And as much as I loved that pulp convention, it never reached the heights of the present show which we call PulpFest. The most attendees that Pulpcon ever had was around 300 and many of the events had around 100 or so. But all five of the recent PulpFests have had higher attendance than Pulpcon ever had. Once again the attendance reached about 400 with over one-hundred dealer’s tables.
Yes, it is hard to believe but this was the fifth convention of the new pulp convention. And as a special reward to the attendees, it was one of the very best shows. If you read or collect pulps, pulp reprints, books, vintage paperbacks, or slicks then this was the place to be. If you like old movies or collect original art from books and magazines, then you were in luck because there were plenty of dvds and art for sale.
As usual, I had been thinking of this convention ever since the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention ended in April. I’m severely addicted to reading, collecting, and buying all sorts of books and magazines, and I needed another fix. I also collect dvds of old movies and original artwork, so non-collectors simply do not understand me at all. They tend to call me everything from hoarder to that crazy guy who likes to read. Actually it is impossible for the non-collector and non-reader to ever understand the collector. The best policy is to ignore the poor, ignorant fools.
If you do not read or collect anything then you had better stop reading this report because it will freak you out. Most of the 400 attendees were addicts like me and they were out to collect and buy books and magazines come hell or high water. One collector actually took an Edd Cartier artwork out of my hands while I was looking at it and yelled, “I’ll buy it!”
Another time a collector beat me to a pulp cover painting and I was consumed with feelings of jealousy and hatred. The only thing that stopped me from trying to yank it out of his hands was the fact that he was a lot younger than me and could pound me into the floor before I made my getaway.
It’s a pulp jungle out there as author Frank Gruber once said, and every man for himself. Since I couldn’t sleep the night before, I got up at 4 AM and waited for the van to arrive. For the last several years, a group of us have been renting a van and driving to Columbus from New Jersey. We have to rent a van because a normal car would not hold all our acquisitions.
Only veteran, long-time collectors are allowed in this van and you have to have a thick skin because we are prone to joke and laugh at each other. We even use insults in order to try and get an advantage over one another. Once again to pass the time, we talked about bizarre and crazy pulp collectors that we have known.
I recounted the story of a friend who wanted to steal art from the art display and another friend who picked up girls by leering and saying, “the mole men want your eyes.” It seemed to work, but I never tried it because all I’m interested in at the pulp conventions are books, pulps, and original art. Everybody can have sex, but to hell with it during the pulp convention!
After nine hours of driving, we arrived in Columbus. We quickly checked into the Hyatt Regency and once again I marveled at the size of the hotel and convention center area. I got lost more than once. Maybe that’s a result from all the years that I’ve spent alone in a room happily reading. That’s my ideal of a good time–reading a good book.
Since our driver, Ed Hulse, was giving a lecture at Ohio State’s Thompson Library, we went to listen to him talk about the ancestors of Batman. For an hour and a half, Ed discussed the various pulp crime-fighters. Eric Johnson, a professor at Ohio State, drove us over to the library. He has organized these annual lectures each year during PulpFest and this one was especially enjoyable.
Upon returning to the hotel, we registered for the convention and set up our tables. Thursday’s evening presentations discussed the influence of Fu Manchu on popular culture and “Hollywood and the Hero Pulps.” Afterward, we watched the first five chapters of The Spider’s Web. Starring Warren Hull and Iris Meredith, this movie serial has never been commercially released, but is available on the bootleg market. In my opinion, this is one of the very best serials ever made. It faithfully follows the spirit of the Spider novels and is non-stop action. Five chapters were screened each night for three consecutive evenings.
My favorite scene in The Spider’s Web involves a little old lady in a dress fighting the Spider. I know it’s a henchman, but the scene is funny as hell seeing a woman in a dress and white wig fighting the Spider. I guess the Spider didn’t think it was funny because when the little old lady tried to run away from him, he calmly shoots her in the back. I almost had an accident laughing. One of the great scenes in movie history. I guess the movie code censors didn’t preview the serial because they would have demanded the scene be cut. The poor little old lady. I loved it!
I mentioned the competition between collectors above. Sometimes it can misfire. For instance when the collector took the Cartier drawing away from me, I was very jealous. He paid more than it was worth at $450, but I was still unhappy. However, the next day I found six more Cartier drawings, each priced at only $160, plus they were signed! Needless to say, I took great enjoyment in showing my friend that he had overpaid about $300. I was happy to see that he was crushed and I took advantage of his sadness to eagerly push ahead of him and buy some pulps. It’s true that we have been friends for forty years, but we are talking about our collections here! It’s dog eat dog!
Next to the dealers’ room, I noticed hundreds of women shrieking and yelling at another convention. It seemed to involve baskets and shopping. In fact one lady on the elevator asked me if I had found any good shopping bargains. I quickly told her, with a superior air, that I was a member of the PulpFest convention. She asked with great puzzlement “What’s Pulpfest?” Since I only had something like fifteen seconds on the elevator to explain, I simply muttered it was a convention for book collectors. She repeated in a tone of wonderment, “Book collectors?” As I said, the non-collector will never understand the collector.
Now, you might wonder what I brought to sell and what I bought for my own collection. Recently, I was lucky enough (or perhaps a non-collector would say, “unlucky enough”), to obtain over 1,000 issues of Western Story Magazine, 1919-1949. I already had most of the issues, but I needed a few more, plus I’m always looking for upgrades. So I passed many of the Max Brand issues on to a friend, but that left me with many duplicates. So I boxed up a couple hundred issues, mainly 1936-1939, and priced them at only $5 each. The 1920s I wanted $15 each, but it was amusing to watch the many collectors walk by perhaps the biggest bargain in the dealers’ room, sneering at Western Story issues for only $5.
However, there were a few who realized that I may have taken leave of my senses and bought all the issues I had before I was committed to the local insane asylum. I’m talking about fellow out-of-control collectors like Matt Moring, David Saunders, and Randy Vanderbeek. These guys know a bargain when they see it! By the way, I’ll try and remember to forward a photo of me looking at the Western Story pulps on my table.
I also sold several cancelled checks from the files of Popular Publications and Munsey. Again, there are a few collectors that know these are extremely rare and unusual.
What did I buy? The best and rarest item was a bound volume of a magazine called Romance. Despite its name, it was not a love pulp and during its short life of only twelve issues published in 1919-1920, Romance was the companion magazine to the great Adventure Magazine. I’ve been hunting for decades for this title and have only found three or four issues. This volume contained six of the twelve issues and made me very happy. Next to it was the crazy magazine The Scrap Book, so I bought these bound volumes as well.
I also bought 24 issues of various crime digests, the ones that tried to imitate Manhunt in the 1950s. I used to have these issues, but since they are quite unreadable, I sold them years ago. If a collector lives long enough though, he often will start collecting items that he had previously sold. The covers are nice, showing all sorts of violence against women. Sorry ladies, but digest and pulp collectors seem to like these covers and they bring high prices. I’m talking about such crime digests as Two-Fisted Tales, Offbeat, Guilty, Keyhole, and Web Terror.
I also bought several issues of Ghost Stories. Despite the claim that these are true stories, they are really fiction. Since I’ve been at the collecting game so long, I’ve filled in most of my wants, but I did manage to find a Dime Detective that I still needed. Also an FBI Detective and a Detective Story from 1922.
I bought several pieces of pulp art in addition to the six Edd Cartier drawings, such a Kelly Freas paperback cover painting and other things too numerous to name. But I do want to mention the Walter Baumhofer art that David Saunders had at his table. He had something like a hundred pieces of art that may have been used as interior illustrations in various pulp magazines. They all eventually sold and I managed to buy many of them. David threw in a great photo of Baumhofer.
Speaking of David Saunders, I would like to like to discuss the various panels and discussions, but there were too many for me to cover here. They all are interesting, and that is another thing that Pulpfest is known for–the excellent quality of its evening programming. The PulpFest website has a complete listing, but I would like to mention two that I found to be of great interest. My two favorites were the presentation that David Saunders gave on Walter Baumhofer and the talk that Chris Kalb gave on hero pulp premiums and promotions.
David Saunders, as the son of artist Norman Saunders, knew Walter Baumhofer. There is no one better qualified to talk about Baumhofer. What a great discussion, and I hope PulpFest has David Saunders talk about pulp artists at every convention. David has one of the best websites on the internet where he discusses pulp artists. The site is called The Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists.
On Saturday evening, Chris Kalb, the designer of PulpFest‘s advertising and its website, offered a talk on pulp premiums. After more than an hour on the subject and with much more to share, the PulpFest committee asked the audience if they’d like to hear more on the subject in 2014. So expect Chris back in a year to share additional information about the pulp premiums.
The auction was mainly from the collection of Al Tonik and concentrated on the research books that this great pulp scholar had accumulated over the years. I also buy reference books as they are published so I had almost all of these items.
Several pulp reprints and books about the pulps made their debut at PulpFest 2013 including Wordslingers, by Will Murray, The Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide to Pulp Fiction, by Ed Hulse, Hidden Ghosts, a collection of Paul Powers’ fiction edited by Laurie Powers, Paperback Confidential: Crime Writers of the Paperback Era, by Brian Ritt, and from Altus Press, The Complete Adventures of Hazard and Partridge, by Robert Pearsall with an excellent and long introduction by pulp scholar, Nathan Madison. We really do live in the golden age of pulp reprints and reference books.
In 2012, Tony Davis retired as the editor of the convention’s program book, The Pulpster, but this year the new editor, William Lampkin, carried on the tradition by editing a fine collection of articles. My favorite is the piece on Daisy Bacon by Laurie Powers.
The 2013 Munsey Award was given to pulp scholar and anthologist, Garyn G. Roberts. Congratualtions Garyn, you really deserve this recognition.
Okay, there must be something I can complain about, right? Nope, no drunks giving me a sour look, no complaints about the lighting in the dealers room, no bitching about no hospitality room. I just went to the bar on the second floor and acted like a collector. All the non-collectors gave me plenty of space! So, I would like to thank the PulpFest organizing committee for all their hard work. Mike Chomko, Jack Cullers, Ed Hulse, and Barry Traylor, thank you, thank you!
And to all you collectors and readers out there. Make plans for PulpFest next year. Do it now and no excuses accepted! Even if we die, we can haunt the place.