Thursday, April 12, 2007
All Flesh is Grass. Print, too.
The above is the cover to my new book, The Pulp Magazine Holdings Directory, a guide to which issues of which pulp magazines are held in which libraries in the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, and Europe.
In the Directory I covered 1,022 pulps.
Of those, 386 pulps are held in no (0) libraries in the United States, Canada, Great Britain and Europe, and a further 145 pulps have less than five total issues extant.
38% of all pulps no longer exist anywhere. And 14% of the pulps survive only in scattered copies.
Which is to say, over half the pulps ever published in the United States are either completely gone or survive in fragmented form. (And around 60% of all surviving issues are only on microfilm or microfiche).
(The preceding doesn't include true crime pulps or the Canadian and British reprints, which would increase the number of nonexistent pulps).
So it's not possible to go into a library anywhere to look at this:
(It's remotely possible that some pulp collector might donate this issue to a library somewhere, or open his or her collection to a stranger, but with a few prominent exceptions most pulp collectors seem to be hateful grasping antisocial illiberal pinchfists, their souls to the Devil, and the chances of a pulp collector being both generous and in possession of this issue of Zeppelin Stories are so small as to be infinitesmal).
And no member of the public can look at this in a library:
Scarlet Adventuress, greatest of the bad girl pulps, completely gone, and with it characters like Nila Rand, "the Devil's Mistress," and Kara Vania, "The Lady of Doom," and stories like "Shanghai Devil Woman," "Satan's Step-Daughter," and "They Called Her Brandy Flip."
The stories in this issue of Army Romances are "Love Thy Brother," "Flashback!" "Sweet and Hot," "Sweet Geisha," "Kiss of Dreamy Delight," "Do-Nut Girl," "When a G.I. Wants to Marry," "Dangerous Love," and "Slave of the Amazons." The titles are quite a bit at odds with the cover, but no one will ever have the chance to discover whether the cover was a salacious lie, or if BDSM pleasures are to be found in "Kiss of Dreamy Delight."
I know nothing about The Confessions of a Stool Pigeon ("By One of Them," let's not forget), but I'm sure the stories would be enjoyable in an overwrought, the-miseries-of-crime way. I'll never get to read those stories, though.
A conservative estimate is that only 35% of spicy pulp issues--not pulps, issues--survive. One of the most popular genres of pulps is reduced to just over a third of its total output. It's likely that the missing 65% is so similar to the surviving stories that researchers can generalize about the genre based on a little over a third of what's left--but we'll never know for sure, will we?
The numbers are better for the romance pulps--59% of all romance pulp issues survive--but only two issues (of 175) of Cupid's Diary survive, less than a third (of 146 issues) of Live Stories survives, 0 issues (of 118) survive of Romance, and less than a quarter of all issues of Ranch Romances survive--and Ranch Romances published 854 issues from December, 1924 to November, 1968.
And, finally, consider the hero pulps, which is what most people think of when they see or hear the word "pulps."
The undisputed Big Names among pulp heroes were The Shadow, Doc Savage, the Phantom Detective, and The Spider. All 325 issues of the seven pulps The Shadow appeared in survive. All 181 issues of Doc Savage/Doc Savage Science Detective survive. All 170 issues of The Phantom Detective survive.
But The Spider? 118 issues, Oct. 1933-Dec. 1943. 10 are held in libraries. Oh, many more than those ten have been reprinted--there's a handy list of reprints which tells you which issues were reprinted, and where--but for poor academics like me, paying $25-$35 per reprint isn't feasible.
I could go on, but it would just get (more) depressing.
Of course, all of this is a good corrective to a writer's dreams of immortality. If stories about the Spider can so easily vanish, what chance does the average author now have? One of the best selling fantasy authors of all time was the Reverend Charles Monroe Sheldon, who wrote In His Steps in 1899. By 1934, it had sold 8 million copies. (In His Steps is a Utopia about what the world would be like if everyone followed Christ's teachings--and Utopias are generally classified as fantasies). There are several hundred copies available in libraries around the United States--but do you know anyone who's read In His Steps?
In other words:
I met a reader from an antique bookstore
Who said: Two vast and poetastering series novels, parts two and seven
Stand in the dollar bin. On the back of one,
Half-obscured, a bearded visage protrudes, whose smirk
And curled lip and sneer of self-satisfaction
Tell that this author well those passions read
To best exploit his audience, written in these lifeless things,
His hand which mocked them even as his bank account fed.
And on the title page these words appear:
"My name is ****** ******, Best-Selling Author:
Look on my sales, ye critical darlings, and despair!"
None of his other books remain. Round the decay
Of that bloated series, boundless and cluttered,
The doorstop trilogies stretch far away.