CONVENTION REPORT: PulpFest 2015
by Walker Martin
As usual I was among four collectors who rented a SUV to transport us to Columbus, Ohio, the site of the 2015 summer pulp magazine convention. The Great God Cthulhu was supposed to make an appearance but he evidently was busy at some other horrifying business. Lucky for us book collectors because so many stories show that nothing ever good happens when he visits.
The other three collectors with me were Ed Hulse, our driver and editor of Blood n Thunder; Nick Certo, long time book dealer and art collector; and Digges La Touche, otherwise known as The Reading Machine. A normal car was not big enough for us because of the books, pulps and artwork that we expected to buy and bring back to New Jersey.
Theme of this year’s PulpFest was the 125th birthday of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, Weird Tales, and the Thrilling magazine group of pulp titles. The ID badge showed the cover of Weird Tales, November 1944 by Matt Fox, a very weird and bizarre portrait of Cthulhu. We arrived at 5:00 pm and quickly joined the other dealers who were setting up during the early bird hours on Thursday, August 13, 2015.
There were 120 dealer tables and attendance was announced as 420, making this one of the better attended PulpFest. and Pulpcons. I always have a dealer’s table at these conventions, not only to sell my duplicates but also to have a sort of headquarters for me and my friends to meet and store our purchases. I was constantly tripping over stacks of books and pulps behind my table, mainly items bought by my pals Digges and Sai S, who runs the excellent pulp blog, Pulp Flakes. At one point, while looking at this mound of loot and evidence of bibliomania, I had no idea what was my stuff and what belonged to Digges and Sai.
But somehow we sorted it all out by the end of the show and I bought quite a few items including original art by such Weird Tales artists as Hannes Bok, Lee Brown Coye, and Matt Fox, I also picked up some art by Emsh and Gahan Wilson. But the biggest purchases were a great Galaxy cover for the March 1952 issue. Titled “Year of the Jackpot”, it illustrates the lead novelet by Robert Heinlein. I also bought another Galaxy cover by Dember for the October 1966 issue. This was only $500 and a real bargain.
I had to buy some weird art to honor Cthulhu, so I obtained the cover art from Nyctalops 15, January 1980 by Potter. It shows Lovecraft and Cthulhu. I was really impressed by the art I obtained that was done by Lee Brown Coye and Matt Fox. Many collectors don’t like Coye and Fox but I think they are two of the finest of the Weird Tales artists. Their work appeared in the 1940’s and really portrayed the bizarre and unusual elements in Weird Tales. As I mentioned above, an example of Matt Fox’s art was used on the ID badge.
I also sold quite a few interesting items, including 12 bound volumes of Adventure from the 1920’s; several bizarre crime digests from the 1950’s like Off-Beat and Two-Fisted; and a couple of Smart Set‘s containing early stories by Dashiell Hammett, including his first appearance.
I probably could have sold a lot more but I was often away from my table because I was buying so many books and artwork. I had a great time talking to old friends that I have known for decades including Don Hutchison and Steve Lewis, who runs this Mystery*File blog. Steve had missed the convention for a few years and it was good to see him again. Don I have known since the early days of Pulpcon.
I didn’t see Gordon Huber this year and if he missed the convention, it will break the unbroken string of his appearances at every Pulpcon and PulpFest since 1972. Someone pointed out that if Gordon did indeed miss the show, then it makes me the next in line for having attended the most pulp conventions. As I recently pointed out in my article “Why Attend Pulpfest?”, I really think it is important to support and attend these conventions.
It sometimes seems that my entire life has revolved around the Pulpcons and PulpFests, not to mention the Windy City Pulp Conventions! I really believe the collecting of books and pulps can be a life work and of great importance. What’s more important than a life spent reading and collecting such great artifacts? I wish we could continue doing this forever!
I mentioned the great fiction magazine Adventure above and three of us decided to honor the memory of this excellent title by wearing T-shirts with the circled “71”, which stands for the Campfire letter column and the old Adventure stations that used to exist.
These stations were manned by the magazine’s readers and provided a sort of way station for other readers to relax and talk about the magazine. On Friday, Ed Hulse, Tom Krabacher, and me wore the shirts and revived the Campfire station in Columbus, at least temporarily. It’s been decades since an Adventure station has been active.
What was the most expensive item sold at PulpFest? I believe it was a copy of New Story magazine with an Edgar Rice Burroughs story. The magazine is a very rare and hard to get title. I heard it sold for around $4,000. Speaking of selling, the Saturday night auction saw over 80 lots sold, including a Philip Jose Farmer manuscript for $450, a Tales of Magic and Mystery for $275 and many stacks of pulps.
This year PulpFest shared the hotel with a big convention of around 4,000 Japanese anime fanatics. Mainly teenage girls, these ladies were dressed in all sorts of bizarre and interesting costumes. A couple nights I woke up in my room to the sounds of screams and laughter as they raced up and down the corridors and through the hotel meeting rooms. For the first time I saw several Columbus police officers patrolling the hotel since many of the girls were minors and drugs may have been in use.
I would like to give a special thanks to Bill Mann who turned his room over to several beer drinking pulp collectors. One night security visited the room and even told the collectors to keep the noise down. It’s possible we acted even more bizarre than the anime people! I’m sure non-collectors would think so…
I had a strange room and at first I was not sure I liked it. The hotel has 19 or 20 floors and at one point the building ends in a sharp edge. My room was at the sharp edge and when I opened the door I at first though the twisting corridor leading to the bed was from the silent film, The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. Then I noticed the walls were all windows, not just one or two and the bathroom as a big window overlooking the city of Columbus. This made me think of the film, Things to Come. Maybe I’ll ask for this room again!
Chet Williamson was the Guest Of Honor and I had a table near his in the dealer’s room. In addition to being the author of around 20 books, he has written over 100 stories, many of them horror classics. He’s a book and pulp collector and I remember him from the old Pulpcons and the Tonikons that were held in Al Tonik’s home in the 1990’s.
Steve Miller, a long time pulp collector, won the Munsey Award, mainly for his two great reference books: Mystery, Detective and Espionage Fiction with Michael Cook and Science Fiction, Fantasy and Weird Fiction Index with Bill Contento. He’s deserved this award for a long time.
PulpFest is known for its panels, and there was a full slate of daytime and evening programming. During the evening there were several panels dealing with the Thrilling magazine group, Leo Margulies, Weird Tales, and the Cthulhu Mythos. I have never attended the daytime panels and discussions because of my collecting and dealing activities in the dealer’s room. When the room closes at 5:00 pm, then I eat and attend the evening programs. However this year there was a subject being discussed during the day that I had to attend.
For the first time in over 40 years, I closed my table and walked out of the dealer’s room to attend the daytime discussion being given by Mike Hunchback, the author of Pulp Macabre: The Art of Lee Brown Coye. Recently three books have been published about this excellent and unusual artist and Pulp Macabre covers his last years when he was illustrating not only books but Whispers magazine and Fantastic. I highly recommend this book.
One of the problems in recent years has centered around the lack of living men and women who wrote or drew for the pulps. This year they found a surviving member of the pulps in Jon Arfstrom. He is just about the only surviving artist of the great Weird Tales. David Saunders interviewed him and Mr. Arfstrom had a table where you could buy some of his original art. Unfortunately Weird Tales had a policy of not returning the art to the artist, and he had no examples to show or sell. David Saunders also gave an excellent talk on the pulp artist, Rudolph Belarski.
Usually, if you want to see movies, you have to attend Windy City but this year PulpFest had such Lovecraft influenced films as Out of Mind, Pickman’s Model, The Call of Cthulhu, Cool Air, and The Whisperer in the Darkness.
The big new issue of Blood n Thunder made its debut. You can order issue number 45, Summer 2015 from amazon.com or the Murania Press site. It has a very valuable and interesting long article on one of the greatest of the pulp magazines, twenty pages on Famous Fantastic Mysteries, and since it is part one, there will be a second part to read and enjoy.
The Pulpster also was given to each attendee and it’s a big magazine edited by William Lampkin. Articles discuss Erle Stanley Gardner, Street & Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, the Thrilling group of magazines, Malcolm Wheeler Nicholson, and other subjects.
Next year’s convention will be held again in Columbus, Ohio. Dates are July 21-24, 2016 at the Hyatt Regency hotel. Keep an eye on the pulpfest.com site for details. This is a must attend event if you read or collect the pulps. I’ve tried to give an idea of just how much fun this convention is and frankly I don’t see how you can miss it. I ought to know; I’ve been attending them almost every year since 1972 and I have a house full of pulps, books, and art to prove it!
You too can be a slave to bibliomania by attending Pulpfest and Windy City. I’ll end my report on this great convention by thanking the members of the Pulpfest committee: Mike Chomko, Jack Cullers, Sally Cullers, Barry Traylor, and Chuck Welch. Thank you and the other volunteers for all your hard work and dedication. Believe me, it’s worth it…