Reviewed by Walker Martin:


ED HULSE – The Art of Pulp Fiction. IDW Publishing, hardcover, September 2021.

   As I was reading this excellent illustrated history of vintage paperbacks, it slowly dawned on me that I have actually been collecting paperbacks longer than digest or pulp magazines! This is amazing to me because I’ve been at the fiction magazine game for 65 years, which is a long time to be collecting pulps and digests (I started in February 1956 with Galaxy).

   But I started buying paperbacks off the stands even earlier, in 1954. I still remember being absolutely stunned and falling in love with the risque and sexy covers by James Avati. The Signet paperback covers for the Erskine Caldwell novels grabbed hold of me and made me a book collector for life. How many times did the owner of Hoscheck’s Deli ask me “Hey are you going to buy that book?” as I gazed stricken at the James Avati girls. I was only 12 and back then the covers and novels were not considered suitable reading for a young boy.

   Now of course such covers are routine, but James Avati got me off and running on a lifetime of paperback collecting and I’m still at it. Over the years, many collectors wondered which is the best book on the paperbacks? Prior to 2001 there were several books that were interesting but it was hard to pick one out as the most comprehensive. Then in 2001 The Great American Paperback by Richard A. Lupoff was published and for 20 years it has been the best illustrated history of vintage paperbacks.

   Now in 2021 we have Ed Hulse’s book The Art of Pulp Fiction, and in my opinion it is now the best illustrated history of vintage paperbacks. True the Lupoff book is a bigger book at 320 pages and 600 cover photos. Plus it also rates the 600 paperbacks as to collectibility based on a rating scale ranging from one to five book icons. The higher the number of book icons, the more collectible the item.

   But 20 years is a long time and in my opinion we needed a new updated illustrated history, and I think The Art of Pulp Fiction is that book. One big disadvantage of the Lupoff book is that the essays and the paperback captions are on yellow, blue, or red paper. It was annoying and difficult to read 20 years ago and it is even more annoying now that my eyesight is 20 years older and aging. Ed Hulse’s book is mainly on white or black paper but even the white print on black background is a lot better than yellow, blue, or red paper.

   Ed and I have talked about the title of the book. Four years ago in 2017 The Art of the Pulps was published and I think some readers will assume that The Art of Pulp Fiction is a reprint of the earlier book and that they have it already. But they are in fact two different books. The 2017 book is an illustrated history of pulp magazines and this 2021 book is an illustrated history of vintage paperbacks. I’m sure Ed did not want this title, but I think the publisher insisted on it and only agreed to put a small sub title on the cover saying “An illustrated history of vintage paperbacks.”

   What exactly is in The Art of Pulp Fiction? The book is 10 by 11 inches, 240 pages, 450 cover photos, and essays on the different genres. It also has short essays by Gary Lovisi (paperback collector and publisher of The Paperback Parade), Will Murray (author and expert on hero pulps), and David Saunders (artist and expert on original pulp art). Each cover photo has an approximately 50 word discussion of the cover. Every cover is large enough to see the details with no thumbsize, small covers. There also are several photos of original paperback cover art from the collections of art collectors.

   One mistake I think the publisher made was to have the front and back cover edges look worn and ragged. The first impression is that the copy of the book is sort of beat up and perhaps defective. But it’s not, and in fact is quite a good looking book overall. Ed not only discusses many of the influential paperbacks but he also discusses the artists and the publishers.

   Many collectors contributed to this book by lending paperbacks to Ed. Also he visited several art collectors. His visit to my house can serve as an example of his methods in borrowing so many books. One afternoon several months ago, he visited me and we went through the rooms discussing and looking at my paperback collection. We started on the second floor in the room that my wife and kids call “The Paperback Room”. The entire room is devoted to detective and mystery paperbacks including what may be a complete set of the hundreds of Dell mapbacks. Also in the room is some original cover art and several paperback racks which took me decades to find. These wooden racks were made to hold paperbacks for sale and were usually destroyed or lost over the years.

   We then went to my basement where we looked and talked about my science fiction, western, and mainstream paperbacks. Ed ended up borrowing two boxes full of paperbacks, perhaps 75 to 100, of which close to 50 may have been used in the book. By the way, I noticed one paperback lacked the 50 words of comment. If there is a reprint or revised edition in the future. page 116 needs comments for Poul Anderson’s Brain Wave.

   This book gets my highest recommendation and can be obtained from Ed’s Murania Press website or from Price is $50.00 and worth every penny. If you read, collect, or just like paperbacks, this is a must buy.