There are literally hundreds of comic conventions held every calendar year. You might find this difficult to believe, but there are only two pulp magazine conventions every year. That's right, only two. Some forty-odd years ago, there were no organized gatherings specifically geared toward pulp fiction and the magazines which many people collect. But that was the case when three St. Louis pulp enthusiasts—Ed Kessell, Earl Kussman, and Nils Hardin—teamed up and founded Pulpcon. This became the very first pulp magazine convention in the country. If comic books were primarily geared toward a juvenile audience (I'm not going to start that debate, I am referring to the early comics of the times and the fan base they were created for), then the pulps were geared toward an intellectual audience.
After consulting with longtime science-fiction fan, James “Rusty” Hevelin, Kessell took the lead and began to organize what was planned as a one-shot convention. Adopting the name Pulpcon and advertising the event in the leading pop culture fanzines of the day (see a reprint below), Kessell and his cohorts were able to attract about 100 pulp fans to the Colony Motor Hotel in Clayton, Missouri over a June weekend in 1972.
With science-fiction writers Leigh Brackett and Edmond Hamilton and pulp magazine cover artist Graves Gladney in attendance, the first Pulpcon was a rousing success. As the convention was drawing to a close, people began to ask for an encore. And so was born the first convention meant to specifically honor pulp magazines.
In the years that followed, Rusty Hevelin became the guiding light of Pulpcon, organizing annual conventions in Dayton and other Ohio cities, along with a few gatherings in California, Missouri, and New Jersey. Generally held during the summer months, there would also be two off-season Pulpcons held in Arizona and North Carolina. All told, a total of thirty-nine Pulpcon gatherings took place. However, following several years of diminishing attendance, the last Pulpcon was held in Dayton, Ohio in August 2008.
The cause of the diminishing attendance is subject for debate, but considering pulp magazines were original written and published in an era that pre-dates the general comic book marketplace, the fan base is generally much older. But with pulps such as Tarzan, Doc Savage and The Shadow being reprinted in paperback format, and the younger audience not versed enough to know what they were reading were pulps from the twenties, thirties and forties, the exploration of vintage magazines printed on cheap, flimsy paper seemed unattractive to the lower-priced paperbacks. Regardless of the reason for the diminishing attendance, admission was half the cure and it was decided to pump new life into the convention.
Hoping to keep alive a summer gathering specifically geared toward pulp fiction, three longtime members of the Pulpcon organizing committee—Jack Cullers, Barry Traylor, and Mike Chomko—asked Ed Hulse, the publisher of the pop culture fanzine Blood ‘n’ Thunder and a convention organizer himself, to join them in founding a new convention. Planned as a successor to Pulpcon, the new convention took on the name PulpFest and sought to widen the focus of the annual confab. Although centered around pulp fiction and pulp magazines, PulpFest was founded on the premise that the pulps had a profound effect on American popular culture, reverberating through a wide variety of mediums—comic books, movies, paperbacks and genre fiction, television, men’s adventure magazines, radio drama, and even video and role-playing games. Planned as the summertime destination for fans and collectors of vintage popular fiction and related materials, PulpFest sought to honor pulp fiction by drawing attention to the many ways it had inspired writers, artists, film directors, software developers, and other creators over the decades.
Beginning with its first convention in 2009, PulpFest has annually drawn hundreds of fans and collectors of vintage popular fiction and related materials to Columbus, Ohio where it is currently based. PulpFest 2014 will be held at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Columbus, beginning on Thursday, August 7th and running through Sunday, August 10th. Its focus will be the diamond jubilee of science fiction’s golden year of 1939 when the first science-fiction stories of Robert A. Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, and A. E. Van Vogt, as well as Isaac Asimov’s first story for Astounding Stories and Hubert Rogers’ first cover for that magazine were published. The year also witnessed the blossoming of magazine science fiction and fantasy when nearly a dozen “fantastics” were introduced or in their early production stages. The first World Science Fiction Convention was also held in New York City that year, home to the World’s Fair and its “World of Tomorrow” theme.
PulpFest 2014 will also be celebrating the eightieth anniversary of Popular Publications’ shudder pulp trio of Dime Mystery Magazine, Terror Tales, and Horror Stories. The ashcan edition of Spicy Mystery Stories was also released during the summer of 1934. Although the first weird-menace tales appeared in Dime Mystery in the fall of 1933, it was not until the debut of Terror Tales and later, Horror Stories and Spicy Mystery that the genre began to flourish. In just a few years, additional magazines–Star Detective, Thrilling Mystery, Eerie Mysteries, and others–would find space on America’s newsstands, hoping to scare the dickens out of their readers.
Among the vendors are literary experts, scholars, authors and publishers. New pulp fiction has become popular among the niche and vendors like Airship 27 (www.airship27.com/) continue to surprise us year after year with spectacular adventures on the printed page. Companies specializing in reprinting old pulp magazines for the market that cannot afford the high prices for originals have been responsible for re-exposing masked marvels and dynamic heroes to a new generation; this includes such greats as Captain Future and The Green Lama. Discussion among pulp enthusiasts and publishing houses alike center on a variety of subjects including the recent changes in the publishing world, digital eBooks versus the printed page, discoveries and sales on eBay and notable auction houses and other facets that would intrigue even the most casual book reader.
PulpFest is known for its great programming and the line-up that is planned for its 2014 convention is shaping up to be one of its best. As always, there will be a wide variety of panels and presentations, including a discussion of Famous Fantastic Mysteries featuring Blood ‘n’ Thunder editor Ed Hulse and author Nathan Madison; Meteor House publisher Mike Croteau’s review of Philip José Farmer’s early science fiction stories for the pulps and digests; art historian David Saunders’ presentation on John Newton Howitt, one of the leading cover artists for the weird-menace pulps; and preeminent pulp authority and author of The Wild Adventures of Doc Savage, Will Murray’s celebration of the diamond jubilee of The Avenger, the last of Street & Smith’s major pulp heroes to get his own magazine. There will also be readings by contemporary writers including Christopher Paul Carey, the author of Exiles of Kho, a prelude to Philip José Farmer’s Khokarsa series; Dick Enos, creator of the popular Rick Steele novels, set in the days following the Korean War; and others. Buck Rogers, the classic 1939 movie serial that starred Larry “Buster” Crabbe as the time-traveling hero introduced in Philip Nowlan’s 1928 pulp novella “Armageddon 2419 A.D.,” will also be shown.
You can find additional details about PulpFest 2014 by visiting http://www.pulpfest.com/ where you register for the convention and book a room at the Hyatt Regency; learn about the Munsey Award, presented annually to a deserving individual who has given of himself or herself for the betterment of the pulp community; earn a chance to win a free membership to this year’s convention; and much more. You’ll also find PulpFest on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PulpFest and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pulpfest. Click on one of the links above, reserve a room, and make your plans to attend PulpFest 2014!