The hero Pulp was a product of the 1930s and the Great Depression. In a time when all seemed doom and gloom, it was exciting and inspiring to read about heroes who always beat the odds. With names like The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Avenger, The Spider, Operator #5, Captain Future and The Phantom Detective, you knew these weren’t your run-of-the-mill do-gooders.
The character-lead series is far older than 1930. The dime novels of America featured heroes like Buffalo Bill, Kit Carson, Frank Reade Jr. and Nick Carter. It was this last one that transitioned into a Mystery pulp called Detective Story Magazine. Pulp publishers were always looking for that quick name recognition that had sold dime novels by the thousands.
Probably the most successful of all the hero Pulps was The Shadow. He began as a mysterious voice (provided by Orson Welles) on a radio show. Slowly over time, he developed into an actual character and finally into a Pulp magazine lead in Lamont Cranston. Street & Smith was the company that got the property and hired magician Walter B. Gibson to write those hundreds of novels, sold every two weeks.
Later S&S tried to duplicate the formula with Doc Savage, written by Missourian telegraph operator and inventor, Lester Dent. The publishers found Doc sold differently, well over the month, not in crackling hot two weeks spurts. Still, Dent and his host of ghost writers, put out 181 of the short novels. Later, in the paperback era, Doc Savage would be the top dog when it came to reprint sales. Other heroes tried to duplicate Doc’s paperback appeal but failed.
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