Vintage Pulp Nov 10 2017
URBAN DECAY
Population 1280. Correction—1274.


Purely by coincidence, we also read a novel that's the dark twin of Never Say No to a Killer. The book was Jim Thompson's Pop. 1280, and in this one the main character is a self-described moron, and so is everyone else. At least it seems that way at first. Or maybe it's kinder to say they're simply unpretentious and earthy. Check out this exchange between two lawmen from adjacent counties:

Pre-zactly! Ken said. “So I'll tell you what to do about them pimps. The next time they even look like they're goin' to sass you, you just kick 'em in the balls as hard as you can.”

Huh? But don't that hurt awful bad?

Pshaw. 'Course it don't hurt. Not if you're wearing a good pair o' boots.

I mean, wouldn't it hurt the pimps?

Once we're immersed in this chaw-and-cornbread milieu, one character emerges to be considerably more cunning than the others. The aphorism applies again. Though he doesn't consider himself to be smart, somehow he's more than up to the task of conniving his way through multiple nefarious schemes to reach his ultimate goals, which consist of getting laid and not working too hard as sheriff.

The book is set during the Great Depression and its portrait of man-woman and white-black relations is both horrifying and hilarious. Thompson's approach is partly satirical, but the actual ideas espoused by his characters are deadly serious, as well as historically grounded, such as in a conversation about whether the county's black residents have souls. The consensus is they don't. Why? Because they aren't really people.

It's a pointed commentary on the distant Jim Crow south, yet the very same question of black humanness festers at the core of America's 2017 problems. If you doubt it ask yourself how the same observers who have limitless sympathy for a white rancher shot after initiating a standoff with federal lawmen somehow have none for unarmed black men shot in the back, or why rich white ranchers who refuse to pay their federal grazing fees are perceived as persecuted, while a poor black man trying to survive by selling loose cigarettes is not.

Critic Stephen Marche once described Pop. 1280 as “preposterously upsetting,” which is as apt a description as we can imagine. The idea of who's really human, what is sexual consent, what are the obligations of lawmen, and what is evil are played for laughs by Thompson, but always with an incisive twist that lets you know where his sympathies lie. Yet as shocking as the book is to read, it's addictive and consistently entertaining, particularly when various characters dispense their tabacky soaked wisdom…

… about women: “I'd been chasing females all my life, not paying no mind to the fact that whatever's got tail at one end has teeth at the other, and now I was getting chomped on.”

... about the mentally challenged: “You probably ain't got as long a dingle-dangle as him—they tell me them idjits are hung like a stud hoss.”

… about learning: “I mean I caught him reading a book, that's what! Yes sir, I caught him red-handed. Oh, he claimed he was only lookin' at the pitchers, but I knew he was lyin'.

We recommend Pop. 1280 highly. The Gold Medal paperback you see above with its Robert McGinnis cover art is expensive, but numerous later printings are available at reasonable prices. Just go into the reading with your psyche girded. You'll root for the main character Nick Corey, but he's merely one of the most charming bad apples in a town that's rife with rot. That rot leads to the reliable pulp staples of adultery, betrayal, and murder many times over, but in the most unique and enjoyable way.

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Vintage Pulp Sep 19 2017
STRANGER THINGS
That famous southern hospitality must happen in some other part of the south.


Charles Williams' 1954 thriller Go Home, Stranger doesn't take place entirely at sea like fun efforts such as Dead Calm and Aground, but it does have an aquatic focus, with much of the action taking place in swamps and bayous along the Gulf Coast, as lead character Pete Reno tries to prove to the yokel police force that his famous actress sister didn't murder her husband. Though the cops aren't much help he finds an ally who doubles as a love interest. The Gulf feel is strong, the story is interesting, and the writing is typically solid, but this is not Williams at his best. Relegating the sister—who has the most at stake—to a mainly off-the-page role possibly saps the story of urgency. But of course middling Williams surpasses many thriller authors' best work. The cover art is by Barye Phillips, and its dark and moody nature illustrates the prose nicely. The copyright on this Gold Medal edition is 1963.

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Vintage Pulp Sep 5 2017
BLIGHT TOUCH
Hmm... you should be on the ground writhing in agony by now. What's this material? Polyester?

We talked about the Charles Williams thriller A Touch of Death back in 2015. Shorter version: it's great. But we didn't show you the alternate cover art. This edition came first, in 1954, from the brush of Saul Tepper. See the other cover here.

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Vintage Pulp May 20 2017
OUTSIDER CANDIDATE
No, I really think you should run, Chico. True, you're just an amoral hustler, but people like that get elected now.


Obviously, Run, Chico, Run has nothing to do with running for office, but metaphorical running, as in trying to survive in a teen gang in Spanish Harlem. The lead character Francisco, aka Chico, yearns to escape the slums, and actually succeeds, at least for a time, by getting tossed into reform school. Four years later he's a changed man. Or is he? By hook or by crook, he finds himself being dragged back into his old life of street crime, and that isn't going to end well at all. No spoiler there, though—the book opens in court and tells the story of poor Chico's downfall working backward. Wenzell Brown wrote other novels in this vein, including Gang Girl, The Wicked Streets, and Teen-Age Mafia. Run, Chico, Run is 1953, with cover art from Barye Phillips. Another nice cover came with the 1960 re-issue, below, but that one's uncredited. 

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Vintage Pulp Sep 2 2016
FROM BAD TO WORSE
My life has gone horribly wrong, but at least I still have my digni— Oh, great. My fly was open this whole time, wasn't it?


In David Goodis' 1954 thriller Street of No Return, a down-on-his luck nobody named Whitey, who had been a great singer years ago only to lose his voice, career, and sobriety—thanks to a dame, of course—finds that even for a man at rock bottom things can get worse. And it involves something more serious than discovering his fly is open, though that would be funny. What happens is an impulsive act of compassion drags him into a pit of murder and corruption, set against the backdrop of Puerto Ricans-vs-cops race riots in Philadelphia. There are plenty of reviews of this online, so for details just look around. This one caught our eye because of the intricate and gritty cover art, yet another top effort from Barye Phillips.

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Vintage Pulp Mar 18 2016
LET THE HEELING BEGIN
What are you, deaf or something? How many times do I have to tell you?


We come across lots of similar covers but these two from Gold Medal Books are truly twins. The first, for Walt Grove's The Man Who Said No, is uncredited, but the second, for Mike Heller's So I'm a Heel, was painted by Barye Phillips. These could actually both be Phillips, looking at them. He sometimes didn't sign his work. But absent confirmation, we'll just say both are great. 1950 and 1957. 

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Vintage Pulp Jan 4 2016
DOWN TO SIZE
Dammit, because of you all the girls started calling me “just barely average Stan.”

John Monahan was a pseudonym used by W.R. Burnett, the man behind Little Caesar, High Sierra, The Asphalt Jungle, and other enduring novels. He also wrote or co-wrote such screenplays as This Gun for Hire and Scarface. In Big Stan he tells the story of a cop named Stanislaus who’s tasked with catching a masked criminal known as the Black Phantom. The Phantom proves elusive until he makes the mistake of targeting Stan’s wife. It’s a fairly well regarded book from an author who wrote some of the classics. The art on this 1953 Gold Medal paperback is by Barye Phillips. 

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Vintage Pulp Dec 7 2015
STORMY RELATIONSHIP
Of course I have anger issues! You would too if you needed ridiculous hair to compensate for a tiny head!


It's always interesting to compare the covers of reissued paperbacks to the original editions. Often they're similar, but sometimes—as with the above examples—they're very different. These two versions of Thunderclap strongly reference the weather but that's all they have in common. Both from Fawcett, the top cover is from 1951, and the second appeared in 1959. Which do you prefer? Think carefully—these are like ink blots. One choice indicates a sane and insightful mind, while the other reveals deep psychological issues. We'll give you a hint—Clorox 'fro bad. Uncredited art for both covers. 

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Vintage Pulp Nov 14 2015
CLOSE ENOUGH TO TOUCH
Hello? I’m from next door! If you don’t turn down that infernal music I swear I’m going to shoot you!

Charles Williams’ A Touch of Death (published in Britain as Mix Yourself a Redhead) had several different covers, but this 1963 Gold Medal edition with uncredited art is easily the best. It’s a bit strange, though. It almost seems as if it depicts a blind woman. And it does—a woman who’s blind drunk. An intruder is sneaking up on her as she gets loaded and plays her record collection. Don’t worry though. The hero saves her and once she sobers up she reveals herself to be one of mid-century fiction’s greatest femmes fatales—the immortal Madelon Butler. This is a really good book. 

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Vintage Pulp Jan 20 2015
DUET RIGHT
If you're really going to keep sitting there, use your heel and hit that high a-sharp for me at the end of the chorus.

Above, Murder Me for Nickels, 1960, by Peter Rabe, née Peter Rabinowitsch, for Fawcett Publications’ subsidiary imprint Gold Medal Books. The novel tells the story of a low-level organized crime flunkie named Jack St. Louis who works for a jukebox magnate. Because they control the boxes in their unspecified town and its environs they also control who scores a hit record, which brings not just money but a lot of wannabe starlets their way, some of whom Jack funnels through his side business—a recording studio. Unfortunately, Jack gets caught in a takeover gambit when mobsters from nearby Chicago try to strongarm his boss’s jukebox racket. Making matters worse is his boss’s available wife, who wants to be a singer. Well reviewed everywhere. The cover art is by Robert McGinnis. 

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Next Page
History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
November 21
1959—Max Baer Dies
Former heavyweight boxing champ Max Baer dies of a heart attack in Hollywood, California. Baer had a turbulent career. He lost to Joe Louis in 1935, but two years earlier, in his prime, he defeated German champ and Nazi hero Max Schmeling while wearing a Star of David on his trunks. The victory was his legacy, making him a symbol to Jews, and also to all who hated Nazis.
November 20
1945—Nuremberg Trials Begin
In Nuremberg, Germany, in the Palace of Justice, the trials of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany begin. Among the men tried were Martin Bormann (in absentia), Hermann Göring, Rudolph Hess, and Ernst Kaltenbrunner.
1984—SETI Institute Founded
The SETI Institute, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, the discovery of extrasolar planets, and the habitability of the galaxy, is founded in California by Thomas Pierson and Dr. Jill Tarter.
November 19
1916—Goldwyn Pictures Formed
In the U.S.A., Samuel Goldfish and Edgar Selwyn establish Goldwyn Pictures, which becomes one of the most successful independent film studios in Hollywood. Goldfish also takes the opportunity to legally change his last name to Goldwyn.
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