In the last hundred years, the face of literature and art has changed. It’s no longer a plaything of the rich, but an industry dictated by what is popular. The first real manifestation of this trend might be pulp magazines, that came with the advent of cheap paper and the steam powered printing press early in the century—a time when the world was mass producing like never before—and it changed the face of literature and what people read.
Argosy was the first pulp magazine, published in 1896. It had untrimmed edges and no illustrations, a successor of the dime novels. The genre gradually changed, dictated by the inner desires and and irrational perversions of the public at large, magazines started to have the technology for more pictures, and out of nowhere suddenly appeared science fiction, fantasy, erotic stories, mystery, and adventure. Pulp fiction eventually became a term for any type of popular magazine, regardless of the paper used. Sometimes overtly sexist, grotesque, or just plain weird, these were the first comic books.
Pulp also gave voice to artists who didn’t want to draw Disney cartoons, soap advertisements, or Chevron signs—Earle K. Bergey, Margaret Brundage, Frank R. Paul, Norman Saunders, Nick Eggenhofer, Rolf Armstrong, and later artists like Jeff Jones and Frank Frazetta. Not all were men. It was a surge in both trash and genius, filled with all the prejudices of the times. It was also an outlet. Respectable literature didn’t publish homosexuality, violence, science fiction, murder, fantasy or sex.
Frank Frazetta had a lot to do with bringing fantasy to the popular imagination. From Dungeons and Dragons to the bodybuilders of Boris Vallejo, he created and was created by the world that came out of pulp fiction—magic, adventure, demons, monsters, great adventures. It led to Tolkien’s popularity, to the plethora of cheesy fantasy books, to Dune, and to Stephen King.
Pulp magazines aren’t just cheap fiction. They were the birth of a time in history when consumerism was growing and popular opinion started to dictate what people read. This was part of a bigger movement where widespread literacy brought changes in people’s way of understanding the world. Pulp didn’t create comic books and pornography, Frazetta didn’t create the genre of fantasy, people created Frazetta and pulp to fill a hole in their hearts.