An exhibit of pulp magazine cover art is currently on display at the University of West Florida’s TAG Art Gallery. Modern Pulp” draws attention to illustrations from artists who are not widely remembered.
The exhibit is the product of an interdepartmental collaboration between faculty and students in the English and art department. Many of the magazines on display belong to Dr. David Earle, an associate professor of English at UWF.
“This is what the working class read for the first half of the twentieth century,” Earle said. “Given the fact that it’s so popular, it’s been ignored by literary studies for the whole twentieth century.”
Earle wrote a dissertation on pulp magazines, which include publications such as the horror and science fiction magazine "Weird Tales," "Detective Story Magazine" and "The Shadow." His book “Re-Covering Modernism: Pulps, Paperbacks and the Prejudice of Form” was published in 2009. The “Modern Pulp” exhibit is based on his research.
“The covers of the magazines themselves are the epitome of that wonderful, dynamic, illustrative art that is narrative, that we see on movie posters, that we see on book covers, and a lot of it stemmed from these magazines, but that’s not often considered,” Earle said.
Earle approached Amy Bowman-McElhone with the idea for the exhibition in 2009. Bowman-McElhone was director of the TAG Gallery from 2009 to 2012 and was involved with the exhibit’s conceptual design. She is currently an instructor in the art department at UWF and a doctoral student at Florida State University.
“What he was really looking at was the high-low dichotomy of high culture and low culture in the early twentieth century, which is the modern period. So we have the mass production of these periodicals in contrast to what is termed high art literature,” Bowman-McElhone said.
The project was student led and involved art history, graphic design and English graduate students. Art history students researched the illustrators.
“A lot of these graphic artists are either, we don’t know who they are, or there is little written about them, so there’s plenty of opportunity to do research in this area,” Bowman-McElhone said.
One of these artists is Enoch Bolls, who produced pin-up illustrations of women for the covers of spicy pulp magazines such as “Gay Parisienne.” Another is Margaret Brundage, a female illustrator who created covers for “Weird Tales,” a horror and science-fiction magazine. Bowman-McElhone said she went by the moniker “M. Brundage,” so people would not know her gender.
The art history students wrote essays about the illustrators that are presented in pamphlets designed by graphic design students, which were produced in the style of a pulp magazine. The pamphlets are displayed on a newsstand built by UWF theater production students.
“The newsstand is actually an extinct structure,” Bowman-McElhone said. “We had all these periodicals that were just stacked on top of each other, very crowded, very busy, and so cover art was very key in terms of grabbing the viewer and the passersby's eye, so that they’d come and purchase it, and it was all on display in this newsstand structure.”
During the first half of the twentieth century, pulp magazines were widely printed for mass consumption as popular entertainment. The periodicals were not collected in libraries. However, UWF professor Earle said that he and his graduate students created Virtual Newsstand: 1925 to preserve the magazines and make them available to the public.
“It’s so much a part of our culture that we’ve lost, or is in danger of being lost,” Earle said. “The magazines themselves are very hard to find. They’re on such cheap paper—wood pulp paper, that’s where the term comes from—that’s very acidic, that it actually falls apart. If you actually look through one of the magazines, your lap is covered with wood chips from the pages falling apart. Since libraries never collected them because they were so popular, they really exist in the hands of collectors.”
The “Modern Pulp” exhibit will be on display through February 22. An opening reception will take place on Thursday, February 13 at 5pm, which will begin with a presentation by Dr. Earle.
Katya Ivanov, WUWF News