Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pulps Across the Pond

In celebration of my trip to England tomorrow, here's some history of the pulp fiction magazines sold in the United Kingdom during the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

This post is a joint effort between myself and several members of the PulpMags group, and I have quoted them extensively. I'm not being lazy -- it's because it's 9:00 PM the night before my flight and I'm running out of time.

Many pulps sold in the United Kingdom were reprints from their U.S. counterparts, but the methods in which they were reprinted and the lag time depended on the magazine. They usually appeared about six months after the initial US version was released. They weren't always identical reprints, however. Sometimes a few stories were cut out of the US version, and sometimes a UK version would enclose stories from two different US issues. For example, a UK WEST from December 1942 could enclose several stories from US WEST from May 1942 and maybe one from the April 1942 issue. But some magazines, like BLACK MASK, issued the same stories in both US and UK versions in the same month.

Some United States pulps - printed and meant to be sold originally in the U.S. - WERE sent overseas, but under rather ignomious conditions. They were initially used as ballast in the ships. Once they arrived in the United Kingdom, they were sold in stores like Woolworth's.

Phil Stephenson-Payne gave me the following information:

"The "British editions" were never printed in the US and then shipped over. For a while, in the early days, the US editions were shipped over and then had British prices over-printed, but very rapidly the printing was done in the UK, not least because much of this was happening in the late 1930s and early 1940s when shipping magazines from the US was kinda tricky thanks to this little thing called World War II.

There were several outfits involved in reprinting pulps in the UK, but the most prolific and most important was Atlas Publishing & Distributing who had dozens of pulps from assorted genres. In the Western field this included things like THRILLING WESTERN, and WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE.

For Atlas, at least, the pattern typically ran as follows:

- Direct reprints of the US magazines with the same volume/issue numbering and dates
- Partial reprints of the US magazines with similar dates, but no volume/issue numbering
- Partial reprints of the US magazines with UK-specific volume/issue numbering and dates
- Collections of stories from almost any magazine of the same genre, presented as if part of the same series

The partial reprinting was purely down to paper rationing, which was a serious problem during the War (and for a period afterwards). During WW2 British pulps tended to be 64 pages, while reprinting from US pulps with up to 192 pages at a time.

The sampling from other magazines was for a variety of reasons, not least that many British reprints outlasted the US originals. There were other reasons, though. The BRE (British Reprint Editions) of WEST, for example, was running on a fortnightly schedule at a time when the US version was publishing twice a month, so twice a year there was no issue to reprint from and they tended to print stories from SHORT STORIES or similar."



SHORT STORIES, Summer 1927

G MEN DETECTIVE October 1941


Ted White writes: "What I find fascinating are the covers. At first these appear to be slightly cheap reprints of the original covers, but close and repeated examinations have proven them to be *repainted* covers. That is, a British artist, with the US original magazine in front of him, has painted *a copy* of its cover painting. Often they are very close to the originals, but there are always tell-tale clues. There has been a lot of speculation over why this was done, without a definitive answer."

I managed to find a DETECTIVE STORY from 1941 - this was issued in both countries in December 1941. Take a look at these two covers. Are they the same? (This would be a great example of those puzzles where you're supposed to "Find the 10 things that are different between these two covers.") If you're going by the artist's signature, both have the signature of the artist, Modest Stein (who did a lot of work for LOVE STORY MAGAZINE, by the way). But his signature is a different color on the UK cover. Plus there are other subtle differences. Is this the same cover, or was it redone in the manner Ted is talking about?

BLACK MASK MAGAZINE published many of the same stories in both their US and UK issues in the same month. But that wasn't always the case. This Black Mask from July 1946 consisted of reprints from the February 1946 Black Mask. The U.S. July 1946 version, with a cover by Rafael DeSoto, is below the UK cover.

There were also many titles (often one-shots) that were unique to the UK but were reprints from US pulps, such as AMERICAN WESTERN MAGAZINE below, which consisted of stories that were originally printed in various months of 1948 in MAMMOTH WESTERN.

Some UK pulps, although having identical titles as US pulps, were not related at all. An example is COWBOY STORIES; the top on is the US version, the bottom the UK version.

COWBOY STORIES, November 1933


It appears that science fiction and supernatural magazines, including WEIRD TALES, were quite popular.

WEIRD TALES, January 1954




UNKNOWN December 1940




There were also numerous Western pulps, and in closing I'd like to give you some covers. Happy trails, everyone.


WEST November 1931


RANGER RIDERS March-April 1960

TEXAS RANGERS February 1946


Other Links:
Index to British Popular Fiction Magazines, 1880-1950

British Juvenile Story Papers and Pocket Libraries Index

According to Rob Preston, "there is a legion of original titles that are covered in detail in Mike Ashley, The Age of the Storytellers: British Popular Fiction Magazines, 1880-1950. Just a few of the titles were: The Premier Magazine, The Grand Magazine, The Red Magazine, The New Magazine, and The Story-Teller."

I am indebted to Ted White, Phil Stephenson-Payne, Will Murray, and Rob Preston. If you're interested in pulp fiction magazines and haven't joined PulpMags yet, you don't know what you're missing. Here's an earlier post I did on PulpMags if you want more information.

Many thanks to the Fiction Mags Index for information on the contents of many of these magazines and for the cover scans.


Barry Traylor said...

A great article Laurie, as usual you have done a wonderful job putting all this information together.
For myself as a collector I have always avoided the BRE's like the plague. The only ones I have ever owned are the ones I got as part of a lot at an auction.
The late Richard Minter told me about pulps being shipped to England as ballast in ships years ago.

Richard Robinson said...

What a wonderful post! Thank you for all the hard work putting this one together.

Have a great trip, hope to read many reports of your travels!