At what point did the Comic Book overtake the Pulps?
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When the first issue of Detective Comics hit the newstands during the earliest days of 1937 (or last days of 1936), pulps were the dominant medium for readers. The earliest issues of Detective Comics are an interesting sample to look at during that period and had a few classic covers (#8 & #18) but most of the remaining issues weren't exactly up to par with the pulps at the time. The advent of the first superhero in Action Comics #1 and the addition of Batman in Detective Comics #27 would inevitably lead to the Golden Age of Comic Books and the beginning of the end of the Pulps. Still, where were the comics before Superman and Batman? Were the anthologies successfully competing against the Pulps prior to the Golden Age? At what point was it clear that the comics superseded pulps on the newstands in terms of purchases and readership? Was it a gradual shift or revolutionary? It's important to note the themes used by publishers during the comic book "Age of Anthologies" preceding the Golden Age, including but not limited to racism (see Yellow Peril) and the detective/crime stories (like the Pulps). Radio was another medium at the time and the most dominant form f entertainment. Publishers of the Pulps took advantage of radio and adapted crime fighting heroes like the Shadow and the Green Hornet. Did Radio contribute to the Pulps success given the crime fighting heroes were just beginning to appear in the comic book medium (see Crimson Avenger and Dr. Occult)? The era immediately preceding the rise of the Superhero and the Golden Age of the American Comic Book is a time worth exploring and can provide insight into what was happening as publishers headed into 1938 & 1939, especially as Second World War was beginning to take root in Europe. We know that the themes prior to the War continued but in the context of supporting the fight for freedom and against tyranny. Thanks for any insight!

Merry Christmas to those celebrating (like me)!

John 

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On 12/25/2021 at 9:32 PM, jimbo_7071 said:

Were they really in direct competition? I think of pulps as being exclusively for adults and comics being mostly (though not exclusively) for kids.

Think you're 99% right, Pulps became digests then became paperbacks... @Bookery can confirm. Those 2 formats killed pulps, which was mostly teen to adult audience,  the comics didn't do it. The comics ran off a seperate trail but surely pulled off younger readers from the pulps but not enough to kill them, just another place for a kids dime to go to in a zero sum game imho.

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On 12/25/2021 at 8:00 PM, Surfing Alien said:

Think you're 99% right, Pulps became digests then became paperbacks... @Bookery can confirm. Those 2 formats killed pulps, which was mostly teen to adult audience,  the comics didn't do it. The comics ran off a seperate trail but surely pulled off younger readers from the pulps but not enough to kill them, just another place for a kids dime to go to in a zero sum game imho.

Comics in the old day always had a larger-than-we-think adult audience. Think Soldiers etc. Horror and Crime Comics were mostly aimed at adults IMHO. However I agree Comics were aimed primarily at kids and Pulps at adults. I think that paperbacks were the killing blow to pulps. They sure took up less rack space for the same price (more-or-less)! Also unmentioned so far is the fact that Television came up in the world at the same time Pulps started to fail. Not completely a coincidence, I'm sure. Interesting discussion.

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pulps were low trash for adults and comic books were low trash for kids and there really was no crossover or any kind of competition so neither affected the other. Pulps never really went away, they just evolved into other things by the mid 50s and that classic pulpy paper magazine was gone and replaced by just a normal magazine or newsprint magazine format. They became the men's magazines of the 50s and 60s and detective magazines that lasted until the 90s, or early 2000s even and smaller digest magazines.

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On 12/25/2021 at 3:32 PM, bronze johnny said:

When the first issue of Detective Comics hit the newstands during the earliest days of 1937 (or last days of 1936), pulps were the dominant medium for readers. The earliest issues of Detective Comics are an interesting sample to look at during that period and had a few classic covers (#8 & #18) but most of the remaining issues weren't exactly up to par with the pulps at the time. The advent of the first superhero in Action Comics #1 and the addition of Batman in Detective Comics #27 would inevitably lead to the Golden Age of Comic Books and the beginning of the end of the Pulps. Still, where were the comics before Superman and Batman? Were the anthologies successfully competing against the Pulps prior to the Golden Age? At what point was it clear that the comics superseded pulps on the newstands in terms of purchases and readership? Was it a gradual shift or revolutionary? It's important to note the themes used by publishers during the comic book "Age of Anthologies" preceding the Golden Age, including but not limited to racism (see Yellow Peril) and the detective/crime stories (like the Pulps). Radio was another medium at the time and the most dominant form f entertainment. Publishers of the Pulps took advantage of radio and adapted crime fighting heroes like the Shadow and the Green Hornet. Did Radio contribute to the Pulps success given the crime fighting heroes were just beginning to appear in the comic book medium (see Crimson Avenger and Dr. Occult)? The era immediately preceding the rise of the Superhero and the Golden Age of the American Comic Book is a time worth exploring and can provide insight into what was happening as publishers headed into 1938 & 1939, especially as Second World War was beginning to take root in Europe. We know that the themes prior to the War continued but in the context of supporting the fight for freedom and against tyranny. Thanks for any insight!

Merry Christmas to those celebrating (like me)!

John 

A lot of factors were involved in the decline of pulps, but to really understand the dynamic it's a good idea to look at what was going on behind the scenes.  The rapid growth of comics fueled by success of the superhero is a factor, but not because adults simply shifted interest.  Even though there was a substantial crossover market for comics to adult readers, kids were never the market for pulps.  Price can probably be factored in since 99% of comics were 10 cents, while pulps were anywhere from 10 to 25 cents.  It also makes sense that WWII influenced the kind of reading entertainment soldiers had time to indulge in during lulls in training, troop movements and combat.  Also, the development and eventual growth of the digest market probably impacted pulp sales.  

In a manner of speaking, it was death by a thousand paper cuts that killed the pulp.

:cheers:

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It's impossible to know the actual age range of everyone who bought a copy of Human Torch #12, for example, but it's probably safe to say the majority were children under the age of 16, plus a minority of young adults. The vast amount of GGA covers and interiors, especially between 1945-1950, suggests that an older young adult audience were buying these, but perhaps still late teens. Social pressure rules everything, and comic books were always seen by the over-21 population as the children's domain. Anyone over 21 buying comics was definitely an oddball, unless they had a good excuse -- like Edgar Church. The situation changed somewhat with the Korean War comics, which I think probably were read by an older public, including the GIs themselves. 

I recall a fan letter printed in the second issue of Avon's Out of this World pulp -- where they inserted a coverless comic as part of the magazine -- in which the reader said something along the lines of: "Leave the comics for the kiddies, please."

Paperbacks (not comics) largely replaced the pulps, possibly because as a publisher you could get two books at 25 cents retail at the same size as one pulp magazine. The cardstock covers cost more, but overall you saved too much money going the paperback route. Also, paperbacks thrived on reprinted material from pulps, which was cheaper than paying for new stories every month, as the pulps did. 

Edited by Sarg
typo
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On 12/26/2021 at 2:13 AM, catman76 said:

pulps were low trash for adults and comic books were low trash for kids and there really was no crossover or any kind of competition so neither affected the other. Pulps never really went away, they just evolved into other things by the mid 50s and that classic pulpy paper magazine was gone and replaced by just a normal magazine or newsprint magazine format. They became the men's magazines of the 50s and 60s and detective magazines that lasted until the 90s, or early 2000s even and smaller digest magazines.

Thanks Catman(thumbsu I was hoping you would add your intellectual and well studied insight into this period. Looking at my initial post and I can see that it’s as if my top is is exclusively based on a comic book v. Pulp premise. It’s not exclusive but there is a cross-over population that I believe may have contributed to the demise of the pulps by shifting to the comic books. The young adults who likely read pulps and/or comic books. The population of male adolescents aged 15-19 from 1900s to the 1950s exceeded that of adults 20-24. Include the 10-14 years along with the 15-19 years olds and the overall combined numbers can point to a larger readership potentially interested in comic books:

CF98FE48-4EA3-45EF-9FF4-14B33B3FA1D3.jpeg.8b7a69df7a72b6a7620c47de54fc48a7.jpeg

Unfortunately, the census data isn’t broken down by decade but one medium also contributing to the potential shift of adolescents (and even 10-14 year olds and adults in the 20-24 age group) prior to 1950 to comics and away from pulps is the influence that the comic strips had during the period preceding the Second World War. This is especially true of immigrants who learned to read and understand the English language by studying the comic strips in newspapers. English as a Second Language Course was not an omnipresent option for most immigrants migrating from countries with little or no familiarity with the English Language. The evolution of the comic strip to comic book also drew these readers to the new medium. I don’t have the immigration data for the period between 1900-1950 but much of the growth of America’s population during this time was attributed to immigration. The comic book had help in becoming the primary medium for newsstand entertainment and the question worth exploring is how much did the adolescents and the growing immigrant population contribute to the growth of the American Comic Book and goes back to my original question. I also want to point out that the comic book surpassing the Pulps did not mean an end to the latter simply by the former’s ascendancy. My original question is at what point did the comic book surpass the Pulps?

Edited by bronze johnny
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On 12/26/2021 at 11:51 AM, Dr. Love said:

Digests get memory holed, it appears?

Et tu, Tim?

Yes.  I mentioned paperbacks, but digests also continue to this day.  Astounding moved from pulp format to digest, and still continues as Analog.  Asimov's Magazine, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Ellery Queen, and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine are still going strong.  I think "format" and "content" are being conflated in this discussion.  I can't see how comic book popularity has anything to do with what sort of publishing format another form of entertainment employed.  In fact, I could argue as genre writing got more sophisticated, popular fiction (as opposed to that deemed more "literary") got even more popular-- hence the desire for better production values in paper and design.  If certain pulp publishers floundered, it was because paperback publishers were the competition, not comics.  And some, like Dell, became far more successful publishing paperbacks and magazines (and crossword puzzles) than they ever did with the pulp format.  In fact, as Fawcett went out of business as a comics publisher, it found immense success in the paperback and magazine market.

Pulps were associated with newsstands, and were a format that was meant to be immediately disposable.  Books, and even digests, are more durable, can be distributed easier, were carried in "more respectable" bookshops and grocery stores, and as readers desired to hang onto their favorite authors, the new formats made for library type storage in a way that was difficult with pulps.  Burroughs found renewed success in the '60s due to the paperback format, as did many of the old science-fiction authors.  In fact, it is the comics market that has contracted as many once-popular genres in comics... westerns, romance, detective, humor, war -- died out, but continue to thrive in paperbacks and digests.    

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On 12/26/2021 at 2:58 PM, jpepx78 said:

April 8, 1949: the day pulps died.

On that date Street & Smith Publications announced they would stop publication of their pulp magazines and comics.

But they continued with the Astounding digest until they sold out to Conde Nast in 1959.  Astounding continues (as Analog ) to this day.

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I suspect the rise of the inexpensive genre paperback in the 1940s did more to contribute to the end of the pulp era more than anything else, and that the move to the cheaper smaller digest format for the remaining anthology titles was a reaction to that, but a contributing factor may also have been the gaining popularity of true confession and true crime magazines, which while they had been around since the 1920s, appear to have exploded in number in the 1940s. Eventually you have long running pulp titles like Argosy and Blue Book joining the burgeoning field of illustrated men's adventure magazines in the 1950s, also advertising their content as "true". By the 1950s America's casual reading habits have largely evolved from short stories and novellas to full length popular novels and sensational "non-fiction". 

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On 12/26/2021 at 4:23 PM, Bookery said:

In fact, as Fawcett went out of business as a comics publisher, it found immense success in the paperback and magazine market.

This... Fawcett was very successful at getting top writers to write specifically for their Gold Medal line. They paid more and the authors had the prestige of appearing in their own first editions. The other paperback lines went scrambling to publish paperback originals, so there was a fierce competition for the better writers.

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On 12/26/2021 at 11:58 AM, jpepx78 said:

April 8, 1949: the day pulps died.

On that date Street & Smith Publications announced they would stop publication of their pulp magazines and comics. Other publishers would also later end their pulp publications. The decline in the interest of pulps could be attributed more to television and boredom of the pulp format than to comic books.

S & S pulp circulation decline

https://thepulp.net/pulp-articles/the-day-the-pulps-died/

EFA84855-BB2B-4CCD-9709-399F2930C95C.png

I wonder what happened in 1947 to cause sales to so precipitously drop. Total sales had been in decline since the '42 spike, but it appears single issue circulation was still pretty strong in '46. 1947 was the year S&S switched to digest size on their remaining pulps, and featured surreal cover art in an attempt to compete with the paperback market I suppose. Perhaps a premature misfire on their part. 

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On 12/26/2021 at 1:58 PM, jpepx78 said:

April 8, 1949: the day pulps died.

On that date Street & Smith Publications announced they would stop publication of their pulp magazines and comics. Other publishers would also later end their pulp publications. The decline in the interest of pulps could be attributed more to television and boredom of the pulp format than to comic books.

S & S pulp circulation decline

https://thepulp.net/pulp-articles/the-day-the-pulps-died/

EFA84855-BB2B-4CCD-9709-399F2930C95C.png

That's a fascinating graph. Contrary to my expectation, 1942 was the peak year for S&S. Presumably all other publishers peaked at that time, as well?

The steep decline between 1945 and 1947 rules out any television impact. It suggests to me that the generation born in the 1920s, who grew up with talking pictures and radio, were simply a lot less interested in monthly fictional magazines than the previous generation or two. They were viewed by them as old fashioned.

It would be good to know what slick magazines' circulations were at during the same period. 

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