Lurid world of Australian pulp fiction revealed

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From press release:

Scantily clad cover girls, titillating titles and cheap thrills are just part of the riveting tale of Australia’s fast-paced pulp fiction industry of the 1940s and 50s, set to be revealed in a new exhibition at the State Library of NSW from 7 February 2015.

‘Pulp Confidential: Quick and dirty publishing from the 40s and 50s’ presents a behind-the-scenes look at the rise and fall of Australia’s tough pulp publishing market through a rich and lurid collection of vintage ‘pulp’ cover art, crime story illustrations, gags and original comic strip artwork held in the State Library’s archives.

The lively, often racy and sometimes amusing artwork is drawn from the papers of Frank Johnson, a small but shrewd Sydney publisher of mass produced 40s and 50s pulp including comics, crime novels, humour magazines and boxing and racing fiction.

According to crime writer and Pulp Confidential curator Peter Doyle, “the outbreak of WW2 put a halt on printed imports from America, and subsequently created an opportunity for Australian publishers – big and small – to ‘cash in’ on the public’s voracious appetite for fast entertainment in the days before television.”

“Frank Johnson Publications churned out pure pulp of the quick and dirty sort, the sort of stuff left lying around in lunch rooms, barracks, prisons and nurses’ and apprentice quarters,” said Peter.

‘Death of a Fan Dancer’, ‘Desire for Danger’ and ‘Excuse for Scandal’ were just some of the racy titles boldly illustrated with curvaceous femme fatales and dark mysterious men. “Curiously, the unfolding stories between the covers were relatively conservative despite the explicit covers,” said Peter.

Frank Johnson’s back story is fascinating – he started out as a young shop assistant in Dymocks Booksellers, mixed with the artists in the Blue Mountains and went on to publish Kenneth’s Slessor’s Five Bells before mass producing trashy crime fiction read by millions. And what’s special about Johnson’s material is that it was determinedly Australian in subject and setting, unlike other publishers who preferred the Hollywood feel.

For more information, visit the State Library Website.


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