The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Dr. Belsidus.


Belsidus, Dr. Dr. Belsidus was created by George Schuyler (Dr. Cranfield, Walter Crummel, Sadiu Mattchu, Gail Reddick, Dick Welland) and appeared in “The Black Internationale” (Courier, Nov. 1936-July 1937) and “Black Empire” (Courier, Oct. 1937-Apr 1938). Dr. Belsidus was originally a humble man from the Muni River Settlements in “Spanish Guinea” (now Equatorial Guinea) who was noticed by a colonial official and sent to school in Spain. While working at an aircraft factory in Barcelona, making airplane engines, Belsidus was recruited into the Black Internationale, a secret global organization of black professionals dedicated to throwing whites out of Africa. Belsidus becomes their leader. For them he creates a technologically-advanced air force (led by a fetching aviatrix, Patricia Givens), and with the help of SCIENCE! of his own creation, including death rays, solar power, and hydroponics, Belsidus and the Black Internationale invade Africa and drive Whitey out. Some may call Belsidus mad, but he disagrees:

“My son, all great schemes appear mad in the beginning. Christians, Communists, Fascists and Nazis were at first called scary. Success made them sane. With brains, courage and wealth even the most fantastic scheme can become a reality. I have dedicated my life, Slater, to destroying white world supremacy. My ideal and objective is very frankly to cast down Caucasians and elevate the colored people in their places. I plan to do this by every means within my power. I intend to stop at nothing, Slater, whether right or wrong. Right is success. Wrong is failure. I will not fail because I am ruthless. Those who fail are them men who get sentimental, who weaken, who balk at a little bloodshed. Such vermin deserve to fail. Every great movement the world has ever seen has collapsed because it grew weak. I shall never become weak, nor shall I ever tolerate weakness around me. Weakness means failure, Slater, and I do not intend to fail.”

George Schuyler is one of the few pulp writers known to be African-American. (As was the case with the dime novel writers before them, so many of the pulp writers are so little known that there may well be a number of women and POC writers among them–we just don’t know anything about them). An interesting man, Schuyler, a journalist and social commentator who was hardly a leftist–and, to be truthful, wrote The Black Empire parodically rather than as a serious example of racial wish fulfillment fiction–who nonetheless wrote speculative fiction that appealed hugely to the left as well as to the right. The Black Empire is just one of six works of Schuyler’s that has an entry in my Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes–he wrote imaginative fiction when he chose to, speculative fiction that spoke to the African-American reading audience in ways that, perhaps, pulp science fiction did not. (To be fair, Astounding Science Fiction, one of the perhaps the standard-bearer for Golden Age science fiction, sold well in black neighborhoods, including Harlem and Chicago’s South Side, but it was in the general pulps rather than the science fiction pulps that POC would have seen recognizable faces).

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Bel.

physicalcultureBel. Bel was created by “Tyman Currio,” the pseudonym of John Russell Coryell (Nick Carter (I), Helen), and appeared in “The Weird and Wonderful Story of Another World” (Physical Culture, Oct. 1905-Sept. 1906). Tyman Currio, a Planetary Romance Hero, discovers anti-gravity “etheric waves” and builds a rocket to capitalize on it. He flies to Jupiter and discovers that it is not only Earth-like in atmosphere but that it is also inhabited by a race of humanoids who are physically and mentally superior to humans. Currio befriends one of them, Bel, and she tells him of their civilization. In the distant past they had mastered advanced technology, but they are believers in vegetarianism, nudity, physical exercise, returning to nature, and political anarchism. Currio, a meat-eating human, comes off rather badly in comparison to them, and when he falls in love with Bel and tries to impress her by shooting a bird, she knocks him out with a punch and tears apart his rifle with her bare hands. She returns to Earth with Currio to act as a missionary and then abandons him, telling him that she can do her work better without him.

Physical Culture was a movement of the late 19th and early 20th century that emphasized cultivating the self in mind and body, both to become a better Christian and to reverse the trend toward racial decay. Recommended methods for these goals were regular exercise, vegetarianism, sun-bathing, temperance, and personal cleanliness. The movement was aimed at both men and women, and was surprisingly progressive (for its time) when it came to the treatment of women. (I wrote about Physical Culture and transhumanism at some length here). Physical Culture Magazine was the movement’s journal, which included both non-fiction (which would promote the movement and provide guidance to followers) and fiction (which gave fictional examples of what the followers of Physical Culture might look like or become). “The Weird and Wonderful Story of Another World” is an example of one of these stories; Bel is a member of a race which practices Physical Culture, which is why she is a superhuman capable of feats like tearing apart his rifle.

Physical Culture was mostly discredited by the time the pulp era rolled around, but for about twenty years it promoted images of superhuman men and superhuman women, both in non-fiction and fiction.

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Jaime Bazán.


Bazán, Jaime. Jaime Bazán was created by José Canellas Casals (Amiel, Armando, Carlos and Marcos Bon, Bronkos, Cesar, Judit, Mario, Nick, Rin-Tin-Tin (I), Sam, Toby, Capitán Velez, Mack Wan, Zimbra) and appeared in the Spanish comic book Jaime Bazán #1-9 (1940). Jaime Bazán is a heroic Spanish aviator who finds adventure around the world in the company of his lover Margarita. Bazán fights jetpack-wielding techno-thieves, ray-gun-wielding Mad Scientists, skyscraper-sized city-destroying robots, Yellow Peril pirates like the Red Dragon (and his fleet of junks), and dinosaurs in an underground world. Bazán appears in stories with titles like “The Valley of Hell,” “The Assault on the Convoy of Gold,” and “The Phantom X.”

No particular social insight to be found or commentary to be had about Jaime Bazán. Just pure raw pulp awesomeness. Plus, of course, evidence that the Spanish comic book industry of the 1930s and 1940s–an industry curiously neglected in histories of the comic book–histories written by Americans, which likely explains the neglect–we’re great at navel-gazing but not so good at acknowledging or researching the world beyond our borders–was as imaginative and pulpishly wonderful as the American comic book industry of the Golden Age, and Spanish writers and artists like José Canellas Casals were the equal of most of their American contemporaries.

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Batouk.

batoukBatouk. Batouk was created by Max-André Dazergues and appeared in the French pulp Batouk, le Roi de la Forêt Vierge #1-18 (1945-1946). Batouk is a brave, noble young native of the French colony in Niger. In the years before World War Two Batouk helps patriotic French colonial agents and Africa Hands keep the peace in Niger and elsewhere in Africa. Batouk is “intrepid” and “courageous” and tries to protect poor Africans whenever he can. He knows the jungles, rivers, and savannahs intimately, and is a great tracker. He is “strong as an elephant, cunning as a monkey, agile as an antelope, knows the plants that kill and the plants that heal. He is a wizard, a genius, a warrior.” Batouk appears in stories with titles like “The Boat of Sorcerers,” “The Stranglers of Dahomey” and “The Island of Leopards.”

I’ve written some about how the pulps (which I use broadly, as what Barthes called a metaphor without brakes) were less stereotypical than common memory today thinks of them as. Well, Batouk, le Roi de la Forêt Vierge is a kind of rebuke to that judgment–or, rather, it stands on the stereotypical end of things, in a particularly distasteful way.

Regarding the Africa Hands mentioned above. Great Britain’s colonies in Africa were many and varied, and each colony was ruled by a Governor, with District Commissioners ruling individual sections. Each Commissioner’s district could be thousands or even tens of thousands of square miles in area, and the Commissioner was assisted by only a handful of white officials and a few squadrons of (non-white) soldiers. These officials were expected to enforce local and Imperial laws, collect taxes, prevent international crimes (like slave-trading), and above all prevent any conflict, between local peoples or between nations. In fiction, these officials were Africa Hands: experienced veterans of Foreign Service in Africa; intimately familiar not just with flora, fauna, and native cultures of Africa; deeply patriotic; and convinced that colonialism is the best thing for the natives—that British “civilization” can and will create a kind of moral uplift on the natives. To help this uplift and the peace and success of the Empire, the Africa Hands are willing to commit a wide range of acts, whipping natives for disrespecting a white man or hanging a corrupt native king without hesitation. Africa Hands have a great deal of respect for Africans, but in the same way that a hunter respects a lion—for its ferocity and power, but not as an equal. Curiously, most Africa Hands are Britons active in the jungles of West Africa, where Great Britain had no colonies. The Africa Hands in Batouk, le Roi de la Forêt Vierge are an interesting exception–you didn’t get many pulp French Africa Hands.

So, yeah. Batouk, le Roi de la Forêt Vierge is deeply imperialist and racist, despite its attempt at portraying Batouk himself in a positive manner. Especially unpleasant considering when it appeared, when the pro-independence movements in Africa, fueled by the many returning African servicemen who had served the Allies in WW2, was gathering steam. Batouk is not just an imperialist document, it’s one that was published to actively convince its reading audience that the African pro-independence movements were wrong, that the natives were, like Batouk, happy to be ruled.

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Luna Bartendale

kerruish2Bartendale, Luna. Luna Bartendale was created by Jessie Douglas Kerruish and appeared in The Undying Monster (1936). Luna Bartendale is a Superhuman Occult Detective. She lives in London but is world-renowned for her many good deeds. She is a small, pretty woman, with curly blonde hair, “creamy” skin and a slight build. Bartendale has various psychic powers, including mind reading. She is well-versed in psychic and occult lore, is a “supersensitive” psychic, and has a “Sixth Sense” which allows her to trace things and people through both the Fourth and the Fifth Dimension. (The Fifth Dimension is “the Dimension that surrounds and pervades the Fourth–known as the Supernatural”). She uses a Divining Rod for various tasks, including psychic detection and tracking. She has various (undefined) powerful psychic defenses, can carry on seances, and can even cure a person of “wehrwolfism.” And she can always rely on her large, intelligent dog Roska for help.

You are all, I assume, familiar with the figure of the Occult Detective–the Dr. Silences and Thomas Carnackis of popular culture, the consulting detective (sometimes private detective) who takes on occult and psychic cases, sometimes armed with occult and psychic powers and/or paraphernalia, sometimes armed with only a good right hook and six rounds of lead. You’ve got a modern version of one appearing on tv now: Constantine. Well, the Golden Age of the Occult Detective was the pulp era, and Luna Bartendale was the only female Occult Detective of the pulp era. (That I’ve found, at any rate, and believe me, I’ve looked).

You can read The Undying Monster online.

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Barnaby.

barnabyBarnaby. Barnaby was created by Crockett Johnson and appeared in the comic strip “Barnaby” (1942-1952, 1963). Barnaby Baxter is a five-year-old somewhere in suburban America. Barnaby wishes for a fairy godfather and gets one, Jackeen J. O’Malley, who is an actual fairy. O’Malley can grant wishes with his magic wand, but often he is too busy smoking his cigar or expounding on his current interest (finding information on pixies, turning The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire into a screenplay, or trying to teach other children to fly) to successfully make his magic work. Barnaby’s parents don’t believe that Mr. O’Malley exists, and neither Barnaby nor Mr. O’Malley ever successfully demonstrate that he does exist, but that does not stop Barnaby and Mr. O’Malley from helping Barnaby’s father’s office baseball team win a big game, or catching Nazi spies, or successfully running for Congress (where he is put on the Useless Papers Committee). The other inhabitants of Barnaby’s world are equally fantastic: the talking dog Gorgon, the invisible leprechaun Lancelot McSnoyd (who has a Brooklyn accent), Emmy Lou Schwartz, “Licensed Witchcraft Practitioner, 98, 413,” the ghost Jacob “Jake” Marley, and the shy ghost Gus. Sadly, when Barnaby turns six, he is told by his father that he is a big boy now, and fairy godfathers don’t appear to big boys. Mr. O’Malley looks this up in the fairy godfather’s handbook and discovers this is true, and is forced to say goodbye to Barnaby.

“Barnaby” is the most charming comic strip of the Golden Age of comic strips–witty and allusive, humorous and satirical, cleanly illustrated and delightfully written. Dorothy Parker compared the strip to Huckleberry Finn and said, “I think, and I am trying to talk calmly, that Barnaby and his friends and oppressors are the most important additions to American arts and letters in Lord knows how many years. I know that they are the most important additions to my heart.” Thankfully, there are authoritative reprints of volumes one and two available now.

(Why include “Barnaby” in an encyclopedia of pulp heroes? Because I had to include comic strips–my obsessive-compulsive/encyclopedic obsession wouldn’t allow me to ignore them–and any listing of strips of the pulp era that omitted “Barnaby” would be incomplete. Plus, it’s a favorite of mine, and deserves any attention that can be brought to it).

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Bara

baraBara. Bara was created by J. Nemo and appeared in the Dutch pulp Bara. De Spion van den Negus #1-12 (1935-1936). Bara is an female Ethiopian who spies for Emperor Haile Selassie and is active fighting for Ethiopia against Italy during Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. Bara appears in stories with titles like “The Legions of Death,” “The Battalion of Lepers,” and “The Black Amazons.”

Now, I could write, here, about the Western pulp writers’ fascination with Ethiopia, one of the few African nations not to suffer through colonization, and how that resulted in an unusual number of pulp stories featuring Ethiopian heroes, especially fighting against the Italians, and how these heroes were portrayed in as non-stereotypical a manner as the (usually white) authors could manage. But I’ll get to them later–especially the Ethiopian heroes of George Schuyler, one of the few pulp writers known to be a person of color.

I could write, here, about the real-life pulp adventures of Herbert Julian, the “Black Eagle,” and his brief involvement with Selassie, and how one of the great small-scale what-ifs of history is what-if Julian could have swallowed his ego long enough to actually train Selassie’s pilots, what the Ethiopian air force might have been. (Julian’s a fascinating character, a larger-than-life scoundrel who is waiting–waiting, I say!–to have a film made about him–I wrote a bit about Julian here).

Instead, I’ll simply say: Bara! An Ethiopian woman spy, fighting during the pulp era against the Italian hordes! Appearing in stories with titles like “The Black Amazons!” From what I’ve been able to find out about the Bara stories, she is portrayed in a non-stereotypical manner, as a competent patriot and spy who happens to be an Ethiopian woman rather than someone who is defined first as Ethiopian (or female) and then as a spy.

Screw James Bond, give me a movie about Bara! (Look at that image above, and the long knife she’s carrying–Bara means business!)

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Judge Bao

judgebaoBao, Judge. Bao Ch’eng (or Zheng) (999-1062 C.E.) was a Chinese magistrate who was famous for treating all classes fairly and showing no favoritism to the wealthy and powerful. After his death he became a figure of folklore and then heroic folktales and fiction. “Wenzhu Zhuren,” the pseudonym of Shih Yü-k’un, wrote a serialized libretto “The Cases of Judge Bao” (1865?) which starred a fictionalized version of Bao Ch’eng. The libretto was later published as a novel, with twenty-three unauthorized sequels following by a variety of authors, through 1922. In fiction, centuries ago, in China, Judge Bao is a magistrate of the greatest rectitude and integrity. He is incorruptible and immune to bribery. He is always stern and grave, rarely smiling and seeming to lack any sense of humor. He has the power to investigate, judge, and punish. He is respected even in Hell. He has a magic pillow on which he will lay his head and communicate with the underworld. He is a cunning and astute detective who is capable of subterfuge and even torture if it will gain him the confession he needs to punish the guilty. His enemies vary from corrupt high officials to the ghosts of animals. Bao is assisted by a variety of Nüxia/Wüxia, who carry out Bao’s legwork.

In the late 20th and early 21st century “wüxia” has become shorthand in the West for “Chinese martial arts literature or film.” However, the roots of wüxia are centuries-old and involve historical people as well as literary genres.

Literally translated, wüxia (also written as wü-hsia, wü hsia, and yü-hsia) means “wandering” () and “force” (xia). Traditionally the term has been applied to knights-errant, wandering warriors who roamed about the countryside using their skill at arms to fight injustices. The knight-errant emerged during the chaos of the Warring States period (403-221 B.C.E.), when seven different states fought for supremacy. Soldiers, both noble and peasant, wandered from state to state looking for employment, and some or many of these soldiers protected the weak and oppressed against the powerful and unjust. Knights-errant appear in the historical record through the centuries and dynasties, only disappearing during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 C.E.).

The historical Chinese knight-errant differed from his Western counterpart in a number of ways. Western knights were members of religious orders and belonged to the aristocratic class. Chinese knights came from every social class and had no religious affiliations, even being seen as having rejected Confucian values. Western knights became associated with the idea of courtly love, while the Chinese knights practiced sexual abstinence. And Western knights, though often defending the weak, were members of the aristocracy and ultimately fought in support of the feudal system, while Chinese knights-errant were hostile to the social system they lived under.

The fictional Chinese knight-errant first appeared in poetry during the Han Dynasty (221 B.C.E. to 206 C.E.) and was popular for the next several centuries. The character fell out of fashion during the Sung (960-1279) and Yuan (1279-1368) Dynasties and was successfully revived during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Oral ballads and prose about the wüxia became popular toward the end of the Tang Dynasty (c. 800 C.E.). Long prose romances about the wüxia appeared during the Yuan Dynasty. The greatest number of wüxia novels were published during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 C.E.), when the development of lithography cut production costs and time to a fraction of what it had been under the traditional block-print method of bookmaking.

During the 19th century the three most popular and common genres of wüxia fiction were detective, love, and flying swordsmen. The detective or legal wüxia story is a hybrid form, combining the traditional knights-errant story with the kung-an (alternatively, gong-an) or crime and criminal story. Kung-an is as old a genre as wüxia, and combining the two proved to be popular with the audience and profitable for the writers. The format of the detective wüxia story involves knights-errant working for or protecting a righteous official (usually a fictionalized version of a historical person) in his prosecution of criminals. Shih Yü-k’un’s The Three Heroes and Five Gallants (starring Judge Bao) is a notable example of the legal wüxia genre. Other notable late Qing detective wüxia include Shih-kung An (The Cases of Lord Shih, 1798), about the supposed exploits of Shih Shih-lun (1659-1722), a notably righteous official, and P’eng-kung An (The Cases of Lord P’eng, 1891), about the supposed exploits of the righteous official P’eng P’eng (1637-1704). Though popular the legal wüxia story are rarely artistically successful. The integration of the kung-an genre with the wüxia story with the more adventurous aspects of the wüxia genre is usually uneven, so that the legal investigations of the judges are given less attention by the author than the battles and exploits of the wüxia. As well, the wüxia were traditionally rebels and outlaws (though honorable and heroic) while the judges were the defenders of the status quo and the embodiment of the law. Their collaboration meant that the outlaws were helping the representative of an unjust social system, and that the judge was forced to rely on outlaws to enforce the law. This can be seen as a cynical comment on the justice system of 19th century China, but in the context of the story the clash of philosophies leads to a moral and thematic confusion.

The love wüxia story usually has all the elements of a traditional romantic story (boy meets girl, boy and girl overcome difficulties, boy and girl live happily ever after), but the story often begins as wüxia fiction and ends as a variety of the scholar-beauty story, as in Wen Kang’s The Gallant Maid (see: He Yufeng). The wüxia’s rough edges are smoothed over and his youthful impetuousness is transformed into sober propriety.

The flying swordsmen genre became popular only in the late Qing period and is now the dominant form of wüxia story. Western audiences will be most familiar with this genre through Wang Du Lu and Wang Hui-Ling’s film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). The heroes of flying swordsmen wüxia are usually Buddhist or Taoist monks who have magical powers. Storyteller’s Jigong (see: Jigong) is a good early example of the flying swordsmen wüxia and usefully defines the flying swordsman knights-errant as those who “fly over eaves and walk on walls.” Flying swordsmen wüxia are sometimes immortal, perform various miracles, and have a variety of powers which they use against evil wüxia and various monsters.

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Byomkesh Bakshi

bakshiBakshi, Byomkesh. Byomkesh Bakshi was created by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay (Baroda) and appeared in thirty-five novellas from 1932 to 1970, beginning with “Pather Kanta” (Basumati, 1932). Byomkesh Bakshi is a Bengali private detective, although he describes himself as a satyanneshi (truth-seeker). Bakshi is smart, young, educated, observant, and is a bhadrolok (gentleman). With the help of his obtuse Watson, the writer Ajit Bandyopadhyay, Bakshi solves a variety of murders in Calcutta and across India. Bakshi discovers his cases while reading the local newspaper, and is Bengali enough to prefer the dhoti kurta to the traditional p.i.’s trenchcoat. Bakshi is Hindu and a patriot, but uses English items like electric fans and telephones.

The thing about Indian detective fiction is that you should, both usefully and accurately, divide it up into groups: Bangla detective fiction, Sindhi detective fiction, Punjabi detective fiction, and so on. India is enormous, its literature (both classic and popular) is vast, and different Indian ethnic groups have different histories with detective fiction, so that any description of Indian detective fiction quickly devolves into an account of those ethnic groups’ histories with detective fiction. You can usefully and accurately talk about the history of “American detective fiction” or “English detective fiction” or “French detective fiction;” such a statement is neither useful nor accurate with regards to India, where those individual ethnic groups’ detective fiction evolved more or less independently of each other–Bangla detective fiction has a richer tradition than Punjabi detective fiction, but the latter developed without interference or influence from the former–and there is so much of it.

What I’m saying, I guess, is that India is big, and its tradition of detective fiction is long and as ethnically varied as India itself is. An encyclopedia of “Indian detective fiction” would likely be four or five times the size as your typical encyclopedia of “American detective fiction.”

The other thing of note–there are many things of note in Indian detective fiction, but I’m going to restrain myself for now and limit myself to just one other thing–is that, as best I’m able to tell from here in Texas, fans of Indian detective fiction have a much greater knowledge of the fictional detectives of their past than American detective fans do–greater knowledge, and greater willingness to reinterpret them for the present. Sherlock Holmes gets reinterpreted every generation, but few others do–Marple and Poirot and Marlowe and the rest are stuck in their time periods and rarely if ever get revived in new skins. But India…Byomkesh Bakshi (who may be the closest thing India has to Sherlock Holmes, admittedly) has been a mainstay of film, radio, and television for fifty years–I mean, just look at his Wikipedia entry, and the image above is from a film due out this April. But Bakshi is hardly the only detective of India’s golden age to be continually reinterpreted, as we’ll see.

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Evno Azef

azef1Azef, Evno. Evno Azef (1869-1918) was a Russian revolutionary who worked for the anarchist Socialist-Revolutionary Party while also acting as a double agent for the Russian secret police. Azef appeared as the enemy of Sexton Blake and Sâr Dubnotal in 1909 and of Knut Gribb in 1910. In 1909 Azef appeared in the Russian Celebrity Pulp novel Evno Azef, The Anarchist Detective. In the novel Azef solves a murder mystery in St. Petersburg.

Celebrity, in the modern sense of the word, is impossible without modern media and the apparatus for the mass production and distribution of popular literature. On that basis, the figure of the celebrity can be traced back to the early 18th century.

More specifically for our purposes, the use of a celebrity–in this case a living person–in adventure fiction can be traced back to later that century. Possibly the first major celebrity who was used as the protagonist of a work of adventure fiction was George Barrington (1755-1804). The Irish Barrington moved to England in 1773 to avoid arrest and took up thieving in the theater foyers and pleasure gardens of London. Many of his thefts became famous, such as his notorious pickpocketing of the diamond snuffbox of Prince Orloff of Russia in Covent Garden in 1775. Barrington was arrested fourteen times, but his eloquence and gentlemanly carriage so impressed the courts that he was forced to serve only three short prison terms. Barrington became a favorite of the press, who called him “the Prince of Pickpockets,” and at the turn of the 19th century he appeared in popular songs, melodramas, and fiction as the archetypal Gentleman Thief, a Lupin avant la lettre.

buffalobillThe success of fiction based on Barrington (among other figures) served as an example for other authors and publishers of popular fiction, and over the next eighty years publishers occasionally used living men and woman with reputations (earned or unearned) for heroism as the protagonists in fiction, such as the novelettes of the 1840s about frontiersman Christopher “Kit” Carson (1809-1868). But the modern practice of not just using celebrities as protagonists but basing entire ongoing fictional series on them–what I’ve dubbed the “Celebrity Pulps”–began on May 18, 1901, with the first issue of Street & Smith’s The Buffalo Bill Stories, which contained the story “Buffalo Bill, the Border King.” William “Buffalo Bill” Cody (1846-1917) had been an irregularly-appearing fixture in dime novels since the 1869, when Edward Judson, better known as “Ned Buntline,” wrote the first Buffalo Bill serial, “Buffalo Bill, the King of the Border Men” (New York Weekly, Dec. 23, 1869-Mar. 10, 1870).

Judson gave Cody his initial burst of fame in this serial, which is a fictionalized account of his work as a U.S. Army scout, and Cody helped further his own reputation by winning the Medal of Honor in 1872 for “gallantry in action.” Cody propelled himself to international fame by entering show business, beginning in 1872, by joining touring companies. In 1883 he formed Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, a touring company which at its height employed over five hundred people, from Lakota Sioux to Mongols, and which performed across North America and England over the next twenty years. By 1901 Cody was, in the words of Larry McMurtry, the most famous living American, much more even than President Theodore Roosevelt, and given the widespread nature of his persona it was merely good business sense for Street and Smith to publish a series of adventure stories based around that persona.

However, what was new about Buffalo Bill Stories, and what established the model for successive Celebrity Pulps, was the premise that the ongoing series would consist entirely of new stories about Cody’s life, rather than stories which tied in (however tangentially or fictionally) to real events from Cody’s past. Future writers and publishers of Celebrity Pulps would no longer feel the need to pretend to historical accuracy when describing the adventures of a living celebrity, and now had the freedom to indulge their imaginations and (not coincidentally) tell stories more suitable for adventure fiction.

For the first decade following Buffalo Bill Stories’ debut, most of the Celebrity Pulps were not of actors. There were a few actors who were fictionalized, such as Gomecillo & Peliculez, but most Celebrity Pulps in this initial stage were of men and women who, like William Cody, were famous for things they had done in real life, as opposed to what their screen personas had accomplished. Among the men and women in this list were Father Gapon, Thomas Alva Edison, Harry Houdini, and Edmond Pezon.

However, the rise in the production and distribution of film, especially Hollywood films, led to a new type of celebrity, those who were primarily associated with fictional, filmic exploits rather than real-life adventures, and by 1915 Shirley Temple, Max Linder, and Tom Mix were appearing as the protagonists of Spanish comic strips. Celebrity Pulps about celebrities other than actors and actresses didn’t disappear, as with the examples of Al Capone and Pancho Villa, but the majority of Celebrity Pulps after 1915 were of actors and actresses.

Celebrity Pulps were primarily pulps, but in some countries they appeared in the form of comic strips, rather than pulps. Great Britain never had a true Celebrity Pulp, but the comic book Film Fun (1902-1962) published the adventures of, among others, Ben Turpin, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton. In the United States, the comic book Super Magician Comics did the same from 1941 to 1947.

azef2Despite their origins in the United States Celebrity Pulps were far more popular in Europe than in the U.S., and many of the protagonists of the Celebrity Pulps were European celebrities, including Harry Hill, Luciano Albertini, Carlo Aldini, and Billy Jenkins. This was not always the case, of course, and some actors who were popular in the U.S. appeared in European Celebrity Pulps, including Jackie Coogan, Harold Lloyd, and Ken Maynard.

One type of Celebrity Pulp that did enjoy a brief vogue in the United States was the Celebrity Pulp-as-radio-show, with both Jimmy Mattern and Harold Noice being the subjects of radio Celebrity Pulps, and Basil Rathbone starring as Basil Rathbone, actor-detective, in the radio show Tales of Fatima (1949).

Most of the Celebrity Pulps were of actors, but actresses were represented as well, both European (Lee Parry, Ossi Oswalda) and American (Pola Negri, Mary Pickford). Nor were actresses the only women to appear as the leads in Celebrity Pulps, as can be seen with the curious example of Shi Jianqiao.

Most Celebrity Pulps were straightforward action/adventure, but some had overtly ideological bents: the Indonesian Celebrity Pulps with Patjar Merah were explicitly anti-Dutch, while the East German Cliff Aeroes stories were Communist agitprop.

charlotFinally, and perhaps surprisingly, the celebrity who most commonly appeared in a Celebrity Pulp was Charlie Chaplin. Like the Celebrity Pulps as a genre, most of Chaplin’s appearances in Celebrity Pulps took place in the 1920s, and appeared across Europe, from his appearances in France and Italy as Charlot from 1922-1923 and in Turkey, as a detective in ?arlo Polis Hafiyesi ve Gülünçü Sergüze?tleri #1-16 in 1924.

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