In pulp fiction art, what was second-rate yesterday is museum-worthy today.
The Southern New Hampshire University McIninch Art Gallery’s latest exhibition, “Pulp Fiction: The Original Graphic Art Novel,” features original paintings from popular 1920s and ‘30s pulp fiction novels, with damsels in distress, chiseled action heroes, aliens and mad scientists.
These detective, Western, horror, air-war, science fiction and hard-boiled drama novels were coined “pulp fiction” for the cheap, wood pulp paper on which the magazines were printed.
“These were dime novels ... you could pick them up at a newstand, at a cigarette shop. It was an inexpensive source of entertainment for more of a working class group,” said Debbie Disston, director of the McIninch Art Gallery.
Writers made perhaps one or two cents a word, and pulp artists made even less, at around $50 to $100 per cover painting.
“Most of them are not particularly well-executed paintings; they’re illustrations, created by the artist who served a purpose for describing whatever the story was, or a dramatic image to attract a passerby’s attention,” Disston said.
And yet, here we are, almost 100 years later, admiring these full-sized paintings in galleries and museums. This particular exhibit represents a portion of Robert Lesser Collection taken from New Britain Museum of American Art in New Britain, Conn.
“One of the reasons I wanted to hold this exhibit is because [SNHU has] a very strong graphic design and game design program. The students do get involved with illustration, especially in game,” Disston said.
She thought that the science fiction art, in particular, would be especially interesting to students in these majors. The colors are bright, the subject is supernatural: one painting depicts a handsome hero saving a damsel in distress from a long-limbed creature, another, an alien desert attack. Just as these artists did with paint, SNHU students, too, might be creating these surreal worlds in their work, she said.
“The originality is something that I wanted to convey. ... These students are so involved with technology to create their art that I thought it was important to bring out some art that has definitely inspired contemporary imagery,” she said. “What you see less and less of today is original art. Students in graphic design, game design, are learning what the most essential trends are in the commercial art world. I thought it would be great to show some original art that had a very close connection to what they might do in graphic design, illustration and game design.”