Art: Pulp Confidential, State Library of New South Wales



During periods of hardship in the 20th Century some previously respected publishing houses around the world turned to producing ‘pulp’ publications. Quickly- and cheaply-produced populist publications, often sexed-up comics with very basic story lines and as much cleavage drawn in as possible, pulps were considered to be trashy and of no artistic value. Now they are cultural artefacts revered by fans, collectors, art scholars and cultural historians alike.

A fantastic selection of original drawings, comic book covers, letters and contracts from Frank Johnson Publications (Australia) are currently on display at the State Library of New South Wales. Pulp Confidential: Quick & Dirty publishing from the 40s & 50s offers a wonderful insight into quick comic book publishing in Sydney during World War II and afterwards, detailing fascinating contract arrangements for freelance artists and writers and explaining the approach to Australian superheroes compared to those coming out of the US industry. 

It was particularly interesting to discover that the heroes of Australian comics were far more ‘modest’ than their American counterparts. While US fans snapped up stories of invisible men and supernatural women, the Australian market was flooded with the adventures of characters like Wanda Dare, girl reporter, and Barty Malone, taxi driver. Also a strong part of FJP’s output was the Famous Detective Series, which turned 2000-3000 words written about real crimes, often readily-available in newspapers, into luridly-illustrated pulp comics.

The papers in the exhibition were brilliantly illustrated with an accompanying documentary explaining the industry and introducing some of the freelance illustrators that produced 'pulp' for Johnson in their teens and twenties. An inspiring and illuminating insight into a niche but prolific part of 20th-century publishing, the exhibition was brilliantly curated and balanced.


Pulp Confidential: Quick & Dirty publishing from the 40s & 50s, State Library of New South Wales










Pulp Confidential: Quick & Dirty publishing from the 40s & 50s, State Library of New South Wales

Pulp Confidential: Quick & Dirty publishing from the 40s & 50s, State Library of New South Wales





Pulp Confidential: Quick & Dirty publishing from the 40s & 50s runs until Sunday 10 May 2015. Visit: sl.nsw.gov.au


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Rosie Pentreath


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