Pulp Truths

  It did not begin well.
  Friday, April 4, 2003.  The first (though not full) day of
this year's Windy City Pulp and Paperback Convention.
  Rain, freezing rain, sleet, snow, rain, and more rain.
  But beginnings do not always set the tone for what follows.

  My wife Kathryn and I had attended the first convention in
Elgin, Illinois, in March 2001.  I helped friends Larry and Roger
by setting up the Toad Hall dealer tables, and helped work behind
the tables during this one-day show.
  2002's show was expanded to two days.  My brother Kevin and I
went Saturday, staying overnight and part of Sunday.  Guest of
Honor was Jim Steranko, whose comics and painting work I'd
admired since the late 60s.  Steranko's presence and other
factors made this one the most enjoyable collector's conventions
in my life.  (Kevin and I had gone to many comic conventions in
Chicago, our first in 1977.)
  My anticipation for 2002's show had been blazingly intense. 
At times, I cautioned myself against inflated expectations that
could easily be shot down.  But 2002's convention fulfilled, even
exceeded, my highest expectations.
  How could the coming 2003 show possibly match the first two?
  Well, one great improvement would be if "all four of us" could
be there:  Me, Kathryn, Kevin, Amy.
  But, could any Guest of Honor be as exciting to me as Steranko

  A few months before the 2003 show, the Guest of Honor was
announced:  Frank M. Robinson.
  Interesting, but I was not too familiar with his work.  Sure,
he'd co-written the excellent Pulp Culture book, and the truly
superb Science Fiction of the 20th Century.  It would be a
pleasure to have him sign either or both.
  Then, another GoH was named:  Hugh B. Cave.  All right, sure,
I'd often heard of him.  He'd written for the pulps, but I wasn't
that familiar with his work.
  Coincidentally, I was reading a pulp replica containing a Cave
story--the Strange Tales with the "worm cover" (about which, more
anon), originally from 1932.
  Hey, wait a minute.  1932?  How old was Hugh B. Cave?!
  Internet searching soon revealed that Cave was born in 1910. 
So, at age 92, he was still appearing at conventions?  Yow!
  I found an interview with Cave.  He sounded like quite an
interesting person.  I sought out some of his books.
  One, Death Stalks the Night, was a collection of stories from
the "shudder pulps."  Also known as "weird menace," these horror
pulps typically cover-featured women being manacled and/or
menaced by malformed maniacs or medicos.  Not my cup of tea; my
typical reaction to those covers is "Ugh!"  With some curiosity,
tinged with trepidation, I read the first story in Death Stalks
the Night.
  Ugh!  Ugh!!  It was about a husband and wife in a crummy hotel
run by weirdos.  The wife disappears; the husband searches a
boarded-up area of the hotel, discovers a dying woman who has
been hideously tortured.  The husband has to save his wife from
similar torture at the hands of an insane "modern Nero."
  I didn't want to read many of those in succession.  As it was,
I know that at least one bad dream was induced by stories in that
book.  (Several months later, I have not read the whole book. 
Might take awhile, as I spread them out over a comfortable length
of time.)
  But there was no denying Cave's clear-minded writing style
(something I prize highly), and his ability to construct a good,
structured plot.  And horror was not the only thing he'd done. 
The over 1300 books and stories in his long career offered a
fascinating variety:  Detective stories, westerns, and mainstream
fiction taking place in Jamaica or Haiti, both places where Cave
lived for several years.  From the latter mainstream work, I read
his short story The Mission, and the novel The Cross on the Drum.
  The more I read by him and about him, the more I anticipated
meeting him.  This was going to be a great show!
  Again, my expectations ran high.  Would I be disappointed?

  This year's show was at Lincolnwood, IL.  I wanted to get
there in time for Frank M. Robinson's 7:00 pm appearance on
  The winter storm slowed us down appallingly.  We arrived at
the Radisson after 8:00.  We checked in and called our wives to
assure them we'd arrived safely (given the weather, not something
to take for granted).  Carrying things in from the car, I walked
past a lit room with the blinds open enough to see inside, where
robed, hooded figures ritualistically presided over people
sprawled on the floor.  Inspirational material, should one want
to paint a modern-day horror pulp cover.
  We found the room hosting Frank Robinson's talk.  He was
there, but the talk was over.  In the back of the room,
preparations were in the works for the kickoff of the con's Film
  Kevin and I enjoyed a Spider serial chapter.  The action
picked up from a previous chapter:  Car with Wentworth hurtling,
out of control, toward an electric transformer.  He jumped out of
the car, rolled to the ground.  The car burst into an inferno of
flame and sparks.
  Kevin leaned over and whispered, "Of course, they didn't show
him jumping out, in the previous episode."
  We then saw "The Return of Dr. X."  I'd seen this many years
before.  It starred Humphrey Bogart (though not as the lead), as
an executed criminal brought back to life and sustained by
artificial blood.  It was all right, as far as light comedy goes.

  Saturday.  I stealthily crept from the room as Kevin slept,
descended the stairway past menacingly hissing pipes to the lobby
floor, and bumped into Larry and Roger.  I helped them unload
long boxes of pulps and other books from Larry's truck, stack
them on a rickety wheeled device, and push them squeakily into
the dealer's room.
  Damn those back-breaking long boxes to hell.
  I helped set up Toad Hall's three tables.  When a familiar
figure entered the dealer's room, Roger and I looked at each
  "Steranko!" Roger said, awe-struck.
  Maybe it wasn't so surprising.  Privately, I'd dared entertain
the possibility of his return.  Steranko is a big pulp collector. 
In 2002, I'd seen him thumb through pulp boxes as he consulted
his copy of Adventure House's Guide to the Pulps.  John Gunnison
had laminated Steranko's copy for durability.
  "I hear he goes to every pulp show, whether he's scheduled to
appear or not," Roger said.
  I continued working with Roger and Larry, until I saw another
Personage of Importance enter the portal of the dealer's room.  I
went over to him, listened as he talked to those around him. 
Smiling, he turned to me and extended his hand.  "Hugh B. Cave,"
he said in a soft, deep voice.
  If I could say one brief thing to him, what would it be?  I'd
given it some thought, so:
  "I wanted to tell you that I think your work of recent years
is every bit as good as anything you've done in the past."
  He appreciated that.  I'd heard of comic artists whose work
spanned several decades, being confronted by "fans" who told
them, bluntly, "Your work in the 50s was better than what you're
doing now."  Having read three very recent novels by Cave (one
purchased new at Barnes & Noble), what I'd just told him was
  I mentioned items I'd ask him to sign, at the autograph
session, for my niece and my dad.  "I'll sign anything you have,"
he said softly.
  He started down an aisle of the dealer's room.  I glanced at
him, several times, and wondered what he felt, seeing his name on
books and 1930s pulps at many of the tables.

  I returned to our room and convinced Kevin to awaken.  Back in
the dealer's room, I checked my cell phone.  The plan called for
Kathryn to call me, and/or Amy Kevin, when they were close to
Lincolnwood.  On receipt of such calls, we would meet them, guide
them to our room, and thereafter to the convention.  I looked
around; they could arrive at any moment.
  With Toad Hall's tables in good shape, I feverishly started
examining the dealer's tables in earnest.  For the most part, I
know what I want when I see it.  But I had some specific purchase
goals, and I consulted the Spider and Argosy checklists I'd
  A highly desirable item:  The 100th Spider novel--Death and
the Spider.  Was it hard to find?  John Gunnison told me it was. 
But I did find a copy; it had pieces out of the cover and was
graded "Fair," thus the price was a mere $60.  (You have to be a
real long-time, hard-core collector, in order to say "mere" with
a straight face.)  I found one Argosy on my checklist (one of
many I would buy, this con).
  Frank Robinson sat at a table with copies of his Pulp Culture
book.  I had him sign my first edition for me, and a copy of SF
of the 20th Century for one of the nieces.
  As I intently studied a dealer table situated at the farthest
corner from the entrance doors, I felt a feminine hand stroking
my arm and shoulder.  Wha--?  Kathryn!
  She did not have my cell phone number, as we'd thought.  Amy
had tried to call Kevin, but could not get through.  Being
resourceful women, the two had found the convention and sweet-
talked their way into the dealer's room without their pre-
registration badges (which were in my wallet).
  As Kathryn continued her explanation, I saw Steranko not far
away.  The aisles were thickening with wild-eyed pulp
enthusiasts, yet--incredibly--no obstacles stood between him and
us.  As Kathryn talked, I guided her toward him, gently yet
  I told Steranko I'd wanted to introduce my wife to him for a
long time.
  "Why?" he asked.
  "Because I'm always bragging about you," I said.
  Steranko put on his typical charm as Amy and Kevin approached. 
He asked the wives what women were doing at a pulp show (though
women at such shows are not that rare).  He told Kathryn he'd
come across the Weirdo comics I'd sent him twenty years before;
that, soon thereafter, he and I had connected.  What a memory!
  I gave Kathryn and Amy their badges; they were now legit.
  Amy asked Kevin if his phone were on.  He checked.  It was. 
She'd tried to call, but could not get through.
  We climbed the steps to the ground floor.  Kevin's phone gave
forth a musical alarm:  A signal that someone had tried to call! 
Apparently, the dealer's room, being in an underground grotto,
was a dead zone.
  As we led the ladies to our room, I said, "I'm really not as
hyper as I appear to be," or some such foolishness, which they
dismissed as obvious nonsense.
  The room situation:  Amy had brought her dog; she and Kevin
would go to a nearby hotel that accepted pets.  Kathryn and I
were scheduled to move to an upgraded room later that day.
  I indicated a boxful of books.  "All of these contain work by
Hugh B. Cave.  You're each welcome to take something, if you want
to get it signed."
  We returned to the dealer's room and examined its dazzling

  Kevin and I were not the only ones inconvenienced by a winter
storm.  The Girasol Collectibles owners were stuck in Toronto,
but some of their pulp replicas had been shipped ahead, their
table staffed by a woman and two young girls.
  I stopped, arms akimbo, fingers splayed.  "Do you have that
Strange Tales with the 'worm cover'?" I asked.
  The woman gaped.  "You're about the fifth person to ask about
the worm cover!  No, that one's coming, but we do have these--"
  No matter.  I already had the "worm cover," but it was really,
really funny.  (Hugh Cave, writing to Carl Jacobi when it first
appeared in 1932, said it looked like the Micheline Man.) 
(Kathryn can't stand the sight of it.)  What they did have at the
table--ah!  The issue of Strange Tales which cover-featured
Cave's story, Murgunstrumm.  The first two issues of Weird Tales! 
And The Shadow in The Black Hush--
  The little girl did a good job of stuffing all of those
replicas in a plastic bag.
  (The owners would finally arrive on Sunday, bringing more
merchandise, including the "worm cover.")

  The autograph session was right outside the dealer's room. 
The lines started forming.  I was near the front of the line to
Hugh Cave.
  I took two photos of Cave.  As the flash erupted for the
second, Steranko walked behind Cave.  I thought, "Uh oh."  I was
about to apologize, when Steranko froze and pointed at me.  "The
only photo in existence of the two of us together," he said,
smiling, and went to his seat.
  (The previous year, I'd asked him if I could take his photo. 
He'd said, "I'd really appreciate it if you didn't."  And I
respected that.)
  (In the 2003 photo, Steranko was nowhere in sight.  There is
part of a blurred, brown jacket that might be his.)
  Kathryn had selected the book of 1959 Saturday Evening Post
Stories for Cave to sign.  Serendipitously appropriate, I
thought, as I'd found the book a few months earlier, when "the
four of us" were exploring the Columbia Antique Mall.  Kathryn
asked if I'd heard what Cave told her about his story inside, The
Mission.  I hadn't.
  For me, he signed The Cross on the Drum for a niece; Country
Gentleman magazine for my dad; and--believe it or not--Death
Stalks the Night for me.  Despite its nightmare-inducing power, I
picked that one, because it was the first book I'd specifically
ordered, when I learned he would be GoH.
  Each time he signed something, he took his good-natured time,
wrote neatly, and included a friendly greeting.  "For Kathryn,
with warmest regards," for example.

  The Art Room was highly worthwhile.  There was the James Bama
original for The Men Who Smiled No More, which had been at the
show two years before.  There was work by Virgil Finlay, Clark
Ashton Smith, Kelly Freas, a superb Margaret Brundage pastel
(done in 1972, four years before her death), and a dramatic cover
for The Cross on the Drum, artist unknown.

  Hugh Cave's talk was scheduled for 7:00; the auction would be
held afterwards.  Over a hundred auction lots were spread out on
tables, under a watchful staff member's eye.  Kevin had three
Arkham House books up on the block; I had several items of my
own.  I gave the other items careful scrutiny, saw things I
wouldn't mind having, and made notes.
  Alfred Jan was also inspecting the lots.  He'd written a
fascinating introduction to the Inspector Allhoff anthology
published by Adventure House, so I asked him where I could find a
list of un-reprinted Allhoff stories.  He said he had duplicates
of two such Dime Detective Magazine issues, so I gave him a card
with my e-mail.  (He followed up very quickly on this, days after
the show, resulting in my buying both pulps.)
  Kathryn joined me in the front row for the Hugh Cave
presentation.  Don Hutchison did a great job as moderator, asking
Cave questions about his career.  The audience then presented
  I admitted to Cave that some of his stories gave me
nightmares, that horror stories weren't my typical forte, and
asked if he went into a dark mood, laughing maniacally, when he
wrote them.  He responded that he fondly remembered sitting
around gigantic campfires with other boys, where they'd share
scary tales.  Writing for the shudder pulps, then, was an
extension of that boyhood interest.
  He added that horror was not the first thing he'd started
writing.  Given the stories he'd heard of far-off lands from his
parents, he'd begun with adventure yarns, and did many such
throughout his career.
  Someone asked if he'd ever written anything that a magazine
editor found too horrible to publish.  He thought a moment, shook
his head, and said, "No."  The simple answer brought some laughs.
  He was asked what his all-time favorite story was. 
Considering how many he'd written, I wondered if that question
even made sense, if he would have an answer.  But he did.  It was
The Mission, the story he'd signed for Kathryn.  He then told us
all, what he'd told Kathryn:  This story and its accompanying
illustration had garnered more mail than anything else published
in the Post since Benjamin Franklin founded the magazine.  A
print of the illustration was published and sold by the Post.
  Another favorite story he mentioned was And Two Were Left,
which was widely anthologized in grade school reading texts.  (If
anyone has a copy of that story, PLEASE CONTACT ME!!)
  As he spoke to the audience, and looked in our direction, he
often seemed to maintain eye contact with me.
  At the session's conclusion, a staff member started everyone
singing "For He's a Jolly-Good Fellow."  Two gigantic cakes were
brought into the room; each had two pulp cover reproductions. 
One was the famous "man-as-cobra" cover from All Detective;
another was the Strange Tales with Murgunstrumm.  Larry snapped a
great photo of me and Kathryn enjoying pieces of this cake.

  John Gunnison acted as auctioneer.  He did not waste any time;
there were 118 items to auction off.  Just as important, he was
intelligible.  He mentioned the improvements over last year's
auction, held without benefit of a microphone near a kid-
populated pool.
  Very first item:  three Argosy pulps, starting at $3.00.  No
takers, at first.  With one shout, they were mine.
  An excellent, highly entertaining auction.  There were many
items by Hannes Bok:  Two large abstract paintings, letters--even
his library card!  Kevin bought an original pen & ink drawing of
President Bush getting the best of Saddam Hussein.  One item was
described as an original drawing of a "barbarian woman;" its
tame, non-barbaric style prompted Amy to say, "Barbie the
Barbarian," which Gunnison repeated over the microphone.  One
highlight was a 4-foot rubber alien, a prop used from The X-Files
(Kevin and Amy would later see the episode featuring this prop!). 
Doug Ellis held the alien, rocking it like a baby and sticking
its foot in John Gunnison's ear.  Sadly, the alien did not bring
the minimum bid of $300.
  I was top bidder on a Jerome Rozen color study of a gorilla
dangling a woman by her heels from the door of a zeppelin.  (I
later found that this was commissioned for the cover of Spicy
Oriental Zeppelin Stories.  Done in the 1980s, it was not for a
real pulp.  The actual finished painting was on display in the
dealer's room.)
  Larry went up to pay for a batch of four Shadow pulps.  I
hadn't noticed him bidding.  I leaned over and asked, "You bought
those?"  He answered in the affirmative.  I hadn't planned to buy
any Shadow pulps at this show (in fact, I had placed two of my
own in the auction, including the very last Shadow pulp, with
that beautiful white cat cover).  But now, seeing Larry get those
pulps, even though I knew they were for Toad Hall and not his own
personal enrichment, I felt, "I wanna get some Shadows, too!"
  So when another lot of four Shadows came up, including The
Third Skull, with that great metamorphic cover I'd always liked,
I went for it; got it.  When I paid for them, I walked past
Larry, held them up and said, "Ha ha."  Larry sputtered in
perplexity, then laughed.  It was fun to fantasize a rivalry at
the auction, but we never bid against each other on anything.
  Kevin's Arkham House books sold for $100!  He'd set a minimum
of $50.  Not bad for books that cost, in the '70s, a total of
  My own items sold for a total of $369, which is about what I
spent that night at the auction.

  Sunday morning.  Hugh B. Cave appeared, signing things again. 
Amy wanted to get something signed by Steranko for her business
partner; I directed her to the History of Comics volumes he'd
written.  She bought Volume 2 and went over to Steranko.  He
talked with her quite a while.  She'd started, "You probably
don't remember me--" but Steranko had said, "Sure, you're
Rodney's brother's wife."  He'd then recommended The Adventures
of Cavalier and Klay, by Michael Chabon, because the item
Steranko signed for her was the first thing that author had read
by Steranko.
  One thing I hadn't done yet:  Buy a big, big stack of
cheapies.  Loading up on those under-$5.00 items that were too
beautiful to resist.  I scrounged through Adventure House's floor
boxes.  The Popular Magazine, from 1923, at $3.00?  How could I
not buy it, with that cover?  A 1930s Argosy, no back cover,
paper flakes in the bag?  Heck, at only $4.00--on the pile it
goes!  I ultimately came away with an ample supply.  Most of them
were Argosies.

  I looked around the dealer's room.  It was a little after
noon.  We would soon leave.  Time for one Last Big Buy. 
(Collectors who attend such conventions know the feeling.)  It
needn't be the best thing I'd bought at the whole show.  But it
ought to be--special.
  I went to a book dealer.  I'd considered buying E. Hoffman
Price's book, Far Lands and Other Days.  I'd had this once.  With
the bookplate, signed by Price and artist George Evans.  It was
one book, of the hundreds (thousands?!) that I'd sold, traded or
given away, over the decades, that I kind of wished I'd kept.
  I asked the dealer how much.  $150?  Well, he'd come down to
  Right next to it was Murgunstrumm.  Hmm...  By the same
publisher as Far Lands, this was one of Hugh B. Cave's most
famous stories, used as lead story and title for one of his most
famous anthologies.  This, too, had a bookplate signed by Cave,
and by artist Lee Brown Coye.
  Thirty-five years ago, I saw pre-publication ads for this same
book.  I could have ordered it then for $30 (I think).  The
edition I now examined was priced at $175.  The dealer graciously
offered to sell it for $160.
  ("You know," Cave had said at his talk, "I've seen that
Carcosa edition of Murgy on the Internet, selling for--" he
emphasized the price with amazement-- "a hundred and sixty
  I bought it.
  My Last Big Buy.

  The 2003 show had met--exceeded--my most frenzied hopes and
expectations.  On our way out, I drew the attention of the others
to a brochure, advertising the next show:  March 26-27-28, 2004.
  Now, the question that haunts me, that flutters through my
dreams like a miasmatic wraith, is:
  How could the coming 2004 show possibly match the first three?

Hugh B. Cave, signing my books.

One of the cakes.

Kathryn & me. (Taken by my pal Larry. Not Cave's birthday, and the spelling of Kathryn's name is exotic, but it's a great photo! That's a Cirque du Soleil shirt I'm wearing.)

Ever questing. Another one by Larry, with commentary. With brain afire and eyes pulsating, searching frantically through this great complexity, I find many thrills and wonders.

Web sites for more info:

    Windy City Pulp & Paperback Convention main page:


Girasol Collectibles

Adventure House

The Mission, Hugh B. Cave’s favorite story

Entire contents of this column Copyright © 2003 by Rodney Schroeter.

Home page of Rodney Schroeter