Tag Archives: dieselpunk

The Fleischer Superman Cartoons

Superman Fleischer Studios

Superman has always been dieselpunk.

He may not seem like it now, but in the beginning he was probably one of the mot dieselpunk things you could think up. He was, after all, created in 1938 and became an instant smash success. Within 3 years one of the most beautiful looking series of animation shorts ever made was put out by Fleischer Studios, all of which have not only a thoroughly dieselpunk vibe (being, you know, actual sci-fi in the 1940s) but 70 years later still look unbelievably amazing.

Fleischer Studios started out as a small animation studio founded and run by brothers brothers Max and Dave Fleischer. By 1941 Fleischer Studios was second only to Walt Disney Studios in animation. They were responsible for the immensely popular Popeye cartoons as well as Betty Boop. The brothers invented the art of rotoscoping, where animators would trace drawings over actual live footage, creating incredibly lifelike animation. This technique was adopted by Disney in some of their feature length animated movies and in Russia, Stalin loved it so much he insisted all Russian animation use this method (true story).

When approached by Paramount to make a series of Superman shorts to be played before movie features, the brothers had just finished a well lauded animated Gulliver film (still around) and were anxious to begin their next feature, Mr. Bug Goes To Town. They didn’t particularly want to do Superman, so they quoted Paramount an absolutely ridiculous sum, $100,000 per short. To their shock and surprise, Paramount halved the amount to $50,000 and agreed. $50,000 was still an insane sum for an animated short, over twice what each Popeye short cost, and next they knew it, the brothers were committed.

They pulled out all the stops. The 9 cartoons they made won every award possible for animation including nomination for an Academy Award, and were enormously popular. Superman himself was a raging success, and these cartoons were made before even the Superman radio show, thus a number of Superman pop culture tropes came from these shorts.

For one thing, Superman did not fly in those days. He didn’t start out flying in the comics. You recall the line “leap tall buildings in a single bound”? Well, that’s what he did. Leap. Well, for one thing, the cartoons invented the opening: “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!” Furthermore, as the shorts progressed, the brothers didn’t like the look of the leaping and wanted Superman to simply fly. They asked permission from Detective Comics Inc (DC before it was called DC) and they allowed the Fleischers to have Superman fly. After this Superman began flying in the comics.

It also invented the catch phrase “This is a job…. for Superman!”

The Fleischers tried to rotoscope Superman as much as possible, but being the world’s first superhero, he did things a live model couldn’t do, like fly and lift ridiculous things. “In these cases, the Fleischer lead animators, many of whom were not trained in figure drawing, animated roughly and depended upon their assistants, many of whom were inexperienced with animation but were trained in figure drawing, to keep Superman “on model” during his action sequences.”

After 9 cartoons the Fleischers were self destructing.  Work on the Mr. Bug cartoon had caused major financial trouble (it premiered in theaters 2 days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor) and the brothers descended into bitter personal troubles. By 1942 they could no longer work with each other. Paramount bought them out and ousted them. The studio was changed to Famous Studios and 8 more Superman shorts were produced. The sleek look remained, but the plots changed from science fiction themes to WW2 themes.

Even today, the first 9 shorts are considered mkasterpieces of animation and the height of the famed Fleischer Studios’ skill. I present all 9 here for you, dieselpunk masterpieces all. If you’ll excuse me, i’m going to call my 4 year old in here to watch them with me.

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Posted by on March 22, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Strange Aeons

Strange Aeons An Online Dieselpunk Comic

While i have some deep contemplative posts (or, one) i’m a bit busy at the moment. I’ve been hired to write music for a Pirate Show, an immensely fun gig, and i’m leaving for the states in 9 days (YAY!). On top of which i’ve been catching up on time with my 4 year old. So a lengthy tiem consuming post  has not been in the cards this weekend.

However i do have something awesome for y’all. It’s an online Dieselpunk comic called Strange Aeons. It’s pretty new and looks killer. Look up at that picture. That is an awesome picture. Well worth your time. I mean you’re here, right? This means you intend to shmuck around for however long this blog was likely to amuse you, so instead i offer you another place to shmuck.

This is that place: Strange Aeons


Posted by on December 9, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The Dieselpunk Art of Alex Kozhanov

So with the performance all wrapped up and the future still waiting to be written, can we get back to dieselpunk goodness? Obviously, the 2nd Act of the Dieselpunk Opera is my main creative bent right now and all things dieselpunk are my current mistress.

With that said, let’s take a look at a kick ass artist i’ve come across in my travels, Alex Kozhanov from Kaliningrad, Russia (more Russians! Russians are awesome. So are Norwegians  So are you). He paints in some type of fantastical, industrial style. Take a gander.















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Posted by on December 6, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Dieselpunk Cities

After all the happy earth homes of yesterday, let’s swing the other direction and look at some cool representations of Dieselpunk Cities from the net.

Art by JR Boos

Art by Alex Kozhanov

New Cap City, a dieselpunk city from the short lived series Caprica


Art by Audic


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Posted by on November 10, 2012 in Uncategorized


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7 Of The Most Popular Pulp Heroes

Before comic books, after the penny dreadfuls, were the pulps. From the beginning of the 20 century they rose in popularity and from the 1920s to the 1940s they dominated the fantastical and the imagination of youth.

Many of the famous characters of the pulp days are gone to one degree or another, although a few have name recognition that remains today. Here are 7 of the most popular whose adventures inspired the heroes, comic character and fantastical stories which came after.

7 Operator #5:

Operator #5 was a pre James Bond secret agent with wild adventures who was very popular in the 30s. However what really sets him as notable was that when writer Emile Tepperman took over in book 21, he took the possibilities of the pulps further then anyone else in the industry.

Tepperman was responsible for the 13 interconnected novels (starting with #26) that make up The Purple Invasion, a series in which the Purple Empire (an unnamed European power which is a thinly veiled Germany) conquers the United States after conquering the rest of the world. Operator #5 leads the insurgency against them. The saga is often looked upon as the War and Peace of pulps.

In a rare bit of continuity for the pulp magazines, America did not find itself fully recovered in the first novel following the end of the Purple Invasion. Instead, America was still reeling from the bloody war, and found itself vulnerable to yet other would-be conquerors. A new serial dealt with the invasion of the US by an oriental power, obviously Japan, led by the “Yellow Vulture.”

Jimmy Christopher was a secret agent, codename “Operator No. 5” for the United States Intelligence in a series of fast paced stories about America’s enemies who pledged war, death and bloody destruction in their efforts to take over America. The enemies were many, but often from countries with fictional names.

Christopher had two trademarks: a skull ring and a rapier which was kept curled inside his belt. He was aided by a number of people in the various wars: Diane Elliot, his girlfriend; Tim Donovan, who quickly grew from a youngster to a two fisted young man; Nan Christopher, his twin sister; John Christopher, his father who was a retired operative known as Q-6; Chief of Intelligence Z-7; and friend “Slips” McGuire, among many others, some of whom gave their lives for America.

6. G-8:

G-8 was a heroic aviator and spy during WWI. He had 110 books published during the 30s and early 40s.

His stories were often outlandish, with many supernatural or science fiction elements. G-8’s true identity was never revealed. He had a girlfriend, a nurse who aided his group, and her name as well was never revealed. He had an English manservant named Battle and two wing-men, the short Nippy Weston, who flew an aircraft numbered 13, and the tall and muscular but superstitious Bull Martin, whose aircraft was numbered 7. Both of them were Americans. His adventures entailed fighting against the lethal super technology that was constantly created by the Kaiser’s mad scientists. Reoccurring villains included Herr Doktor Krueger, the Steel Mask, and Grun.

5. The Spider

The Spider: Created to capitalize on the success of The Shadow, and stated by Stan Lee to be one of his inspirations for Spider Man, The Spider was huge during the 30s and early 40s.

Similar to the character of The Shadow, the Spider was in actuality millionaire playboy Richard Wentworth (who had been a Major in World War One), living in New York and unaffected by the Great Depression. It should be noted that beginning in the 30s ALL the heros of pulps were secretly millionaires. Interesting, no? I’m sure in the depths of the Great Depression there was some wish fulfillment in there. Anyway, Wentworth fought crime by donning a black cape, slouch hat. Later came vampiric makeup or face mask and a hunchback figure with grizzled hair to terrorize the criminal underworld with extreme prejudice and his own brand of vigilante justice.

The stories often involved a bizarre menace and a criminal conspiracy and were often extremely violent, with the villains engaging in wanton slaughter of literally thousands as part of sometimes nationwide crimes.

4. The Phantom

The Phantom: While some vague name recognition still echoes down today, a crappy newspaper comic and REALLY crappy movie or two, it may come as a surprise that back in the day The Phantom was a two fisted detective bad ass and immensely popular, rocking the pulps for 20 years. First published in 1933 he was the very second pulp hero published.

The Phantom is actually the wealthy Richard Curtis Van Loan. In the first few issues of the title, The Phantom is introduced as a world-famous detective, whose true identity is only known by one man — Frank Havens, the publisher of the Clarion newspaper. Richard Curtis Van Loan is orphaned at an early age, but inherits wealth. Before WWI, he leads the life of an idle playboy, but during the war he becomes a pilot and downs many German planes.

After the war, Van Sloan has a difficult time returning to his old life. At the suggestion of his father’s friend, Havens, he sets out to solve a crime that had stumped the police. After solving it, he decides he has found his calling.

He trains himself in all facets of detection and forensics, and becomes a master of disguise and escape. He makes a name for himself as the Phantom, whom all police agencies around the world know and respect. When dealing with law enforcement officials he carries a platinum badge in the shape of a domino mask as proof of his true identity. The initial stories were less about a detective than an adventurer using disguise and lucky escapes to conclude his cases.

3. Buck Rogers

Buck Rogers: Begun in 1928, Buck Rogers invented the space hero. INVENTED him. Without Buck there is no Flash Gordon, no Star Wars… the idea would of course have come through someone else had Buck never been born, but because of his success it is he who is the inspiration for all that came afterwards.

Buck Rogers first appeared in Amazing Stories in 1928 in a story called Armageddon 2419 A.D. The character blew up and soon grew out of the pulps and into just about every other media there was: Serial films series, comics, radio (in 1932 the first science fiction radio program in the states) a TV series in the 50s and another movie and TV series in the 1970s. He isn’t listed higher simply because his stay in the pulp fiction books was very short lived. He is most known through other mediums.

The character first appeared as Anthony Rogers, the central character of Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. Born in 1898, Rogers is a veteran of the Great War (World War I) and by 1927 is working for the American Radioactive Gas Corporation investigating reports of unusual phenomena reported in abandoned coal mines near Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania. On December 15, there is a cave-in while he is in one of the lower levels of a mine. Exposed to radioactive gas, Rogers falls into “a state of suspended animation, free from the ravages of catabolic processes, and without any apparent effect on physical or mental faculties.” Rogers remains in suspended animation for 492 years.

Rogers awakens in 2419. Thinking that he has been asleep for just several hours, he wanders for a few days in unfamiliar forests (what had been Pennsylvania almost five centuries before). He notices someone clad in strange clothes, who is under attack. He defends the person, Wilma Deering, killing one of the attackers and scaring off the rest. On “air patrol”, Deering was attacked by an enemy gang, the Bad Bloods, presumed to have allied themselves with the Hans.

Wilma takes Rogers to her camp, where he meets the bosses of her gang. He is invited to stay with them or leave and visit other gangs. They hope that Rogers’ experience and knowledge he gained fighting in the First World War may be useful in their struggle with the Hans who rule North America from 15 great cities they established across the continent. They ignored the Americans who were left to fend for themselves in the forests and mountains as their advanced technology prevented the need for slave labor.

2. Doc Savage

Doc Savage. Popular beyond compare in his heyday, dominating the pulps for 16 years (from 1933 to 1949)

Doc Savage’s real name was Clark Savage Jr.  He was a physician, surgeon, scientist, adventurer, inventor, explorer, researcher, and a musician. A team of scientists assembled by his father deliberately trained his mind and body to near superhuman abilities almost from birth, giving him great strength and endurance, a photographic memory a mastery of the martial arts, and vast knowledge of the sciences. Doc is also a master of disguise and an excellent imitator of voices. “He rights wrongs and punishes evildoers.” He’s described as a mix of Sherlock Holmes’ deductive abilities, Tarzan’s outstanding physical abilities, Craig Kennedy’s scientific education, and Abraham Lincoln’s goodness.  His character and world-view is displayed in his oath:

Let me strive every moment of my life to make myself better and better, to the best of my ability, that all may profit by it. Let me think of the right and lend all my assistance to those who need it, with no regard for anything but justice. Let me take what comes with a smile, without loss of courage. Let me be considerate of my country, of my fellow citizens and my associates in everything I say and do. Let me do right to all, and wrong no man.

His office is on the 86th floor of a New York City skyscraper, implicitly the Empire State Building, reached by Doc’s private high-speed elevator. Doc owns a fleet of cars, trucks, aircraft, and boats which he stores at a secret hangar on the Hudosn River, under the name The Hidalgo Trading Company, which is linked to his office by a pneumatic-tube system nicknamed the “flea run.” He sometimes retreats to his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic — which pre-dates Superman’s similar hideout of the same name.

1. The Shadow.

The Shadow.  The Shadow dominates them all. For one thing he was the first pulp hero. Secondly, EVERYONE after was trying to piggy back on his success. Almost every character mentioned was begun to capitalize on The Shadow. Begun as the Narrator for a radio show featuring detective stories, listeners began asking for magazines featuring this mysterious voice.

“The Shadow’s real name was Kent Allard, a famed aviator who fought for the French during WWI. He became known by the alias of The Black Eagle but after the war, decides to wage war on criminals. Allard fakes his death in the South American jungles, then returns to the United States. Arriving in New York City, he adopts numerous identities to conceal his existence.

One of these identities—indeed, the best known—is Lamont Cranston, a “wealthy young man about town.” In the pulps, Cranston is a separate character; Allard frequently disguises himself as Cranston and adopts his identity (“The Shadow Laughs,” 1931). While Cranston travels the world, Allard assumes his identity in New York. Unlike the later superhero comics, the violence was much more pronounced and The Shadow held two pistols with which he would blow away his adversaries.

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Posted by on October 16, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Dieselpunk Tarot

There are a couple of steampunk tarot decks (or designs) but Dieselpunk Tarot has been hard to track down. However, i have done it. There is a very dark, but definitely Dieselpunk Tarot deck designed around an occult WWII setting.

The Fool

The Magician

The Empress

The Emperor

The Chariot

If you’re wondering why the hell anyone would design such a thing as this (other than, you know, it’s fracking cool as frack) there’s a game called Sine Requie Anno XIII. Sine Requie Anno XIII is a role playing game that takes place in an alternate post WWII dystopia where nazis and the living dead are rampaging the world.

The game is produced by an Italian company Dreampainters. It was begun in 2003 but the current version is from 2008. The game has won several awards but what makes it even MORE interesting is instead of using dice to execute actions, it uses tarot cards. Hence this deck.

However, the deck, available as either a 22 set Major Arcana or the full 78 set, is an fully functional tarot deck on its own right. It’s actually quite sought out by certain tarot collectors.

I’ve talked about my thoughts on tarot, which are basically i love the tarot system, but not for the reasons most other people. I don’t care about the whole divination thing so much, i’m more fascinated by the use of archetypal imagery to suggest stories and relationships to the mind. In other words, forget the psychic stuff, i love the creative Jungian story maps.

But enough chatter. More pics:


The Hanged Man


The Devil

The Moon

Here’s some info on the game:


The game is set in an alternative 1957, 13 years after what is remembered as “The Judgment Day”: the 6th of June 1944 (also known, in the real world, as D-Day), the day in which human history changed forever.

While WWII was raging, the Dead rose from their graves to devour the living and to wreak havoc on them. Many nations did not have the strength to counteract the violence and crumbled before the insane hunger of those that were once living beings. Only a few survivors lasted in those wastelands, where “life” had changed her name to “nightmare”.

Lost Lands

The Lost Lands are by now rotten deserts where gaunt bunches of men and women, either bold or on the brink of madness, live from day to day. It is a place where finding water or provisions can costs one’s life, and the ground is scratched by the crawling steps of hordes of undead and other dreadful creatures. Some nations with strong leaders were able to hold out, establishing totalitarian regimes.

Third Reich

The Third Reich, claiming victory in WWII, took the name of IV Reich (The Fourth Reich). In these territories, ruled by the Nazi regime, life is regulated by rigid and cruel laws, and personal liberty is only a dream. The cities, surrounded by fortified walls, are the same as they were ten years before, and nothing appears to be different. People live unaware of the horror that crawls outside the cities borders. Gestapo soldiers patrol the streets to maintain public order, instilling an atmosphere of terror and suffering. Ferocious SS Platoons deport more and more citizens to the Reeducation Camps, from where nobody ever returns. In the name of a new religion risen from the ashes of Christianity, churches are desecrated and converted to shrines of the new Führer-Messiah who will once again lead the Reich to global conquest.

Sanctum Imperium

In Italy, after the fall of the fascist regime, a rigid theocracy was imposed, ruled by Pope Leone XIV. This new state has returned Italy to the medieval period. Most modern technology has been abolished or is only in the hands of a privileged few. the Italian territories appear to be anachronistic places, where old cars stand beside pyres of a new inquisition. Templars in shining armour fight alongside Hunters of the undead, veterans of the world war, to defend the population. In the Papal State, the fervent religious fanaticism has brought a ferocious fight to heresies and to all that is “anti-papal”.


The Russian civilization survived the horror but at the cost of extreme changes. Giant metal cities, immense mazes of towers and corridors extend from the depth of the earth to the sky, while, from the untiring factories, the first bio-machines were born, the monstrous forefront of a new humanity.

This is the realm of Z.A.R., an inhuman dictator of a technocracy that had decreed the end of concepts like family, religion, peace and rest. Not even sunlight is granted to the slave citizens of the Calculator, and the days have lost their value and changed their length to submit to the rigid and precise rhythms of the bio-machine factories.

 Here’s a link to Asterion Press and the full game.
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Posted by on June 27, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The 10 Best Dieselpunk Movies

Dieselpunk is a fantastic reimagining of the period from about 1920 through the 40s. Dieselpunk tends to be darker than its steampunk cousin. It’s flexible in that it can incorporate stories which do NOT take place in that time period but are heavily permeated with that period’s feel and flare. A noir style detective piece set on the planet Zamboozala 6 for instance would be dieselpunk if the feel were indeed central to the piece. Stories set around the technology level of the period most certainly count too.

Thus it is that we list the 10 best Dieselpunk movies made, even though in almost all cases the film makers did not set out to make their films be “Dieselpunk” or indeed were even aware of the term.

10. Captain America

The most recent on this list, and while not the jaw dropping classic some of the others ones are, it’s a very, very fun film.

9. Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow

Sky Captain is utterly and completely Dieselpunk. It’s pretty much written to encapsulate the definition. It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous movie and rather than the dark side of Dieselpunk, it’s quite light and pleasant. I present here the original short the theatrical version was based off of.

8. Sucker Punch

This move never got the props it deserved. Critics were divided but personally, i loved this film. It’s no epic oscar winner, but it was insanely mind blowing as a visual feast. It’s the kind of movie you voice your enjoyment of with profanity while watching. (“DUDE! HOLY FFFFFFF….”)

7. Mad Max: The Road Warrior

Surprised by this one? An action classic it is definitely dieselpunk. Everyone’s obsessed with diesel for one. Post apocalyptic, the societal tech is diesel era and that fact does permeate the film. Plus, it’s one of the best action movies ever. It was made back when there were no CGI and stunts had to be real. A far away and madcap time called… the 80s.

6. Sin City

Hot damn was this movie fun. I had some issues with it vs the graphic novels, which is strange because they were almost shot to shot perfect, but never the less this film is extremely fun and well done.

5. City Of Lost Children

Now we get to the films which are… actually great films. The films before this are “awesome” but past the fanboy excitement, most of these next films actually possess true, deep cinematic greatness. City of Lost Children for instance. It is truly like a dark, dieselpunk fairy tales, utterly otherworldly and moving.

4. Dark City

Sky Captain may be utterly dieselpunk, but Dark City practically invents it. This scores so high on the list because if there was one movie i’d point to in order to explain what dieselpunk really is, it’s Dark City. It’s also a flat out fantastic fantastical flick.

3. Brazil

Terry Gillian’s masterpiece.  It’s… a dystopian satire? The film that invented retro futurism? A staggeringly effective and moving portrayal of the classic indivicual being drowned by the state and society story? This film is greatness. And kind of weird.

2. Eraserhead

This film is not kind of weird. It ate weird for breakfest and then two girls one cupped it. David Lynch’s first film. It’s beyond a classic. It’s one of those films that as ridiculously fucked up as it is, you have to have watched it simply because… it’s fucking Eraserhead. You simply have to have watched it at some point otherwise you fail at life.

1. Blade Runner

Sci fi? Check. Film noir? Check? A classic? Check. Jaw dropping to watch? Check. Moving to the point of leaving you in a different state of reality when over? Check. Masterful attention to detail? Check. Blade Runner. It doesn’t get much better. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a better sci fi film. It might seem hardly dieselpunk, but although set firmly in the future the 40s noir feeling permeates every shot, every minute of the movie. It’s gritty, and the tech is not shiny, it’s kind of gritty and messy too. A masterpiece of film making by any standard.


Posted by on June 24, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Dieselpunk and Atompunk

Steampunk is technically the period from Victorian England to the first world war, but done in a science fiction way. A past that never was.

After WWI? It’s all dieselpunk, baby.


Dieselpunk is technically the period from 1920 until the end of WWII. You know, a retro future past.

Most of this blog is indeed about Dieselpunk era affairs, and most of the Steampunk Opera is Dieselpunk oriented: darker, more urban and industrial aesthetics.

Steampunk is hopeful and fun, Diesepunk has a tendency to be more intense, and either more twisted and psychologically murky, or contrarily, borrowing heavily from a pulp era aesthetic, art deco, WWII, 1940s era bombasticness.


So Dieselpunk works can be stuff like Dark City for the dark,

or Sky Captain of Tomorrow for the light.

Return To Castle Wolfenstein, the amazing movies Delicatessen or City of Lost Children.

Eraserhead? Dieselpunk.

Bioshock? Dieselpunk.

But wait! There’s more!

Not only is there Dieselpunk, there’s now Atomicpunk!

Atompunk is a 1945 to 1965 era take on the future. Atomic era, space race type stuff.

Many times a future gone post apocalyptic. Nuclear war and red scare taken to extremes.  The Fallout video game series is exactly what we’re talking about here.

Art deco design factors in to Atompunk’s aesthetics. All that “house of the future” type stuff.

1950s era science fiction is all atompunk.

A Clockwork Orange: Atompunk.

GdDAMN that was a fucked up movie.

The Jetsons? Total Atompunk.

Atom sputnik kosmonautic communism nuclear powerplants Jetsons Gagarin communist paranoia man-on-the-moon Googie architecture mid-century modernism utopian futurism pre-digital punk communism paranoia space cyber oldnasa kgb east german gear industrial militairy power

Ray gun kid.


Posted by on July 21, 2011 in Uncategorized


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The Shadow

Nah, i’m not ready to move on from pulp icons quite yet. One of the most famous and popular characters of the pulp era who is now fading into complete obscurity is The Shadow.

The Shadow was a sensation during the 1930s and into the 40s and was, unarguably, the precursor and inspiration for Batman (Bob Kane and Bill Finger have said so quite clearly.) Dressed in black, including a black suit and cape, dark, violent, mercilessly unsympathetic to criminals and operating mostly by night (sound like anybody you know?) and usually depicted two fisting two .45 revolvers, he was featuring in over 300 pulp books the vast majority of which was written by one man, Walter Gibson. Gibson wrote a novel length story twice a month for almost 20 years.

And of course there is the famous radio drama. “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows….. hahahahahAHAHAHAHA”

In 1931 the publishers of Detective Story Magazine decided to produce a radio drama series called Detective Story Hour, featuring their print  characters in order to boost declining sales. It was decided there should a mysterious and sinister sounding narrator named… you know, something like…. The Inspector…. no…. The Sleuth! …..Noooo…. not mysterious enough… Oh! The Shadow! Yeah….

However, instead of boosting sales of the magazine, a flood of requests poured in for adventures of this awesome Shadow guy. So, not being idiots, the publishers hired Walter Gibson to start churning out Shadow yarns, which he did and subsequently rocketed the character to super star status.

The Shadow was a badass. He went after his criminal prey mercilessly,  making sure to drive them to the point of utter terror before finally gunning them down. He had a string of secret identities (of which wealthy playboy Lamont Cranston was only one, and NOT his actual alter ego) and gradually built up an astonishing rogues gallery of fiendish villains, secret identities and various subtle “super powers” all just before the age of superheroes.

The Shadow could become any personality he wished to be and sell it flawlessly. He could manipulate minds, seeming to appear a few feet away from where he was actually standing and then laughing maniacally at some poor bastard while they shot at what they thought was him.  He had a network of colorful agents spanning the globe. Over the course of over Gibson’s 282 book run he created an extensive mythos that far outpaced Batman until probably the 1970s version of The Dark Knight and beyond.

Gibson was a story producing machine. For the very first book, the journalist had no idea how to set the book up, how long to make the chapters, stuff like that, so he pulled a book by Horatio Alger off the shelf and used it as an exact template, the template all books from then on would also follow. 6 chapters in he paused to make sure was doing all right and went in to show his new bosses. They were pleased, but since they had no idea if this new book would sell at all, they had decided to go with an unused cover they had sitting around, featured a stereotypical sinister Oriental villain. Gibson had no such character anywhere in his plot, but only half way through, he easily went back home and threw one in while he wrote the second half.

Gibson wrote a 60,000 word novel EVERY TWO WEEKS FOR OVER 10 YEARS. Even Philip K Dick who would write a book at a time in one massive amphetamine sitting never came close  He made the Shadow into a mega pulp star and did it with a prolificness nearly unimaginable.

Introduced in 1931, in 1937 The Shadow took another great leap in fame when The Shadow radio drama premiered. It to was a smash hit and odds are, if you know actually know the character you know the radio show.

The radio show obviously watered down every aspect of the character. The Shadow had a single “power”, he turned invisible, a female sidekick. Margo Lane, and a formula most episodes followed, much like every other made for kid drama of its day

I first discovered The Shadow when i found a book in my Junior High School library that was nothing but Shadow radio scripts. I grabbed it, took it home immediately, and would act out the scripts into a cheap tape recorder, complete with items for sound effects and music for the beginning, commercial breaks and ends. I would change rooms according to what fit the necessary “sound space”. I had a blast.

Finally, at some point later i started hearing the actual show and from there formed warm relationship with many old radio dramas. It’s a lost art, really, which could be something really special and which as far as i know, only BBC radio has really kept alive and going.

There were movies, of course, almost all of which during the character’s 1930s and 40’s heyday (and a 1994 version). But some things make it and some don’t. Pulp gave way to comics and television and unlike say Tarzan or Conan, The Shadow simply didn’t make the transition.

In 1946 Gibson, whose unmatched productivity and creativity made the character, was in a contract dispute over ownership rights when he got a new editor, Babette Rosemund, who disliked pulps altogether. She fired him and got some other shmuck to take over writing the books. However, she dictated they should be like the simplistic radio drama and so out went 15 years of built mythos in favor of an idiotic formula similar to Dragnet. The books plummeted. Rosemund was eventually fired and the new editor went pleading back to Gibson, but it was too late. The character had lost credibility and later attempts never succeeded. One of the great pulp dynasties was over.

For those of you who might like to listen to one of the radio dramas for old time’s sake, there’s an episode here.

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Posted by on May 24, 2011 in Uncategorized


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