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Mostly Pulp

Posted by on October 8, 2011

I recently saw those very same words emblazoned on the side of an orange juice carton, and they seem eerily appropriate for this blog entry.

It’s been a very busy summer for me, professionally…and I’m not going to complain about that. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been involved with Sequential Pulp, a new imprint of prestigious Dark Horse. Overseen by comics industry veteran Michael Hudson, Sequential Pulp is dedicated to reviving classic pulp tales as graphic novels…of course, the definition of pulp is very broad and encompasses everything from classic literature such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame to Fredric Brown’s much more recent Martians Go Home. Check out this link: Sequential Pulp

This is a very exciting endeavor…Michael Hudson is more than an editor or a traffic controller…he’s a visionary who is thoughtful and insightful not only about the field and the market but the talent. Of course, I’m probably a little biased inasmuch as I’m adapting:

7 FootprintsSeven Footprints to Satan,  Abraham Merritt’s classic weird menace thriller, working with my Cryptozoicacollaborator, the brilliant Jeff Slemons. Footprints has been a perennial favorite for decades, revolving around archeologist’s Jim Kirkham’s clash with a master criminal who has assumed the identity of—can you say—Satan?!?


The book was filmed during the Silent Era and the set piece featuring the “And they’re climbing a stairway to Saaaay-a-tan” scene has become an iconic image, even if most people aren’t aware of its source.

I’m also adapting a character that I’ve loved for most of my life—none other than Richard S. Prather’s “Hippest Private Dick—the legendary…

Shell Scott

Members of my forum know I’ve expressed my admiration for Richard Prather’s crew-cut Hollywood PI on a number of occasions. If Mike Hammer exemplified the private eye figure in the 1950s, Shell defined it for the 1960s, even though the series was published steadily through the 1970s with a few entries in the 80s.

Book covers

Gold Medal, an imprint of Fawcett, was the original publisher of the Shell Scott novels—as such Shell stood in good company with such luminaries as Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, Stephen Marlowe’s Chet Drum, Edward S. Aarons’ Sam Durrell, Philip Atlee’s Joe Gall and “Richard Stark’s” Parker.

Gold Medal, with its focus on series characters served as the direct precursor and inspiration for Harlequin’s Gold Eagle imprint…except Gold Medal’s output was vastly more diverse and vastly superior in quality. The Big Guns were Matt Helm, Travis McGee, Parker and Shell Scott.

The Gold Medal authors were the guys who taught me how to write…particularly Dick Prather.  These were writers who had led real lives and so they didn’t rely on movies, TV shows or computer games to give them inspiration. There was no single follicle of fake chest hair to be found in any of their books. Their series heroes didn’t need to pack .50 caliber penis extenders or roar “Boo-Yuh!” and bump knuckles with absurdly over-armed “teams” or “forces” in order to come off as legitimately tough.

My dad read several of the Gold Medal series and at around age ten, I happened to come across Kill The Clown on his nightstand…intrigued by the cover and the blurbs, I started sneak-reading it. Since it was a “grown up” book, I couldn’t be caught openly reading it…not in those days.

I was immediately taken with the tone and the character—the book was action-packed, graphically violent by the standards of the time but more importantly—even I knew it was funny.

Shell Scott punched, shot and smart-assed his way through Kill The Clown accompanied only by his sharp appreciation of the ridiculous. After flipping through other Gold Medal books in my dad’s rather small library I realized quickly that Prather’s Shell Scott was unique among their roster of professional thieves, spies and salvage experts—he had a sense of humor that carried him through the most lethal situations.

And of course…there were the babes—all types, all colors, all states of dress and undress. Platinum blonde starlets and dusky-skinned Voodoo priestesses were all the same as far as Shell was concerned—babes.

The Shell Scott novels were more screwball action-adventure than hardboiled detective stories and that could be one reason they remained so popular for so long. There were any number of private eye book series in the 1960s and whole lot of them were set on the same Hollywood turf as Shell, but few of them possessed the color, the elan’ and joie d’ vivre as Dick Prather’s creation. The books sold in the tens of millions and there wasn’t a place that carried mass market paperbacks in the 1960s where you couldn’t see Robert McGinnis’ iconic portrait of Shell grinning at you.


The novels were hip, paced at a blinding speed, sloppin’ over with wise-ass remarks. You could almost hear West Coast jazz blaring whenever you opened a book. Set in glitzy 1960s Los Angeles, Shell wasn’t prone to gloomy ruminations in dark alleys with a Fedora tugged down over his eyes and the collar of a trench coat up by his ears.

Shell joked and smoked and got drunk and drove too fast in his Cadillac convertible and woke up with hangovers. He had bad taste in clothes but not in women. By today’s standards, he’s gloriously politically incorrect but the books had their share of female fans.

  I read a lot of hardboiled detective books as I grew older and developed a particular fondness and even reverence for Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer, but they never grabbed me as viscerally like Shell Scott did. He was and remains one-of-a-kind.

Only a couple of the Gold Medal series characters enjoyed lives beyond the printed page—Matt Helm and Parker…and that was due to movies. Parker fared somewhat better than Helm in film, but the entire Gold Medal group of characters seemed destined to be forgotten except for a handful of aficionados…me among them.

Then a couple of years ago, comics publisher IDW came out with graphic novel adaptations of two Parker novels—The Hunter and The Outfit. Both enjoyed great success and became instant classics, due in the main to Darwyn Cooke’s artistic vision…but timing had a great deal to do with their success.

parker_comicNearly 20 years ago, toward my last few months with Millennium Publications, I had the idea of adapting hardboiled detectives into the “graphic narrative”—my first choice was Dashiell Hammett’s character of the Continental Op and the seminal novel that set the hardboiled standard, Red Harvest.

My second choice was Shell Scott. But circumstances being what they were in the comics market in those days, nothing came of either plan.

But now, thanks to the efforts of Michael Hudson at Sequential Pulp and Linda Pendleton, the first of three graphic novels featuring Shell Scott is in production. It is, of course, Kill The Clown, with art by my partner in Justice Machinery, David Enebral. The second is Dead Man’s Walk and the third is Pattern For Panic.


(To read Linda Pendleton’s comprehensive and entertaining final interview with Richard Prather, click Here. )

The response to IDW’s Parker adaptations has been wildly enthusiastic and I have no reason to believe that the return of Shell Scott in a new medium will garner any less a warm reception. It just goes to prove that a good idea is a good idea, even if it takes twenty years to come to fruition.

And speaking of good ideas…another Sequential Pulp project on my plate is H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines–working with the legendary Pablo Marcos! Those of you who read comics from the 70s through the 90s will recognize Pablo from his long runs on Marvel’s Tales of the Zombie and the Savage Sword of Conan.

He is truly one of the living legends of this field and has produced an enormous body of work, not just in comics but children’s books as well as fine art. It is a privilege and honor to be working with him.

The hero of King Solomon’s Mines, Allan Quatermain, is one of the primary inspirations for Indiana Jones. For that the matter, the book is credited with creating the whole “lost civilization” genre.

Quatermain has been portrayed on film by Stewart Granger, Richard Chamberlain, Patrick Swayze and of course, by Sir Sean Connery as an aging Allan in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.


The novel itself was cited as an influence by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in their tales of lost worlds and tribes. Michael Crichton’s Congo was an updated version of the tale…not that I cared much for it. I mean…killing off Bruce Campbell in the first five minutes?!? C’mon!

H. Rider Haggard wrote numerous adventures of Allan Quatermain and hopefully, King Solomon’s Mines will be the first of several collaborations between Pablo and myself as we adapt more stories featuring the progenitor of the modern action-adventure hero.

This version of Quatermain and his quest to find the legendary diamond mines of Ophir will be a little different than what has gone before. I wouldn’t exactly say it’s a reboot, but it’s definitely a fresh take. Here is an exquisite preliminary cover image by Pablo featuring a few characters from the book—


And speaking of action-adventure (how’s that for a slick segue?), in my last blog entry I mentioned The Spur—a new prose action-adventure series, in the tradition of my many books as James Axler, both Outlanders andDeathlands.

As I stated before, The Spur is crafted as an SF western, but not one that takes place in space. Set primarily on the colony world of Loki in the Orion Spur, the series deals with themes and archetypes that I have made something of my trademark.

The main cast of characters are (from left to right):

Quanah Parker, a full-blooded Comanche physician who was born on Loki, in the region known as Comancheria.

Dr. Alexis Elgin-Jones, a multi-degreed sociologist and philologist and other “ogists” who serves as Crockett’s advisor and gadfly.

Colonel Quentin Crockett, a former law officer, now charged with exploring Loki— a lost Earth colony that became wilderness of strange peoples and weird cultures as a result of having been used as a dumping ground for every crackpot belief and malcontent that ever emigrated from Terra.

Mr. Syne, a TransHuman Mnemosyne who is the genetically-engineered, organic equivalent of a database.

Zeda, a blue-haired Gypsy girl with no recollection of who she is or where she came from–but who possesses an almost supernatural ability to sense danger and the savage skills to deal with it.

In their armored ACP Ambler, they travel Loki, searching for the lost Terran Enclave, at the same time fighting off not only wild beasts, the wilder natives but the ruthless schemes of a mastermind whom they know nothing about.

I’ll give more details about the series as the time draws closer to the release of Loki’s Rock, but keep in mind that The Spur is the vision of an individual creator and there is absolutely no chance of the publisher arbitrarily choosing an wholly inappropriate fill-in writer to dick around with my characters and concepts.

All you need to know is—if you liked my Deathlands novels and loved my Outlanders series, you’ll be blown away byThe Spur!

Doc SavageI can’t wrap up the whole “Mostly Pulp” blog without mentioning the recent return of the quintessential pulp hero—none other than Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze!

The Desert Demons, the first in a new series of Doc Savage novels, appeared this past summer. Written by renowned pulp historian and novelist and fellow Gold Eagle survivor, Will Murray, The Wild Adventures of Doc Savage brings the character back into print after a two decade absence! Check out and order the books here:

Wild Adventures of Doc Savage

And I almost forgot…an anthology featuring Doc’s fellow pulp vigilante, The Avenger, is now on sale from Moonstone Books.



My story, “Snow Blind” is in there somewhere… Also, I have interesting news about a reprint program of Justice Machine hardcovers…but that can wait ‘til next time.

Until then, if you want to hear me stammer and hold forth on all things Pulp, give this a listen:


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