PULP HISTORY: The Back Story
By David Talbot

The idea for the Pulp History series came to my sister the talented and effervescent Margaret Talbot (whose byline is familiar to New Yorker magazine readers) and me during the cocktail hour in a midtown Manhattan restaurant. It was that magic hour when so many schemes and dreams take wing. This was the light bulb that suddenly clicked over our heads: we would find a way to bring hidden history stories to life, working with comics artists, illustrators and designers to fully exploit the lush possibilities of the printed page. (The iPad was still but a gleam in Steve Jobs’ eye at that point, but that’s turned out to be a lush canvas too.)

As writers, we wanted the words to play a more important role than they do in graphic novels. But by adding a visual dimension to our true stories – and portraying history in all its terrible and beautiful glory – we thought we could make the past shine through the shadows for a new generation of readers.

Frankly, I was also tired of bland, patriotically correct history, and was determined to wrest the past from the likes of Ken Burns, Tom Hanks, and the Texas School Board.

Now Pulp History is here. Simon & Schuster has just published the first two books in the series, Devil Do
g: The Amazing True Story of the Man Who Saved America, by yours truly, and Shadow Knights: The Secret War Against Hitler, by my old partner in crime, Gary Kamiya, who helped me found Salon 15 years ago.

Devil Dog is the epic story of a great, unsung American hero (with a faintly ridiculous name)
General Smedley Darlington Butler. The most decorated Marine of his day, Butler fought his way heroically around the globe from China to Haiti to France. But by the time he came home, Butler was thoroughly disgusted with America’s imperial adventures and decades before President Eisenhower coined the term “military-industrial complex” the Marine general wrote a scathing book titled “War Is a Racket.” His soldiers were fighting for Wall Street and the oil companies, Butler bitterly concluded, not Uncle Sam. As yet another president grapples with the oppressive power of Wall Street and another endless foreign war, Butler’s populist message is more relevant than ever.

Shadow Knights is the inspiring story of Winston Churchill’s network of secret agents – everyday men and women who were trained in the dark arts of espionage and dropped into the heart of the Nazi killing machine. They were unlikely heroes – former schoolteachers, pacifists, prostitutes, bar bouncers. Even a Sufi children’s book author and a gay butler who later worked for movie star Douglas Fairbanks Jr. “Shadow Knights” tells the story of the little-known spy operation that helped win World War II. But above all, it is an act of homage to the ordinary men and women who, like Frodo in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings,” chose to walk straight into the jaws of hell.

Even though I’m a word man, I’ve always loved working with illustrators, cartoonists and designers -- at Salon, Mother Jones and other stops along my long and winding publishing career. The Pulp History series gives me the opportunity to collaborate with some of the best picture people around.
Spain Rodriguez, the legendary Zap Comics artist, drew the striking illustrations for “Devil Dog.” And Jeffrey Smith, an award-winning magazine illustrator, created the luxurious, detailed images for “Shadow Knights.” As a boy, I was drawn to adventure classics like “Treasure Island” and “King Arthur” that were richly illustrated by such masters as N. C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle. When I got older, I fell for the lurid look of Hammett and Chandler stories and other pulp masterpieces. These pop artifacts were the inspiration for the Pulp History design.

The Pulp History series was given its look and feel by Norma Tennis, a brilliant San Francisco designer and painter. Norma, too, is a member of the Salon extended family. She happens to be married to Salon columnist, Cary Tennis. Pulp History is, in fact, largely a creation of Salon alumni, including Norma, Gary, Spain (who drew the “Dark Hotel” series for the web magazine), and the absolutely essential Karen Croft, who served as the executive producer on the Pulp series.

If enough people buy the first two books in the series, Pulp History will live on. So please clap hard for Tinker Bell to live. We already have plans for additional titles, including a gripping one in the works by my sister, Margaret, White Nights. It’s about the KKK’s reign of terror in Indiana during the 1920s – and how the
Klan was finally driven out of the state with the help of Knute Rockne’s Fighting Irish football team (and a lurid sex scandal).

As our tagline goes, “Unbelievable, and all true!” History truly is stranger than pulp fiction.

If you have a favorite local bookstore, please buy “Devil Dog” and “Shadow Knights” there. Independent bookstores are one of the last vestiges of our tattered culture.

If you’re shopping on Amazon,
click here to find Devil Dog and Shadow Knights.

Click here to check out some praise for Pulp History.

PROJECTS
SOUND TRACKS
on PBS
BROTHERS
The Hidden History
of the Kennedy Years
PULP HISTORY
QUICK HITS
on PBS.ORG
SEASON OF
THE WITCH:
Enchantment, Terror
and Deliverance in
the City of Love