During the 1920-30s, pulp fiction was at its peak, eventually expressing itself as film noir in the 1940s. It dealt with themes of adventure, crime, mystery, science fiction, and horror. It was often printed on rough, low quality paper made from cheap wood pulp. For a Depression-era public, this 'lowbrow' fiction was affordable, easy to read, and disposable. It was aimed at a white male audience who could dream of being just like the hunky heroes in the stories, men with bulging muscles and matinee idol looks. These daredevils saved the world from evil and were often rewarded with the love of a sensual woman. And because these covers often titillated with sexual innuendo, they were sometimes even banned.
Today, these 'racy' images are mild compared to the imagery on prime-time TV. What remains is the art, and the art is mesmerizing. In fact, these vivid paintings make me want to read the stories contained in the magazines, even though I know it's only pulp.
"The Pulps" is free and runs through December 26, 2014. It's worth a visit if you are in downtown Portland.