“An Inclusive Genre”: Stephen Jones on The Art of Pulp Horror

I have always regarded horror as an “inclusive” genre—you can take almost any genre and turn it into a horror story. That has been one of the things that’s always attracted me to it. The whole crime/horror crossover is just another example of that.

STEPHEN JONES lives in London, England. A Hugo Award nominee, he is the winner of four World Fantasy Awards, three International Horror Guild Awards, five Bram Stoker Awards, twenty-one British Fantasy Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writers Association. One of Britain’s most acclaimed horror and dark fantasy writers and editors, he has more than 160 books to his credit, including the acclaimed illustrated histories The Art of Horror, The Art of Horror Movies and The Art of Pulp Horror, the film books of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Stardust, The Illustrated Monster Movie Guide, the non-fiction studies Horror: 100 Best Books and Horror: Another 100 Best Books (both with Kim Newman) and thirty volumes of Best New Horror.

RFO caught up with Jones to discuss his recent book on pulp horror and other related projects.

You are widely involved in horror fiction and culture. At what point in your career did you get involved in pulp art books, and why?

“One of the great things about the horror genre is that it is always reinventing itself.”

Oh, I’ve been reading and collecting “pulp” fiction since I was a teenager (some five decades ago now). I grew up reading people like H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith and other Weird Tales writers, and I was lucky enough to meet and befriend many of them (such as Manly Wade Wellman, Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, Richard Matheson, Hugh B. Cave, Frank Belknap Long, H. Warner Munn and others). Pulp has been in my blood since an early age!

And not just the traditional pulp (and subsequent digest) magazines, but also paperbacks, comics, boys own papers, original art, movie posters, lobby cards, pressbooks and stills—my curse is that I collect far too much stuff!

Throughout my career I’ve done several non-fiction books about various aspects of the horror genre—both in fiction and movies—and some years ago I was approached by a British publisher to compile a volume entitled The Art of Horror. Obviously, I jumped at the chance, and the resulting volume was a big success, going on to win both the prestigious World Fantasy and Bram Stoker awards, as well as being nominated for a couple of others.

My approach as an editor was to break down the subject into individual thematic chapters and then assign each section to an acknowledged expert in that area. I chose all the illustrations (including original artwork) to accompany those chapters, and pulled the whole thing together with captions and a historical Introduction. I then asked my old friend, writer Neil Gaiman, to contribute a Foreword.

Finally, I decided to subtitle the book “An Illustrated History”—because that’s exactly what it was! I was pretty pleased with the result—it was the first time I had worked with this particular publisher, and it was a fast learning curve! I was somewhat hampered by the volume’s internal grid design (for easy conversion into other languages) and the word- and picture-limits I was given. However, despite these limitations, I achieved exactly what I had set out to do, and with a few added surprises.

In fact, it was so successful that they came back a year later and asked me to compile a companion volume, The Art of Horror Movies. As the first book had worked out so well, I decided not to mess with the format too much and, as I was much more experienced with the procedure this time, I was able to push the boundaries a little more. This time it made more sense to structure the book chronologically. So I gathered together another group of experts (including some from the previous book) and asked my friend, movie director John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), to pen the Foreword. This volume won the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award and was also nominated for a Bram Stoker Award.

When they asked me to put together The Art of Pulp Horror I must admit that I was not convinced that many people would understand the term “pulp horror.” However, I also realized that this would allow me to complete an illustrated trilogy—in fact, one huge work split into three volumes—that covered the entire horror field, in all its many dazzling visual aspects.

One of the things I’m really pleased about is that almost no image is repeated between the three books and that, taken together, they probably form the most complete visual guide to the horror field ever compiled. At least, that is what I was aiming for.

This time, I again gathered a number of experts, some of whom had worked on the previous two volumes, and got a Foreword by veteran author Robert Silverberg, who had started his career at the end of the pulp era, writing in all types of genres under many different bylines. 

How did you go about selecting the films to include? I see that you have incorporated a lot of classic films, along with lesser-knowns. How did you strike a balance?

“You’ll find examples of science fiction, murder mysteries, the horror/comedy genre, pulp heroes and villains like Doc Savage, The Shadow…. I’ve always tried to embrace as many other genres as possible when it comes to ‘horror.’” Photo by Mandy Slater (2020)

I’d already done a book covering The Art of Horror Movies. So this time around I had to consider if a film was “pulpy” enough, and what it was that made it so. There is obviously some crossover with the previous books with titles, but not with the information about them. I tried to make sure that everything in the new book complimented that in the other two. Therefore it was relatively simple to break the film sections down into such general themes as “pre-code movies,” the “poverty-row” releases of the 1940s, the teen “drive-in” phenomena of the 1950s and ’60s, and the “exploitation” films that came after that.

Once I had the general themes fixed, I then broke those sections down into individual titles and groupings, and then started researching the most interesting illustrations to go along with them (taking care, where necessary, not to use the same images that I had previously). Obviously what I wanted to do in all three books is present to the readers—even the experts—images that they may never have seen in print before. I think we achieved that goal in all three books, but never more so than in the “pulp” volume. There are so many cool things in the book that even the most ardent horror fans are probably unfamiliar with.   

What were the most interesting sources/locations for research?

As always with these books, the most interesting sources were the primary ones. Not only are a lot of the images from my own extensive collection that I’ve built up over the years—I told you I collect far too much stuff!—but also material gathered from friends and colleagues.

I’ve been doing this for long enough now that I have a pretty extensive group of contacts all around the world, and the wonderful thing about this genre I work in is that so many people are so generous, willing to share their collections with others.

There are so many images in The Art of Pulp Horror (and, to a lesser extent, in the previous two books) that are taken from the original publications or memorabilia in people’s collections. These are certain to be unfamiliar to most readers. And it is the same with the original artwork—the majority of it is sourced from collectors or even the original artists themselves. There are not many books that are able to do that.

The other thing that helps make these books unique is that the imagery comes from all around the world—not just the USA. So if you’re American you may not have seen the UK material, or if you’re British you may be unfamiliar with some of the European images. And then there’s all the other visuals from Australia, Asia, South America, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and elsewhere . . .

Have any other releases inspired you? I can’t help but think of Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix, and all of its wonderful visuals of paperback covers, along with a fascinating history.

While Grady’s Paperbacks from Hell was published in 2017, The Art of Horror came out in 2015 and The Art of Horror Movies was released two years later, so I don’t think you could say it was in any way an inspiration. We were both tapping in to the same cultural interest in horror history.

The difference is that I actually lived and worked through the era Grady’s book covers—I was part of that whole publishing scene and knew many of the people in the book first-hand. Unfortunately, his volume only covers horror novels, so collections, non-fiction titles and my own anthologies, along with those by other editors, are not represented in that particular volume. That said, I enjoyed reading it very much and found his writing style very entertaining. Of course, it probably helped that I was actually there . . .!

In fact, what really inspired me was previous non-fiction books I had published—such titles as the two Horror: 100 Best Books volumes I did with Kim Newman, my own The Illustrated Movie Guide series that came out in the early 1990s, and even my studies of such authors of Clive Barker, James Herbert, Basil Copper and R. Chetwynd-Hayes. I took what I considered to be some of the best elements from all those works, as well as others, and re-adapted them for The Art of Horror series.

However, I would have to say that if one book inspired me more than any other, then it would have to be Ronald V. Borst’s Graven Images, which was published back in 1992 and which I still consider to be one of the finest movie books ever.

RFO readers are interested in horror/crime hybridity. How important is this element in your volume and your earlier art books on horror?

Laird Cregar in The Lodger (1944) © Les Edwards

I have always regarded horror as an “inclusive” genre—you can take almost any genre and turn it into a horror story. That has been one of the things that’s always attracted me to it. The whole crime/horror crossover is just another example of that.

So, in The Art of Pulp Horror for instance, you’ll find examples of science fiction, murder mysteries, the horror/comedy genre, pulp heroes and villains like Doc Savage, The Shadow, The Octopus and Doctor Death, and characters such as Nick Carter, Sherlock Holmes and Fu Manchu. All these, and more, go toward forming part of that rich tapestry that I consider to be the horror genre.

I realize that there may be some purists on both sides who will disagree with my definitions, but I’ve always tried to embrace as many other genres as possible when it comes to “horror.”

Do you have any favorite crime/noir writers, especially ones that interest you regarding your focus on the graphic arts?

Not so much regarding the graphic arts (except, perhaps, with book and magazine covers or in the movies), but as a reader I’ve always been a huge fan of Edgar Allan Poe (arguably the father of modern mystery fiction) since I first read his stories in school. And then there’s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s exploits of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, or Sax Rohmer’s fiendish Dr. Fu Manchu. Or you have the pulp magazine heroes, such as the previously mentioned Doc Savage and The Shadow. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Hercule Poiret. Earl Derr Biggers’ Charlie Chan. And the hard-boiled crime novels of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane. I love all these stories, and arguably some of them (‘Murders in the Rue Morgue,’ The Hound of the Baskervilles, Ten Little Indians etc.) even cross over into the horror genre now and again. 

I see you have a collection on Folk Horror coming soon. Besides the recent interest in films like Midsommar and some fiction, what about this sub-genre makes it so important?

Well, taking my “inclusivity” approach, what we now call “folk horror” has always been part of the horror genre. You only need to read the stories of classic writers such as Arthur Machen or Algernon Blackwood or M.R. James to find it.

I grew up with such films as Witchfinder General, Blood on Satan’s Claw and The Wicker Man, all of which can all be considered “folk horror” in different ways. It’s always been there, it’s just that in recent years we’ve labeled it.

I started compiling The Mammoth Book of . . . anthologies back in the early 1990s, and since then other editors and myself have turned out an awful lot of titles. Nobody had done a Mammoth Book of Folk Horror yet, so it just seemed like an obvious idea. And, as always with my anthologies, I wanted to expand the scope of the theme to some unexpected writers and stories. It should have come out from Skyhorse last year, but was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s now scheduled for Halloween 2021.

What aspects of horror need more attention, for fiction and non-fiction writers?

Shot in the Dark (Bantam, 1950)

One of the great things about the horror genre is that it is always reinventing itself. That’s what keeps it fresh and relevant. For example, the type of horror fiction we were doing in the 1980s is very different to the kind of horror that is being published today.

Despite what the censors will tell you, horror doesn’t influence people’s lives; instead it reflects what is happening around us now—whether that be politics, social injustice, technology or geo-political disasters like COVID-19. Horror isn’t just an axe-wielding maniac or a haunted house. But in the right hands in can be, while still addressing those very contemporary fears that affect us all. A good horror writer can always work with those themes—both old a new—and meld them into something original and scary.

With non-fiction, it’s a different thing. There are so many books—and publishers, both big and small—out there now, that there’s barely any sub-genre of horror that’s not been explored or dissected in one book or more. Even the lowliest character actor probably has one or two biographies in print now.

That’s why The Art of Horror books were so interesting to me—they allowed me to look at the genre as a whole—to explore the many different aspects of it in words and pictures and hopefully introduce readers to things they weren’t aware of before. At least that was the aim.

They were my way of saying: “Look at all this cool stuff that exists under the umbrella title of horror!” There are a number of those chapters that I would dearly love to expand into individual books of their own—there are certainly enough images out there to do so. But, as it stands, when you take my three-volume “Illustrated History” together, I think we’ve done as good a job as we can to expand the scope and understanding of the genre. At least I hope that’s the case. 

Are you involved in, or have you considered, publishing on other aspects of pulp art—crime, Westerns, war stores, etc.?

No, those are really not my thing. I started out reading in all genres in my teens, but I quickly found myself focussing on horror—simply because, as I have explained, I consider it to be one of the most fluid genres in fiction.

It’s the “horror” aspect that I’m attracted to, rather than the “pulp.” There are plenty of people out there who know more about that other stuff than I do. They are the right people to do these books, not me.

I’m the “horror guy.” That’s what I know, and that’s what I do best.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about this project or upcoming ones?

We ended up publishing The Art of Pulp Horror in the middle of a pandemic, which wasn’t ideal. I was a bit worried that it would get lost among everything else that was going on in the world. I think that did happen to a certain extent—especially when compared to the previous two volumes—but the reviews have been mostly positive and thanks to interviews like this one, we are getting the word out there. So thank you for that. I was also pleased to discover that it has just been nominated for a Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award, so somebody must like it!

My personal hope is that these books stay in print for years to come and, ideally, one day I would like to combine them into the single volume they were always designed to be. Now that would be something! But until then, I’m very happy with what we’ve managed to achieve. Although, once again, I want to make it clear that this latest volume is about “pulp horror” not, as some people have mistaken it for, “horror pulps”, which is a very different kind of book indeed.

I’m also in the process of working on an expanded edition of The Art of Horror Movies, which is due out next year and will be a fifth larger than the first edition. We have some remarkably rare and beautiful images coming in this revised edition which I hope most readers will have never seen before.

I realize that “beautiful” is an odd word to use when talking about horror, but that’s how I see all these books—they are a celebration of the beauty that lies behind the beastly, to paraphrase a line from the 1933 King Kong, You only need to know where to look

Visit Stephen Jones at www.stephenjoneseditor.com or follow him on Facebook at “Stephen Jones-Editor.”

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