Let’s face it. It’s 2019 going on 2020 and people are pissed off. It seems the only thing we can all agree is that we disagree about everything. It’s because of this anger in the world that Andrew Nette, aka Pulp Curry and Iain McIntyre’s new book Sticking It to the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1950 to 1980 is more relevant today than it was five years ago.
We wrote about Nette and his site, Pulp Curry a while back. He’s a crime fiction writer and pulp historian from Australia who’s website has educated us on everything from Pulp Fiction to Grindhouse cinema. Like his website, Sticking It to the Man is right in our wheelhouse. Flipping through the pages you’ll see book covers we’ve posted on our Instagram over and over. I mean look, Bronson: Blind Rage on page 2!
The images are secondary though. What you get with this book is A LOT of insight into the turbulent times of the Cold War. This is when “pulps” made the transition from magazine to paperback form. Just like the old pulp magazines of Argosy and Black Mask, publishers like Avon, Signet, and Fawcett churned out content so fast; typos and inconsistencies were the norm (even more-so than the American Pulps website).
It’s because of these books that we have a time capsule to this era. It’s a time capsule that didn’t have polite society in mind. Where Film Noir was a cynical response to the “idyllic” post war era, this book covers the Cold War after that. A time when people became distrustful and cynical in general. Juvenile delinquents, drugs, free love, feminism, LGBTQ rights, racist cops, vigilanteism, the mafia, Vietnam – all of these tropes were being played out on the nightly news, and all of them were written in pulp form. Sticking It to the Man does a great job breaking them down. Here’s just a few of the topics they cover.
The book gives a bio of a great and sadly (largely) forgotten crime fiction writer, Chester Himes. This section, written by Scott Adlerberg (and now that I think of it, all of them) will leave you with a lot of books to add to your queue.
Himes was a contemporary of Chandler, Hammett, and Faulkner. Unlike them, he was black and so were his protagonists. That’s probably why he wasn’t as mainstream as the others in his time. Himes was incarcerated when his first stories were published for Esquire. After leaving prison he went on to write some amazing novels that still hold weight today.
His best known work is the Harlem Detective series. A set of hardboiled stories featuring NYPD detectives Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson. Three of the Harlem Detective stories were adapted into films. Including this neo-noir blaxploitation film, Cotton Comes to Harlem
Vintage sleaze is a huge sub-genre of Pulp Fiction. When we wrote about Donald Westlake, we had mentioned he wrote some soft-core porn under the name Alan Marsh. A pseudonym Lawrence Block also used.
Now when it comes to paperback porn of the LGBTQ variety, Sticking It to the Man covers the subject with several chapters, mostly dividing it up between pre and post Stonewall riots (June 1969).
After Stonewall, the gay community came out of the shadows and into public life. If you want to see a great example of this, watch the Harvey Milk biopic from 2008 Milk starring Sean Penn. If you want to see an example in pulp form, just look at the book covers from pre- and post Stonewall.
Out of the shadows indeed.
The Blaxploitation Genre
These are all separate chapters in the book but I’m lumping them all together here under the civil rights, and black identity banner. I suppose Chester Himes would belong in here as well but he was such a great and underrated writer I felt he needed his due on his own sub-heading.
Iceberg Slim is a legend. I’m not going to go too deep into his biography because you should read about it in either Sticking It to the Man or his memoir, Pimp. Basically his resume would read as: conman, convict, pimp, insecticide salesman, writer. In that order. He had quit pimpin’ (because it ain’t easy) and was a salesman when he went to Holloway House trying to sell his memoir. The Watts Riots had just happened and well, Slim was just the man they were looking for.
The rest is history. Iceberg Slim went on to influence comedians like Dave Chappelle, Katt Williams (obviously), Chris Rock, and Eddie Murphy. Rappers like Ice-T and Snoop. And writers like Donald Goines (also featured in this book).
Adapted from a novel of the same name by Ernest Tidyman, Shaft is a Blaxploitation movie that transcended the genre and is by far the most mainstream of all Blaxploitation movies. Tidyman was a white dude from Cleveland who won an Academy Award for his adapted screenplay of The French Connection.
When Tidyman went to meet with the Producer, Philip D’Antoni and director Gordon Parks they were shocked he was as Wonder Bread White as he was. This guy wrote the book they just read? The gritty pulp fiction novel about the “black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks,” as Issac Hayes so beautifully put it.
The Isaac Hayes theme is kickass, and it earned him an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Before reading Sticking It to the Man I hadn’t even known about the seven pulp fiction Shaft novels by Tidyman, I only knew of the films.
RZA (aka Robert Diggs, aka Bobby Digital, aka The Abbot) recently said on the Joe Rogan Podcast that as a kid he went to a double feature: Enter The Dragon and Black Samurai. After that, Wu-Tang Clan was germinating in his head until they came out with 36 Chambers. So if there’s any reason to watch this movie, it’s that we have Wu-Tang as a result. But check out this trailer, dude’s got a jetpack!
Based on the novel series by Marc Olden, Black Samurai couples blaxploitation with Kung-Fu movies. That my friends, is as potent a combination as Shaolin shadowboxing and the Wu-Tang sword style.
Written by James D. Lawrence, Glorious Trash wrote a review on The Dream Girl Caper. It was written after Lawrence penned the comic strip Friday Foster, a Blaxploitation featuring Pam Grier. The Dark Angel series seems like it could be a sequel to Friday Foster. Lawrence was a super prolific writer. He wrote for Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, the James Bond comic strip, and many other series under a house name.
I haven’t read them but these seem to be a novelization of Pam Grier movies from the 70s, which is not a bad thing.
If you’re not familiar with the Québécois, they’re basically the French Canadians of Canada. And they’ve wanted to either be their own country or part of France since the 1700s. Here’s an article from the New York Times that illustrates it pretty well. If you can’t access it past the paywall, it basically says that a woman from France wasn’t French enough for the Québécois and was not granted citizenship. That’s how French you have to be, even if you’re from France you’re not safe. (Editors note: For the record, I’m part French Canadian and my wife is Canadian Canadian – I also think French Canadians should stay in Canada like the Catalans should remain part of Spain but who am I to judge?)
What I did not know about was that the FLQ (Front de libération du Québec) carried out bombings in the 1960s, taking pages straight out of the IRA’s playbook. During the “October Crisis” the FLQ kidnapped the provincial Deputy Premier Pierre Laporte and British diplomat James Cross. They then murdered Laporte and negotiated with Prime Minister Trudeau for Cross’s release.
Anyway, the 1970s was the birth of terrorist thrillers. Before then they were basically “anarchists” and associated with the communists, bombing factories and the like. But as Sticking It to the Man mentions, these thrillers have your Executioners, Penetrators, and The Iceman fighting PLO, IRA style terrorists worldwide, including the FLQ in Canada.
Not to mention, the Italian-American Mafia having connections with the Quebec and Montreal Mob families was real life inspiration for some of these books.
If you’re going to talk about counterculture and the 1960s and 70s you have to talk about Vietnam. The Vietnam War defined the era. The anger towards it brought us great – great music, MASH, and Apocalypse Now. Sticking It to the Man covers the stories about the men who came home to a disillusioned America. The aforementioned Mack Bolan aka The Executioner (and the pride of Pittsfield Massachusetts) was one such character who fought in Vietnam. But none were better written than David Morrell’s First Blood.
First Blood is truly a masterpiece. John Rambo went on to become an iconic character who no doubt had influence on Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. Another great character who’s a Vietnam veteran, Harry Bosch. The Vietnam War was a constant shadow on many great characters from the 70s right up to the 90s.
From the 1950s onward the crime rates creeped steadily upward. It got to the point in the 1960s and 1970s where New York City was on the verge of bankruptcy and Detroit and Los Angeles were on fire. You also had corruption in the police departments out in the open in Los Angeles and New York (re: Serpico).
The climate brought a rise to the vigilante story. Where it wasn’t an eccentric billionaire in cosplay fighting other flamboyant cosplayers. It was average dudes working outside (and sometimes inside) the bent law enforcement.
The 1972 novel has the main character Paul Benjamin turn from bleeding heart liberal to stone cold killer after his wife and daughter are brutally assaulted on the streets on New York. His wife ends up dead, his daughter in a vegetative state. Benjamin, settles the score with every criminal he crosses on the streets.
The movie stars Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey. Kersey is an architect instead of an accountant but other than he’s the same guy as the book. A man living in a city that’s gone to hell, with a police force as crooked as the criminals. With nowhere to turn he takes the law into his own hands, which also happen to be holding a revolver purchased in Arizona.
As they mention in Sticking It to the Man; The Zodiac Killer was never apprehended in real life. In fiction, Dirty Harry brings down The Scorpio Killer with his hand-cannon. That’s how it worked with Harry Callahan; he was the cop, the judge, and the jury. His .44 Magnum the executioner. Case closed.
An American Pulps favorite from the era. Bronson: Blind Rage by Philip Rawls came out after Charles Bronson starred in Death Wish. It seems the folks at Manor Books wanted to capitalize on the vigilante craze post Death Wish. According to Joe Kenney at Glorious Trash, each volume was written by a different author under the house name “Philip Rawls.” Blind Rage, the first book of the series is by far the best. Nobody knows who wrote it but whoever it was is an excellent writer. Seriously, the whole American Pulps team loved it.
If any or all of these subjects are interesting to you (and if you’re here and read this far, they probably are) buy this book. It belongs in any Pulp Scholars library.
Like I said at the top, this book is very relevant now. Just this year we’re seeing re-makes and sequels to Taxi Driver, Rambo, The Terminator, The Shining, and even Watergate. Hell, even New York is almost bankrupt again (and the economy’s actually good right now).
Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood takes place during this time, as does Scorsese’s The Irishman and Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn. Maybe we want to study and go back to that time, when there was an unpopular war and divisive politics. A time when government corruption was the norm. When there was excess and greed on Wall Street while the working man had to work two jobs just to stay afloat. We want to go back and see how we got out of that mess, because we’re kind of in it now.
What’s old is new again, I only wish we could have content that is in fact, new again. No remakes. It’s 2019 and people are pissed.