It’s a peculiar discipline, pulp. The purpose--back in the smoky, inter-war days when the cheaply produced magazines would line the news-stands--was always practical. Pulp covers, like the airbrushed supermodels who replaced them, were designed to sell. There was no whimsical expression of artistic impulse; no desire to appeal to a higher plane. Illustrations had to catch the eye of the passing customer, and that was all. Competition was fierce and covers had to be striking. They featured grotesque creatures of the night, outlandish specimens from outer space, and--almost always--a scantily clad damsel in distress.
“The appeal lies in the lack of subtlety,” [Heritage Auctions vice-president Ed] Jaster explains. “It is the art of the masses. It exists outside the conventional artistic boundaries, yet it elicits this visceral reaction. The women are beautiful, the men are handsome. There’s sex appeal, danger, good and evil.”
and of course, this gem:
Perhaps, though, it's no wonder that pulp art is having a moment in the spotlight. So steeped in romance are its origins – the fakery, the freight trains, the fast-and-loose nature of the stories it decorated – that it is surprising it hasn't happened sooner. And the artists aren't without their claim to history; Frank R Paul, for instance, is frequently credited with the first illustrated depiction of both a space station and flying saucer, a seminal pop-cultural symbol if ever there was one.