REH Splashes the “Spicys” — Part V

After Howard’s death, the “spicy” pulps continued on, but change was on the horizon.

Hoping to quell some of the criticism coming from moral squads and local governments that were on the warpath to clean-up the sexual titillation prevalent in the spicys, other pulp titles and comic books, Donenfeld and his editors embarked in 1936 on a mission of self-censorship. The company began creating two versions of three of their four Spicy magazines (for some unknown reason, a censored version of Spicy Mystery was not done), each version was marked with a five point star on the cover near that issue’s month. A boxed star meant a cleaned-up version of the magazine, while no star or an un-boxed star indicated the spicy version. In the tamer version, the text was less spicy and the women’s “charms” more concealed. The self-censorship effort was stopped at the end of 1937.

But what determined where the censored, boxed star version was sold? Was it created for the Bible Belt and more conservative states? Was the censoring done to appease the Post Office? But were subscriptions actually sold? (The magazines had no subscription information in them.) Why were the dual issues only restricted to 1936 and 1937? Why was Spicy Mystery, the most notorious of the Spicy line, spared from being censored? Due to the passage of time and lack of surviving business records, we will likely never know the answers to these questions.

However, efforts at self-censorship and other measures were not successful in the long run. When New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia spotted the April 1942 issue of Spicy Mystery Stories magazine on a newsstand that sported a cover depicting a woman strung up in a meat locker being menaced by a homicidal butcher, he declared war on the Spicy line. The Mayor decreed that any magazine with a lurid cover had to be sold with the cover removed. Sadly, Margaret Brundage’s Weird Tales covers were among those singled out for destruction.

By late 1942, a full court press from all sides was on the Spicy line and Donenfeld and company were forced to take action. In addition to pressure from government officials, changes were needed keep the Post Office Department happy and protect the publisher’s coveted second class mailing rate. So, in an attempt to continue publishing these successful pulps under the harsher censorship and scrutiny, covers were toned down, as was content and interior illustrations and the entire Spicy line was renamed “Speed” to eliminate the word “Spicy.” So, Spicy-Adventure Stories became Speed Adventure Stories, Spicy Detective Stories became Speed Detective Stories, etc.

During this time-frame, a scandal of sorts was brewing in the world of the spicy pulps as outlined by Will Murray in his “An Informal History of the Spicy Pulps” article from Windy City Pulp Stories #9 (2009):

The Speed titles were edited by two men who had been with Trojan since the thirties, Wilton Matthews and Kenneth Hutchinson. They were responsible for the increasing use of reprints in the Spicy titles. Apparently some of these Spicy stories were reprinted in the Speed titles, because in June of 1947 it was announced that Matthews and Hutchison had been arrested and convicted of “check-juggling.” They were sentenced to two to four years apiece. It came out they had engineered a racket as sweet as any published in the pages of Spicy Detective. They would “purchase” stories, publish them as new, and pocket the checks – when actually they were passing off reprints culled from the back [issues] of their own titles. Because the Spicys bought all rights, and because this canny duo always changed the bylines when they reprinted, the original authors had nothing to complain about even if they realized their stories had appeared again. (This is why some Robert E. Howard Spicy-Adventure stories were later reprinted under various house names.) Apparently one of these two masterminds pretended he wrote these “new” stories. In any event, they were caught and put away. As a result, the Arrow, Trojan and Speed lines were consolidated.

As Murray mentions, the Clanton adventures that were reprinted in Spicy-Adventure Stories during 1942 fell prey to this scheme. Those reprinted stories included: “Desert Blood” published as “Revenge by Proxy” by William Decatur (September 1942), “The Purple Heart of Erlik” published as “Nothing to Lose” by R.T. Maynard (October 1942) and “Murderer’s Grog” published as “Outlaw Working” by Max Neilson (November 1942).

While the “spicys” arrived on the publishing scene with a bang, they went out with a whimper. By 1946, the Speed titles began fading away, with the last hold-out, Speed Western Stories, biting the dust in 1948. Trojan’s last gasp was publication of a few digest sized pulps during 1949 and 1950 that were reprints of old reprints.

In the ensuing years, the Howard’s spicy yarns slipped into obscurity until two unpublished spicy yarns (“Daughters of Feud” and “Guns of Khartum”) were published in Howard fanzines in 1975 and 1976. A year later, Clanton showed up again when “Desert Blood” appeared in Incredible Adventures #1, a digest sized booklet produced by Bob Weinberg, Gene Marshall and Carl F. Waedt. And sometime in 1983, “Ship in Mutiny” was published for the first time in Cryptic’s Bran Mak Morn: A Play & Others.

In December of 1983, The She Devil, the first collection of all of Howard’s spicy stories was published by Ace. The print run must have been small because the paperback was hard to find and for many years was the most sought after and therefore most expensive Howard paperback on the market.

In addition to Wild Bill Clanton, Howard had another “spicy” hero he was developing. The quick cash from the new market prompted him to start on a story featuring a lead character named John Gorman. While Howard likely had Gorman slated for Spicy-Adventures Stories, he did mention an interest in splashing Spicy Detective and Spicy Mystery as well. Since Gorman was never fully fleshed-out by Howard, we will never know if he would have made Gorman a bigger bastard than Clanton was. Time ran out for Howard and all that he left behind was an untitled synopsis for a Gorman story.

In the mid 1980s when the Gorman fragment was published for the first time in a Cryptic Publications chapbook, two Howard scholars, Marc A. Cerasini and Charles Hoffman, took it upon themselves to expand that synopsis into a full-blow story. Cerasini and Hoffman went on to write four more Gorman adventures for Cryptic. If the proper permissions could be obtained, it would be nice to have these stories collected in on volume. In the meantime, here is the complete bibliography for the Gorman yarns:

By Robert E. Howard:

  • Untitled Synopsis (“John Gorman found himself in Samarkand …”) Risque Stories #1 (March 1984)

By “Sam Walser” (Marc A. Cerasini and Charles Hoffman):

  • “She-Cats of Samarkand,” Risque Stories #1 (March 1984)

By Marc A. Cerasini and Charles Hoffman:

  • “The Temple of Forbidden Fruit,” Risque Stories #2 (October 1984)
  • “Jungle Curse,” Risque Stories #3 (July 1985)
  • “Drums of the Bizango,” Pulse-Pounding Adventure Stories #1 (December 1986)
  • “Hell Cat of Hong Kong,” Risque Stories #5 (March 1987)

After a period of nearly twenty years, Howard’s spicy stories found their way back into print when Girasol Collectibles published pulp replicas of all five issues of Spicy-Adventure Stories that featured Clanton yarns from 2003 through 2006. Adventure House and Wildside Press published a few of the Clanton issues as well. Additionally, “Desert Blood” appeared in TGR‘s sister magazine, The Chronicler of Cross Plains in June 2006.

Around this same time, Paul Herman started pumping out fast and furious those Wildside collections of Howard’s works that were in the Public Domain. One volume that was planned, but never came to fruition was a collection of the PD Clanton stories.

But at last, in 2011, we are getting a truly complete collection of Howard’s spicy yarns, unedited, as he wrote them. The Spicy Adventures volume has just been published by the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press some seventy-five years after Howard wrote his “spicys.” 

The spicys were not Howard’s best work and he knew this, referring to them “potboilers,” written solely to obtain some quick and badly needed cash. But the stories are Howard stories nonetheless and certainly worth reading. Written at the end of his life, as the darkness closed in on him, the tales of the scoundrel Clanton, with seemingly no redeeming qualities — which is in stark contrast to the many chivalrous characters he created  — shows us a darker side of Howard and a side that no doubt was treading water in a vast sea of hopelessness. On June 11, 1936 he found he was too weary to tread the water any longer.

 Quit Pussyfooting Around — Order Spicy Adventures Today!

If you have not already ordered Spicy Adventures, you might want to do so soon. The volume is now shipping and 75% pre-sold – only 50 copies remain unsold. The 211 page hardback volume from the REH Foundation Press collects all of Howard’s “spicy” stories and also contains a large miscellanea section, with drafts and synopsizes. The book features a standout cover by Jim and Ruth Keegan. Don’t procrastinate – you’ll regret it later – order your copy today.

Read: Part I / Part II / Part III / Part IV