Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow Knows!!
The Shadow, John Carter, Tarzan, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Sheena, Conan, The Spider, Doc Savage, Ka-Zar, Kull, and Solomon Kane might not all be huge names today but without them we would not have Snake Plisken, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Herbert West, John McClain, The Predator, Robocop, Hannibal Lector, The Joker or even Batman. Where did these old pulp heroes come from? From the pulps. What are the pulps? The pulps were named such because of the pulp paper they were printed on, cheap in both quality of physical product and of printed material but in reality were a signature style of (mostly) male adventure fantasies played out as low cost thrills. With lurid and alluring painted covers featuring stark imagery sure to draw the attention of any passerby. These economical stories shaped an entire generation of both readers and writers to the open minds of space invaders stealing our women, of hell creatures from the depths of the earth, of worlds shorn of civility roamed by barbarians, of battles with the elements and the creatures of nature, of crimes so evil they scarce come from the mind of man, harrowing space adventures the like of which even the farthest reaches of the imagination can not foretell and most of all of tales of high adventure. Sure by today’s standards these pulp adventures are somewhat … off and silly even but no one can deny what they started and most of all that they engaged the mind in an unrivaled way. The physics might not be close to reality, the space travel might be far more fiction than science but this was the playground of the imagination and one that nurtured the stable of writers (and readers) that make the pop culture of today.
The pulp magazines provided the start to many of the writers we hold today as the true innovators in the field(s) they so casually command. Harlan Ellison, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur Conan Doyle, Philip K. Dick, William Burroughs, Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Charles Beadle, Alfred Bester, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Agatha Christie, Arthur C. Clarke, August Derleth, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Heinlein, O. Henry, Frank Herbert, Robert E. Howard, L. Ron Hubbard, Fritz Leiber, Murray Leinster, Jack London, H. P. Lovecraft, Mark Twain, Jack Vance and H. G. Wells (among a list of many others too numerous to name) all started their craft in the pulps … first as readers, then as writers. The pulps would take any story, from any writer and without the pulps many of those our generation grew up reading would nary have been able provide us with the stories of our youth. The pulp magazines were more base than comics and also aimed at a wider and therefore older audience to which the main problem befell these publishers … parents. Those covers grabbed kids, and make no mistake these stories were full of murder, sex and most of all male power fantasies usually involving women having some nasty thing done to them. All of this drew the ire of parents and watchdog groups alike. The pulps continued strong (despite minor setbacks) until World War II when the cost of paper rose and so did the price of the material and this trend eventually killed what we think of as the Pulp Magazine.
From the pulps we got the radio serials featuring many of the same characters and stories adapted for an audio audience. Orson Welles was the voice of The Shadow even. With live reads, no retakes, a live foley artist providing the sound effects and wild adventures the radio serials also went on to nurture the minds and spirits of an entire generation of kids who in turn grew up to become the filmmakers of our generation. Just ask any of the filmmakers that started in the 1970s and they will say they grew up on the pulps and radio serials.
With the radio serials chronicling the ongoing adventures of The Spider or Tarzan you also had the horror shows or the science fiction programs that pushed the limits of what radio could be which in turn ushered in the true rise of the comic book. The comics, the serials and the pulps all fed off one another and are integrally related to the point that removing one of them from the equation would result in disaster and perhaps make all three collapse. That brings me to The Intergalactic Nemesis that is headed to Green Bay.
What is the Intergalactic Nemesis? The Intergalactic Nemesis is a live (new) radio serial, pulp story and comic book all rolled into one. Jason Neulander along with Ray Colgan, Jessica Reisman, Julia Edwards and Lisa D’Amour crafted the idea back in 1996 while working in a coffee shop out of Austin Texas, that idea of doing a new and original radio plays in the style of those they grew up on while giving them a 90’s feel. “A love affair with golden age Hollywood, both the A level and B level stuff, Chandler and Burroughs, Golden Age Scifi such as Asimov” is how it was described to me by Neulander. Inspired directly by “Star Wars” and “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” specifically, The Intergalactic Nemesis melds serials, pulp and comics in a way not done before. When you attend the live show you get original comic art projected page by page onto a two story high screen all the while three voice actors play out the characters parts in front of you … plus a live foley artist doing the sound effects and live music to top if off. It’s an experience that is both unique and fun. “It feels less like a play and more like a rock show.”
“Part of the fun of watching the show is there is so much to see, there is the comic book artwork on the screen, the three voice actors, the live sound effects, the score … I think for many audience members the first 10 minutes of the show they are trying to figure out what they are going to watch. One they get immersed in the story they find there is nothing like it out there.” Now, this is not some project that only people already into the old serials or pulps or comics can enjoy, this is a show for everyone. “A broad cross section of audience members. The obvious comic book fans, typical nerds, kids, regular people, it’s a remarkably broad audience. You don’t need to be into sci-fi to enjoy the show.”
The show might be labeled as “Part One” but Neulander assures me that “It’s a complete adventure. This is the first part of a trilogy and each part of the story stands on it’s own so you don’t need to see other parts to enjoy The Intergalactic Nemesis.” There is also the fact that since this is live anything can happen “Everything is queued off a sound so everything has to come together at the same time so if an actor skips or drops a line it can throw everything off. At this point the team is pretty well finely tuned.” Fun is the word that keeps coming up in relation to The Intergalactic Nemesis. “Like any pulpy story there is a share of the ridiculous which makes it fun. You don’t need to be familiar with the pulps or any of the genre before seeing the show. If you are not a fan of less serious subject matter you might not get as much out of it.”
The Intergalactic Nemesis hits Green Bay on Thursday, April 10. Book One: Target Earth at the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts Green Bay, Wisconsin. I will be there … will you? See you in the pulps.