RARA-AVIS: Tarantino and Hard Case Crime

From: hardcasecrime ( editor@hardcasecrime.com)
Date: 06 Jul 2007

Mark wrote:

> And would there be a
> Hard Case Crime series,
> with its covers sharing
> the aesthetic of the
> Pulp Fiction poster,
> without Tarantino?
> (Would there Charles?)

Oh, yeah.

I don't hate Tarantino and I don't love Tarantino -- but I can tell you with absolute certainty that Hard Case Crime would exist, and would look exactly the way it does, regardless of whether "Pulp Fiction" and its poster had ever existed. Max and I were inspired by decades of reading books that pre-date "Pulp Fiction," and neither of us was particularly moved or inspired by the movie. I'm not saying there's nothing in it I enjoyed, but it really didn't excite me much -
- and its self-aware quoting of old tropes is exactly the sort of bracketing behavior we bent over backwards to avoid when designing our look.

The "Pulp Fiction" poster knows it's a pastiche of old styles and revels in it -- it's exaggerated for comic effect and filled with deliberate, explicit fakery, attempting to win a knowing wink and nudge from the aficionado who knows what it's quoting. It doesn't look like an actual movie poster from the pulp era, or for that matter like an actual pulp magazine cover -- it looks like the work of a modern designer who is announcing his love for the pulp era.

For instance, note the fake 'distressing' of the 'paper' on the right side of the image. Real pulps were not published pre-distressed, like blue jeans are today; only we, today, collecting ill-preserved pulps from 50+ years ago, see the distressed state as normal and characteristic of pulp fiction. Pulps in the day looked as new and fresh as the latest copy of People magazine does to us -- worse paper, sure, but not afflicted with decades of rot and decay.

Similarly, note the phony "10 cents" icon on the poster -- to state the obvious, the movie isn't *actually* selling anything for 10 cents, so this price symbol is there purely as a joke, a gag, an inducement to nostalgia and an element of whimsy. The old pulps didn't have anything on them that played that sort of role. They showed their price -- their actual price -- for informative reasons: so the person picking an issue up would know how much to pay and the newsstand owner would know how much to charge. That's very different.

I'm not knocking the poster -- it's a fun image -- but in these ways it's diametrically opposed to what we set out to do with our books. We decided from the start that there would be no jokes or gags on our covers -- we'd do pulp, but we'd do it completely straight, our goal being to reproduce the thing itself, not to produce a post-modern appreciation of the thing. We wanted to publish books that looked as though they could actually have been published back in the day -- not books that could only have been published in our modern age of irony and camp and pastiche. And the highest praise we've gotten has come from people like Mickey Spillane and Donald Hamilton and Lawrence Block, who were actually around in the day, when they've said things like, "If you'd shown me that cover and told me it was a 1958 book, I'd have believed you."

I can't say whether our books would have gotten the attention they have if the audience hadn't been primed by Tarantino (although an entire decade passed between the release of "Pulp Fiction" and the publication of our first titles), but I can say the books would have looked and read the way they do regardless...


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