Rediscovered: The Shadow of PulpFest

What do you think, in the photo above shot on the May 8, 2011 tour, I look more like The Shadow and Mike Chomko, swathed in blue, looks more like Superman, right? My hands float, missing the comforting weight of fully-loaded twin .45s. . . .

We’re standing on the corner of Turk at Polk, looking northwest across the intersection at the old California Hall building, where Clint Eastwood goes up on the fire truck ladder to bring down the guy who’s threatening to jump in the first (and greatest) Dirty Harry movie, a little sidetrack I sometimes throw in on the walk.

Chomko is honcho of PulpFest, one of the main pulp collectors conventions — they’ve got another one coming up fast.  This time they celebrate The Shadow’s 80th anniversary. Like Jack Kerouac before me, I’ve always liked The Shadow, and at least once or twice a year I get a jones going to read two or three of those short pulp novels. If you’ve never read those and have any curiosity, I think Evan Lewis on his Davy Crockett’s Almanack blog best summed up the appeal — the first several titles are by far the most interesting, but if you get hooked, even a fairly slow episode will always have the prolific author Walter B. Gibson do a bit of showboating, as his caped avenger massacres a gangland mob or stalks unseen through darkened alleys and across the rooftops of a noirish cityscape.

Doesn’t look like I’ll make it to PulpFest this year — I did fly in for it last time, when I was one of a herd of nominees for the annual Munsey Award, which Chomko won (as I said to him at the time, “Now, you’re sure this ballot isn’t rigged?”). I got a vague message this round saying that I had been nominated again for the Munsey, but because I wasn’t one of the top fifteen or so contenders, I don’t actually get considered. Hmmmm. I guess I won’t hold my breath while waiting to win that one. 

As a postscript: Thinking about The Shadow reminds me that recently I heard that Bill Blackbeard died on March 10 of this year — Blackbeard was a fixture in San Francisco for decades, and put together a collection of the comic strip Secret Agent X-9 that Hammett scripted for awhile, among numerous other activities. I remember one time, circa 1986, let’s say, when I bumped into Blackbeard on the street, as always lugging around his battered pigskin satchel. He dug out a couple of items he had discovered, books which featured a character called The Shadow, dressed very much like The Shadow, but pre-dating the birth of either the radio show or the Street & Smith pulp. I don’t remember if the idea was that someone was going to try to break the S&S claim on the character’s name and image, and had hired Blackbeard to do the detective work, or if he was just interested in seeing what he could find. After that encounter, and seeing the items as we stood on a sidewalk on the edge of The Tenderloin, I never heard even a rumor about the idea again.

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