"The Corpse Had One Shoe"
The Decline of the Pulps
She was one of those dreamy-eyed blondes that make a guy's heart turn somersaults. Don't forget, I said "was." Yeah, she was dead all right; sprawled at a grotesque angle on a sagging couch with a round, blue hole, like a third eye, in the centre of her forehead.
- Opening passage of "The Corpse Had One Shoe"
by Frederick Spenser Squires
Dare-Devil Detective Stories, December 1941
With the end of the Second World War in 1945, Canada's War Exchange Conservation Act, which had largely given rise to the Canadian pulp magazine industry, was repealed. Despite a booming post-war economy, Canada soon found itself in a trade deficit with the United States.
Action needed to be taken even though, as Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King recorded in his diary, "restrict[ing] imports from the U.S. and exports from the U.S. to Canada [is a] line of policy in large part just the reverse of what, as Liberals, we would wish to follow" (King, 1947, online).
Follow it they did, however, and the government soon enacted the Foreign Exchange Conservation Act, which once again banned, among other things, American publications from Canadian newsstands. It was a reprieve for the Canadian pulp industry, but a short-lived one. By 1951, the Canadian economy was sufficiently strong to permit the removal of restrictions on U.S. imports (Bell, online).
With American pulps back on the scene, Canadian publishers had a hard time competing. More than that, other media -- both old and new -- were taking a bite out of pulp magazine audiences on both sides of the border. As Carolyn Strange and Tina Loo (2004, p. 99) note in True Crime, True North, the "[pulp] magazines watered the seeds of their own destruction when they advertised cheap paperbacks. By the 1950s, drugstore magazine racks were replaced by revolving kiosks full of sizzling novels… magazines were overshadowed by hard-boiled police and detective novels, as well as by film and television shows."
Titles like Personal Confessions and Sensational Love Experiences could hardly compete with tantalizing paperbacks like Illicit Honeymoon and Midnight Sinners. The monthly thrills of a magazine like Dynamic Western or Bill Wayne's Western Magazine were no match for westerns at local cinemas or the "Lone Ranger" series, which had just begun airing on television. Ripped-from-the-headlines stories, a staple of the crime and detective pulps, dominated police procedurals on the big and small screens.
Pulp publisher Henry Steeger once said, "Pulps were the principle entertainment vehicle for millions… they were an unflickering, uncolored TV screen upon which the reader could spread the most glorious imagination he possessed" (Hutchison, 1995, p. 7). Unfortunately for Steeger and other publishers, it seemed that people wanted flickering. They wanted colour. Their imaginations were now sparked by different things. The pulps had indeed been the principle entertainment vehicle for millions -- but no more, it seemed.
It was a decidedly un-dramatic end for a very dramatic medium. A convergence of market forces, waning public interest and new forms of entertainment proved too much for Canada's pulp industry to withstand, and by the mid-1950s, the pulps had faded away. Much like the titular victim in Frederick Spenser Squires' "The Corpse Had One Shoe," the pulps were fascinating, beautiful, garish -- and dead.
Bell, John. "Crackdown on Comics." ARCHIVED - Beyond the Funnies: The History of Comics in English Canada and Quebec. Library and Archives Canada. www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/comics/027002-8400-e.html (accessed January 11, 2005).
Hutchison, Don. The Great Pulp Heroes. Oakville: Mosaic Press, 1995.
King, William Lyon Mackenzie. "Kingsmere and Ottawa," October 16, 1947: 3. The Diaries of William Lyon Mackenzie King. ArchiviaNet: On-Line Research Tool. Library and Archives Canada. The Diaries of William Lyon Mackenzie King (accessed January 11, 2005).
Strange, Carolyn, and Tina Loo. True Crime, True North: the Golden Age of Canadian Pulp Magazines. Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 2004.