In June 2007, Baen will be publishing for the first time in trade paperback a compilation of two Spider novels by Norvell W. Page. The Spider*, "Master of Men," was one of the most influential pulp heroes of the 1930s and '40s, and Page is regarded as one of the leading writers in pulp fiction. He was a newspaper reporter after college, then successfully entered the world of pulp fiction, becoming a regular contributor to the legendary Black Mask, where Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett first achieved recognition. Popular Publications lured Norvell Page to write for Dime Mystery magazine. Soon, Popular Publications, noting the popularity of the best-selling hero pulps Doc Savage and The Shadow, launched The Spider magazine in 1933, with a new novel of the exploits of the masked crime fighter appearing every month, written by Norvell Page under the pseudonym of "Grant Stockbridge." The magazine was published between October 1933 and December 1943 and ran for 118 issues, ceasing only when the services of Norvell Page were needed for the war effort. During his run, the Spider starred in two Columbia Pictures action serials and his image was successfully merchandised. (Today, a Spider ring in fine condition has a $10,000 value to collectors.) And the pulp is fondly remembered by many of its readers. The late Charles M. Schulz, creator of the "Peanuts" comic strip, once wrote, "I still remember how he used to leap into a room doing a somersault while his two heavy .45's jumped into his hands. They were great stories." He added, "I could hardly stand to live from one month to another when the new Spider novel would come out."
The Spider has many modern proponents, and one of the most enthusiastic, Chris Kalb, has created a beautiful web site devoted to The Spider. Chris is a freelance artist based in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He is the Art Director of the SCI FI Channel's bimonthly print magazine, co-creator of the relationship superhero Breakup Girl (breakupgirl.net), and illustrator/designer of the New York Times Bestseller Cooking Rocks! Rachael Ray's 30-Minute Meals For Kids, and others. Coincidentally, he was the 1988 recipient of the Charles M. Schulz Award for his college comic strip. Below, an interview with Chris about The Spider.
Chris got involved with the Spider even before he began reading the pulp magazines. "I actually have a childhood memory of playing 'Spider'! My pretending was based solely on a book about movie serials called To Be Continued and another called Jim Harmon's Nostalgia Catalog -- both of which I would get out of the library probably every other trip there. I loved Spider-Man and -- thanks to my dad -- I loved serials like Flash Gordon, so the pictures of a retro spider character in To Be Continued really gripped my imagination! My dad also sat me down to watch the television premiere of the Doc Savage movie, and that's when I really became conscious of 'Pulp.' Anyway, years later, Starlog magazine ran some awesome pictures of two pulp reprint paperbacks -- one G-8 and one Spider -- and I immediately ran out and found them at a B. Dalton in the local mall. I read my first Spider, 'Prince of Evil' (actually 'Prince of the Red Looters') on a long family car trip and liked it a lot, but never came across any more.
"That's just a prelude. What really got me hooked were the Carroll & Graf reprints in the early '90s; they used the original pulp art for the covers which I loved, the stories they picked were particularly outlandish, and they came out right around Tim Truman's comic book miniseries which I also loved. I had been reading Doc Savage books, which are great adventures, but that first C&G Spider was a great EXPERIENCE. I finally felt like I understood what they meant by 'pulp.'"
I asked Chris why he thought The Spider has such an enduring appeal. "What makes The Spider so readable to this day is that the stories -- particularly those by Norvell Page -- have an emotional dimension and a level of violence that feels very contemporary. Page really made his bad guys suffer and his good guys suffer even more. And I think only in the last decade or so have 'superhero' comics and movies discovered this gripping formula, so The Spider is still on that cutting edge.
"But even if you have been weaned on Punisher comics and Batman Begins there is still an amped-up prose style that sets The Spider apart from 'comic books' and even other pulp characters. It's the prose equivalent a superhero-horror movie made in Hong Kong -- it's like nothing you've ever read before."
I wondered if Chris had any favorites among The Spider characters. "I like the fact that there are a number of characters surrounding Richard Wentworth; love the team aspect. I do love Wentworth best of course, for his incredible persistence against all odds and injury, but I get giddiest when he's laid low, or in Sing-Sing or whatever, and the rest of the team swing into action -- particularly Nita Van Sloan! This is a strong, dangerous, sexy-but-classy woman way ahead of her time, and nothing makes me more excited than when she drills someone with lead, or when she herself dons The Spider's outfit!"
I wondered how Chris had come to create his Spider website, an amazing resource for Spider and pulp fans. "When I first got into designing web pages in the mid-nineties I did four Pulp hero sites, starting with my two favorites Doc Savage and The Spider. At the time, there was very little about Pulp Heroes on the Web and I was anxious to fill that gap. Over the years, outside of Doc Savage, that gap has still not been filled, really, so as my own collection and knowledge has grown I've slowly given each site an overhaul.
"I had a few pages up before about The Spider, but nothing befitting one of the most influential heroes of the 1930s and '40s. When I started the new site, SpiderReturns.com, I had two things in mind: I wanted to finally create a comprehensive site befitting this major character, AND I wanted to design something with big, bold pulp art backgrounds everywhere. The latter came much easier than the former, let me tell ya."
I asked Chris if he could recommend further reading for Spider fans. "I don't read a lot outside of the pulps presently. Spider fans would obviously enjoy stories by other Pulp authors like Lester Dent (Doc Savage), Frederick Davis (Operator #5), Robert Hogan (G-8), Paul Ernst (The Avenger) -- and not just the hero-related ones. We're lucky to be living in a time when a lot of this material is being reprinted, by the way. One Pulitzer-Prize-winning book I can recommend is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay by Michael Chabon, a beautifully written, character-driven story set during the dawn of the comic book industry. Not coincidentally, Chabon has gone on to edit a few 'modern pulp' anthologies."
There have been so many successful movies recently based on comic book characters, some inspired by The Spider himself, I wanted to get Chris's casting suggestions to take The Spider to the big screen. "My take on The Spider is that he's a man out of time; He's like a 'warrior-king' trapped in modern society, serving 'his people' the only way he knows how -- fighting today's evil by his own ancient code, not the impotent laws of 1930s New York City. I would put Russell Crowe or Gerard Butler in a double-breasted suit and tell them to pretend they are still in Gladiator or 300 and then yell 'Action!'"
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And watch out in June 2008 for The Spider: City of Doom!
*The Spider is a registered trademark of Argosy Communications, Inc.