BLACK HEROES OF PULP FICTION (and we don’t mean Samuel L. Jackson or Ving Rhames)

Luke Cage Noir from Marvel Comics.

Luke Cage Noir from Marvel Comics.

Some of you are saying “If not the movie by Quentin Tarantino, then what the in the hell is Pulp?”

Is it that nasty, fibrous stuff I hate in my orange juice, but my wife always buys, because – for some odd reason – she loves it?

What is Pulp?

Is it that early 80s British alternative rock band who sounded like a hybrid of David Bowie and The Human League?

What is Pulp?

Think adventure, exotic settings, femme fatales and non-stop action. Think larger-than-life heroes, such as Doc Savage, The Shadow, Marv, from Sin City and Indiana Jones.

The genre gets its name from the adventure fiction magazines of the 1930s and 1940s.

Pulp includes Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Western, Fight Fiction and other genres, but what sets pulp apart are its aforementioned fast-pace, exotic locales, linear – but layered – plots, its two-fisted action….and those characters! As author Thaddeus Howze describes them: “I like the larger than life heroes of the pulp era, loud, bombastic, often arrogant, sexy, outrageous and oh so violent…”

The first pulps were published in the late 1800s and enjoyed a golden age in the 1930s and 1940s.

And – like most genre fiction of the day…and today – Black heroes were absent. Like most genre fiction of the day, if a Black person was found in pulp fiction at all, they were the noble savage…or just the savage.

Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones

Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones by artist Jim Rugg.

Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones by artist Jim Rugg.

However, in 1957, we saw our first Black pulp heroes with the duo of Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, violent and vicious Harlem police officers, who operated more like private detectives, often going beyond police protocol to solve their cases.

A true master of the pulp aesthetic, Chester Himes – an accomplished author and screenwriter before going to prison – discovered the work of popular pulp author Dashiell Hammett while serving eight years in an Ohio penitentiary for armed robbery. Himes vowed to write pulp books that would, in his words, “tell it like it is”.

Upon his release from prison, Himes moved to Paris and – true to his word – wrote a string of what he called “Harlem domestic detective stories”, all but one written in French and later translated into English.

His first novel, A Rage in Harlem (1957) – first published in French as La Reine des Pomme and also known as For Love of Imabelle – which won the prestigious French literature award, Grand Prix de la Litterature Policière, gave us our first taste of the fearsome Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones.

Fans begged for more of these pulp bad boys and Himes delivered, with a total of seven more bestsellers and one unfinished novel that was published posthumously: The Crazy Kill (1959), The Real Cool Killers (1959), All Shot Up (1960), The Big Gold Dream (1960), Cotton Comes to Harlem (1965), The Heat’s On (aka Come Back, Charleston Blue)(1966), Blind Man With A Pistol (1969), Plan B (1993).

While the duo frequently uses physical brutality, psychological torture and intimidation to solve their cases, Gravedigger and Coffin Ed have deep and genuine sympathy for the innocent victims of crime. They frequently intervene – even putting their own reputations and lives on the line – to protect Black people from the vicious and truly pointless brutality of the white, openly racist police officers in their precinct. Jones and Johnson generally go easy on – and even tolerate – numbers runners, madames, prostitutes, junkies and gamblers; but they are extremely hostile to violent criminals, drug dealers, con artists and pimps.

It can be said that Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones were the darkest heroes in pulp…and not because they’re Black…well, that too.

Aubrey Knight

Black PulpThe next Black hero in pulp did not come on the scene until 1983. Who was he? Aubrey Knight, a lightning quick mountain of muscle, trained to be a Null Boxer who fights in brutal matches while locked in a zero-gravity bubble.

Aubrey Knight is the protagonist of Street Lethal (1983), a jaw dropping pulp thrill ride, penned masterfully by veteran science fiction, fantasy and horror author, Steven Barnes. Street Lethal is set in a near-future dystopian Los Angeles in which Aubrey Knight must battle genetically engineered New Men, drug kingpins, brutal prison guards, a ruthless femme fatale and brainwashing similar to the horrific Ludovico Technique from the classic novel A Clockwork Orange.

Street Lethal spawned two sequels starring the street-fighter, null-boxer and virtual superman: Gorgon Child (1989) and Firedance (1993).

Barnes, an accomplished martial artist himself, gives us a pulp hero who is one part Luke Cage Noir and two parts Iron Fist…only cooler, savvier and more…well, street lethal.

Damballa

Black PulpA classic costumed pulp hero, the black-hooded Damballa steps out of the forests of Africa and onto the streets of 1930s Harlem to battle Nazi’s bent on proving the superiority of the Aryan race.

Damballa (2011) is an incredible pulp adventure written by author Charles R. Saunders, the founder of the subgenre of Fantasy fiction called Sword and Soul and creator of the Fantasy icon Imaro. The action does not stop as the titular hero uses his vast knowledge of Western science, African science and martial arts to expose and neutralize the Nazi threat.

Set in 1938, Damballa is a shining example of what Pulp is when it is at its very best: thrilling, visceral, tightly-plotted, well-written, fast-paced fun.

And the hero Damballa is a shining example of what a pulp hero in the hands of a master can be: a hero the reader can actually stand up and cheer for; a hero with qualities and with a story other authors do their damndest to echo in their own creative and original ways.

Dillon

fight 9Equal parts James Bond, Indiana Jones, Doc Savage and The Saint, Dillon – by his creator Derrick Ferguson’s account – first came to attention of the world a decade ago, when he began hiring himself out as a soldier of fortune. Dillon possesses remarkable talents and gifts that make him respected and even feared in a world of mercenaries, spies, adventurers, powerful technology and mystic artifacts.

Actually, Dillon first came to our attention in the Pulp fiction masterpiece, Dillon and the Voice of Odin (2003).

Dillon’s actual age is unknown, but what is known is that he was born on the technologically advanced, doomed island of Usimi Dero.  After the Destruction of his home, twelve year old Dillon and his mother fled to  Shamballah, a monastery hidden in the Himalayas.  Dillon was adopted by Shamballa’s Warmasters of Liguria, who spent the next seven years training him in various martial arts and other physical and mental disciplines.  After those seven years, Dillon elected to leave Shamballah and return to the world.

Once back in the world, Dillon wandered, learning various skills that would help him in his chosen profession as an adventurer and seeking out those who destroyed his homeland.

This adventurer is the hero of four of his own books – the aforementioned Dillon and the Voice of Odin; Dillon and the Legend of the Golden Bell (2010); Four Bullets for Dillon (2011) and Dillon and the Pirates of Xonira (2012) – and appears in the anthology Black Pulp (2013).

Ezekiel Cross

Black PulpThe retired master assassin and man out of time, Ezekiel Cross first appeared in Redeemer (2012) and returned in 2015 in a big way in Redeemer: The Cross Chronicles.

Ezekiel Cross is handsome, strong, intelligent…and a cold blooded killer.

For most of his life, Ezekiel has been a professional assassin, trained from a young age by the world’s masters of dealing death to enforce the whims of his boss. But Ezekiel is tired – tired of the lies to his wife, Mali; tired of not having the normal life he craves. He longs for the day that he can hang up his guns and live a normal life with Mali. So he decides to end his career as a professional assassin; to hang up his guns and raise a family.

RedeemerBut the life of a killer is never his own. Ezekiel is called to do one last hit, but instead of closing the deal he finds himself a target. He’s sent back in time in what is meant as an experiment as well as punishment.

Initially distraught, he decides to change his fate by saving himself and his family from the events that led him to a lifetime of crime. Along the way, he meets some of the coolest, sexiest, deadliest and craziest characters to ever grace the pages of a book and ultimately finds himself in a situation that could change his life forever…or end it.

Ezekiel is driven by a need for family; for peace and he will commit terrible acts of violence to attain and maintain it.

Redeemer: The Cross Chronicles includes the alternate story, Redeemer: Glitch, in which Ezekiel’s actions bring him into direct conflict with the Grandfather Paradox, a powerful, brutal entity that exists to set time right when it has been thrown out of balance.

Ezekiel combines his exceptional skills with his knowledge of the present, which is his past, to save himself and those he loves.

Taurus Moon

Artwork by Winston Blakely.

Artwork by Winston Blakely.

First seen in the often hilarious and always exciting, Taurus Moon: Relic Hunter (2011), returning in the equally exciting sequel, Taurus Moon: Magic and Mayhem (2013) and again, in the recently released, Taurus Moon: Scorched Earth (2014). Taurus moon is a complex Pulp hero who walks a complex world of mythic creatures, gangsters and even mythic gangsters and gangling creatures.

The morally conflicted hero, Taurus Moon is often compared to another famed relic hunter, Indiana Jones. Unlike popular relic hunter Indiana Jones, however, the artifacts Taurus Moon hunts are not found in the deserts of Iskenderun Hatay, or in the tropical rainforests of Brazil. Taurus Moon’s quests take him through the grittier parts of urbanized cities; settings where Indiana Jones would get that whip and fedora shoved up his…well, you get the picture. Also unlike Indiana Jones, Taurus Moon’s clientele includes vampire crime bosses and other individuals of ill-repute.

Taurus Moon is straight up mercenary, motivated by money; yet he is imbued with nobility, which keeps him from being completely amoral.

If Indiana Jones and Blade had a clone created from both their DNA strains, with a dash of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford sprinkled in, that little GMO fella would be Taurus Moon.

2014 saw the premiere of three more pulp heroes:

SiafuCover Balogun CoverIn early 2014, the character Nick ‘New Breed’ Steed, the indigenous Afrikan martial arts expert turned MMA fighter entered the world with a bang in the novella, Fist of Africa. A second novella starring Nick Steed, Circle of Blood, is likely to follow shortly behind it.

2014 saw another MMA fighter, Remi Swan, a strong, fierce and courageous woman, battle men and women fighters – and her inner demons – on her quest to defeat the MMA champion who brutally assaulted her seven years in her past in the Pulp action novel, A Single Link.

Link Front Cover 2SCYTHE COVER IMAGE HI RESIn A Single Link’s sequel, Wrath of the Siafu, Remi grows from hero to superhero when she is infected with the AMVO virus after she is imprisoned for injuring a police officer who murders a child.

The AMVO virus changes Remi, granting her incredible – and frightening – abilities that she uses to battle the unjust prison system and murderous law-enforcement.

Finally, we have the Pulp hero The Scythe, the resurrected Dr. A.C. Jackson, who was murdered in the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 and returns to wreak vengeance upon his murderers and their kin.

Inspired by the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 1940s, a tale of action, adventure, thrills and chills await fans of Dieselpunk and Dieselfunk, die-hard pulp fans and readers who just love a gritty story that packs a mean punch. Enter a world in which Gangsters, Flappers, vampires, robots and the Ku Klux Klan all roam the same dark back streets; a world of grit, grime and grease; a world of hardboiled gumshoe detectives and mad scientists; a world where magic and technology compete for rule over the world. Dieselfunk has emerged in The Scythe…and the Roaring Twenties will never seem the same!

What other Black Pulp heroes and sheroes do you know of? What Pulp heroes or sheroes are you in the process of developing or creating?

About Balogun

Balogun is the author of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within and screenwriter / producer / director of the films, A Single Link, Rite of Passage: Initiation and Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at https://chroniclesofharriet.com/. He is author of eight novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the Urban Science Fiction saga, Redeemer; the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika; a Fight Fiction, New Pulp novella, Fist of Afrika; the gritty, Urban Superhero series, A Single Link and Wrath of the Siafu; the two-fisted Dieselfunk tale, The Scythe and the “Choose-Your-Own-Destiny”-style Young Adult novel, The Keys. Balogun is also contributing co-editor of two anthologies: Ki: Khanga: The Anthology and Steamfunk. Finally, Balogun is the Director and Fight Choreographer of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, which he wrote based on the short story, Rite of Passage, by author Milton Davis and co-author of the award winning screenplay, Ngolo. You can reach him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Afrikan.Martial.Arts; on Twitter @Baba_Balogun and on Tumblr at www.tumblr.com/blog/blackspeculativefiction.

16 responses »

  1. Derrick says:

    I don’t have enough words to properly express the surprise and appreciation that you included Dillon among such worthy and notable black heroes. Thank you, sir!

  2. jazintellect says:

    Love the article. I became aware of Gravedigger and Coffin Ed through seeing the Cotton Comes To Harlem film and noticed them again in A Rage In Harlem. Have a question, though, what about Walter Mosely’s Easy Rawlins?

  3. Kenneth Strickland says:

    Thank you for blowing my mind! I must admit I have read one Aubrey Knight novel and I want to find it again or the others. Thanks for reminding me that if we want to see it, we have to write it!

  4. Kevin Sipp says:

    Thank you for this brother. My Chester Himes collection is a tresure I often revisit. There are so many histories and future possibilties for us to celebrate through our mythologies and tech innovations that I truly believe the next few years will see an explosion of Black Pulp s/heroes. I will definately be doing my part.

  5. srtorris says:

    This was an awesome article, Brotha. Greatly appreciate this. Also good to see that others appreciate our work too – even if it is outside America.

  6. […] I have expanded my writing into the Pulp genre of Fight Fiction, which was pretty much inevitable because my novels contain lots of exciting […]

  7. […] ‘The Single Link’ Swan, hero of the fight fiction novel, A Single Link, is the first woman in history to fight men in professional co-ed mixed martial […]

  8. There’s also Luther Cross, a character I created for Pro Se’s Single Shot Signatures imprint: http://www.percivalconstantine.com/series/luther-cross/

  9. Another character to check, Black Jack by Alex Simmons.

  10. bgurrl says:

    I was deeply sadden when Doug Ferguson talked about many black people who say his books are unrealistic or aren’t “on the real” no black person would do… kind of stuff. We got known black pulp written by black writers (not anon) and folks gonna do that. It’s mostly WP supporting the work. The problem is all this on the real stuff in the B. C. we need the heroes too.

  11. bgurrl says:

    Oh yes and don’t forget pulp also includes the romance genre. There were romance pulp mags as well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s