In the 1960s and ’70s, tens of millions of eyeballs a month looked forward to the latest surreal compositions on the covers of Mexican pulp fiction. Unlike their counterparts in the United States, where depictions of steamy sex and the promise of somewhat-porny scandal sold best, pulp-fiction covers south of the border usually relied on bizarre visual scenarios, whose WTF weirdness was more important than their overt sexuality—although there was usually plenty of that.
Take the covers now on view in their original tempera-on-board form at the Ricco/Maresca gallery in New York. In one illustration (all have blank areas near the top for the publication’s title), a woman flees a police officer while cradling a baby pig. In another, a photographer is inexplicably freaking out by the presence of a leggy calendar girl. And then there’s the cover featuring what appears to be a hotel maid, who has walked into a room only to discover a buxom blond collapsed on the floor, surrounded by green, pointy-eared creatures of Lilliputian height—aliens, no doubt.
A close cousin of Mexican B-movie lobby cards, Mexican pulps were typically illustrated on their inside pages like American comic books or Japanese manga. The text was often hand-lettered in speech bubbles, telling stories similar to old-fashioned folk or morality tales. The protagonists were almost always ordinary people (not coincidentally, the target audience of these publications) caught in fantastical scenarios that might contain elements of science fiction, Westerns, horror, crime, and the paranormal.
American pulps were generally the same dimensions as other paperback titles, but Mexican pulps were usually much smaller in size, often just 2 inches wide by 3 inches tall—that’s why they were called micro-cuentos or “mini-tales.” In contrast, the source illustrations on view at Ricco/Maresca are roughly 11 x 15 inches ($2,200) and 14 x 19 inches ($2,500). While some of these lurid, pulp masterpieces bear the signatures of artists named Delgadillo, Dorantes, Hezez, Rarly, Roberto, and Zavala, most are unsigned, their creators lost to the brutal crush of eight-day production cycles.
(“Pulp Drunk: Mexican Pulp Art” runs through March 23, 2015 at Ricco/Maresca in New York. To learn more about this art form, order a copy of Mexican Pulp Art, which features pieces from the collections of Bobbette Axelrod and Ted Frankel.)