Greets all and welcome to History Corner, a place where we recycle the more obscure publications of the popular fiction past for the amusement and amazement of today’s internet users.Obviously, as far as creativity on our part is concerned, this is a pretty cheap date. All you need is a scanner, some junk and a little want to. Of course, the key is having the junk to begin with and then making sure that such is firmly in the public domain.

We have junk! Before I go on, I should explain that I was inspired to do this by several sites which are essentially doing the same, but with the snobbish idea that I have better junk. And indeed I do! I fancy myself as quite the collector and historian of periodical ephemera. (Smelly old magazines.) Touch one of my smelly thingies and I will hiss paragraph after paragraph at you. Especially if you are thinking of moving them or selling them because you need something as useless as room for your bed. Sell your own stuff first, I say!

Yes I do indeed have some fantastic crud, much of which has not seen the detailed light of day even on this grand geek-o-tron we call the internet. One of the prime portions of my “portfolio” is a very rare run of the magazine Ballyhoo. It was the model for Mad and every other title of that ilk to follow it. What moved me to catalog and present Ballyhoo in all of its splendor is primarily its historical significance. It is utterly shocking the degree in which every magazine to follow it, from Mad to National Lampoon to Spy, has not varied even an iota from Ballyhoo’s original presentation. Given that the National Lampoon’s website now is nothing more than scans of its previous editions, much of which were recycled to death to begin with, I figured I would do them one better by presenting material that actually has not seen the light of day since it vanished from newsstands.

That’s me. Mr. Big Plans. I do have it, I am sure. And I will present it. When I find it. The mound of boxes was just a little too daunting for my deadline, so I am presenting Women in Crime instead.

There’s really no excuse for Women in Crime. Whenever people claim entertainments of the past were tame in contrast with today, I am reminded of Dick Tracy blowing crooks brains out in four color Sunday Page glory, Popular Publication’s Horror Stories, newsreels of Chinese monks being shot by the Japanese and… Women in Crime.

It really should be called ‘Sex Crazed Women Murderers on Drugs’ since that is its entire theme. Women in Crime occupies an odd place in the history of pulp magazines.It spans the transition from pulp paper to photo ready and from painted covers to color retouched black and white photos. Cover-wise, it goes back and forth between the two without rhyme or reason.

Women in Crime actually owes its existence to a ban on the importation of pulp magazines into Canada which was instituted at the start of WWII. With the flow of penny dreadfuls from the US suddenly cut off, Canadian publishers rose to the challenge, fulfilling their patriotic duty by producing a slew of slam bang knock offs of every genre with a following. In general, most of these simply reprinted or repackaged US offerings under another title. Not to cast dispersions upon dead folks, but many supposedly Canadian pulps were more or less smuggle jobs sent over the border and haphazardly distributed by front companies. Women in Crime is not. It is a homegrown, all original, all Canadian publication. Moreover, it was something of an export in its day: perhaps the only Canadian pulp to be widely distributed into the United States.

Its secret? Focus. The publisher only had one magazine and he put all of his efforts just into it. Unlike others in the trade, the publisher, whom I will call Merchant House, did not have any connections to legitimate avenues of magazine distribution prior to the war. Instead, it had spent its entire pre-war existence as an advertiser in pulp magazines; a mail order distributor of flatware, novelties and paperback editions of well known classics. From its start as a publisher of any kind--initially offering paper bound editions of the 100 Greatest Books of Western Civilization for $10.00--it branched out to commissioning original works, starting with manuals on the subjects of art and photography. It is from the production of these manuals that it evolved into its true publishing niche.

The ban on American pulps was a boon to other Canadian publishers, but sort of a pain to Merchant House. From their perch on King Street in Toronto, Merchant House had been able to service the novelty needs of both the US and Canada by placing ads in US based pulps. At the time, there was a good postage deal for Canadian mail order firms shipping into the United States. In the wake of war rules, that economy had vanished. Moreover, the new Canadian pulps were restricted in page count, had limited advertising space and were possessed of far more stringent editorial standards for advertising material than the types of pulps Merchant House was used to advertising in. The Canadian pulps had fairly much slated themselves as strictly kids stuff—and that wasn’t Merchant House’s market.Finding a vehicle for their advertising seems to have been Merchant House’s sole motivation for getting into the pulp magazine business.

Women in Crime is built around Merchant House’s advertising. The entirety of its editorial is a tease for the firm’s other offerings. And what offerings they are!

As a novelty house and a purveyor of gadgets, they were little different from the Johnson Smith Company. In fact, they were closer to Harriett Carter than they were to a dealer in fake dog vomit. But it was in literature that they were truly distinct. By the time WWII rolled around, Merchant House was publishing sex manuals almost exclusively. Due to restrictions on such vividly illustrated matter being imported into the US, also brought on by the war, the publisher had repackaged some of its catalog of naked women as photographic study manuals. Not much of an innovation. And they were certainly not the first to think of this. What they were the first to think of was publishing fast fiction with the spurty bits fully detailed. Not only that, but Merchant House’s core literary theme was ‘Depraved Girls Who Do It In Depraved Ways’.

As the blurb advertising the best selling, exclusive to readers ofWomen in Crime novel ‘Diana’ from Dr. Victor Robinson states: “The Publishers wish it expressly understood that this is not a work of fiction. It is a true story, fearlessly told, of women you have heard whispered about. It is the frank autobiography of a woman who tried to be normal but couldn’t. Although the author has found it necessary to hide the identities of the women whose life stories have fused with hers, she boldly tells the truth about them and herself.”

This ad is not hidden in the back pages. It is full page, page one, across from another Merchant House offering for a Pre War Quality Cutlery Set from a Renowned Manufacturer.

Besides setting a sort of standard for original smut, Merchant House was also in the business of spicing up the classics. One ad promises that their offering of the
Three Musketeers is ‘Definitely not the book you read at school!’

Given that the magazine is simply a tamed-up wrap around for the advertising of explicit material, Merchant House had to be rather careful about how they packaged it. Before settling on Women in Crime, the magazine went through a few titles, such as Detective Stories From Police Files, Thrilling Police Cases and True Thrilling Crime with ‘Women in Crime’ appearing as just a blurb.

Merchant House started their magazine with some pulp art resources. Almost all of their early covers were recycles, but it is unclear if they had any actual connections. Once they had settled on the name, the firm struggled with the look of the magazine. This 30s style cover seems more appropriate for Breezy Stories. On the other hand, it’s very likely that they were just using what they had—or could get away with printing. It should be noted, however, that in the pulp world, art was often traded around.

As for the interiors, Merchant House had some line art which they rather crudely culled from their other publications, but for the most part relied on photographs. Most publishers waited until the 1950s to try this, since the technology of reproducing photos on soft stock was still pretty poor. It’s pretty much unscanable and smudgy in the flesh. And that’s the way it appeared when it was printed.

To the uneducated eye, (snobby sniff) the interior presentation does make it seem as if
Women in Crime might, just possibly, maybe have a few female readers. The advertisement for the occasional cutlery set and a few others makes it seem as if they are willing to sell to anyone with cash. In reality, most of the smut pulps did this and the conceit has carried over to disreputable magazines even to this day. It’s very clearly just a men’s magazine, albeit one put out by a publisher who is willing to trot out every ad he has just to fill out space.

It also should be noted that Merchant House may have taken economy one step further by importing some of its staged photographs from
Argentina. Very similar magazines with very similar themes had been popular there since the 1930s. As per the Argentine convention, many of the models in Women in Crime seem spectacularly overdressed for their given situations. There is also a certain style to the Argentine form which Women in Crime seems to match.

The end of the war pretty much killed the Canadian pulp magazine industry. Without the tariff barriers and restrictions, the poorly executed Canadian pulps were swiftly swamped by their US cousins. Seeing as how most of them were simply fronts to begin with, it was no real loss. Women in Crime, however, marched blithely on.

Even today this would be considered a shocking cover. The artwork on the cover is a black and white photo with an overlay, not an actual color photo. It’s actually rather well done. Like most pulp publishers, Merchant House shot its production budget wad on the cover and then cheaped out everywhere else. The interiors are still in fabulous black and white smudge-o-rama but the overall look had been updated considerably.

Although there was a sea change in the culture following the end of WWII, the direction in which things would go was still a bit up in the air. Even in a freer time, this magazine would have been a bit much. Which brings me to its market segment: it’s not the Ladies Home Journal, it’s Hustler. It was always meant to be smut, to strain at conventions.

Like many magazines of its ilk,
Women in Crime was dead shipped. In traditional magazine distribution, titles are offered to the distributor on speculation. The distributor sends them out to stores, people buy or do not buy them, the returns are counted and then the distributor pays the publisher only for those copies which were actually sold. In dead shipping the publisher shows up at the distributor and says “Hey, I got a boxcar full of this stuff. What do you give me for it?” In the type of publication that Women in Crime is, the process is generally the other way around, but the principle is the same. Moreover, Merchant House really didn’t care what they got for the magazine, since Women in Crime was nothing more than their catalog in disguise.

Women in Crime seldom appeared on conventional newsstands. It made its way with bundles of other disreputable things to pool halls, bath houses, hardware stores, Moose Lodges and barber shops. It really didn’t expect you to take it home. It just wanted you to rip an ad out of it.

What killed Women in Crime wasn’t a change in conventions. It folded shop nearly ten years before the other pulp magazines or even Confidential started to ape its presentation. What killed it was what killed all of the pulps: paper prices went up 400% between 1948 and 1949—and they never came back down. This forced comic books to radically downsize and what pulps that remained to either jack up their cover price or reduce to digest size. In fact, it killed any publication that didn’t derive most of its revenue from ad page sales.

By 1949 Women in Crime had outlived its usefulness, in any case. Merchant House went back to being just a magazine advertiser, focusing mostly on gadgets. With the death of Women in Crime, they discontinuedtheir fiction publishing altogether. By the time Peyton Place had been published and Avon starting issuing their bad girls gone bad lines, Merchant House had been out of the business for seven years.

With a bit of work on the logo, it might even pass for Hustler. Women in Crime is often mistaken as a girlploitation pulp, similar to Swank and any number of the Men’s Adventure titles which populated the mid 1950s. This is an easy mistake to make, since Women in Crime is a lawless little thing and carries no indication of the year it was printed in. Contrary to its looks, Women in Crime was a war time publishing anomaly, a firm denizen of the 40s--and not a tame one.

Mark Lax