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Coloring the Mind: Fantasy, Imagination, and Stereotype in Early Twentieth-Century Pulp Fiction Illustration

January 23, 2024 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

A native of the DC area and a graduate of Bowdoin College, James Denison recently completed his PhD in art history at the University of Michigan, where he wrote a thesis on the connections between the Stieglitz Circle and racism in the interwar U.S. During the summer of 2023, he joined the KIA and Kalamazoo College as the Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow. In this talk, Denison contends that the exploitation of new, cheaper color printing techniques by popular fiction publishers, whose products were sold on poor-quality “pulp” paper at inexpensive prices, played a key role in the development of fantastic fiction writing in the early 20th century. During this period, illustrators fashioned lurid covers that simultaneously propelled sales and opened the door to previously unknown imaginative possibilities in the stories they advertised. Pulp magazines’ vivid covers made envisioning exotic lands, bodies, or phenomena much easier, and consequently made the fantastic stories that magazines peddled seem more real. However, illustrations produced to accompany racist “Yellow Peril” pulp stories also relied on visual cues that often exploited racial and gender stereotypes of that period, as a means to excite and familiarize readers by grounding exotic events and settings in recognizable forms
of prejudice.

This is a hybrid event. To view the live stream, visit our YouTube page.