A brief history of the Doc Savage paperbacks (#SFWApro)

Doc Savage debuted in Doc Savage Magazine, a pulp magazine that would run all the way to the late 1940s. After that, Doc faded into obscurity until Bantam revived him for a series of paperbacks starting in the 196os. By the time I started the series with Devil on the Moon, Bantam had already republished fifty of them.

The initial format was simple: one paperback a month, containing one Doc Savage adventure, though printed with little regard for the original order. What standard they used, I don’t know. I do know that the pulp originals usually had an ending teaser paragraph hinting at the next adventure. Those had to be cut from the paperbacks as the wouldn’t apply to the next story.

Early covers were all by James Bama, like the two above. He had a real talent for coming up with gripping covers that were usually relevant to the story — I don’t know if he actually read them or Bantam’s art director gave him specific directions, but I’ve seen much more prestigious books that had much less appropriate covers. Bama handled the covers up through #66, Mad Mesa, then he and Bantam parted ways (he went on to become an A-list Western artist) and various others filled in, including Boris Vallejo (probably a bigger cover name back then).

And then after #96, Mystery on Happy Bones (which I haven’t read yet), things changed (that’s late 1970s, if you’re curious). As book prices kept going up, book sizes increased too so that the cost per page wasn’t insanely high. 60,000 words was common for a novel back in the 1960s, but it’s way too short now.

Instead Bantam switched to double-books, two novels per book. Some of the later books were smaller, but as they re-reprinted earlier novels in the same format, that wasn’t the main reason.

And then in the eighties, they switched to an omnibus format, with four or sometimes five novels to a book. Part of which was that a lot of them were post-war novels and these were indeed a lot shorter (I may up my rate of reading when I get to that point). The reason I’m using more pulp covers as illustrations is that more and more of the books I’m reading are from the omnibuses (I have, I believe, three one-novel books left). I don’t want to use the same cover for four or five different reviews.

I’d planned for something a little more substantial today but the root canal today is disrupting my schedule. So this is it. Covers by Bama, all rights remain with current holder.

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