Exploring the IsraPulp collection

Published Sep. 12, 2023
Updated Oct. 16, 2023

The IsraPulp Collection at ASU Library is a distinctive collection of Hebrew-language rare books, pamphlets, periodicals, serial publications and other print materials. The collection documents the production of popular fiction and counterculture literature in Mandatory Palestine under British administration (1920–1948) and the State of Israel, with emphasis on the 1950s–1960s. 

Like similar research collections of genre literature, the IsraPulp Collection brings together a variety of print texts and images that weave—beyond the formulaic content—a particular story about the culture they emerged from. In the case of the Israeli melting pot, texts formulated as crime fiction, detective stories, Westerns, romance, sci-fi, war novels or political cartoons illustrate an origin story like no other. That story is in large part about the socio-political circumstances that shaped the literary legacy in Israel as a whole, including the extra- marginalization of publications deemed non-canonical. 

Alongside Hebrew translations of works by the likes of Agatha Christie, Karl May, Mickey Spillane and Frank Gruber, many of the items in the collection were pseudotranslated. In other words, they were originally written in Hebrew but published as translated texts in compliance with unwritten norms that governed Hebrew publishing until the early 1980s. For example, most of the Tarzan stories in the collection were "based on Tarzan stories attributed to Edgar Rice Burroughs," as they are described in the ASU Library catalog. In order to provide such Hebrew pulps the appearance of real translations, publishers ”borrowed” their cover art from American postwar pulps or period popular films.

Very much like the American pulps these Hebrew pseudotranslations attempted to emulate, some collection items are inspired by and associated with cold-war rhetoric and heavily masculinized codes of conduct, their tone portraying a sexist and bigoted worldview. Such publications diverged immensely in their content and language from contemporary original works published in Modern Hebrew; however, both literary domains grappled with the ethos of the Sabra (native-born Israeli man) and his textual representation.

"Srulink" by caricaturist Dosh (Kariel Gardosh), representing the young State of Israel after overcoming and winning the Six Day War (1967), next to a 1998 parody by comic artist Dudu Geva, showing "Srulik" as a tired, middle-aged man watching TV
On the left: “Srulink” by Dosh, as the young State of Israel after the Six Day War (“Sorry, we won!” by Ephraim Kishon, 1967). On the right: a “Srulik” parody by Dudu Gevaʻ (“Zionist comic book” by ʻAmram Perat and Amnon Dankner, 1998)


Cover art of “A Gunslinger Way” by Buck Geoff, featuring a photo of Ricky Nelson from the 1959 Rio Bravo film
“A Gunslinger Way” by Buck Geoff. Adventures #20, Tel Aviv, 1960

Westerns were at the top of the Hebrew pulps list in the late 1950s and early 1960s. “A Gunslinger Way” by the pseudonymous "Buck Geoff" is typical, featuring a photo of Ricky Nelson from the 1959 Rio Bravo film on its cover. No translator or publisher are listed on the 32-page booklet, which is one of the earliest examples for the use of the Hebrew word for “Western” as a textual genre. As suggested in the subtitles (Gunslinger—Gambler—Drinker; Can a GIRL Make “Doc” Holliday Change his Ways?), this Hebrew Western has nothing to do with the 1959 film. It retells the story of Doc Holliday, who in this version did not die of tuberculosis after the OK Corral gunfight, but instead lived happily ever after with Bella in a Western town—after fighting the bad guys who killed her husband, burned her farm down, robbed the local bank, etc. A digital image of this cover art, and a few others, are featured in the Global Westerns interactive touch-screen display at the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles. 

To learn more about Hebrew Westerns, I invite you to read my essay, “My Heart Is in the West and I Myself Am on the Eastern Edge: Hebrew Pulp Westerns and the Sabra Cowboy," published in The Literary Western in the Global Imagination (Brill, 2022). 

To access collection items, consult the ASU Library libguide. A special display of materials from the IsraPulp Collection will be featured at an upcoming ASU Library Archives Wednesday event on September 20. Visit ASU Events for more information and registration.

– Rachel Leket-Mor, Curator, Open Stack Collections