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Norman Saunders

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The phrase “pulp fiction” makes most people think of the 1994 Quentin Tarantino film. But the phrase actually comes from magazines of explicit content that used to be printed on wood pulp paper. The first example dates back to 1896, and the format's height of popularity came in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.

One of the most famous pulp authors from this era was Norman Saunders. He was born on January 3rd, 1907 in Minot, although his first memories are from a homestead in Bemidji.

His artistic career began when he was 20 years old after hitchhiking with two self-proclaimed robbers who got nervous about the car they stole in North Dakota, so they pushed it into a big hole in a sand pit.

Once again on foot, Saunders hopped a freight train to Minneapolis where he happened upon a sign that read, "Robbinsdale, the home of Fawcett Publications." His contributions to the firm's popular publication Captain Billy's Whiz Bang earned him a job as a staff artist. He left Fawcett in 1934 to become a free lance pulp artist, moving to New York City where he studied under Harvey Dunn at the Grand Central School of Art.

He soon gained a reputation for a style full of fast action and beautiful women. He could also work quickly, producing 100 paintings a year, which kept him well paid during the Great Depression. The only time his career took a pause was when he served in World War II in the Military Police guarding German prisoners. After the war he transferred to the Army Corp of Engineers and oversaw the construction of a gas pipeline in Burma. In his spare time, he would paint watercolors of Burmese temples.

His artistic career picked up again in 1958 when he got hired by trading card company Topps to paint new jerseys over traded players on baseball cards. Topps eventually hired him to do artwork for series such as Ugly Stickers, Nutty Initials, Make Your Own Name Stickers, and Civil War News. One of his most well known was Mars Attack, which sparked controversy among parents for the implied sexuality and violence. Topps originally was going to repaint 13 of the cards, but after inquiries from a Connecticut district attorney, they agreed to halt production altogether. Luckily for Saunders, he had much more success with his final project for Topps called Wacky Packages, a product he worked on until 1978. Although he no longer did commercial work, Saunders continued to create art until his death on this date in 1984.

Dakota Datebook written by Lucid Thomas


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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