Lurid: Crime Paperbacks and Pulp Fiction Exhibition

There has long been a thirst for cheap, mass produced depictions of violence and crime narratives in popular culture from eighteenth century crime ‘broadsides’ sold at public executions and nineteenth century ‘penny dreadfuls’. Rare Books and Special Collections holds an extensive collection of Detective Fiction encompassing twentieth century crime novels as well as pulp fiction series.

A selection of detective fiction on display at the Lurid: Crime Paperbacks and Pulp Fiction Exhibition


Lurid: Crime Paperbacks and Pulp Fiction showcases these books and their cover designs. For instance, the mid-century, green-saturated period of Penguin crime literature paperbacks demonstrates the ‘Marber Grid’, with two-thirds of the layout allowing for striking modernist illustration and bold graphic design. There is power in the simplicity of these designs with their limited colour palette, elements of photomontage, collage, drawing and geometric pattern, and use of sans serif font.

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A selection of detective fiction on display at the Lurid: Crime Paperbacks and Pulp Fiction Exhibition

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At the other extreme of the literary spectrum, there are the garish, titillating and often misogynistic designs that adorn pulp fiction covers. The racy titles and compositional elements of femme fatales and wanton dames, gangsters and gumshoes, and occasional homoerotic imagery, were designed to catch the eyes of disposable sleaze readers (and latter day criminologists).

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A selection of detective fiction on display at the Lurid: Crime Paperbacks and Pulp Fiction Exhibition

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Lurid: Crime Paperbacks and Pulp Fiction reveals and revels in a sense of each genre’s distinctive design, whether highbrow or lowbrow, and the visual impact of these compact, accessible and affordable publications.

This exhibition has been curated by Dr Carolyn McKay. Dr Carolyn McKay is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney Law School where she teaches Criminal Law, Civil & Criminal Procedure and Digital Criminology. She is co-Deputy Director of the Sydney Institute of Criminology. Carolyn is recognised for her research into technologies in justice, specifically her empirical research into prisoners’ experiences of accessing justice from a custodial situation by audio visual links. Her qualitative study based on one-to-one interviews with prisoners provided evidence for her PhD thesis as well as her recently published research monograph,The Pixelated Prisoner: Prison video links, court ‘appearance’ and the justice matrix (2018) Routledge. Carolyn has published and presented in relation to other technologies and served on the 2019 NSW Law Society Legal Technologies Committee. She has been appointed to the 2019-2020 NSW Bar Association Innovation & Technology Committee. Carolyn has been a Visiting Scholar at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of Oxford 2019 and for 3 months at the Oñati International Institute for the Sociology of Law, Spain 2013-14. Carolyn has previously consulted on anti-dumping trade disputes and indirect taxation, working in both Sydney and Tokyo, and she also has a digital media/visual arts practice.

Visit Lurid: Crime Paperbacks and Pulp Fiction from 24th February- 20 June 2020 , level 3 Fisher Library & SciTech Library

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