Pulp Clichés

Pulp Clichés

Pulp is both a medium and a very broad genre. Many popular magazines were once printed on cheap, wood-pulp paper, and included a variety of types of stories (detective, war, action/adventure, science fiction, westerns, romance, etc.). For the purposes of this page, "Pulp" includes not only the stories that appear in the original pulp magazines, but movies, radio, TV, and other media based on them, as well as modern tributes such as "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "The Mummy", and "Sky-Captain and the World of Tomorrow". They are typically set anywhere from the 1920s through the 1940s, and have a more "black and white" view of morality.

These clichés are divided up into some of the popular pulp sub-categories.


  • Stage Magician - sawing people in half without hurting them, making dramatic gestures, wearing tuxedo and top hat, pulling rabbits out of hats

  • Femme Fatale - seducing the rich and powerful, falling in love with square-jawed hero

  • Jaded millionaire playboy/girl - throwing around lots of cash, drinking gallons of champagne, expecting to be waited on

  • Circus Performer - walking tightropes, getting shot out of cannons, swinging from trapezes

  • Shell-shocked Veteran - (being terrified by loud noises, using rifles and bayonnettes, reminiscing about the Great War, having nightmares)

  • Movie Star - looking glamorous, being idolized by millions, partying into the wee small hours

  • Stunt Man - escaping from certain danger, looking kinda like a movie star

  • Nosy Reporter - scooping other reporters, protecting sources

  • Wonder Dog - going for help, communicating by barking, scenting danger

  • Aviator/Aviatrix - storming barns, tinkering endlessly with engines, walking away from crash landings

  • Football Player - eating like a horse, dating cheerleaders, squashing poindexters

  • Poindexter - stammering around girls, getting leaned on by football players, being a walking encyclopedia

  • Concert Pianist - practicing constantly, acting snobbish, dressing impeccably

  • Daredevil - Escaping from crashing vehicle, leaping across crevices

  • Human Fly - Climbing the Empire State Building without gear, tightrope walking over Niagara Falls

  • Beat Cop - interrogating criminals, drinking gallons of bad coffee, [protecting donut shops

  • Linguist - translating ancient inscriptions, pronouncing the unpronounceable

  • Hobo - hopping freight trains, doing odd jobs, drinking anything alcoholic

  • Physician - making house calls, scrawling illegibly

  • Psychiatrist - Asking pointless questions, making everything relate to sex

  • Soldier - staying awake during guard duty, sleeping whenever you can

  • Clergyman - sermonizing, saving souls, damning sinners

  • Frat Boy - boozing it up, chasing girls, hazing freshmen


  • Singing Cowboy - being followed by unseen musicians, shooting guns from outlaws' hands, helping widows and orphans

  • Handsome Stranger - wandering from town to town, inadvertantly getting into trouble, being the object of unmarried townswomen's desires

  • Gunslinger - never refusing a challenge, soaking up the redeye, being asked to get out of town by sunset

  • Crooked Sheriff - harassing the player-characters, taking bribes, doing what the bad guys say

  • Incorruptible Sheriff - refusing bribes, facing down the bad guys, getting shot in the back

  • Town Drunk - cadging drinks, sleeping in gutters, staggering

  • Saloon Girl - having a heart of gold, dancing for ruffians, falling in love with handsome strangers

  • School Marm - looking bookish, being prim and proper, falling in love with the handsome stranger

  • Sodbuster - hating sheep-herders, being a widower, forbidding beautiful daughter to fall in love with handsome stranger

  • Meek Townsfolk - hiring gunslingers to chase the outlaws out of town, gossiping about the other townfolk

  • Goofy Sidekick - behaving eccentrically, getting into trouble, having confusing plot points explained to you

  • Town Fathers - making deals with the local railroad barons, getting rich, selling out the townsfolk

  • Greenhorn - coming from Back East, not knowing anything about what's going on, being easy prey for the bad guys

  • Black Hats - stealing cattle, robbing banks, getting shot

  • Card Sharp - being lucky, pulling out hidden cards, being run out of town on a rail

  • Faithful Steed - pulling rider's chestnuts out of the fire, knowing how to count

  • Hanging Judge - hanging them all, letting God sort them out

  • Bounty Hunter - being gruff and cynical, trailing fugitives

  • Clueless Deputy - bungling arrests, letting the bad guys go, mistaking the good guys for outlaws

  • Doc - Being cantankerous, patching up bullet holes, drinking daily

  • Cattle Baron - Waging war with the rail barons

  • Rail Baron - Being rich, buying land, having absurd amounts of money

  • Civil War Veteran - having physical or psychological wounds, encountering reminders of the War

  • Determined Widow - proving you don't need a husband to succeed, evading potential husbands

  • Snake Oil Salesman - putting on a good show, selling fake medicine

  • Preacher Man - quoting the Bible, prechjing fire and brimstone, condemning sin

  • Indian Chief - negotiating with white men, commanding tribes

  • Savage Indian - scalping, terrorizing, drinking firewater

  • Noble Savage - acting with honor, shunning firewater

  • Medicine Man - rain-dancing, casting curses, summoning spirits


  • Hard-Boiled Detective - spying on cheating husbands, dodging the landlord, hitting the bottle

  • Cheap Hoodlum - pistol-whipping victims, taking it on the lam, planning heists

  • Reformed Gangster - keeping nose clean, getting pulled in by the cops, repaying old debts of honor without getting thrown back in the slammer

  • Crime Boss - ordering your lieutenants around, having people rubbed out, running rackets

  • Gun Moll - being sexy in a cheap and tawdry way

  • Gangster - carrying a tommy gun in a violin case, talking like Edward G. Robinson or Jimmy Cagney

  • G-Man - nabbing Public Enemy No. 1, wearing snappy trenchcoat

  • Mouthpiece - defending bad guys in court, making objections, making deals

  • Stool Pigeon - betraying the bad guys, getting fitted for a pair of cement overshoes

  • Fence - Receiving hot property, paying off the cops

  • Obtrusive Police Official - stymieing investigator, hold press conference, arrest the wrong people

  • Psycho Killer - raving maniacally, skulking, wading through gore offscreen

  • The Butler - doing it, diverting attention from the ones who really did it

  • Amateur Sleuth - being smarter than the police, being resented by the police, having an eccentric hobby

  • Master of Disguise - Imitate absolutely everybody, wear several sets of clothes on top of each other without discomfort

  • Gentleman Thief - owning a tuxedo, going to posh events, stealing jewels stylishly during the party

  • Defective Detective - acting eccentrically, outwitting crooks

  • The Fat Man - being really fat, wearing white suit, being an evil manipulator

Science Fiction and Weird Science

  • Jetpack Jockey - scorching everything behind you, zipping through the sky like a bat out of hell, walking away without a scratch

  • Earthman Gone Native - getting stuck on alien planet, being better at what the aliens do, marrying an alien princess

  • Alien Princess - getting kidnapped, falling in love with handsome earthman, screaming piercingly, postponing “fate worse than death”

  • Gadgeteer - fixing almost anything with enough chewing gum and bailing wire, inventing half-baked contraptions, stammering and sweating around women

  • Rocket Pilot - counting backwards, looking good in uniform, out-running space torpedoes

  • Ship’s Engineer - complaining about poor abused engines, hide still, know every nut and bolt in ship

  • Absent-minded Professor - forgetting non-attached heads, meddling in God's domain

  • Robot - making whirring and buzzing sounds, interpreting all commands literally, going berserk at inconvenient moments

  • Stoic Intellectual - calculating probabilities in your head, expressing no emotions, being a wet blanket

  • The Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter - being sheltered, falling in love with the Hero, betraying Daddy at an inopportune time

Lost World

  • Unfrozen Caveman - reminiscing about the Ice Age, hunt for mammoths, unfamiliar with modern world, spooked by modern gadgets, decorate apartment with cave paintings

  • Jungle King/Queen - swinging on vines, talking with animals, having great tan

  • Handsome Stranger - foretelling eclipses, getting into and out of trouble, rescuing Native Princess

  • Native Princess - falling in love with Handsome Stranger, having weird customs, misinterpreting handsome stranger’s actions

  • Tribesman - menacing outsiders, selling tribal lands for beads and trinkets

  • Gladiator - wearing antiquated armor, fighting to the death

  • Rebellious Slave - learning about freedom, rebelling against masters

  • Overbearing Shaman - talking to spirits, slinging curses, sacrificing virgins

  • Jealous Prince - plot against Handsome Stranger, yearn for Native Princess

  • Native Sidekick - assisting Handsome Stranger, knowing the lay of the land

  • Great White Hunter - decorating your home with stuffed animals, knowing the ways of the natives, surviving in the wild


  • Evil Genius - plotting elaborately, torturing fiendishly, revealing plans prematurely, escaping secretly

  • Bloodthirsty Fiend - wielding axes, laughing maniacally

  • Mesmerist - hypnotizing damsels, creating illusions, bending wills

  • Sniveling Toady - worshipping the Master, obeying the Master, failing the Master

  • Menacing Beast - Grr. Argh.

  • The Baroness - wearing black leather outfits, having an accent, enjoying pain and suffering

  • Second Rate Second Banana - feeling inferior, making others pay for it

  • Evil Cultist - worshipping Evil, doing Evil's bidding, chanting

  • Corrupt Hick - tormenting city-slickers, marrying your sister

  • The Mole - being secretly evil, betraying your friends

  • Enfant Terrible - being adorable, being Satanic

  • Evil Vizier - corrupting the leader, usurping power

  • Evil Counterpart/Evil Twin - being just like the hero, only evil

  • Evil Minion - being disposable

  • Nietzsche Wannabe - ranting about how the world is nothing but grave mold and maggots, plotting the destruction of mankind

  • Red Scare - spreading Communism, forming evil unions

  • Evil In A Bottle - trying to escape from the bottle, wreaking evil genie havoc, being put back in a bottle

  • Implacable Stalker - apparently dying, suddenly showing up again

  • The Vamp - seducing good guys, eroding morals, looking damn good in a tight dress

  • Well-Intentioned Extremist - having worthy goals like ending human suffering, employing things like mass murder to accomplish them

  • Worthy Opponent - having a sense of honor, negotiating honestly, allowing wounded hero to escape again to fight another day

  • Yellow Peril - being inscrutable, spouting mystic wisdom, using mystic powers

Weird Stories

Tales of strange monsters, eerie settings, nightmares, hauntings, and the occult. H.P. Lovecraft was a master of this form, and his close friends Clark Ashton Smith, R.E. Howard, and Richard Bloch were but a few who followed him into this strange realm. Florian Edelbauer’s “Risus R’lyeh” page is a good source for this kind of adventure.

  • Occult Detective - Chasing ghosts, finding ancient tomes, putting the smackdown on ancient horrors from before time began

  • Adventurous Archaeologist - Finding lost civilizations, foiling deathtraps, hanging onto your hat

  • Evil High Priest - sacrificing virgins, performing weird rituals

  • Dashing Hero - defeating evil, rescuing beautiful women, not sweating

  • Brainy Bruiser - Having several Ph. D.s, being built like an Olympic athlete

Masked Crusaders

Solving unusual crimes or unraveling bizarre mysteries, Masked Crusaders are the predecessors of the superhero. Though usually possessed of great strength and cunning, they may also have a strange, signature power (like the ability to cloud men’s minds or immunity to pain) or a special gadget (anaesthetic dart gun, smoke grenades).

  • Masked Adventurer - (wearing strange costumes, foiling dastardly crimes, escaping from certain death, endangering clueless assistants)

  • Clueless Assistant - (Performing senseless tasks for masked adventurer, blunder inginto traps)