Penny Dreadfuls

The Original Pulp Fiction
Although the term 'penny dreadful' is now used as a generic adjective to describe any pulp fiction which is is cheap and sensationalised, Penny Dreadfuls were originally a genre of fiction that began in Great Britain in the 19th century: they were published in serial form and readers had to pay a penny to get each new episode. The stories were printed on cheap paper and with enticing, lurid titles like Feast of Blood or Adventures of a Notorious Burglar and in some cases were shortened versions of the popular fiction of the day - a kind of condensed, fast-food Gothic novel.

First printed in the 1830s as a cheap alternative to books and pricey periodicals (even the Dicken's serials cost over a shilling a pop), they were aimed at an undemanding readership, who wanted some inexpensive escapism to wile away their limited leisure hours. 19th century educational reforms in Britain now meant that for the first time, literature was accessible to the working classes. This, together with the industrial revolution and the invention of the steam powered printing press meant that a whole new market opened up for the print pedlars.

Lurid Tales for the Young
While initially they catered to an adult market, by the end of the 1850s, Penny Dreadful publishers had set their demographic target squarely at the adolescent market, who thirsted for accessible entertainment. Sometimes, even a penny was too much for some young readers - the cost would be shared and the serials passed along. There were crime stories, romances, adventure tales and mysteries, some of which were penned by writers of note and they proved to be enormously popular with the youth market but scoffed at by literary snobs who dubbed them Penny Blood and Penny Dreadfuls.
Spring-heeled Jack, a Penny Dreadful popular in two centuries. This one from 1886

The Penny Dreadful term stuck well into the 20th century,  used to describe various, cheap fiction from the saccharine romance of Mills and Boon to the slim but lurid paperbacks at airport newstands, not to mention the plethora of self-published short e-books that have flooded the internet market in recent times. Needless to say, early Penny Dreadfuls have become collectables.