Western pulp magazines made their initial appearance in 1919 through the publication by Street and Smith called Western Pulp Magazine.
Similar to other pulps, the magazine published short stories and novels as well as fiction narratives of actual events and letters to the editor.
For quite a few years Western Story and its competitors printed a diverse illustration of the cowboy’s life, altering from coarse and rough realism to quite fantastic. As fantasy grew in popularity, the cowboy tales grew to almost mythical proportions and heroic adventures.
Mythology. Max Brand was a contributor to this metamorphosis. It was quite evident in his writings that classical mythology attracted his attention. Brand outfitted several of these legends in boots, spurs and 10-gallon hats.
An early publication of Brand, The Ghost, presented in 1919 in All Story Weekly characterized the Greek mythological god “Pan” as a main actor.
After this publication, Brand traveled west for the first time. Aiming to be a successful writer and poet Brand wrote “I thank God in three languages that I write under a pen name.”
Brand had published material using 19 pen names. His given name was Frederick Faust.
Nevertheless, despite a somewhat negative attitude, he managed to publish more than 30 million words, only a few he considered as a serious novel.
Grinstead. Brand’s writings were often considered light in tone; in contrast, J.E. Grinstead wrote a more realistic old-West style.
In many issues, Grinstead combined normal life styles of the old West with some violence in limited description. Most stories created a sense of bystander observation.
Characterization was revealed through action and the story ending was the typical yesteryear sequence, sort of the good guy riding off into the sunset.
Boy and horse. No Western pulp anthology would be complete without a note concerning a cowboy and his faithful horse. Such a tale was written by Frank Richardson Pierce. Butler’s Nag in the Western Story in 1925 was characteristic of several these, which was regularly featured in pulps.
This story by Pierce featured gentle, homespun humor of the Western image.
Frigid tale. Western Stories often included tales of the then-new frontier from south of the border to the frigid arctic in Alaska.
Robert Case wrote A Ticket Outside, which was a tale of the Yukon that was published in 1933 in Western Story. The story gets its strength from Case’s gripping revelation of the harsh Yukon elements.
Luke Short. Many avid readers of older Western stories prefer Luke Short’s publications over Max Brand’s tales although their narratives often were equally popular. Short was also not as prolific as Brand.
Short’s story Tough Enough issued in 1937 in Atgosy magazine, reveals his ability to create mood and tension with a limited time frame.
Perhaps the most outstanding feature of Short’s style was his ability to bring life to his characters through simple description of small but noticeable gestures and dialogue.
This facet of limited characterization was easily adaptable to film and therefore several of Short’s novels and tales appeared on the screen. A noteworthy one was Blood on the Moon.
Big-time entertainment. These pulps were the principle entertainment for millions of Americans, especially on a long winter day in a farm house. They were also the principle entertainment for males after the short evening chores were finished.
These magazines were pleasing and restful compared to a noisy television screen.
Characters. The men were sturdy and often heroic in the stories, the ladies were quite attractive and, in some, the lifestyle was quite glamorous compared to those of everyday readers.
The worst of the pulps was no worse than the critical television shows. The best of the pulps depended on the extent of the reader’s imagination.
The pulp, like any novel then and now, is a predominant form of entertainment reading and is actually a guide into the author’s imagination.