The wild west of pulp advertising

Hugely popular in the 20th century, pulp fiction novels and magazines were produced in massive quantities. Most were written by hack writers and enthusiastic amateurs who were willing to sign contracts that demanded an incredibly high output. Notable for their striking cover art and suggestive titles, pulp publications were cheaply made, formulaic and designed to be read quickly and then thrown away.

La Trobe Library hosted an exhibition of rare pulp titles from the personal collection of Stuart Kells, Adjunct Professor, La Trobe College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce. The exhibition encompassed the genres of Romance, Crime, Western and Science Fiction from publishers such as Phantom Books, Currawong and Transport Publishing. This Opinion piece is based on Professor Kells’s third reading associated with the exhibition.


This is the fourth and final speaking event associated with the Golden Age of Pulp Fiction exhibition at La Trobe University Library.

The exhibition consists of Australian pulps from the middle decades of the twentieth century.

The works were produced in massive quantities and at an incredible pace.

Noted for their vivid cover art, they satisfied an appetite for fast entertainment in the era before television.

Today, my focus is on the premier pulp genre of the 1940s: westerns.

This is the literature of the wild frontier.

All the elements you’d expect are there: fist fights, gun fights, horse stealers, cattle rustlers. frontier romance, outlaws and rough justice.

Though the books were published in Australia – and sometimes written by Australians – they make no effort to relocate the American frontier to Australia.

The books contain the jargon and geography of the American west: Texas, Carson City, Hop-along Cassidy, the Colt revolver, ranchers, range riders.

Crime and detective pulps were criticised for their overt violence and sex, but pulp westerns mostly escaped this disapproval.

They were raw and gritty, but the bloodshed wasn’t sensational: the villains usually needed justice; and most cowboys had more affection for their horse than for their human partners.

Women, when they appear in the stories, are typically figures of conquest, and catalysts for violence.

When First Nations people appear, they are often in the background, or they are cast as the uncivilised enemy.

The pulps in this exhibition include rare volumes for Currawong Publishing, Invincible Press and Atlas Publishing.

Titles include Gun Girl, Cowboy Hoodoo, Lead Is Law, Hangtree Justice, Laughing Dude, Border Badman and Hasty Lead.

If you are expecting a reading today of blood and guns and guts, you will be mostly disappointed.

I want instead to focus on another set of texts in these volumes.

When I was reading pulps and comics in the seventies and eighties, the thing I most enjoyed was the advertising.

The ubiquitous ads for Mr Atlas and toy soldiers and Sea Monkeys.

In previous pulp sessions, we’ve pondered whether the pulps reveal subconscious desires and anxieties.

The same can be asked of the advertising.

A random sample from four Australian Western pulps (1939-1953) reveals several strange and arresting advertisements, and I’d like to read from some of those now.

The ads include cures for leg injuries, ways to stop smoking, spiritual healers, dating services, good luck charms, gland therapy, etiquette and yoga.

Charles Atlas, winner of the title ‘The World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man’, says:

I’ll PROVE in only 7-days that I can make you a new man…of might and muscle.

Once I was a scrawny, under-sized weakling, weighing only 7 stone, only ‘half-alive’, always ailing, never getting my share of the good times and the good things of life.

Then I developed my system of DYNAMIC-TENSION that won me fame and the title of ‘The World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man.’

Who decides? You? – or the other fellow?

Don’t be a victim of circumstance – carve your own destiny

GET A HOLD of the reins of your life and cease waiting to be told where you’re going. Through Yogism, the modern life science based on Yoga secrets thousands of years old, you can build the supreme faith that shatters opposition. This powerful and proved system opens a new world of opportunity and achievement to you, whatever your age.

You are not as old as you think. Wake up your reserve of natural youth

What is it that makes you feel so tired in the evenings now? What is it that has robbed you of the desire to get out and about, and enjoy yourself as you once did? You probably think it is the increasing years taking their natural toll. [But] Gland Therapy or Hormone Therapy, as your doctor calls it, is the answer. Gland treatment does not merely stimulate your energies, like drugs may do, but actually refurbishes your glands.


I Guarantee to increase your height in 12 days or return your money. New discovery increases height 2 to 5 inches… Guaranteed harmless. Full course, 10/- …Sent under plain cover.

Her Highness Joan the Wad…

is the LUCKY CORNISH PISKEY who Sees All, Hears All, Does All. Joan the Wad is Queen of the Lucky Cornish Piskeys. Thousands of persons all over the world claim that Joan the Wad has brought them Wonderful Luck in the way of Health, Wealth and Happiness…

‘Two weeks ago I bought a ‘Joan the Wad’ and to-day I have won £232. 10s. Please send two more.’ B.C. Tredgear, South Wales.

Send Now. Hurry. Guaranteed dipped in water from the lucky Saints’ Well.

Join the Well Paid Ranks of the I.C.S.-Trained Men…

The successful man DOES today what the failure INTENDS doing tomorrow. Write today…

Look Fellas!

Glossy Western Photos

Good news! At last we are able to announce that this magnificent set of three glossy photographs of your favourite cowboy stars is yours… For only 1/6d. you can become the proud owner of these fine photographs of Roy Rogers and Trigger, John Wayne, and Rocky Lane, and be the envy of your friends.

‘I couldn’t care less!’ [is] An expression of the times…

But don’t let this lethargic, hang-dog feeling creep into your system. If you want to get somewhere, NOW is the time to start caring!!

If you feel you are a misfit, a square peg in a round hole, if your job is distasteful, lacks scope or stimulation, if every aspect of your mode of living is uninspiring and tedious you need help, and help of the kind that Psychology can give you, through REALIZATION. This unique book will help you along the road to success, in whatever sphere you choose… REALIZATION clears the befogged mind, it explains how to release your own vital power, magnify it, how to harness it for practical use.


John D. Rockefeller, Senior, once said:

‘The ability to deal with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar or coffee. And I will pay more for that ability than for any other under the sun.’

How to develop this ability is the subject of a new book by Dale Carnegie, who, during the last 25 years, has trained over 17,000 people in London, Paris, New York, and other large cities around the world.

Inferiority Complex

Eradicated forever

An Inferiority Complex is a disturbance in the Subconscious Mind which manifests itself in self-consciousness and lack of confidence – in nervousness and ‘nervyness’ – …in lassitude and lack of enterprise – in nerve pains and other ailments – in weakness of will and habits…

You cannot control these impulses…but you can remove them altogether by eradicating from your Subconscious Mind the trouble from which they spring… This you can do – yourself – simply by your own efforts, in the privacy of your own home.

Write today for FREE Book ‘I Can… and I Will’.

The advertisements play on personal fears, and can plausibly be read as revealing multiple social and cultural anxieties.

The sphere of Australian pulp advertising is a mostly neglected field of study, within a somewhat neglected field of study.

I hope you agree it is worthy of further attention.

That brings today’s reading to an end. Thank you.