Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Max Brand: Exemplary American Author?

Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then, I contradict myself;
(I am large—I contain multitudes.)

- Leaves of Grass, 1871-72 edition
Walt Whitman

The Good Gray Poet, Whitman, perhaps best summed up the contrary nature of the American character with these lines. In many ways, these lines also capture the contradictory artistic personality of Frederick Faust, better known to his audience as Max Brand.

Before I continue, let me briefly clarify my use of exemplary in the title of this essay. Here I use the word's definition, "serving as an illustration," not necessarily the typical definition, "worthy of imitation."

Frederick Faust publicly disdained the popular fiction he wrote. Yet he pounded out millions of words of it on reams of paper on a manual typewriter for years, and lived “high on the hog” (as one of his cowboy characters might say) thanks to that same writing. And while he was a very prolific creator of popular fiction in a variety of genres with a huge readership, he focused what he considered his true artistic skills on sweating for hours just to create two lines of classically styled poetry per day...poetry that had nearly no audience and – at best – a lukewarm critical reception.

He supported his family by publishing the bulk of his work printed on rough pulp paper in popular fiction magazines disdained by the literati (no matter what Frank Munsey said to buck the trends*); yet he peopled his stories with the same sort of heroic figures and conflicts that filled myths, legends, and romances of the Western canon. (That's Western as in Western Civilization.)

He banged out first-draft pulp, but read the classics. He entertained literary intellectuals at lavish dinner parties, yet published his work in magazines aimed at entertaining a common, mass audience.

Faust embodied the classic American conflict between the high and low culture, between intellectual pursuits and mass entertainment. It was a conflict that raged within his own psyche.

It's a conflict that continues today, represented by the minor flapdoodle raised by high-brow academic critic Harold Bloom when the National Book Awards gave a Lifetime Achievement citation to Stephen King.

As Timothy Burke writes in defense of King (which you can read at Burke's site, whose URL is,

The culture which matters most is not merely the culture that aesthetes praise as worthy, but the culture which indures [sic], inspires, circulates, and is meaningful and memorable for many people, to the widest audiences. Sometimes that involves the adroit manipulation of archetypical themes and deep tropes of the popular culture of a particular time and place, and King does both of those things.

Burke might as well have been writing about Faust and his popular fictions filled with characters with the skills, abilities and emotions of demi-gods and the daily concerns and attitudes of the common man.

* What did Frank Munsey say?

Here's what he said:

"[Magazines (at the time Munsey got into the publishing business)] seemed to be made for an anemic constituency -- not for young, energetic, red-blooded men and women. Editors edited these magazines for themselves, not for the people. That is, they gave their readers what they (the editors) thought they ought to have. They were like architects who build a building for the outside rather than the inside -- build it for their own glory, rather than to make it serviceable for the uses for which it is designed.

These editors were not men of the world. They didn’t mingle with the world -- didn’t get down to the people and mix with the people. They lived in an artificial literary world, where they saw everything through highly-colored spectacles. There was a woeful lack of up-to-dateness about these magazines -- a woeful lack of human interest.


That's what Frank Munsey, creator of The Argosy and Munsey's Magazine, said.

You can read the entire article, "A Great Event for The Argosy," from the December 1907 issue, online at Larry Estep's great PulpGen site. Here's the URL for the article:

Peter Haining, pulp collector and anthologist, mentions Frank Munsey in his article about the pulps and his coffee-table book, The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines, at the Crime Time magazine site. Click here to read the article.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Five Fabulous Blogs

James Reasoner tagged me with this, and while I don’t always respond to these challenges, this one is easy because I read so many fine blogs.

Here are the rules:

You must include the person that gave you the award, and link it back to them.
You must list 5 of your Fabulous Addictions in the post. You must copy and paste these rules in the post. Right click the award icon & save to your computer then post with your own awards.

Here are Five Fab Blogs:

My five fabulous addictions:

Pulp magazines
Gold Medal paperbacks
Ice Cream

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Blue Book Artists

I want to pass along some links to a dandy blog I visit on a frequent basis, Today's Inspiration. It focus on illustration -- for magazines, books, whatever -- and the illustrators who have made their mark in our cultural awareness of our world. Many of them toiled away, basically unknown -- not everyone became a household word like Norman Rockwell.

My reason for pointing to this blog today is that its creator, Leif Peng, has focused a number of posts on illustrator Austin Briggs. Briggs toiled in the pulp magazines -- primarily Blue Book -- and followed Alex Raymond as artist on the Flash Gordon newspaper strip, before moving to the slicks.

Peng looks primarily at Briggs' work for the slicks, then launches into profiles of artists who worked on Blue Book. This latter was a pulp magazine -- bibliographer Mike Ashley has called it a slick in pulp clothing (I may be misquoting here, but you get the idea) -- that published a lot of western fiction, including by big western names like Max Brand and Luke Short. (To be honest, I'm not sure off the top of my head whether Max Brand/Frederick Faust published any westerns in Blue Book. I don't have my Max Brand Companion close to hand to check the bibliography there, but I know he published at least two adventure stories there -- at least one a serial, Luck of the Spindrift.)

Here are the links to Today's Inspiration's posts looking at Briggs.

AUSTIN BRIGGS at Today's Inspiration:
The Obstinate Briggs Standard

Development Through Struggle

Merciless in his Scrutiny

Regarded an an Important Young Illustrator

The Discovery of Self

BLUE BOOK ARTISTS at Today's Inspiration:

The Artists of Blue Book: John Fulton

The Artists of Blue Book: Hamilton Greene

The Artists of Blue Book: Maurice Bower