I had high hopes for doing in-depth analyses of the European pulps, by genre and by country. But I quickly realized that any analysis or breakdown would be irretrievably flawed by virtue of this one fact: we don’t have reliable publication data. For nearly every European country, we don’t have an authoritative, reliable list of the pulps published, of how many, of how long the pulps were published for, of how many issues each pulp had, and of what was in those pulps. We have fragments of that information, and in some cases (like Italy) we have the majority of the information, but for nearly every European country we don’t have enough information to make any analysis useful.
Except for Germany. Thank heaven for the thorough, linear German mind, the scholar in me says. There’s a reliable (even magisterial) bibliography of the German pulps, Heinz Galle’s Groschenhefte: Die Geschichte der Deutschen Trivialliteratur (Ullstein, 1988), and while Groschenhefte isn’t the final word on the German pulps—even Zeus nods—it’s as close as we can possibly expect to get on the subject at this temporal remove. Certainly it’s close enough that we can make some preliminary conclusions about the German pulps up through 1945. (There’s good data available for the post-1945 years, but I’m not going to address that).
So, with Galle’s data, supplemented by what I’ve found in 12 years of my own research, I can put together reliable spreadsheets:
- The start of the European pulp industry is usually credited to the translation of Street & Smith’s Buffalo Bill stories into German in 1905. Certainly you can see the effect of Buffalo Bill—9 pulps in 1905, 23 in 1906. But Germany, like other European countries, was no stranger to serialized fiction; there’d been serialized novels (colporteurs, named after the wandering peddlers who sold them) throughout the 19th century, and European publishers were quick to imitate the dime novel/story paper model of the US & UK after about 1870. So the pre-1905 pulps were unusual but hardly unprecedented.
- The start of World War One didn’t slow down the pulp industry—quite the reverse. In the US, there was a slight decline in 1917 and 1918, but 1914 and 1915 are significantly over the 1912 and 1913 numbers.
- Perhaps the most interesting number to me is not the big increase from 1918 to 1919—every European country had a boom in pulps in 1919. The most interesting number is the 19 pulps going in 1918, when WW1 was at its worst for Germany. Six Adventure (well, one Adventure and one Legionnaire, which is a statistically insignificant genre), one Fairy Tales, five General, two Humor, one Mystery, one Mystery/Adventure, one War/Romance, and two Western. A decent spread of genres, though the unusual showing for humor is easily explainable.
- The drop from 1925-1926 is largely the result of a 1926 academic- and educator-led drive against schund und schmutz (trash and smut) literature–that is, pulps and other cheap, sensational literature. This drive resulted in the Gesetz zur Bewahrung der Jugend vor Schund- und Schmutzschriften, a law allowing for regulation and censorship of popular literature, and increasing amounts of external pressure placed on pulp publishers. So 1926 and 1927 were temporary valleys for the publishers (in terms of numbers) before the rebound in 1928.
- The advent of the Great Depression had more or less the same effect on German pulps as it did on American. US pulps, overall: 1930: 137. 1931: 150. 1932: 131. 1933: 120. German pulps, overall: 1930: 35. 1931: 31. 1932: 28. 1933: 28. Decline of about 20%, which is less than I’d have guessed.
- The post-1933 decline, with the lows in 1935 and 1936, are the result of the rise to power of the Nazis. Following the election which put the Nazis into power, the German government began pressuring the German publishers to make their magazines and heroes more properly German. Some did, others just folded. In 1935 the government passed a strict preventative censorship law, requiring that all magazines be submitted to the government for approval before publication, which kept numbers low. Nearly everything after that point had at least a covert pro-fascism agenda.
- In 1939, after the beginning of World War Two, the publishers were forced by law to change both the titles and the contents of their magazines, to make them more ideologically correct. Some publishers went out of business, others revised their content yet again, but you can see the numbers declining, yet again, and what survived through the war was mostly propaganda for the war effort.
- Genre numbers by magazine: Mysteries, 32.5% of the total; Adventure, 25.6% of the total; Westerns, 11.1% of the total; Science Fiction, 6.6% of the total; General, 6.4% of the total; Historical, 4.9% of the total; War, 4.5% of the total; Humor, 3.0% of the total; Romance, 2.6% of the total; Moral, 2.1% of the total. (That’s over 100% because some pulps did two or three genres—Krieg und Liebe, for example, had war stories right next to romance stories, which is not a combination you’d think would do well, but Krieg und Liebe lasted for 160 issues over 6 years, so clearly it was a winning combination).
- Genre numbers by issues: Mysteries, 30.6% of the total; Adventure, 23.7%; Western, 14.3%; General, 7.9%; War, 5.8%; Science Fiction, 5.6%; Historical, 3.5%; Humor, 3.5%; Romance, 2.6%; Moral, 0.85%.
- Comparing the two previous, there were more issues of Westerns and War than their numbers would predict, less of Science Fiction and Historical, and a *lot* less of Moral. Which means that the average Western and War pulp had more issues than the average Science Fiction and Historical pulp, which in turn says something about the relative popularity of those genres in Germany. Romance was enormously less popular in Germany than in U.S., which makes me wonder if that is also the case in novels.
1906-1910. The Golden Age of German Pulps. (1910 is when the initial pulp craze ended in Europe and Russia). Owned by Mysteries, with Westerns coming in at half Mysteries’ numbers. Germany’s always been very enthusiastic about Westerns, dating back to the 1840s, and while Mysteries were popular in Germany in the 19th century—Germany had a flourishing home-grown set of mystery authors who were nearly entirely uninfluenced by British or American authors up until around 1890—it was nowhere near as popular as the Western and frontier fiction in general. And certainly 1906, when the Germans started translating Buffalo Bill and Jesse James into German, was owned by Westerns. But the translation of Nick Carter and the appearance of Nat Pinkerton (a Nick Carter lift forgotten today but monstrously popular in his time—without exaggeration, Nat Pinkerton was the Harry Potter of 1906-1914) changed all that.
1919-1925. The Silver Age of German pulps—lots of great variety in plot and character, lots of smart writing, the writers and publishers were happy to experiment with plot and form. Mysteries the dominant genre, Adventure a comfortable second. Humor retained its popularity from WW1—over a third of all Humor issues were published in this time frame. (One would have thought Germany would have an even greater need for humor in the 1930s, but the Nazis disapproved of it). This is the high point of the German Science Fiction pulps as far as quality is concerned.
1926-1933. The Bronze Age of German pulps. (I’m rather happy I thought to apply the comics terminology here, it fits quite well). Mysteries continue to be the top choice; there was an obvious drop in 1926 and 1927, following the Gesetz zur Bewahrung der Jugend vor Schund- und Schmutzschriften, but Mysteries were the first genre to rebound—the publishers were willing to push boundaries in Mysteries first as a way to make money. Oddly, Westerns were hurt the most by the anti-schund und schmutz movement, and didn’t recover until 1930—I say “oddly” because German Westerns were even more conservative (morally and politically) than their American counterparts. Science Fiction was almost as badly hurt; of the three sf pulps to debut during this time period, not lasted longer than 10 issues. The numbers for Historical are even worse than they appear; half of all the Historical issues can from one magazine, Frauen der Liebe, which published fiction about notable historical (and historic) women. General was a motley group, but 1933 did bring the debut of Jede Woche ein Roman, the greatest of the German General pulps and the rough equivalent to the American Short Stories.
1934-1939. The Dark Age of German pulps. The pressure on publishers from the government increased virtually every year. It affected output: bye bye, Romance, bye bye, Moral (which was replaced by a few short-lived Propaganda pulps). It affected content--if a story wasn’t pro-German and pro-Nazi, the government didn’t like it. There were a few exceptions, but for the most part the pulps had have a pro-fascist content. Most pulp publishers knuckled under. Those that didn’t were forced to follow the example of the mystery Der Detektiv. Der Detektiv was the home for consulting detective Harald Harst, one of the two or three greatest German pulp heroes. Der Detektiv ran from 1919 to 1934, and Harst was in every issue. In 1934 the German government ordered the publishers of Der Detektiv to make Harst a Nazi. The publishers refused. The government then ordered Harst’s death Or Else. So, quite abruptly, Harst dies, drowned in the Baltic Sea while fighting a criminal mastermind.
Most other German pulps embraced (however reluctantly) the Nazi cause. The Science Fiction pulps were the worst of them all; Jorn Farrow’s U-Boot Abenteuer was an unfailing advocate for both German imperialism and the stabbed-in-the-back myth, while the wildly-popular Sun Koh (the Nazi Doc Savage) and Jan Mayen combined imaginative plots with paeans to genocide.
The longest holdout against the government’s pressure were the Mystery pulps. The Westerns, perhaps surprisingly, gave in rather quickly. (If the cowboy heroes weren’t German immigrants, or German-American, they became that way, and the stories played up their racial superiority and the inferiority of everyone else. Once in a long while you even got a statement like “Someday a True Leader will come along and organize all the German peoples of the world into one true nation!”).
The Humor pulp was a reprint and expansion of a 1922 wacky-teen-detectives farce-and-slapstick pulp rather than anything with a bite.
1940-1945. World War Two. The new laws regulating the pulps didn’t just affect content. It was a useful way for the government to let publishers know what genres were Nazi-approved. Mysteries weren’t (although there were a handful of mystery novels published in Germany during World War Two), so away went that genre. After the U.S. entered WW2, Westerns were no longer allowable. War pulps were, because they could double as propaganda.
So...what did I miss?