The Secret Life of Margaret Brundage

Dec 9, 2019 by

No one defined the look of WEIRD TALES like pulp’s premier cover artist Margaret Brundage. The talented woman who dressed (and undressed) countless Seabury Quinn, Robert E. Howard, Jack Williamson, Edmond Hamilton, and Manly Wade Wellman characters was born December 9, 1900 into a devout Christian Science household in Chicago. Her parents were Swedish and Irish immigrants from Scotland.

Editor of her high school newspaper where classmate Walt Disney was a cartoonist, Margaret graduated to become a fashion designer. She supplemented her income with newspaper illustrations and by decorating speakeasies during Prohibition. It was in the latter pursuit that she met and married speakeasy bouncer and janitor Slim Brundage. Her new husband was an alcoholic womanizer, self-professed hobo, and radical anarchist who was born in an insane asylum.

Sadly, as a husband Slim was not a consistent breadwinner. He founded the College of Complexes in 1933, but it closed three months later. He became director of the Hobo College in 1936. His commitment to radical communism led to continuous trouble with authorities and even periods of incarceration.

Forced to support herself, their young son, and her sickly mother, Margaret found work as a cover artist for WEIRD TALES, ORIENTAL STORIES, and MAGIC CARPET. Editor Farnsworth Wright paid her $90 per cover painting. She provided cover art for 66 issues of WEIRD TALES between 1932 and 1945, making her the most in-demand cover artist for the magazine. Only Virgil Finlay was a close rival.

Margaret initially disguised her gender by signing her work as M. Brundage. She redefined sensuality for the already scandalous pulp market, but later found her work the target of New York Mayor LaGuardia’s 1938 decency campaign. Censorship and Farnsworth Wright’s retirement in 1940 saw a lessening of demand for the talented artist in the pulp market.

In spite of her stormy marriage and demanding career depicting half-naked damsels about to be lashed, life was not all Brundage and Discipline for Margaret. Slim abandoned his wife and their son just as America began climbing out of the Great Depression. He would later cash in his pension and re-open the College of Complexes in 1951. It would become Chicago’s most popular beatnik bistro of the decade.

Margaret’s final pulp cover sale was in 1953, but she continued to paint and exhibited and sold her work at art fairs and science fiction conventions. Clark Ashton Smith was highly critical of her sexually-charged paintings as his contemporaneous correspondence with H. P. Lovecraft and R. H. Barlow proved. A leering Forrest J. Ackerman and the dubious claims of L. Sprague de Camp helped keep her work in vogue during the early years of science fiction fandom. Robert Weinberg’s early scholarship did much to correct erroneous claims that she used models (with de Camp propagating the rumor that a nonexistent daughter posed for her, in various stages of undress). Margaret Brundage died in poverty in 1976. Her work survives and continues to define popular conceptions of pulp fiction, sword & sorcery, and weird fantasy.

Pulp scholar and co-founder of the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention Doug Ellis will present “The Weird Tales of Margaret Brundage” on Friday evening, August 7 as PulpFest 2020 celebrates the 120th anniversary of the birth of Margaret Brundage, the centennial of Ray Bradbury’s birth, and the 100th anniversary of BLACK MASK. The convention will also feature presentations brimming with Baum, Burroughs, Barsoom, Brackett, B-movies, and more, including the beautiful Eva Lynd. Be sure to join us August 6 – 9 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh – Cranberry in Mars, PA.

(Although remembered primarily for her WEIRD TALES covers, Margaret Brundage also painted covers for other Popular Fiction Publishing magazines. She contributed two covers to ORIENTAL STORIES and twice that number to THE MAGIC CARPET MAGAZINE, including the October 1933 number.

In addition to her sixty-six covers for WEIRD TALES, Brundage also contributed two covers to GOLDEN FLEECE, a Sun Publications pulp magazine, also based in Chicago.)

Children of the Pulps — Part Two

Jul 18, 2019 by

The stories and art of the pulp magazines have had a profound effect on popular culture across the globe. They have reverberated through a wide variety of media — comic books, movies, paperbacks and genre fiction, television, men’s adventure magazines, radio drama, and even video, anime, manga, and role-playing games.

WEIRD TALES was the first periodical to specialize in the fantasy and horror genres. Premiering in early 1923, its publishers envisioned “The Unique Magazine” as a place for a writer to be given “free rein to express his innermost feelings in a manner befitting great literature.” In reality, the early issues of the pulp were filled with ghost stories, the decision of the magazine’s editor, Edwin Baird. Far more interested in his company’s REAL DETECTIVE AND MYSTERY STORIES, Baird had little interest in fantastic fiction.

Although never a big moneymaker, WEIRD TALES came into its own in late 1924 when Farnsworth Wright was named the magazine’s editor. In the years ahead, the pulp would become admired for its fantasy and supernatural fiction, publishing the work of Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and later, Ray Bradbury. The magazine would also feature substantial efforts by Robert Bloch, August Derleth, Carl Jacobi, Henry Kuttner, Frank Belknap Long, C. L. Moore, Seabury Quinn, Manly Wade Wellman, Henry S. Whitehead, and others. It would likewise become noted for its artists. Hannes Bok, Margaret Brundage, Lee Brown Coye, and Virgil Finlay all contributed a great deal to the fantasy art field through their work for “The Unique Magazine.”

In addition to publishing some of the best fantasy and supernatural fiction of the twentieth century, WEIRD TALES, like the Munsey magazines, featured science fiction in its pages, offering tales of interplanetary expeditions, brain transference, death rays, lost races, parallel worlds, and more. Edmond Hamilton was its leading contributor of science fiction. With stories about alien invasions, space police, and evolution gone wild, the author became known as “world-wrecker” Hamilton. Other notable science fiction in the magazine included work by Austin Hall, Otis Adelbert Kline, C. L. Moore, Donald Wandrei, and Jack Williamson. H. P. Lovecraft also weaved his own style of science fiction into his tales of cosmic horror.

During the late summer of 1926, H. P. Lovecraft wrote “The Call of Cthulhu.” Initially rejected by WEIRD TALES editor Farnsworth Wright, it was first published in “The Unique Magazine” in its February 1928 issue. Although three minor, related stories predated it in what has come to be known as “The Cthulhu Mythos,” “The Call of Cthulhu” is one of the author’s seminal works. As writer and Lovecraft correspondent Fritz Leiber observed, “Here for the first time, Lovecraft moves horror from the realm of Earth to the stars.”

In the years remaining to Lovecraft following the publication of “The Call of Cthulhu,” he expanded on its themes in such tales as “The Whisperer in Darkness,” “At the Mountains of Madness,” and “The Shadow Out of Time,” depicting a universe of mind-numbing horror that was a reflection of his own materialistic atheism. Lovecraft also invited other writers to pen their own tales using the “synthetic folklore” he had created. “I think it is rather good fun to have this artificial mythology given an air of verisimilitude by wide citation.”  Robert Bloch, August Derleth, Robert E. Howard, Henry Kuttner, Frank Belknap Long, and Clark Ashton Smith were some of the WEIRD TALES writers who authored their own “Mythos” fiction.

In later years — particularly following the death of “the old gentleman” — August Derleth worked to expand Lovecraft’s so-called “mythos,” albeit shaping it in a way that some scholars claim corrupted the original vision. Although he may have twisted H. P. Lovecraft’s ideas, Derleth also helped to popularize the author’s work. His Arkham House Publishers significantly expanded Lovecraft’s reputation, bringing the “Mythos” under the microscope of both academic and amateur scholars. Lovecraft’s stories became more widely read and popular, leading to adaptations in a variety of media including motion pictures, television, comic books, role-playing and video games, and even action figures and other toys. His stories are known the world over and though he lived much of his life in poverty, Lovecraft’s words and ideas have been transformed into a multi-million-dollar industry.

Although an important contributor to Lovecraft’s “Mythos,” Robert E. Howard’s greatest contribution to fantastic fiction was through his tales of Solomon Kane, Kull, and most importantly, Conan.

Howard became a regular contributor to “The Unique Magazine” in 1928, the same year that his first Solomon Kane story — “Red Shadows” — appeared. Kull of Atlantis would follow in 1929. Three years later, the first tale of Conan — “The Phoenix on the Sword” — would appear in the December 1932 WEIRD TALES.

“Conan seemed suddenly to grow up in my mind without much labor on my part and immediately a stream of stories flowed off my pen — or rather, off my typewriter — almost without effort on my part. I did not seem to be creating, but rather relating events that had occurred. Episode crowded on episode so fast that I could scarcely keep up with them. For weeks I did nothing but write of the adventures of Conan. The character took complete possession of my mind and crowded out everything else in the way of story-writing.”

In the stories about Solomon Kane, Kull, and Conan, Robert E. Howard created a genre. As Fritz Leiber wrote in the July 1961 issue of AMRA:

“I feel more certain than ever that this field should be called the sword-and-sorcery story. This accurately describes the points of culture-level and supernatural element and also immediately distinguishes it from the cloak-and-sword (historical adventure) story — and (quite incidentally) from the cloak-and-dagger (international espionage) story too!”

More than ninety years after the first publication of “Red Shadows,” Robert E. Howard’s sword-and-sorcery stories continue to resonate through popular culture. They have inspired motion pictures, comic books, television and animated series, action figures, role-playing and video games, and even heavy metal music and a live-action show at Universal Studios Hollywood. Most importantly, his fiction has inspired other writers to spin their own sword-and-sorcery stories. Lin Carter, Glen Cook, John Jakes, Henry Kuttner, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, C. L. Moore, Charles Saunders, Karl Edward Wagner, and others have all contributed to the genre that Howard popularized.

Not long after Robert E. Howard’s death in 1936, his friend and correspondent H. P. Lovecraft wrote: “It is hard to describe precisely what made Mr. Howard’s stories stand out so sharply; but the real secret is that he himself is in every one of them.”

Along with Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” and Howard’s “Red Shadows,” Clark Ashton Smith’s first story for “The Unique Magazine” also appeared in 1928. Smith was the third member of the WEIRD TALES triumvirate. However, he has not achieved the acclaim of Howard and Lovecraft.

Largely self-taught, Clark Ashton Smith spent the majority of his life in Auburn, California, dwelling in a small cabin erected by his parents. He began to write in his youth and gained some notoriety as a poet. His blank verse poem, “The Hashish Eater,” brought Smith to the attention of H. P. Lovecraft. The pair began exchanging letters. Later, Smith also began corresponding with Robert E. Howard.

The advent of The Great Depression and the declining health of both his parents led Smith to fiction writing. Beginning in 1930 and running through 1936, he published nearly ninety stories, mainly in WEIRD TALES, WONDER STORIES, and STRANGE TALES OF MYSTERY AND TERROR.

Although his work has rarely appeared outside the printed page — a few stories were adapted for television, movies, the graphic format, and role-playing games — the fiction of Clark Ashton Smith inspired other writers.

In a letter to Donald Sidney-Fryer, Harlan Ellison wrote:

“It is often impossible to say where a man’s inspirations come from, but in the lineal descent of my own writings, I have no hesitation in saying had it not been for Clark Ashton Smith and the wonders he revealed to me, at that precise moment of my youth in which I was most malleable, most desperate for direction, I might well have gone in any one of the thousand other directions taken by my contemporaries, and wound up infinitely poorer in spirit, intellect, prestige and satisfaction than I am today. As I owe a great debt to science fiction as a whole, to fandom as a particular, and to the other writers who encouraged me in my work . . . I owe the greatest of debts to Clark Ashton Smith, for he truly opened up the universe for me.”

Other writers who owe a debt to Smith include Fritz Leiber, George R. R. Martin, Michael Moorcock, Jack Vance, Gene Wolfe, and most notably, Ray Bradbury:

“Looking back on the years when I was eleven and twelve, I remember two stories. The first was “The City of the Singing Flame,” the second was “Master of the Asteroid.” Both were by Clark Ashton Smith. These stories more than any others I can remember had everything to do with my decision, while in the seventh grade, to become a writer. In the hardbound book field there were a few writers, of course, who set me going, but in the short-story form CAS stood alone on my horizon. He filled my mind with incredible worlds, impossibly beautiful cities, and still more fantastic creatures on those worlds and in those cities. . . . Take one step across the threshold of his stories, and you plunge into color, sound, taste, smell, and texture — into language.”

“The Unique Magazine” has been inspiring all sorts of creators for ninety-six years. However, WEIRD TALES is just one of the many rough-paper magazines that have inspired pop culture creators over the decades. PulpFest 2019 will focus on the many ways pulp fiction and pulp art have inspired and continue to inspire creators. We’re calling this year’s theme “Children of the Pulps and Other Stories,” an examination of the pervasive influence of pulp magazines on contemporary pop culture. We hope you’ll join us from August 15 – 18 at the beautiful DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh – Cranberry in Mars, Pennsylvania.

(The first issue of WEIRD TALES — dated March 1923 — featured cover art by R. R. Epperly. It is best remembered for publishing Anthony M. Rud’s “Ooze,” a story concerning a giant amoeba. Also featured in the issue were tales by pulpsters Otis Adelbert Kline, Joel Townsley Rogers, R. T. M. Scott, and Harold Ward. The issue was put together by Edwin Baird, the editor of the magazine until the November 1924 issue, when Wright took the helm.

Writer Alan Moore’s and artist Jacen Burrows’s PROVIDENCE  is a twelve-issue comic book series published by Avatar Press. According to the League of Comic Geeks, PROVIDENCE “deconstructs all of Lovecraft’s concepts, reinventing the entirety of his work inside a painstakingly researched framework of American history.” The series ran from 2015 through 2017.

Although Robert E. Howard’s work — particularly his Conan stories — had been collected in small press editions over the years, the Lancer and Ace paperback editions of 1966 – 1977 delivered the character to the masses. Lancer’s CONAN THE ADVENTURER — released in 1966 — was the first of the volumes. Undoubtedly, it was Frank Frazetta’s stunning cover artwork that initially sold the character to readers. However, it was Howard’s expressive writing that kept them clamoring for more.

C. C. Senf‘s cover for the January 1932 issue of WEIRD TALES is one of three illustrating a Clark Ashton Smith story. The others include the April 1938 issue, illustrating “The Garden of Adompha,” and the September 1947 number, illustrating “Quest of the Gazolba,” an abridged version of “The Voyage of King Euvoran.” The latter stories are beyond Smith’s period of active fiction-writing. By 1936, he had turned away from writing prose, concentrating instead on poetry, art, and sculpture.

To learn more about the influence of WEIRD TALES, please visit the PulpFest Instagram page.)

150 Years of the Greatest Editor

Mar 18, 2019 by

When one considers the editors of the pulps, invariably thoughts turn to the writers they discovered or nurtured. It is the authors and their stories that measure a magazine’s editor.

For BLACK MASK editor Cap Shaw, it was W. T. Ballard, Paul Cain, Raymond Chandler, George Harmon Coxe, Norbert Davis, Horace McCoy, Frederick Nebel, Roger Torrey, Raoul Whitfield, and many others. Shaw also brought Dashiell Hammett back to the magazine, and helped to develop his skills as a novelist. After his return to BLACK MASK, Hammett wrote RED HARVEST, THE DAIN CURSE, THE MALTESE FALCON, and THE GLASS KEY.

Street & Smith’s John W. Campbell — editor of ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION — helped stage The Golden Age of Science Fiction. He encouraged Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Lester del Rey, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, Clifford D. Simak, Theodore Sturgeon, A. E. van Vogt, Jack Williamson, and others to expand their thinking and storytelling.

At WEIRD TALES, it was Farnsworth Wright at the helm. He published Robert Bloch, Hugh B. Cave, August Derleth, Edmund Hamilton, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, Seabury Quinn, Henry S. Whitehead, and, most importantly, Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith. Artists Hannes Bok, Margaret Brundage, and Virgil Finlay also contributed to “The Unique Magazine” during Wright’s tenure.

What of the great hero pulps that inspired countless imitators? Walter B. Gibson’s THE SHADOW and Lester Dent’s DOC SAVAGE owed a great deal to Street & Smith editor John L. Nanovic. He was also in charge of THE AVENGER — written by pulpsmith Paul Ernst — and other titles.

Other greats included Daisy Bacon of LOVE STORYADVENTURE editor Arthur Sullivant Hoffman; Donald Kennicott, editor of BLUE BOOK; Standard Publications’ “Little Giant” Leo Margulies; and Rogers Terrill, who helped develop the weird menace genre and a great deal more for Popular Publications.

Towering over them all was Robert Hobart Davis, born in Nebraska on March 23, 1869. Trained in the newspaper industry, Davis became the managing editor of Frank A. Munsey’s NEW YORK SUNDAY NEWS in the early 1900s. He soon shifted to fiction editor for MUNSEY’S MAGAZINE. As he added more magazines to his stable, Munsey turned them all over to Davis. THE ALL-STORY MAGAZINE, THE CAVALIER, RAILROAD MAN’S MAGAZINE, THE SCRAP BOOK, and others were all edited by Bob Davis. But what of his writers?

Before others landed him, Davis signed William Sydney Porter — better known as O. Henry — to a five-year contract. It gave Munsey first look at the author’s works. According to Richard Cary, Bob Davis was also the literary godfather to “Edgar Rice Burroughs, Zane Grey, Edison Marshall, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Octavus Roy Cohen, Max Brand, Fannie Hurst, Israel Zangwill, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Sophie Kerr, Frank L. Packard, Montague Glass, Arthur Somers Roche, Faith Baldwin, James Oliver Curwood, Rex Beach, Louis Joseph Vance, Charles Van Loan, and Ben Ames Williams.” Other writers that he developed included science fiction, fantasy, and adventure fiction greats Ray Cummings, George Allan England, Homer Eon Flint, J. U. Giesy, Austin Hall, A. Merritt, Garrett P. Serviss, and Charles B. Stilson. Davis also acquired the rights to Joseph Conrad’s last major work, “Victory,” for MUNSEY’S MAGAZINE.

Davis protégé Sam Hellman knew of no other editor who had “graduated more writers from pulp to prominent pay.” Pulp historian John Locke also noted that, “More than sixty authors — many of them well-known — dedicated their books to Bob Davis.”

So what was Davis’s secret? According to Richard Cary:

As to Davis’s “force,” it had two salient strands: first, his philosophy of friendship; second, his tremendous versatility. Making friends was his principal hobby; “Know lots of people” his favorite slogan. He was intrigued by the potentialities in human relationships and the values accruing therefrom. He felt that “Every important advancement you ever made was . . . due to some acquaintance,” and he wasn’t talking about opportunism. Because his own capacity to give was inexhaustible he believed that everyone had within him the spark to brighten derelict spirits or to ignite lagging talents.

Bob Davis asked his writers to emphasize character. In 1920, William C. Lengel wrote, “Life is the thing that interests Davis. Life and people. Strange as it may seem he says that ‘plot’ is of no considerable importance, that character in a story is everything. It is the characters and the interest in them that make plot and suspense, he says. Dramatize the moment. Put life into fiction.”

During the summer of 1920, ALL-STORY WEEKLY was merged with ARGOSY. Bob Davis lost his editorial chair to the longer tenured ARGOSY editor Matthew White. Leaving behind most of his editorial duties, Davis launched Service for Authors, a literary agency that was sponsored by Frank Munsey.

Following the death of Munsey in late 1925, Davis became a columnist for THE NEW YORK SUN. Appearing three times a week, the column “chronicled Davis’s adventures, opinions, perceptions and personal encounters as he traveled for the SUN.” The former Munsey editor passed away in Montreal in October 1942. He was traveling for his “Bob Davis Reveals” column.

Bob Davis “harbored no stainless illusions about himself.” He wrote about himself in 1928: “What little success I have achieved as an editor is due entirely to the fact that I have never at any time considered myself a better writer than my contributors. Nor have they.”

(Charles B. Stilson — the author of “Polaris of the Snows” — featured on the cover of ALL-STORY WEEKLY for December 18, 1915, with cover art by P. J. Monahan — was just one of many writers discovered and/or nurtured by Robert Hobart Davis.

In 1925, photographer Doris Ullman published a photograph of Davis in A PORTRAIT GALLERY OF AMERICAN EDITORS: BEING A GROUP OF XLIII LIKENESSES. Arthur Sullivant Hoffman of ADVENTURE and Charles Agnew MacLean of THE POPULAR MAGAZINE are also included in Ullman’s portfolio.

If you’d like to read more about Robert Hobart Davis, we very much recommend Richard Cary’s “Ben Ames Williams and Robert H. Davis: The Seedling in the Sun,” published in the September 1963 issue of COLBY QUARTERLY. Click the link in the previous sentence.

You’ll also find extensive information about Davis in Sam Moskowitz’s UNDER THE MOONS OF MARS: A HISTORY AND ANTHOLOGY OF “THE SCIENTIFIC ROMANCE” IN THE MUNSEY MAGAZINES, 1912 – 1920 (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1970), John Locke’s THE OCEAN: 100TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION (Off-Trail Publications, 2008), and “Bob Davis of MUNSEY’S,” originally published in the January 24, 1920 issue of ADVERTISING AND SELLING. It was republished by Sai Shankar on February 1, 2014 on his PULP FLAKES blog.

Finally, if you’d like to read “I Am the Printing Press,” one of Bob Davis’ best-remembered pieces, click the link in this sentence.

Writer, anthologist, and pulp historian Gene Christie will offer a presentation on Bob Davis at PulpFest 2019. We hope you can join us at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh – Cranberry in August.)

 

Margaret Brundage at 115

Dec 7, 2015 by

Weird Tales (June 1933)Few artists are as strongly linked to a single pulp as Margaret Brundage is to WEIRD TALES. Dec. 9, 2015, marks the 115th anniversary of her birth in Chicago.

Margaret Brundage got her start in the pulp magazines with WEIRD TALES‘ sister publication, ORIENTAL STORIES (later MAGIC CARPET), with six covers from Spring 1932 through January 1934. Her first cover for “The Unique Magazine” appeared in September 1932. Her pastels graced the cover again the next month, then again in March 1933. Beginning in June 1933 — and for the next 39 covers — WEIRD TALES featured her luscious artwork exclusively. Her last cover for WEIRD TALES appeared on the January 1945 number, capping a run of 66 covers for the magazine, with Brundage receiving no more than $90 for a cover.

The artist’s cover illustration for Robert E. Howard’s “Black Colossus” (WEIRD TALES, June 1933) generated the most mail for any of the magazine’s covers, she told Robert Weinberg, as detailed in THE ALLURING ART OF MARGARET BRUNDAGE, published by Vanguard Productions in 2013.

Brundage always enjoyed illustrating Howard’s stories. It was WEIRD TALES‘ editor Farnsworth Wright who passed along news of Howard’s suicide to the artist in 1936: “When I learned of Robert Howard’s death, I was very upset . . . . (Wright and I) both just sat around and cried for most of the day. He was always my personal favorite.”

In an interview with R. Alain Everts in 1973, Brundage recalled her most controversial WEIRD TALES cover:

We had one issue (the September 1933 number) that sold out! It was the story of a very vicious female, getting ahold of the heroine and tying her up and beating her. Well, the public apparently thought it was flagellation, and the entire issue sold out. They could have used a couple of thousand extra (copies).

In 1938, WEIRD TALES was bought by Short Stories, Inc., and its editorial headquarters moved from Brundage’ hometown of Chicago to New York City. Wright went east with the magazine, but he was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, and by 1940 he was dead. Brundage stayed in Chicago, but the difficulty of shipping her fragile chalk illustrations by train to New York and a reduction in WEIRD TALES‘ cover rates to $50 ended her pulp career just five years later.

Margaret Brundage died April 9, 1976, at age 75.

PulpFest seeks to draw attention to the profound effect that the pulps had on American popular culture, reverberating through a wide variety of mediums — comic books, movies, paperbacks and genre fiction, television, men’s adventure magazines, radio drama, and even video and role-playing games. Planned as the summertime destination for fans and collectors of vintage popular fiction and related materials, PulpFest honors pulp fiction and pulp art by drawing attention to the many ways the magazines and their creators — people like Margaret Brundage — have inspired writers, artists, film directors, software developers, game designers, and other creators over the decades.

Join PulpFest 2016 to be part of this great celebration of American popular culture. Start making your plans right now to join the 45th convening of “Summer’s Great Pulp Con” in 2016. It will take place July 21–24 at the Hyatt Regency Columbus and the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

(Margaret Brundage’s pastel cover for the June 1933 issue of WEIRD TALES illustrates Robert E. Howard’s tale, “Black Colossus.”)

Weird Editing at “The Unique Magazine”

Jun 24, 2015 by

Weird Tales 23-03Almost one-hundred and twenty-five years ago, on August 20, 1880, Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in Providence, Rhode Island. According to the late Robert Bloch, author of PSYCHO, Lovecraft was, “A precocious child, he learned to read when he was four and soon experimented with writing. Poor health kept him from college and economic necessity eventually caused him to neglect amateur journalism in favor of ghostwriting or revising the work of others for professional publication. Gradually he began to produce poetry and fiction of his own.” His “career as a professional writer was largely compressed into a span of about sixteen years. He remained virtually unknown except to the limited readership of pulp magazines such as WEIRD TALES in which his work appeared. It earned only a pitiful pittance to supplement the income from a meager inheritance, and he continued his anonymous chores for other writers.”

Bloch continues: “Today Lovecraft is established as a major American fantasy writer, frequently ranked as the equal of Poe. His work is in print here and abroad and the mild-mannered, old-fashioned, conservative New England gentleman has become an acknowledged master of horror fiction.” What then should be made of this magazine that earned “The Copernicus of the horror story,” as author Fritz Leiber described Lovecraft, “a pitiful pittance to supplement the income from a meager inheritance?”

WEIRD TALES was the first periodical to be largely devoted to the fantasy genre. Premiering in early 1923, its publishers envisioned “The Unique Magazine” as a place for a writer to be given “free rein to express his innermost feelings in a manner befitting great literature.” It began to come into its own in late 1924 after Farnsworth Wright was named the magazine’s editor. In the years ahead, the pulp would become known for its fantasy and supernatural fiction, publishing the work of Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith. Other substantial writers included Bloch, E. Hoffmann Price, Carl Jacobi, Henry Kuttner, Frank Belknap Long, C. L. Moore, Seabury Quinn, Manly Wade Wellman, Henry S. Whitehead, and others. WEIRD TALES would also become noted for its artists: Hannes Bok, Margaret Brundage, J. Allen St. John, and Virgil Finlay all contributed tremendously to the fantasy art field through their work for “The Unique Magazine.”

In addition to publishing some of the best fantasy and supernatural fiction of the twentieth century, WEIRD TALES, like the Munsey magazines, featured science fiction in its pages, offering tales of interplanetary expeditions, brain transference, death rays, lost races, parallel worlds, and more. Edmond Hamilton was its leading contributor of science fiction. With stories about alien invasions, space police, and evolution gone wild, the author became known as “world-wrecker” Hamilton. Other notable science fiction authors to appear in WEIRD TALES were Ray Cummings, Austin Hall, Otis Adelbert Kline, Moore, Donald Wandrei, and Jack Williamson. In his later years, H. P. Lovecraft spun his own style of science fiction in his tales of cosmic horror.

Weird Tales 42-03The original run of WEIRD TALES began with its March 1923 number, with Edwin Baird as the editor, and ran through its September 1954 issue, for a total of 279 issues. During this period, it was perhaps the most important and influential of all fantasy magazines, providing an outlet for stories that probably would not have been published elsewhere. This was especially true during the Wright years when it published many of Lovecraft’s most influential works; introduced the sword-and-sorcery genre through Robert E. Howard’s stories of Kull, Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, and Conan; shared Clark Ashton Smith’s wonderfully evocative stories of Hyperboria, Averoigne, and Zothique; and featured the early work of artists Hannes Bok, Margaret Brundage, and Virgil Finlay. As pulp scholar Robert Weinberg has written, “It was in WEIRD TALES . . . that traditions were broken . . . . that unusual writing and poetry was featured. The outrageous and the ordinary mingled side by side in the magazine . . . It was a magazine where anything might find a home.”

Although Wright did indeed publish some rather substantial stories during his editorship — including Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Whisperer in Darkness,” and “The Haunter of the Dark;” Howard’s “The Tower of the Elephant,” “A Witch Shall Be Born,” “Pigeons from Hell,” and “Red Nails;” C. L. Moore’s “Schambleau” and Jirel stories; Clark Ashton Smith’s “A Rendezvous in Averoigne,” “The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis,” and “Genius Loci;” Henry S. Whitehead’s “Jumbee,” and many others — he was, at the same time, rejecting a great deal of fine work. H. P. Lovecraft was told that “At the Mountains of Madness,” was “too long,” “not easily divisible into parts,” and “not convincing.” “The Shadow over Innsmouth” was rejected for similar reasons. Both have since become recognized as classics. In a letter addressed to Lee Alexander Stone in 1930, Lovecraft wrote: “Henry S. Whitehead . . . says that Wright uniformly rejects his best stories. Very like Wright — whose bland dumbness transcends my utmost limits of comprehension.” In a letter to Richard Searight, written in 1935, Lovecraft summarized his feelings about Wright by stating, “His capricious editorial policy does give me a large-sized cervical pain! He has consistently turned down my best work . . . on the ground of length, while at the same time taking far longer things (for the most part utter tripe) from others. It is clear to me that he does not like my work, no matter what he says to the contrary.”

Howard, Smith, and others experienced similar rejections. In a letter mailed to Wright about a year before his tragic suicide, Robert E. Howard stated, “WEIRD TALES owes me over eight hundred dollars for stories already published and supposed to be paid for on publication — enough to pay all my debts and get back on my feet again.” Some scholars have suggested that Wright’s sometimes difficult stance taken with his best writers may have contributed to the early deaths of Howard and Lovecraft and the premature end of Smith’s writing career.

As part of its celebration of the 125th anniversary of the birth of H. P. Lovecraft, PulpFest 2015 is proud to welcome Don Herron, editor of the scholarly landmark, THE DARK BARBARIAN, and winner of the 2006 Black Circle Award for lifetime achievement in Robert E. Howard studies; Morgan Holmes, longtime member of  the Robert E. Howard United Press Association and a book review editor for THE DARK MAN; Professor Tom Krabacher of California State University, Sacramento and a member of the Pulp Era Amateur Press Association; 1979 Lamont Award winner and author of “The Wild Adventures of Doc Savage and Tarzan” Will Murray; and popular culture Professor Garyn G. Roberts, who was awarded the Munsey in 2013, for a presentation entitled “Weird Editing at ‘The Unique Magazine’.” Scheduled for Saturday evening, August 15th, at 7:55 PM, our panelists will discuss the editorial policies of WEIRD TALES, concentrating particularly on the reign of Farnsworth Wright.

Join PulpFest 2015 at the beautiful Hyatt Regency in downtown Columbus, Ohio, beginning on Thursday, August 13th and running through Sunday, August 16th, for a salute to H. P. Lovecraft and WEIRD TALES, just a few short days before the author’s 125th birthday. Although our host hotel is completely booked, there are still some rooms available at nearby hotels. Please visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/PulpFest and click on the post pinned to the top of the page. You’ll be directed to a list of hotels to choose from. If you are not from the Columbus area and want to attend PulpFest 2015, we urge to book your room now and not later. Rooms that are relatively close to PulpFest are disappearing fast during the time frame of our convention.

(The first issue of WEIRD TALES, dated March 1923 with a cover illustration by R. R. Epperly, is best remembered for publishing Anthony M. Rud’s “Ooze,” a story concerning a giant amoeba. Also featured in the issue were tales by Otis Adelbert Kline, Joel Townsley Rogers, R. T. M. Scott, and Harold Ward. The issue was put together by Edwin Baird, the editor of the magazine until the November 1924 issue, when Wright took the helm.

Hannes Bok created seven covers for WEIRD TALES. The last appeared on the issue dated March 1942. It was edited by Dorothy McIlwraith, who succeeded Farnsworth Wright following the March 1940 number. McIlwraith would publish Ray Bradbury’s first professional solo story, “The Candle,” in the November 1942 issue. She also helped to launch the careers of author Fritz Leiber and fantasy artist Lee Brown Coye.

Weird Tales 73-FAlmost two decades after its original demise, WEIRD TALES was revived in 1973-1974 for four issues, edited by Sam Moskowitz. The second issue, from the fall of 1973, featured cover art by Gary van der Steur after Hannes Bok’s cover from March 1940. A paperback series lasting four more issues, edited by Lin Carter, appeared from 1981-1983. The magazine was revived in 1988 by George H. Scithers, Darrell Schweitzer and John Gregory Betancourt and has, more or less, been published on a continuous basis since that time. in 2014, the 362nd  issue was released. It is currently published by John Harlacher with Marvin Kaye serving as editor. For more details, visit the magazine’s website at http://weirdtalesmagazine.com/.)

The Unique Magazine

Apr 19, 2014 by

Weird Tales March 1923Weird Tales was the first periodical specifically devoted to the fantasy genre. Premiering in early 1923, its publishers envisioned “The Unique Magazine” as a place for a writer to be given “free rein to express his innermost feelings in a manner befitting great literature.” In reality, the early issues of the pulp were filled with ghost stories, the choice of the magazine’s editor, Edwin Baird. Far more interested in Rural’s Real Detective and Mystery Stories, Baird had little interest in fantasy.

Weird Tales came into its own in late 1924 when Farnsworth Wright was named the magazine’s editor. In the years ahead, the pulp would become known for its fantasy and supernatural fiction, publishing the work of Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith. Later issues would feature substantial efforts by Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Carl Jacobi, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, Seabury Quinn, Manly Wade Wellman, and others. Weird Tales would likewise become noted for its artists. Hannes Bok, Margaret Brundage, Lee Brown Coye, and Virgil Finlay all contributed greatly to the fantasy art field through their work for “The Unique Magazine.”

In addition to publishing some of the best fantasy and supernatural fiction of the twentieth century, Weird Tales, like the Munsey magazines, featured science fiction in its pages, offering tales of interplanetary expeditions, brain transference, death rays, lost races, parallel worlds, and more. Edmond Hamilton was its leading contributor of science fiction. With stories about alien invasions, space police, and evolution gone wild, the author became known as “world-wrecker” Hamilton. Other notable science fiction in Weird Tales included work by Austin Hall, Otis Adelbert Kline, Frank Belknap Long, C. L. Moore, Donald Wandrei, and Jack Williamson. In his later years, H. P. Lovecraft spun his own style of science fiction in his tales of cosmic horror.

Although science fiction was frequently found in its pages—particularly during its early years—Weird Tales was not the first science-fiction pulp. That was left for Hugo Gernsback, an immigrant from Luxembourg, to develop.

Weird Tales 42-03The original run of Weird Tales began with its March 1923 number and ran through its September 1954 issue, for a total of 279 issues. Edwin Baird, Farnsworth Wright, and Dorothy McIlwraith (beginning in May 1940) were its editors. It was revived in 1973-74 for four issues, edited by Sam Moskowitz. A paperback series lasting four more issues, edited by Lin Carter, appeared from 1981-1983. The magazine was revived in 1988 by George H. Scithers, Darrell Schweitzer and John Gregory Betancourt and has, more or less, been published on a continuous basis since that time. At this writing, the 361st issue had been released. It is currently published by John Harlacher with Marvin Kaye serving as editor. For more details, visit the magazine’s website at http://weirdtalesmagazine.com/.

To learn more about the images used in this post, click on the illustrations. Click here for references consulted for this article.