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Weird Tales

Entry updated 4 September 2023. Tagged: Publication.


Legendary US weird-fiction magazine which originally ran for 31 years and has since had a number of revivals in a variety of forms, which are subdivided below starting with the original magazine.

1. US magazine, 279 issues March 1923 to September 1954, published initially in Chicago by Rural Publishing Corporation March 1923 to May/July 1924 and Popular Fiction Company November 1924 to October 1938; then relocated to New York with Short Stories Inc November 1938 to September 1954; edited by Edwin Baird March 1923-April 1924, Otis Adelbert Kline May/July 1924, Farnsworth Wright November 1924-December 1939, Dorothy McIlwraith January 1940-September 1954. Its format was small Pulp (9 x 6 in; 230 x 150 mm) March and April 1923, letter-size May 1923 to May/July 1924, standard pulp-size November 1924 to July 1953, and Digest-size September 1953-September 1954.

Weird Tales was founded in 1923 by J C Henneberger and J M Lansinger; the former retained an interest in the magazine throughout its existence. Its early issues were undistinguished (despite the presence of writers who later became regular contributors, such as H P Lovecraft, Seabury Quinn and Clark Ashton Smith) and the bumper Anniversary issue, May/July 1924, was to have been the last. But it reappeared in November 1924 with a new publisher (actually still Henneberger, but now without Lansinger) and a new editor. It has been suggested that the controversy caused by a necrophiliac horror story, "The Loved Dead" by C M Eddy (1896-1967) with H P Lovecraft (uncredited) in the May/July issue – attempts were made to have it removed from the news-stands – gave Weird Tales the publicity boost it needed to survive.

Under the editorship of Wright, Weird Tales developed into the "Unique Magazine" that its subtitle promised. Its stories were a mixture of sf – including some by Ray Cummings in the 1920s and a lot by Edmond Hamilton throughout – Horror stories, Sword and Sorcery, exotic adventure, and anything else which its title might embrace. Hamilton was the most influential writer of science fiction. Weird Tales published his first story "The Monster-God of Mamurth" (August 1926), about a giant invisible spider (see Great and Small; Invisibility); and also, more significantly, most of his early stories which saw Earth imperilled by invaders from outer space, other Dimensions or sub-atomic worlds, starting with "Across Space" (September-November 1926). It was also here that his Interstellar Patrol stories appeared, beginning with "The Sun-Stealers" (February 1929). Hamilton was the most regular contributor of sf to Weird Tales. Other authors of interest include Francis Stevens with her Lost Race serial "Sunfire" (July/August-September 1923); the astronomer Donald H Menzel (1901-1976) who was one of Hugo Gernsback's scientific advisers and who contributed "The Machine from Outside" (May/July 1924) as by Don Howard, about alien super science; and John Martin Leahy who, aside from several dreadful Lost Race stories contributed the atmospheric and doubtless influential Antarctic story "In Amundsen's Tent" (January 1928).

The early issues were generally crude in appearance, but the look of the magazine improved greatly in 1932 with the introduction of the artists Margaret Brundage and J Allen St John. Brundage's covers – pastel chalks depicting women in degrees of undress being menaced or allured in various ways – alienated some readers, but promised a sensuous blend of the exotic and the erotic which typified the magazine's appeal. The 1930s were Weird Tales's heyday; in addition to Lovecraft and Smith, it regularly featured August Derleth, Robert E Howard (including his Conan series), David H Keller, Otis Adelbert Kline, Frank Belknap Long, C L Moore (especially with her Northwest Smith series) and Jack Williamson – although purportedly the most popular contributor was Seabury Quinn, with an interminable series featuring the occult detective Jules de Grandin.

The significance of H P Lovecraft's work need hardly be emphasized, particularly his development of the Cthulhu Mythos cycle of stories, of which "The Call of Cthulhu" (February 1928) was the first overtly relevant story. Others of note include "The Dunwich Horror" (April 1929) and "The Whisperer in Darkness" (August 1931). Wright, however, was not wholly convinced of the import of Lovecraft's work, especially as it grew in length and complexity, and rejected many of his stories, some of which subsequently appeared either in Small Press editions or in other magazines.

Although Weird Tales printed its share of dreadful Pulp fiction, in the early 1930s it was, at its best, much superior to the largely primitive sf pulps. However, Wright's Weird Tales never really recovered from the almost simultaneous loss of three of its key contributors with the deaths of Howard in 1936 and Lovecraft in 1937, and the virtual retirement of Smith. New contributors in the late 1930s included Henry Kuttner and the artists Hannes Bok and Virgil Finlay.

At the end of 1939 Wright, in poor health, was replaced by Dorothy McIlwraith. McIlwraith, though, was also editor of the companion magazine Short Stories, and left much of the work in the hands of Henry Aveline Perkins until September 1942 and then, more significantly, Lamont Buchanan until September 1949. August Derleth also acted as an unofficial adviser. The magazine continued steadily through the 1940s – although after being monthly November 1924-January 1940, with very few exceptions, it was now bimonthly (and would remain so) – and featured such authors as Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Fritz Leiber and Manly Wade Wellman with his John Thunstone stories. However, the editorial policy was more conservative, stories became more formulaic, and Weird Tales was no longer a unique magazine: other fantasy magazines had appeared and, in the case of Unknown, overshadowed it. Nevertheless, it continued to be the only regular magazine outlet for supernatural fiction until its death in 1954, when its publisher pulled out of the business. It would be difficult to overestimate the influence of Weird Tales in the genres of weird fiction and Sword and Sorcery; though the emphasis was always on fantasy and the supernatural, it published a surprising amount of influential sf, and many sf writers published their early work in its pages. Weird Tales is perhaps rivalled only by Astounding Science-Fiction in terms of the number of stories of lasting interest which it produced.

2. Short-lived revivals. Various nostalgic attempts have been made to revive Weird Tales – or at least its title. The rights to the magazine were acquired by Leo Margulies, who had wanted to revive it as early as 1957 but was convinced otherwise by Sam Moskowitz. Instead Margulies compiled a series of anthologies (listed in 5 below). Other individuals produced Amateur Magazines in an attempt to fill the gap, the most notable being Macabre (23 issues, 1957-1976) published by Joseph Payne Brennan (1918-1990) and Weirdbook (30 issues, 1968-1997) published by W Paul Ganley (1934-    ). Witchcraft & Sorcery, the successor to Coven 13, which ran from 1971 to 1974 even subtitled itself "The Modern Magazine of Weird Tales". None of these could be compared to the original, though.

Margulies eventually got his way and revived the magazine in 1973 with four pulp-size issues, Summer 1973 to Summer 1974, edited by Moskowitz, published by Weird Tales, Los Angeles, and continuing the Weird Tales numeration (Vol 47, #1-#4). This series drew chiefly upon reprints even older than the original Weird Tales, but its highlight was a three-part article by Moskowitz on William Hope Hodgson, accompanied by little-known stories by Hodgson.

After Margulies died in 1975, the rights to Weird Tales were bought by Robert E Weinberg from Margulies's widow, and he eventually formed Weird Tales Limited to protect and license the name. He published a nostalgic anthology in homage to Weird Tales, WT50 (anth 1974), edited by Weinberg, some of whose contents re-appeared in The Weird Tales Story (anth 1977), which he edited and partly wrote. Weinberg also assembled a mock issue as World Tales (November 1985), the Souvenir Book of the World Fantasy Convention in Arizona, and featuring work by and about the various convention guests: Stephen R Donaldson, Evangeline Walton, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and art by Victoria Poyser.

The third Weird Tales series was published as a paperback quarterly edited by Lin Carter, published by Zebra Books, who leased the rights from Weinberg. There were four issues: Weird Tales #1 (anth 1980), Weird Tales #2 (anth 1980), Weird Tales #3 (anth 1981) and Weird Tales #4 (anth 1983). It featured some new material but chiefly sought to recapture the mood of Weird Tales with fragments of stories by Clark Ashton Smith and others completed by Carter. It had its moments, but generally this series was far too shallow.

Then came the fourth, confusing, series from a Small Press, the Bellerophon Network, owned by Californian publisher Brian Forbes. Advance publicity suggested alternately that the editor would be Gil Lamont or Forrest J Ackerman, but in the event there were only two, not very remarkable issues, both edited by Gordon M D Garb, these being marked Fall 1984 (appeared 1985) and Winter 1985 (appeared 1986); they were volume 49, #1 and #2. The superior first issue included fiction by Harlan Ellison, Stephen King and R A Lafferty.

3. Current series. The fifth and (despite a few upheavals and changes in publisher) current series began in Spring 1988 with #290 (which included the 10 short-lived relaunch issues which had preceded it); published by another Small Press, the Terminus Publishing Co, Philadelphia, edited by George H Scithers, Darrell Schweitzer and John Gregory Betancourt. John Betancourt left to concentrate on his work with Wildside Press in 1990 and from #300 (Spring 1991) Schweitzer became sole editor with Scithers as publisher. This incarnation started by emulating the original Pulp format neatly duplicating the two-column appearance of the original Weird Tales and using artwork by George Barr to recapture the imagery of Weird Tales during its heyday. This series, under Scithers, concentrated on weird fiction and sword-and-sorcery that was in the same vogue as the original magazine, but though it ran little by way of sf it produced regular special author issues some of sf interest, and usually with interviews or profiles. This began with the first issue, featuring Gene Wolfe; others included Tanith Lee (Summer 1988 and #308 Spring 1994 #291), Avram Davidson (Winter 1988/89 #293), Brian Lumley (Winter 1989 #295), Jonathan Carroll (Winter 1990/91 #299), Robert Bloch (Spring 1991 #300), William F Nolan (Fall 1991 #302), John Brunner (Spring 1992 #304), F Paul Wilson (#305) and Ian Watson (Summer 1993 #307). The magazine won a special World Fantasy Award in 1992.

Unfortunately the cost of producing the Retro-Pulp format and the need to seek greater exposure on the newsstands led Weird Tales to adopt a more conventional letter-size format and design with #305 (Winter 1992/93). It retained the Weird Tales logo and, with more scope for glorious cover artwork, still looked effective. However the original planned quarterly schedule faltered, with only two copies a year for each of 1992, 1993 and 1994. In 1994 a further hurdle arose when Terminus was unable to renew the licence with Weinberg and their right to the title expired. The magazine was retitled Worlds of Fantasy and Horror for four issues, Summer 1994 to Winter 1996/97, and had to treat itself as a new magazine, reverting to Volume 1, Number 1, though in all other respects it looked, read and felt like Weird Tales. However these issues appeared intermittently and with none in 1997. Scithers was approached by Warren Lapine of DNA Publications who took over publication of the magazine in association with Terminus. Lapine was able to renew the licence and Weird Tales returned in the summer of 1998 with issue #313, incorporating the four preceding issues of Worlds of Fantasy and Horror. Lapine was now listed as publisher with Scithers and Schweitzer as editors. The magazine continued much as before, though the special author issues ceased, and it even maintained a regular quarterly schedule; at one point, issues #328 (Summer 2002) and #329 (Fall 2002), being published on quality Slick paper.

However, further signs of strain reappeared as DNA's finances faltered and from issue #332 (July/August 2003) Wildside Press, under John Betancourt, came on board as co-publisher, meaning that Weird Tales was now jointly published by three firms, DNA, Wildside and Terminus, a seeming remedy for disaster. Issues became even more irregular and from #337 (July 2005) production was taken over entirely by Wildside Press, which brought John Betancourt back as co-editor as well as publisher. The magazine even took the bold step of running a serial, "Ripper!" (July 2005-January/February 2006) by William F Nolan, though this novella still took six months between issues. Some form of uncertain regularity returned and the magazine even expanded to 96 pages, looking healthier than it had for years, all in readiness for a big change. Stephen H Segal came on board as General Manager and Creative Director from issue #342 (October/November 2006) and from issue #344 (April/May 2007) he took over as editor. From that issue the entire magazine was revamped with, most strikingly of all, an entirely new cover logo, replacing the one that had been designed by J Allen St John back in 1932. Ann Vandermeer became Fiction Editor from issue #347 (November/December 2007), becoming Editor-in-Chief from #356 (Summer 2010). The content took a dramatic step forward moving away from the fiction that had been emulating the old-style Weird Tales tradition to a content that was more allied to the "New Weird" treatment of fantasy and horror that had been developing in the final years of the old millennium, with a new generation of writers influenced not by Weird Tales's past but by modern media and society, writers like Barth Anderson, Ian Creasey, Jeffrey Ford, Jay Lake, Holly Phillips, Cat Rambo and Rachel Swirsky. It didn't entirely split with the past as many of the original features remained. Certain earlier contributors remained, like Tanith Lee, and Michael Moorcock even contributed a new Elric story. Issue #355 (Spring 2010) was a "Steampunk spectacular". The changes were noted and Weird Tales won a Hugo award in 2009 as the year's best Semiprozine.

Thanks to these significant changes, making Weird Tales a magazine of contemporary horror and dark fantasy, circulation increased but not enough to solve other financial problems with the publisher. The bimonthly schedule, which was barely kept, switched to quarterly at the end of 2008, but was still barely kept. In August 2011 the magazine was sold to Marvin Kaye, who took over publication and editorship of the magazine from issue #360 (Fall 2012) and produced two further issues, #361 dated Summer 2013 and #362 dated Spring 2014. The magazine then changed hands again and although ostensibly published by Weird Tales, Inc. and nominally edited by Marvin Kaye, a new undated issue, #363 (July 2019), was compiled by the editorial director Jonathan Maberry and was more readily available as an ebook than in print. The ebook of issue #364 appeared in December 2020. [MA]


4. Reprint editions. Three UK editions were published at various times. In the first half of 1942 Swan Publishers produced three unnumbered issues. One more came in November 1946 from Merritt. Finally, Thorpe & Porter published 28 issues, numbered #1-#23, and then vol 1 #1-#5 November 1949-July 1954. There were two Canadian reprint editions: June 1935 to July 1936 (vol 25 #6 to vol 28 #1), 14 issues, and May 1942 to November 1951, 58 issues. The second Canadian series is of particular interest, most notably the issues until November 1947 as these bore new covers painted by Canadian artists and had varied contents. In many cases this simply involved omitting stories and moving them around issues as space required, but sometimes it included publishing stories before they appeared in the US edition. For instance, the September 1944 Canadian edition ran "The Ghost Punch" by Hannes Bok before it appeared in the November 1944 US edition. It also sometimes ran material from the companion Short Stories which did not appear in the US edition, such as "Handmade Hero" by Lee Tilburne in the March 1945 Canadian edition, originally published in Short Stories for 10 February 1944 and which did not appear in the US edition. Finally, shifting stories around sometimes meant two by the same author turned up in the same issue, so the Canadian editor changed names. Ray Bradbury became Edward Banks in the May 1945 issue, Emil Petaja became H J Swanza (September 1945), Robert Bloch became R J Comber in January 1946 and other names in other issues. This makes the Canadian edition an unusual variant and collectable in its own right. [MA]

5. Anthologies. Weird Tales has been exhaustively mined for anthologies, and many of its contributors from the 1930s have gone on to new heights of popularity with paperback reprints of their stories. The long-running British series of horror anthologies Not at Night (1925-1934) edited by Christine Campbell Thomson (1897-1985) drew largely on Weird Tales stories, and regarded itself as an official British edition. Many other anthologies drew a large part of their content from Weird Tales, notably The Other Worlds (anth 1941) edited by Phil Stong, 11 of its 25 stories being from Weird Tales. Leo Margulies compiled his series of anthologies The Unexpected (anth 1961), The Ghoul Keepers (anth 1961), Weird Tales (anth 1964) and Worlds of Weird (anth 1965), the latter two being ghost-edited by Sam Moskowitz. Others include Weird Tales (anth 1976) edited by Peter Haining, which reprints a selection in facsimile, Weird Legacies (anth 1977) edited by Mike Ashley, Weird Tales: The Magazine That Never Dies (anth 1988) edited by Marvin Kaye; The Best of Weird Tales (anth 1995) edited by John Betancourt, The Best of Weird Tales: 1923 (anth 1997) edited by Marvin Kaye and John Betancourt and Weird Tales: Seven Decades of Terror (anth 1997) edited by John Betancourt and Robert Weinberg.

Major index sources are Index to the Weird Fiction Magazines: Index by Title (1962 NZ) and Index to the Weird Fiction Magazines: Index by Author (1964 NZ) by T G L Cockcroft, and Monthly Terrors: An Index to the Weird Fantasy Magazines Published in the United States and Great Britain (1985) by Frank H Parnell with Mike Ashley. Weird Tales (1979) by Alistair Durie is a brief history of the magazine along with reproductions, with commentary, of many of the covers, alas mostly in black-and-white. [MA/PN]

see also: Gothic SF; Longevity in Publications; SF Magazines.


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