Friday, January 3, 2014

Woman and Monster

Sometimes the eternal triangle of man, woman, and monster is reduced by one to simply woman and monster. In yesterday's posting, I showed thirteen Weird Tales covers in the first category. Today I will show eighteen in the second. If you're looking for patterns in the illustrations shown below, you will probably first notice that many of these women are scantily clad or in tightly fitting dresses. (Three of those dresses are red.) Second, look for seven green or greenish monsters (plus a green snake). As for classifying monsters by type, note that most are humanoid. Note also that two are amorphous. Third, there seems to be a lot of looking in these pictures: at least seven of fourteen show the monster mostly just looking at the woman, perhaps in the same way that a male reader might look at women and pictures of women. So if an illustration of a monster looking at a woman satisfies the male viewer's desire to look, does it also satisfy the female viewer's fear of being looked at?

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Update (Jan. 5, 2014): I have been thinking a little more about these images of the woman and the monster. Maybe we can go a little further in this system of classifying covers of Weird Tales magazine. It seems to me that there are three stages of a process illustrated here: 1) Watching or looking. 2) Approaching, attacking, or chasing. 3) Capturing or carrying away. It also seems to me that there are more than just two players in each of these little dramas. The woman and the monster are evident. The artist and the viewer are much less so. But each plays his part. So is the monster representative of the man, either of the artist, of the viewer, or of man in general? I'm not sure that we as men can escape that implication. As for classification:
  1. Watching or looking (seven in all): the hairy giant, the mummy (if he's not approaching or attacking), the three-eyed alien, the gargoyle, the black blot, the bat-eared demon, the green alien.
  2. Approaching, attacking, or chasing (eight in all): Drome, the green gnome, the white-eyed zombies, the leopard-demon, the skeleton, the blue slime, and two pictures with reaching hands. (You might say that the green alien is both looking and attacking: the spoon in his hand is clearly a sexual symbol.)
  3. Capturing or carrying away (three in all): the green bat-men; the red-robed, fanged monster; the winged, horned creature. The red-robed, fanged monster has gone the next step and is just about ready to kill the woman he is attacking. 
Note that almost half are in the category of looking. A statistician might call that significant.

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Weird Tales was known for its women writers, artists, readers, and letter-writers. During its middle period (the 1930s), the magazine competed with weird menace magazines, yet few if any of the images presented below would have fit with that rival sub-genre. (The cover showing the red-robed, fanged monster is an exception.) Weird Tales had its weird menace-like covers to be sure, but "The Unique Magazine" may have lived up to its subtitle by not being overtly cruel or misogynistic as so many pulp magazines were at that time. I don't think that the magazine could have been without driving away a good deal of its female readership. Farnsworth Wright seems to have been a man of taste. He was succeeded as editor by a woman, Dorothy McIlwraith. Both may have thrilled their readers with pictures of women in peril, but I don't detect any extreme cruelty or misogyny in most of the following images of woman and monster (except for perhaps in the last).

Weird Tales, January 1927. Cover story: "Drome" by John Martin Leahy. Cover art by C. Barker Petrie, Jr. This is one of my favorites of the early covers of Weird Tales. Petrie's illustration is well composed and simple to the point of being almost poster-like. The woman's green outfit contrasts nicely with the monster's reddish-brown fur. The monster by the way looks like an overdeveloped flying minion of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Weird Tales, March 1927. Cover story: "The City of Glass" by Joel Martin Nichols, Jr. Cover art by Curtis C. Senf. The monster is now humanoid and the illustration looks like something from a fairy tale--with a little female flesh thrown in to attract the male reader. I'm not sure what that thing is on the monster's foot. In any case, the woman doesn't seem to be overly frightened of him. Senf was German or German-American. (I'll know more when I write his biography.) His approach and technique seem to me to be distinctly Old-World.

Weird Tales, April 1927. Cover story: "Explorers into Infinity" by Ray Cummings. Cover art by Curtis C. Senf. Only a month passed between these two similar scenes of March and April 1927. The monster is once again humanoid and the woman of his dreams is once again clad in pink, though just barely. Senf did a smart thing here: If the artist had put a different look on the monster's face, we might have thought he (the monster) was trying to crush the woman with the tree he's holding. Instead, any implication of cruelty or violence is relieved by the monster's pleased and surprised countenance.

Weird Tales, April 1928. Cover story: "The Jewel of Seven Stones" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Curtis C. Senf. If a mummy is a monster, then this cover falls into the category of woman and monster. It also falls into a category of covers with Egyptian themes. There's not much going on here, but I like the mummy's illuminated eyes.

Weird Tales, May 1928. Cover story: "The Bat-Men of Thorium" by Bertram Russell. Cover art by Curtis C. Senf. Only a month separated this cover from the previous one, yet Senf looked like a different artist. The mummy cover is pretty conventional. The green bat-men cover on the other hand is frightening and nightmarish. The creatures here remind me of Ray Harryhausen's creepy animated models. The color scheme is the  reverse of Petrie's "Drome" cover: the monsters are green and now the woman is in red. As soon as I saw this image, I thought of another:
"The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus" by Peter Paul Rubens from 1617-1618. That image makes me think of this one:
A drawing called "Rape of the Sabines" by one of the great cartoonists of the 1930s-1950s, R. Taylor (1902-1970). As you can see, there isn't any "sobbin', sobbin', sobbin'" going on in this picture. In any case, once a great work of art has been skewered, it's hard to unskewer it in your head. For me, Rubens and Taylor will always go together. 
We might as well go full circle: Richard Taylor also drew the covers for five volumes of weird tales issued by Arkham House between 1958 and 1963. Here is his illustration for The Trail of Cthulhu by August Derleth (1962). Note the artist's initials inside the cartouche on the stone in the foreground. Note also that the poached-egg eyes--a Taylor trademark--are missing.

Weird Tales, May 1929. Cover story: "The Scourge of B'Moth" by Bertram Russell. Cover art by Curtis C. Senf. I'm not sure that the creature in the red robes is actually a monster, but he looks like a monster and that will have to do.

Weird Tales, November 1931. Cover story: "Placide's Wife" by Kirk Mashburn. Cover art by Curtis C. Senf. This cover could go into one of several categories. The hands are those of a monster however, so despite the presence of the cat and despite the vampire theme, I will put it here and in a forthcoming category called "The Reaching Hands."

Weird Tales, January 1932. Cover story: "The Monster Prophecy" by Clark Ashton Smith. Cover art by Curtis C. Senf. As an artist, Senf may have been a little too fussy a little too often, but all that went out the window with this fine illustration from 1932. The woman and the alien that is eyeing and eyeing and eyeing her are well delineated and the star field in the background stays nicely in the background. The technique on the woman's face almost looks like airbrush. Senf had six months left as a cover artist when this issue appeared. In June 1932, J. Allen St. John created his first cover for Weird Tales. Then, in September, Margaret Brundage came along and for nearly half a decade, only she and St. John drew covers for "The Unique Magazine."

Weird Tales, July 1932. Cover story: "The Phantom Hand" by Victor Rousseau. Cover art by Curtis C. Senf. This cover has one of everything: a woman, another woman (perhaps a witch), a snake, a reaching hand, and--if the hand is that of a phantom--a ghost or monster. You'll see why I have made a separate category for each of those elements.

Weird Tales, March 1934. Cover story: "The Black Gargoyle" by Hugh B. Cave. Cover art by Margaret Brundage. As in Senf's illustration, the monster here glares at the woman, though perhaps with more pleasure and anticipation. If we're going to classify cover images more finely, we should place monsters in one of at least three categories: 1) The kind that just wants to kill or eat its prey. 2) The monster that covets the woman. That's the kind that is the greatest threat to the hero. 3) The monster that wants to torture, imprison, or otherwise torment the woman. This black gargoyle looks like he falls into the second category. Thankfully, Margaret Brundage avoided racial stereotyping in her illustration. But just as she was not misogynistic, she was also not a racist or racialist.

Weird Tales, August 1937. Cover story: "Thing of Darkness" by G.G. Pendarves. Cover art by Margaret Brundage. The cover blurb refers to the monster here as "a slinking Thing of horror and sinister menace." The artist managed to make him kind of cute, a blot of black pastel on a Barbie-pink background.

Weird Tales, October 1937. Cover story: "Tiger Cat" by David H. Keller. Cover art by Margaret Brundage. This cover is unique among those shown here in that the woman seems to have the upper hand. Those look like monsters to me--zombies or something like them--but she seems to have things pretty well under control. I was surprised in doing my research at how many covers there are with someone flailing around with a cat-o'-nine-tails. This was the weird menace era of course. Fetishism was on full display in the pulps. But there may have been something about this kind of whip that appealed to artists, especially to Margaret Brundage. If nothing else, it gave her a chance to make her female subjects physically powerful. I guess we shouldn't overlook that the author, David H. Keller, was a sexologist. He probably had these things just sitting around the house.

Weird Tales, January 1940. Cover story: "Spotted Satan" by two old standbys, Otis Adelbert Kline and E. Hoffman Price. Cover art by Virgil Finlay. This may not have been Virgil Finlay's finest pulp magazine cover, but it's a striking image. In some ways it's very similar to C. Barker Petrie's illustration from thirteen years before.

Weird Tales, July 1942. Cover story: "Coven" by Manly Wade Wellman. Cover art by Margaret Brundage. An artist can't help but change as time goes by. You would hardly know to look at it that this illustration was by Margaret Brundage. Again, a striking image and one with real power. Many of her drawings are like confections--this one has come out of a nightmare, though perhaps a little stiffly. It reminds me a little of this image:
Frank Frazetta's much more dynamic original cover for The Moon Maid by Edgar Rice Burroughs. In both images, the woman is carried aloft by a monster. She is warm in contrast to the cool colors of the creature and of the background. That contrast between warm and cool may explain why so many monsters are green, but then there may be something else at work as I wrote in my comments from yesterday's posting. In any case, I think the mood of Margaret Brundage's drawing is what has reminded me of Frazetta.

Weird Tales, September 1942, Canadian edition. I'm not sure of the cover story and don't know the cover artist. In any case, if a skeleton is a monster, then this is a woman-and-monster cover. I'm not sure whether the woman is defending herself or commanding the skeleton. If she is defending herself, then she is one of just two women in this category to do so. (Both are using whips.) If she is in command, then she is in a category by herself.

Weird Tales, Canadian edition, January 1945. Cover story: "The Shadow Folk" by Edmond Hamilton (?). Cover artist unknown. (I hope someone can help out.) The green snake is back. There are a lot of those on the cover of Weird Tales. The main monster, though, is a bat-eared, gorilla-faced demon in need of a napkin.

Weird Tales, March 1953. Cover story: "Slime" by Joseph Payne Brennan. Cover art by Virgil Finlay. Contrast Virgil Finlay's version of the amorphous monster with Margaret Brundage's from 1937. Note also the menacing trees.
The movie The Blob came out five years later. I wonder if the makers of that movie saw either of these covers of Weird Tales.
Or maybe both got their inspiration from Dr. Seuss (1949).

Weird Tales, July 1953. Cover story: None. Cover art by W.H. Silvey. Again, a green alien looks on as the woman reacts in fear. As in my first posting, The Eternal Triangle, this one ends with a science-fictional image. Weird Tales was nearing its end as most pulp magazines were in 1953, but this was an era of science fiction. A magazine of purely weird fiction would have had a hard time keeping up. If it was going to hang on, Weird Tales probably had to make concessions to science fiction. Even so, "The Unique Magazine" lasted only another year. (Of all the images here, this one is most problematic for me. The placement of the spoon between the woman's legs is very nearly obscene and suggestive of molestation or rape.)

Next: Man and Monster

Updated January 23, 2014. Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

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