Thursday, March 5, 2015

Witches, Wizards, and Warlocks on the Cover of Weird Tales

I promised six weeks ago to write about witches. Finally, here they are.

I count eleven covers of Weird Tales showing witches, wizards, and warlocks and all their magical ways. I'm surprised that there are so few. It seems like I have missed some somehow. (I'll add more if I discover more.) Even the covers shown here are a little fuzzy: If the word "witch" or "witchcraft" weren't there to clue you in, you might not know these are pictures of witches. Only Matt Fox (May 1947) depicted the classic or stereotypical witch. William Heitman's cover (May 1923) seems to me second in its witchiness.

So is there an explanation? Maybe. For one, it's not easy to depict conjuring or the casting of spells. For another, witches are not very scary, not like vampires, werewolves, or other monsters. (I always liked the Salem Witch in the Aurora monster model series, but she hardly qualifies as a monster.) Also, a witch is not a person of great or dramatic action. She works behind the scenes, puttering around her house with her herbs and her eyes of newt. Lastly, the witch may present a problem to artists and writers who don't handle female characters very well. In any case, here are the witches, wizards, and warlocks, the original www.

Weird Tales, May 1923. Cover story: "The Moon Terror" by A.G. Birch (?). Cover art by William F. Heitman. This is one of two covers by Heitman. The other (June 1923) seems to have been a rush job and came off badly. This one is far more successful.

Weird Tales, August 1925. Cover story: "Black Medicine" by Arthur J. Burks. Cover art by Andrew Brosnatch. Not having read the story, I assume here that "black medicine" refers to witchcraft. Update (Mar. 7, 2015): "Black Medicine" is a voodoo story. Presumably, the larger man is a zombie.

Weird Tales, December 1937. Cover story: "The Sea-Witch" by Nictzin Dyalhis. Cover art by Virgil Finlay. As an artist, Virgil Finlay had many great virtues. One of them was that he could draw women. Another is that he always showed good taste and never, as far as I know, depicted women in a cruel or misogynistic way.

Dyalhis probably didn't mean it, but his title invokes the character of Sea Hag from Thimble Theatre, better known as Popeye, by Elzie Segar.

Weird Tales, January 1938. Cover story: "The Witch's Mark" by Dorothy Quick. Cover art by Margaret Brundage. The January 1938 cover is very similar to the immediately preceding December 1937 cover. Was that poor planning, or did the editor just not see the similarity?

Weird Tales called itself "The Unique Magazine." That subtitle was true in more ways than one. Here, the cover story is by a woman and about women, and the cover artist was a woman who specialized in drawing women. Pulp magazines tended to be cruel, misogynistic, and even hateful towards women. In general, Weird Tales was not.

Weird Tales, December 1948. Cover story: "The Sin-Eater" by G.G. Pendarves. Cover art by Ray Quigley. Looks like a wizard to me. In fact, he looks a little like Dr. Strange.

Weird Tales, October 1939. Cover story: "In the Walls of Eryx" by Kenneth Sterling and H.P. Lovecraft [?]. Cover art by Harold S. De Lay. I'm not sure that "In the Walls of Eryx" was the cover story for this issue. The title "The Witch's Cat" is also prominent on the cover, but I don't see a witch or a cat. Jaffery and Cook don't give a cover story in their index of Weird Tales. In any case, the man looks like a wizard or sorcerer, so I have put him in this category.

Weird Tales, May 1941. Cover story: "There Are Such Things" by Seabury Quinn [?]. Cover art by Hannes Bok. Voodoo dolls are witchcraft, so here goes this cover.

Weird Tales, October 1939. Cover story: "Kurban" by Seabury Quinn [?]. Cover art by A.R. Tilburne. Here are the trappings of wizardry: book, skull, candle, and animal companion or familiar.

Weird Tales, May 1947. Cover story: None. Cover art by Matt Fox. Matt Fox could always be counted on to create unconventional images of totally conventional characters. Here the witch and her little demon friends get the inimitable Matt Fox treatment.

Weird Tales, July 1951. Cover story: "Flame Birds of Angala" by E. Everett Evans. Cover art by Charles A. Kennedy. 

Weird Tales, July 1952. Cover story: "Hell's Bells" by Duncan H. Munro (Eric Frank Russell). Cover art by Jon Arfstrom. Again, I haven't read the story, so I can't be sure. The blurb reads, "It was magic," so I assume the story involves magic, but the man is not obviously a wizard or warlock, although that doodad he's holding in his right hand looks like some kind of magical object. 

Thanks to Lemuel Nash for corrections.
Text and captions copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

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