Pulp magazines began in 1896, making next year the 120th anniversary of their birth. The anniversary of their death is harder to pin down. Like old soldiers, they just faded away, probably in the 1950s. I read that the last pulp science fiction magazine was published in 1957. Michael Neno tells me that the last pulp of any kind was Ranch Romances, which rode off into the sunset in 1974.
Few titles are left from the pulp era. Analog, which was christened Astounding Stories in 1930, is still in print. So is The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which came into the world in 1949. Both, however, are digest-size and not pulp-size. Amazing Stories is still around but only in digital format. There may be others of that type as well. If Weird Tales were to be issued this year, we might be able to say that it's the last of the magazines from the pulp era still printed at pulp-size, but who knows if it will be published, and if it is, whether it will be pulp-size or magazine-size. Of course the cheap paper, garish covers, muddy interiors, and untrimmed edges are long gone. So, too, is the world in which pulp magazines flourished. Pulp today is more a spirit, a culture, or fiction and art of a certain kind than a physical object you can buy on the newsstand.
Weird Tales made its debut in 1923. The early history of the magazine is a little tricky, and I'll leave that for another day. In 1938, however, Short Stories, Inc., acquired Weird Tales and moved its offices from Chicago to New York. In September 1954, Weird Tales came to an end. My understanding is that editor Leo Margulies acquired the Weird Tales property at about that time (ca. 1954-1955). He may have had plans to revive the magazine, but Sam Moskowitz is supposed to have talked him out of it. Instead, Margulies published a number of paperback anthologies in the 1960s. He also reprinted stories from Weird Tales in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Magazine.
Margulies and Moskowitz revived Weird Tales for four issues in 1973-1974, just in time for the fiftieth anniversary of "The Unique Magazine." Moskowitz the editor relied heavily on reprints of stories from other magazines that had fallen into the public domain. There wasn't much new or even pulp content. Leo Margulies died in December 1975. At about that time (ca. 1974-1975), Robert Weinberg acquired the Weird Tales property and began publishing his own books and periodicals: WT50: A Tribute to Weird Tales in 1974, The Weird Tales Story in 1977, and The Weird Tales Collector from 1977 to 1980. Mr. Weinberg held onto Weird Tales for thirty years or so as I understand it. He finally sold the property to Viacom. In the meantime, the magazine went back into print, as four paperback anthologies in 1980-1983, then in two rare magazine-sized issues in 1984-1985, finally, in varying formats under varying editors and publishers from 1988 to 1994 and 1998 to 2014. We're still waiting for an issue to appear this year.
This weekend at PulpFest, the ownership and editorship of Weird Tales came up again and again. On Friday evening, Philip M. Sherman talked about his uncle Leo Margulies, who owned Weird Tales from circa 1954 to circa 1974. Other people at the show mentioned Robert Weinberg, Darrell Schweitzer, and other authors, editors, and publishers associated with the magazine. I can tell you, there is a lot of confusion on the issue of who owns Weird Tales. Robert Weinberg supposedly owns the copyrights to stories published in the magazine--except that some issues have fallen into the public domain. Viacom I believe owns the Weird Tales trademark if nothing else. (Maybe film or video rights as well.) And now we know that Nth Dimension Media, Inc., is the publisher of Weird Tales magazine. But how? Under a license? Is Weird Tales split into various pieces, each owned by separate persons? The bigger question is this: Why don't we know?
The publishers of Weird Tales went through a controversy lately, and we might be tempted to ascribe its absence to that. But one dealer I talked to said that it became impossible to find the magazine when it was recently in print. Another dealer or collector mentioned that Weird Tales had lost its distributor. So maybe the Mystery of the Missing Magazine has more to do with economics and logistics than anything else. None of this is new, of course. All of it is emblematic of Weird Tales throughout its troubled history.
Copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley