Monday, August 26, 2013

Weird Fiction & Fantasy Magazines-The Thrill Book

Fans of Weird Tales like to say that their magazine was the first American title devoted exclusively to weird fiction and fantasy. That's true as long as you use the word exclusively, for there was weird fiction, fantasy, and science fiction (or scientific romance) in American magazines before March 1923, when the first issue of Weird Tales came out. Argosy, The Blue Book Magazine, and Adventure Magazine were among the top pulp fiction titles of the early 1900s. All printed genre fiction from time to time. Edgar Rice Burroughs' first Martian novel, "Under the Moons of Mars," very famously appeared in All-Story Magazine in February 1912. Those earlier magazines were all general fiction magazines however. The Thrill Book was different.

I don't have any copies or facsimile editions of The Thrill Book. Everything I know about the editorial slant of the magazine comes from an article called "The Thrill Book" by Bob Jones (with annotations by Harold Hersey) from the book Pulp Magazine Thrillers (1998) and reprinted from an earlier fanzine. Some quotes:

"In its sixteen issues, it attained a high degree of competency, both in storytelling and editorial direction." p. 152

"There is flavor there. Coming so soon after the turn of the century, THE THRILL BOOK has a quaintness that is part of its charm to the present-day reader." p. 152

The author, Bob Jones, quoting from the magazine on what it would offer readers: "'Queer psychological phenomena, mystic demonstrations, weird adventures in the air--and things that men feel but cannot explain'." p. 152

"The back covers [of the magazine] were filled with inventive elaborations. It was there that the editor eloquently--and at great length--explained what he was doing and why. THE THRILL BOOK early took the stand that the weird, fantastic story is 'essentially fundamental in truth and plausibility'." p. 153

Each issue featured several stories, some weird or fantastic, some mere adventure, and occasionally one or two science fiction. Readers of the later Weird Tales would have recognized the names of some of the contributors to The Thrill Book: Greye La Spina, Perley Poore Sheehan, Seabury Quinn, H. Bedford-Jones, J.U. Giesy, Murray Leinster, and Francis Stevens (Gertude Barrows Bennett). There were short stories, serials, poems, non-fiction, and letters from readers. The covers are mostly unremarkable.

So was The Thrill Book a model or an inspiration for Weird Tales? It's hard to say. The Thrill Book is known now to have been poorly distributed. It was comparatively rare and may not have been widely read. Jacob Clark Henneberger, who was in Indianapolis at about the time The Thrill Book was in print, may or may not have seen the magazine. It's easier to say that weird fiction, fantasy, and scientific romance were in the air after World War I and that it was only a matter of time before someone published a magazine devoted to those genres.

The Thrill Book
Mar. 1, 1919 to Oct. 15, 1919
16 Issues (Volumes 1-3)
Published by: Street and Smith
Edited by: Harold Hersey and Eugene A. Clancy (first eight issues); Ronald Oliphant (last eight issues)
Format: First eight issues: Dime novel size (8 x 12 inches), 48 or 64 pages according to different sources; Last eight issues: Pulp size, 100 or 160 pages according to different sources

On the left, the first issue of The Thrill Book, "A Delightful Number Of A New Type Of Magazine." The date was March 1, 1919, and the cover artist was Sidney H. Riesenberg (1885-1971). The cover artist on the March 15, 1919, issue is unknown. The Thrill Book was a semi-monthly magazine. Each pair of covers here and below is for a different month in the life of the magazine. 
The cover artists for these two April issues are unknown. Note that the subtitle has changed to "A New Type of Magazine for Everybody." According to the editor, Harold Hersey, that subtitle--"A New Type of Magazine"--was a timid compromise. Evidently the staff of The Thrill Book wanted readers to know that this magazine was different, but it didn't want to scare them off. In other words, the subtitle was a euphemism for a magazine that printed science fiction, fantasy, and horror. "A New Type of Magazine" is akin to the subtitle for Weird Tales, "The Unique Magazine." That leads me to think the latter could have been influenced by the former.  
The May 1919 issues, both showing women in peril. The characters on the right don't seem to be very excited about the woman's plight. The cover artists are once again unknown.
June 1919. For two consecutive issues, readers of The Thrill Book got to see a woman being threatened with a knife (May 15 and June 1). The cover artists are unknown.
July 1919 with cover art by an unknown artist (left) and Sidney H. Riesenberg (right). 
August 1919 with cover art by an unknown artist (left) and Sidney H. Riesenberg (right). 
September 1919 with cover art by James Reynolds (left) and Charles Durant (right).

Born on October 5, 1887, in Racine, Wisconsin, Charles Wilfred Durant was an illustrator and commercial artist. During World War I, he served in the field artillery. He died on November 8, 1947, and was buried at Long Island National Cemetery. Presumably these were the same artist.
The last month of The Thrill Book, October 1919, with cover art by an unknown artist (left) and James Reynolds (right). Out of sixteen covers pictured here, the tally is: six showing women in varying degrees of distress or peril; four with Oriental themes; two of historical adventure; and one each of sea adventure, Western, and African adventure. The cover that stands out in terms of its theme is the first, illustrating "Wolf of the Steppes" by Greye La Spina, a Weird Tales-like story of a werewolf. Greye La Spina (1880-1969) later contributed to Weird Tales. "Wolf of the Steppes" may have been her first published work.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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