Monday, September 30, 2013

Fantastic Adventures

Established in 1926, Amazing Stories was the first American science fiction magazine. The second successful title, Astounding Stories, came along in 1930. Other magazines joined their ranks during the 1930s and '40s, but Amazing and Astounding marched in lock step at the head of science fiction in America during the pulp fiction era.

In January 1938, Ziff-Davis acquired Amazing Stories from Bernarr Macfadden's Teck Publications. The following month, science fiction fan and writer Raymond A. Palmer (1910-1977) hired on with Ziff-Davis. He assumed the editorship of Amazing Stories in June 1938.

Five years prior, in April 1933, Street and Smith took over Astounding Stories from Clayton Magazines. F. Orlin Tremaine served as editor from October 1933 to November 1937. John W. Campbell, Jr. (1910-1971) started working for Street and Smith in October 1937. From December 1937 to May 1938, Campbell served under Tremaine, who left Street and Smith on May 1, 1938. The first issue of Astounding under Campbell's full control was that same May issue. By then, Campbell had already renamed the magazine Astounding Science-Fiction.

So in the spring of 1938, the two longest running science fiction magazines in America took on new editors. (1) Less than a year later, in March 1939, Street and Smith added a fantasy magazine, Unknown, to its line of titles. John W. Campbell, Jr., was editor. Ziff-Davis followed suit with Fantastic Adventures in May 1939. Raymond A. Palmer edited that magazine. Like Unknown, Fantastic Adventures struggled in its first year or so in print and neared cancellation in October 1940, when it was rescued by the popularity of Robert Moore Williams' Lost Worlds story, "Jongor of Lost Land." The cover for that October issue was by an old Weird Tales standby, J. Allen St. John.

Whereas Unknown came to an end in 1943, Fantastic Adventures survived into the 1950s, propelled by stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, and Nelson S. Bond and artwork by Frank R. Paul and J. Allen St. John. Like Campbell, Palmer wanted to raise the standards of fantasy fiction. Palmer's goal was to put them on par with slick magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post. Instead Fantastic Adventures is remembered today as a venue for the so-called Shaver Mystery stories of the late 1940s. The first installment of the Shaver Mystery, "I Remember Lemuria," rewritten by Palmer but published under the byline of Richard S. Shaver, appeared in the March 1945 issue of Amazing Stories. Tales of Deros and Teros filled the pages of Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures for the next half decade. Resulting sales helped fill the coffers at Ziff-Davis. Less than five feet tall, Raymond Palmer had engineered an outsized success from the delusions of a madman.

Palmer had a keen eye for what worked on the popular imagination. In 1947 he latched onto flying saucers as the next big thing. In the summer of the first big flap, he asked Kenneth Arnold, witness to the first sighting, to investigate the Maury Island Incident in Washington State. In March 1948, Palmer launched Fate, a digest-sized magazine of Forteana. The cover story, "The Truth About Flying Saucers," was written by Kenneth Arnold. Palmer and Arnold collaborated on a book, The Coming of the Flying Saucers, a few years later. By then Palmer was out on his own, having left Ziff-Davis in 1949. He would spend the rest of his career as a writer, editor, and publisher of magazines and books about flying saucers, the Shaver Mystery, and other strange and paranormal subjects. Meanwhile, Howard Browne took over as editor of Fantastic Adventures and Amazing Stories.

Not to be outdone, John W. Campbell, Jr., became an adherent to a different religion based on science fiction. In one way or another, the Shaver Mystery may have been a dry run for a belief in flying saucers. Whatever the case, L. Ron Hubbard may have been paying close attention to Raymond Palmer's forays into pseudoscientific pseudo-religion, for as the 1940s came to a close, he created what he called "a new science of the mind," a science fiction religion to top all others. Campbell fell hard and printed Hubbard's article, "Dianetics: The Evolution of a Science," in the May 1950 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Other writers in Campbell's stable followed along. Today they are gone, while Dianetics and Astounding--retitled Analog--live on.

Born in the same year and buried in the same decade, John W. Campbell, Jr., and Raymond A. Palmer seem to have been like Betty Hutton and Howard Keel singing:
Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you.
I don't know what relationship if any the two men had, but their lives ran on parallel tracks. The trauma of Raymond Palmer's childhood was made manifest in his broken body. The emotional coldness and hostility coming from Campbell's father and aunt may have had equally damaging effects on his own psyche. (That may have been one of the reasons why he fell for L. Ron Hubbard's snake oil salesmanship.) Both were science fiction writers and fans. Both rose to the editorship of a prominent science fiction magazine at the same time and created a new fantasy magazine, also at the same time. Both had a good run during the 1940s before--in Isaac Asimov's estimation--the Golden Age of Science Fiction came to and end (coincidentally or not when Dianetics came along and Campbell began approaching the deep end). And of course both were involved in spreading the gospel of a new religion sprung from the science fiction magazines both knew and loved so well.

Fantastic Adventures
May 1939 to Mar. 1953
129 Issues (15 Volumes)
Published by: Ziff-Davis, Chicago (moved to New York in 1950)
Edited by: Raymond A. Palmer (May 1939 to Dec. 1949); Howard Browne (Jan. 1950 to Mar. 1953)
Format: Bedsheet (May 1939 to May 1940); standard pulp size thereafter

Fantastic Adventures Quarterly
Winter 1941 to Spring 1951
21 Issues (9 Volumes)
Published by: Ziff-Davis, Chicago (moved to New York in 1950)
Edited by: Raymond A. Palmer (1941 to 1949); Howard Browne (1950 to 1951)
Format: Pulp size
Notes: Fantastic Adventures Quarterly consisted of unsold issues of Fantastic Adventures bound together and sold as extra-long pulp magazines. 

(1) Weird Tales also changed hands that year but held onto its editor, Farnsworth Wright.

Fantastic Adventures for February 1940, the first fantasy cover of the magazine. The artist was Robert Fuqua. 
The March 1940 issue, showing miniaturization, a perennial theme in science fiction. Fuqua returned as cover artist.
Frank R. Paul created this cover illustration for the April 1940 issue. I have included it here because of the Arctic/Antarctic theme, subject of a future blog posting. 
Fantastic Adventures, October 1940, the issue that saved a magazine, with a cover story by Robert Moore Williams and cover art by J. Allen St. John. 
Ziff-Davis rebound copies of Fantastic Adventures for its Fantastic Adventures Quarterly. Here's the cover for the Summer 1948 issue. Note Shaver's byline. Note also the page count--that's a lot of reading for 35 cents.

Text copyright 2013, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Covers of Unknown-Part 2

To my mind, the covers of Unknown improved in the magazine's second year. Here the figure of the witch is conventional, but the illustration as a whole is much more dynamic and evocative than H.W Scott's previous covers. The date was January 1940.
This is without a doubt one of the best and most effective Unknown covers. The artist was the great Edd Cartier
Manuel Rey Isip (1904-1987) executed this cover for the March 1940 issue of Unknown. The male figure here is basically a mirror image of that in the previous cover, yet Isip's cover is comparatively weak. (I don't think it's a good idea for a major figure to have his back turned to the viewer.) The technique is a little weaker, too.
Edd Cartier was back at work on the April 1940 issue. Rene Lafayette was L. Ron Hubbard, author of the previous cover story illustrated by Cartier.
Manuel Isip's second cover for Unknown (May 1940) was much stronger than his first. 
Then the final full-color cover illustration for Unknown. The artist was Edd Cartier. His was a frightening and disturbing image.
This is what covers of Unknown looked like after June 1940. In graphic terms, probably in marketing terms, too, it was clearly a mistake for John W. Campbell, Jr., to switch to this new look. So why did he do it? 

Text and captions copyright 2013, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Covers of Unknown-Part 1

Unknown (later retitled Unknown Worlds) was in print from March 1939 to October 1943. There were thirty-nine issues in all, but only sixteen of those issues featured a full-color cover. I don't know why the editor, John W. Campbell, Jr., decided to switch from illustrated to non-illustrated covers. He must have known that covers sell magazines. If he decided to disregard that and go ahead with a supposedly more dignified cover, then he made what could have been a fatal error. The magazine carried on for more than three years after Campbell made the switch. That suggests a still respectable readership. But non-illustrated covers could not have helped circulation. In my mind, they could only have hurt Campbell's cause. In any case, here are the covers for the first calendar year of Unknown, March through December 1939.

This first cover of Unknown by H.W. Scott (1897-1977) is justly famous. It illustrates Eric Frank Russell's novel "Sinister Barrier," a story of the future, but the faintly Asian figure holding the globe in his taloned hands while looking down on burning ruins suggests the much feared Yellow Peril. The image also anticipates a world in flames, which would soon become a reality.
The cover of the second issue (Apr. 1939) was by Graves Gladney (1907-1976). It's a more conventional, even unremarkable cover. If you had seen it on the newsstand, you would not have known this was a magazine of fantasy. Note that the top and bottom halves of the man's body don't match.
H.W. Scott returned for the cover of the third issue, May 1939. Note that the main title logo is lit by the same effects as the rest of the design.
Scott's illustration for the fourth issue (June 1939) is another unremarkable cover. Was John W. Campbell ashamed of publishing a magazine of fantasy? 
Maybe not, judging by this cover from July 1939. The artist was H.W. Scott. 
Another cover (Aug. 1939) with Oriental imagery and a mundane setting. Except for the ghostly female figure, this looks like the cover of a standard adventure magazine. Art teachers will tell you not to cut your design in half, but it works here. The artist was Graves Gladney.
H.W. Scott did this cover for September 1939, the month the war started.
Don A. Stuart was John W. Campbell, Jr., editor of Unknown. It's interesting that he would hold a certain opinion about Weird Tales, yet write a story called "The Elder Gods." The artist was Modest Stein (1871-1958), lover of Emma Goldman and an attempted assassin.
Graves Gladney did this cover for the November 1939 issue of Unknown. The bear looks more like a wolverine.
Finally, Edd Cartier (1914-2008) arrived on the scene, and though this is not his most effective work, it stands apart from the other covers from 1939 for its unambiguously fantastic elements.

Nineteen thirty-nine was the year of the World's Fair in New York City. The overall theme was the bright and shining Future. Unknown was a magazine of fantasy, a genre or collection of genres that cast their gaze into the past. (Science fiction is of course the genre of the future.) Despite that, the covers of Unknown strike me as progressive, forward-looking. For whatever reason, I associate Unknown with the look of the 1939 World's Fair. I think it's because of the streamlined appearance, the clean and uncluttered layout, the contemporary typeface used in the main title. The covers of Weird Tales on the other hand are ornate, with a feeling of the Gothic, the Baroque, or the Victorian. You could never have mistaken one for the other.

Text and captions copyright 2013, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Unknown and Unknown Worlds-Part 2

Unknown lasted less than five years and only thirty-nine issues. The explanation for the magazine's demise is that Campbell lost his writers and his supply of paper to World War II. I detect some other problems however. First, the magazine went from a monthly to a bimonthly schedule with the February 1941 issue. Later that year--in October--Unknown changed names and formats. Those developments came before Pearl Harbor. Major changes in a magazine are often a sign of trouble. That may or may have been the case with Unknown. I think a more significant change occurred more than a year before, for with the July 1940 issue, Unknown eliminated full-color cover illustrations in favor of a Reader's Digest-like listing of contents. Wikipedia calls it a "more dignified cover layout." I suspect that Campbell was shooting for some kind of dignity or respectability in a pulp magazine when he made the change. Maybe he was trying to appeal to a more literary readership. Maybe he didn't want his readers to feel ashamed or embarrassed about buying or reading a magazine with a garish cover depicting fantastic creatures and events. If that's the case, then I think there is a better explanation for Unknown's demise.

In our overly educated and intellectualized culture, a thing can't just be what it is. It has to be made something significant. So-called scholars have tried to do it to comics, television, music, and every other form of popular culture. Science fiction and pulp genres are no different. A few years after Unknown Worlds gave up the ghost, Judith Merril began editing anthologies. Her aim was to make science fiction more respectable and to integrate it into the literary mainstream. To that end she started using the term speculative fiction or even sf instead of science fiction. (5) The implication is that science fiction is for children, or pimply-faced teenaged fans, or socially inept adults in a perpetual state of arrested adolescence. In order for it to be worthy, science fiction must be taken away from these people, renamed, and made subject of intellectualized university courses, unread literary journals, and stuffy symposia. That attitude is perfectly expressed by Margaret Atwood, a writer of science fiction who bristles at the label. "Science fiction has monsters and spaceships," she writes, "speculative fiction could really happen." Or more succinctly: science fiction is "talking squids in outer space." (6) I suspect that Ms. Atwood is being disingenuous. She must know that science fiction is not about talking squids. It's more likely that she's just trying to avoid the supposed embarrassment of being a writer of science fiction while inhabiting the world of mainstream literature. (7)

In any case, if John W. Campbell, Jr., decided that fantasy had to be taken away from Weird Tales and its readers, or that fantasy had to be made respectable and that one way of doing that was to turn his simple pulp magazine into a pseudo-literary journal of some kind, then he miscalculated. Readers of pulp fiction want to see art on the cover of the magazine they buy. They don't want The American Mercury. World War II may have been the proximate cause of Unknown's demise. The ultimate cause may have been a little more complicated.

Despite its manifest high quality, Unknown Worlds came to an end. It was and is a well-remembered magazine. It's interesting to consider the possibility that Unknown in one form or another might still be with us, as Astounding Science-Fiction is. Maybe The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction has filled that role. There's another possibility, though. Weird Tales was in its twentieth year when Unknown Worlds ceased publication. More than a decade would remain in the life of "The Unique Magazine." Once again, Weird Tales had outlasted the competition. I'm not sure that Weird Tales was unaffected however. Under the direction of Dorothy McIlwraithWeird Tales published humorous stories, stories of contemporary or urban fantasy, and stories from writers of science fiction. (8) Maybe Weird Tales was in fact the heir of Unknown Worlds.

Unknown/Unknown Worlds
Mar. 1939 to Oct. 1943
39 Issues (7 Volumes)
Published by: Street and Smith
Edited by: John W. Campbell, Jr.
Format: Pulp size from March 1939 to August 1941; bedsheet size from October 1941 to April 1943; then pulp size again for the last three issues.
NotesUnknown became Unknown: Fantasy Fiction with the December 1940 issue, then became Unknown Worlds with the October 1941 issue.

(5) Judith Merril did not invent the term. Wikipedia says that it was Robert Heinlein's. Intellectuals have done the same kind of thing by calling comic books "graphic novels," "sequential art," or "graphic storytelling."
(6) Quotes are from Wikipedia.
(7) I don't mean to say that science fiction and fantasy should not be well written or that those genres should remain subliterary. My objection is to the intellectualizing of popular culture. If you want to use words like subtext or deconstruction or hegemony or some other academic monstrosity, do it with your own subject matter. Leave comics and science fiction alone.
(8) Weird Tales also published stories of what can almost be categorized as weird menace. The Damp Man saga is an obvious example.

Text and captions copyright 2013, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Unknown and Unknown Worlds-Part 1

Our story thus far: Although The Thrill Book, published in 1919, told weird and fantastic tales, the first magazine wholly devoted to those genres was Weird Tales, which began in March 1923. Weird Tales suffered from perennial financial difficulties. Nonetheless, it held on for 279 issues and thirty-one years, finally coming to an end in the pulp bloodbath of the 1950s. In that time, Weird Tales had its rivals and imitators. It even gave rise to a new genre, the weird menace or shudder pulps. Each in its turn folded, usually after only a few issues. Then, in 1939, a new magazine of fantasy arrived on the scene. For a time, it must have looked like the mantle of fantasy fiction would be taken from Weird Tales and placed upon Unknown. In his History of the Science Fiction Magazine, Mike Ashley wrote: "Unknown published without doubt the greatest collection of fantasy stories produced in one magazine." (1) There were stories by L. Sprague de Camp, Theodore Sturgeon, Anthony Boucher, Fredric Brown, Henry Kuttner, and L. Ron Hubbard. Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories first saw the light of day in Unknown. "They" by Robert Heinlein, one of the most paranoiac and solipsistic stories you're likely to read, was also published in the magazine. C.L. Moore migrated from Weird Tales to Unknown and its science fiction companion, Astounding, in 1939-1940. Unknown also published Leiber's "Smoke Ghost," one of the most memorable of weird tales, and "Conjure Wife," about witches on a modern college campus. "'Conjure Wife,'" wrote Robert Weinberg, "like 'Smoke Ghost,' pulled the supernatural story kicking and screaming out of ancient ruins and dropped it square into the middle of urban sprawl." (2) And that was entirely the point.

Unknown was published by Street and Smith and edited by John W. Campbell, Jr., the same crew that put out Astounding Science-Fiction. In Astounding, Campbell remade science fiction and forged a golden age. I think his intent was the same with Unknown and the genre of fantasy. Weird Tales, admittedly a little giant in terms of budget and sales, bestrode that genre. Every other fantasy magazine of its time was forced either to imitate Weird Tales (as in Strange Tales and Strange Stories) or to react to it some way. It seems to me that the weird menace pulps were one possible reaction: a sort of hybrid of weird fiction, hero pulps, and confession or true crime, in which the events of the story, no matter how weird, are in the end explained rationally. Campbell's Unknown was another:
[Campbell] stressed the power of good writing over the cheap theatrics and the purple prose that weighed down other weird-fiction magazines. More importantly, he demanded that his writers make their fantasy as logical as science fiction. There were to be no more fainting narrators, no more last-minute rescues, no more heaping on ridiculous fantastic effects. In Unknown, even the incredible had to operate by some sort of rationale. (3)
I think we can take that as a swipe--not by the writer of those words, but by John W. Campbell--at Weird Tales in general and at some very popular and well-loved writers in particular. (4) In any case, that approach, an attempt to bring weird fiction and fantasy out of the Gothic past and into the modern present, was something of an innovation. Campbell also introduced humor into fantasy fiction. On one hand, humor was sorely lacking in fantasy before Unknown. On the other, humor too often and too easily elides into irony, parody, and ridicule, all indicators of decadence, as our current culture shows us.

To be continued . . .

(1) Volume 2: 1936-1945 (1975), p. 40.
(2) Horror of the Twentieth Century: An Illustrated History (2000), p. 108. A quibble: the use of the term urban sprawl is an anachronism and probably a little inaccurate in this case. "Smoke Ghost" takes place in the heart of the industrial city.
(3) From Stefan Dziemianowicz's introduction to Rivals of Weird Tales (1990), p. xvii.
(4) The fainting narrator is out of Lovecraft. Additionally, he and Robert E. Howard were both guilty of writing the purplest of prose. An example that leaps to mind is Howard's use of a supposed adverb, "blackly." If anyone can explain to me how anything can be done "blackly," I'd like to hear it. On the other hand, C.L. Moore and Fritz Leiber, both widely-admired and both contributors to Unknown, also committed the sin of using the "word" oilily. One of the first things you learn in composition class is to use adjectives and adverbs sparingly. And when you do put them into play, they should at least be real words. Any writer who uses blackly or oilily ought to know better and as punishment should be horsewhipped.

Text and captions copyright 2013, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Weird Menace Magazines-Martin Goodman's Titles

Wherever there was a trend to follow, there was Martin Goodman. Weird menace was already five years old and getting close to its end when Goodman got in the game. Known for his myriad publishing ventures under myriad names (I think that's why his comic books were called "Marvel Comics Group"), Goodman published several short-lived weird menace magazines between 1938 and 1941. Some of them leaned towards science fiction. Goodman's editors relied in part on comic book artists Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, and Alex Schomburg for illustration.

Martin Goodman (1908-1992) entered the publishing field in 1931 with Columbia Publications. He founded his own company, Western Fiction Publishing, in 1932 and published his first pulp title, Western Supernovel Magazine, the following year. (Note: Some of the foregoing is in error. See the comment by Doc V. below. Mar. 27, 2015.) Comic books, the offspring of newspaper comics and pulp fiction, arrived on the scene shortly thereafter. The advent of Superman in June 1938 made superheroes super popular. Goodman responded with Marvel Comics #1 in October 1939. Weird menace was on its way out by then. But comic books had arrived. Although he published pulp magazines, men's magazines, humor magazines, true crime magazines, and paperback books, Martin Goodman is remembered today as the publisher of Marvel Comics in all their vast array. Goodman and his cousin-in-law, Stan Lee, catch a lot of grief, but they also have given us a world of entertainment.

Mystery Tales
Mar. 1938 to May 1940
9 Issues (3 Volumes)
Published by: Red Circle (Martin Goodman)
Edited by: __________
Format: __________

Uncanny Tales
Apr. 1939 to May 1940
5 Issues (2 Volumes)
Published by: Manvis Publications, Inc. (Martin Goodman)
Edited by: __________
Format: __________
Notes: Uncanny Tales began publication as Star Detective, which ran for 11 issues, from May 1935 to November 1938.

Marvel Tales
Dec. 1939 to May 1940
2 Issues (2 Volumes)
Published by: Martin Goodman
Edited by: Robert O. Erisman
Format: __________
NotesMarvel Tales began publication as Marvel Science Stories, which ran for 5 issues (Aug. 1938 to Aug. 1939). The title was changed to Marvel Tales for two issues before becoming Marvel Stories (2 issues, Nov. 1940 to Apr. 1941). The title was revived as Marvel Science Stories for five issues published in 1951-1952. According to Mike Ashley in his History of the Science Fiction Magazine, Vol. 2: 1936-1945, Marvel Science Stories was "the first new American [science fiction] magazine since Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories . . . in 1931" (p. 35).

Real Mystery Magazine
Apr. 1940 to July 1940
2 Issues (1 Volume)
Published by: Western Fiction Publishing, Chicago (Martin Goodman)
Edited by: Robert O. Erisman
Format: Standard pulp
Notes: Real Mystery Magazine reprinted stories from Uncanny Tales and Mystery Tales.

Uncanny Stories
Apr. 1941
1 Issue (1 Volume)
Published by: Manvis Publications, Inc. (Martin Goodman)
Edited by: Robert O. Erisman
Illustrated by: Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Alex Schomburg
Format: __________

Mystery Tales, March 1938, according to my list, the first of Martin Goodman's weird menace magazine titles. Note the Red Circle imprint. Note also the man in the red robe.
Mystery Tales, June 1938. There's the half-naked woman, there are the chains and the woman being put into a bottle or jar, and there is the menacing dwarf, all standard elements for a weird menace cover. (The red robes and the hot poker are missing, however.) I have included this image because the dwarf looks like a Jack Kirby figure. June 1938 may have been a little too early for him to be at work for Martin Goodman. Hal K. Wells also contributed to Weird Tales.
Uncanny Tales, April/May 1939. Arthur J. Burks (his name is misspelled here) and Mindret Lord wrote stories for Weird Tales.
Uncanny Tales, August 1939. There's the chained woman in a bottle, with strategically placed bands to block our view of certain anatomical features. The artist here has shown some imagination by making the villain's robe yellow rather than red.
By the May 1940 issue of Uncanny Tales, the villain had gotten his red robe back from the cleaners.
Different title, same formula: chains, woman, bottle, and red robe all appeared on the cover of Marvel Tales in May 1940. The man on the left looks like Doctor Pretorius from Bride of Frankenstein. The man on the left looks like Rondo Hatton, who by then had already begun appearing in movies. The red and yellow robes were both available for this picture.
Real Mystery, July 1940. Those look like Jack Kirby faces down in that cage.
Finally, Uncanny Stories, April 1941. According to my list, this was the last of Martin Goodman's weird menace magazine, but it looks more like standard science fiction to me. Ray Cummings and David H. Keller were also writers for Weird Tales

Text and captions copyright 2013, 2023 Terence E. Hanley