Sunday, September 1, 2013

Rivals of Weird Tales-Strange Stories

Published by Ned Pines' Standard Magazines, Strange Stories was more successful than some weird fiction and fantasy magazines, but only by a little. It lasted for an unlucky thirteen issues published from February 1939 to February 1941. Mort Weisinger was the uncredited editor. Leo Margulies may have served as editor-in-chief or executive editor. It's worth noting that Standard Magazines also published College Humor, which originated with J.C. Henneberger, founder of Weird Tales.

The credits for Strange Stories read like a who's who of contributors to Weird Tales: Robert Bloch, Otis Adelbert Kline, Henry Kuttner, August Derleth, Frank Belknap Long, C.L. Moore, David H. Keller, Manly Wade Wellman, E. Hoffman Price, Seabury Quinn, Dorothy Quick. Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft were by then gone from the earth.

I assume that Strange Stories paid better than Weird Tales. It was also in publication at about the time that Weird Tales changed hands (1938) and editors (1940). Those three things together may have sent some of the writers from Weird Tales in search of new markets. C.L. Moore was one of them. Her last story for Weird Tales, a reprint, was published in the December 1939 issue. Eli Colter was another. Her last story for Weird Tales came in November 1939. Both were members of husband-wife writing teams. (You could make the argument that both were also the more skilled writers in their respective teams.) C.L. Moore wrote with her husband, Henry Kuttner, whom she married in 1940. Eli Colter wrote with her husband, Don Alviso, aka Glenn FaGalde, whom she married in the early 1930s. If the word "Featuring" on the cover of Strange Tales indicates the cover story, then Henry Kuttner, Eli Colter, and Glenn FaGalde accounted for eight of the thirteen cover stories, and Eli Colter and her husband had every cover story between October 1939 and June 1940. For a time, their little stone house in Azusa was a fiction factory. Eli Colter also had the last cover story for Strange Stories.

Although Hannes Bok drew some interior illustrations for Strange Stories, all the credited covers were by Earle K. Bergey and Rudolph Belarski. All subsisted on standard pulp imagery, especially the image of the woman in peril. Boys and young men can imagine themselves as rescuers of women. I suppose that's one of the reasons why so many pulp covers show women being menaced or threatened. We shouldn't underestimate the appeal of the scantily clad female form either. But there's also a current of misogyny running through the pulps. (1) The weird menace pulps, cousin to the weird fiction pulps, carry that misogyny to the extreme. But even a weird fiction magazine like Strange Stories could occasionally go too far, as in the cover for June 1939, which shows the severed head of a woman. It's a sick, gratuitous, and misogynistic image. I don't think Weird Tales would ever have published such a thing.

As I said, Weird Tales changed owners in 1938 and editors in 1940. Strange Stories was in publication from February 1939 to February 1941. In March 1939, Weird Tales and Strange Stories were joined in their ranks by Unknown, published by Street & Smith and edited by John W. Campbell, Jr. Pulp magazines were still very popular, but three prominent titles in the field of weird fiction and fantasy may have been too many (maybe two too many). Strange Stories came to an end in February 1941. At the same time (Dec. 1940-Feb. 1941), Unknown went from a monthly schedule to a bimonthly schedule. Although Unknown (later Unknown Worlds) was and still is highly regarded, it lasted only until October 1943. Even after all its troubles, Weird Tales ended up on the top of the heap. It would carry on for more than a decade.

Strange Stories
Feb. 1939 to Feb. 1941
13 Issues (Volumes 1-5)
Published by: Standard Magazines
Edited by: Uncredited, but widely accepted to have been Mort Weisinger
Format: Pulp size (6-7/8 x 9-7/8 inches); 128 pages (Feb. 1939 to June 1940); 96 pages (Aug. 1940 to Jan. 1941)
Notes: Standard Magazines also published Thrilling Wonder Stories (Aug. 1936-Jan. 1955) and Startling Stories (Jan. 1939-Fall 1955).

(1) That misogyny has carried through into popular movies of today, in which women are treated so cruelly by screenwriters and directors, even if it is in very subtle ways. And we shouldn't make the mistake that these are the actions of mere fictional characters, for the male character that punishes, torments, mutilates, rapes, or murders a female character is nothing more than a stand-in for the moviemaker who very obviously hates and fears women.

The first issue of Strange Stories from February 1939, with cover art by Rudolph Belarski (1900-1983). One of the appeals of the cover art on Weird Tales is its weirdness. No other pulp magazine could have offered a home to artists like Matt Fox and Lee Coye Brown. The cover artists for Strange Stories, Rudolph Belarski and Earle K. Bergey, were good artists to be sure, but perhaps a little too literal minded for weird fiction. You can see that in this illustration, especially in the faces of the three men, who were obviously drawn from models. 
According to the Speculative Fiction Database, the cover art for the second issue, April 1939, is uncredited. It's an improvement, though: a little weirder, a little more eye-catching. Once again, there is a woman in peril. The suggestion of decapitation is disturbing however.
Now there isn't just a suggestion of decapitation but a depiction of it, in color and on the cover. According to the Speculative Fiction Database, this cover for the June 1939 issue of Strange Stories was the first cover for Earle K. Bergey (1901-1952) in the realm of science fiction and fantasy. I wish he could have gotten off to a better start. 
August 1939, another cover by Bergey and one of the best of the whole series.
October 1939, another cover by Bergey, and another of the myriad pulp covers showing a woman in peril. I have to say, her two boyfriends aren't much good. 
Another Bergey cover, from December 1939. Bergey showed a big improvement in his technique over the course of 1939. Luckily he wasn't required to paint any more severed heads.

It looks like the three female characters from these two covers ran into a sale at the local dress shop: three identical dresses in the three primary colors.
February 1940 and a Bergey cover.
Ralph Belarski was back for the April 1940 cover. Incidentally, Bergey and Belarski were both from Pennsylvania.  
June 1940, another Bergey cover and another supine woman in peril. This time the dress is green.
August 1940. Bergey was the artist. It looks like he may have used an airbrush on the woman's face.
October 1940 with art from an uncredited artist. 
If she's not being menaced by sorcerers, fiends, mad scientists, or conjured monsters, the woman in peril has to face some kind of animal. Here in Earle Bergey's cover for December 1940, it's a tangle of snakes. I think this is one of the better covers in the series.
The last cover for Strange Stories, February 1941. The art is uncredited, but note the woman's red Bergey dress.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley


  1. A nice overview. This title had many evocative covers that were, I'm sure for many readers who would never be jaded by today's pop culture blitz, a springboard to imaginative reveries.

  2. Hi, John,

    Thanks for your comment. I'm always glad to hear from you.


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