Thursday, September 26, 2013

Weird Menace Magazines-Part 3

If there was a king of the shudder pulps, it might have been Bruno Fischer. In the mid 1930s, Fischer was editing the Socialist Call, the house organ of the Socialist party, and making precious little money at it. Then he decided to give pulp magazines a try. He hacked out a six-thousand word story over one weekend and submitted it to Popular Publications. Not long after, he received a check for $60--big money in the depths of the Depression. With his next story he got a raise to the grand sum of 1-1/4 cents per word. After awhile Fischer quit his day job and began writing full time. (It's funny how, when faced with reality, even socialists can learn simple economics.) The money was good for about five years. Then weird menace came crashing down. Fischer remembered:
In 1940 I was living in Florida with my family when the whole terror-horror market collapsed. . . . [O]ne day I got a letter saying the magazines had folded, and all my unpublished stories were returned. They just stopped, just like that. It was a shock. Just one day the market was gone. (1)
In their heyday, weird menace magazines outnumbered weird fiction and fantasy magazines, and maybe even science fiction titles as well. According to Lee Server in Danger Is My Business, the magazines listed below all fell into the category of weird menace/terror/horror/shudder. I will take his word for it. Some of these titles are similar to those of Terror Tales and Horror Stories. It's worth noting that most include the word mystery or mysteries.

That brings me to this: In one way or another, weird menace and mystery or detective stories are connected. I won't go into that too much, but I want to bring up three topics:

First, according to Lee Server, when Dime Mystery Magazine switched from weird menace to detective stories in October 1938, it actually began telling stories in a new genre, the weird hero genre, which had been pioneered in another Popular Publications magazine, Strange Detective Mysteries. Mr. Server defines weird heroes as "crime fighters with strange quirks and afflictions--the so-called defective detectives." (2, 3) Seven months later, in May 1939, Batman made his debut in Detective Comics #27. So is Batman a weird hero? I have already written about three basic types of superheroes, the science fictional hero (Superman), the detective hero (Batman), and the supernatural hero (The Spectre). Each type came from a different pulp fiction genre. So is Batman actually a hybrid of the detective and the weird hero? Or maybe we can go further: Is Batman strictly a weird hero and connected to the detective genre only through the weird hero genre? Maybe the question we should ask is: How finely do we want to split these hairs? In any case, early comic book heroes were called mystery men. (The word superheroes had yet to be coined.) Did superheroes in general come out of the weird hero genre rather than other genres? And are The Shadow and Doc Savage weird heroes?

Second, the requirement in weird menace that the seemingly supernatural events of the story be explained logically in the end makes me think of the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! Being a fan of monsters, I always wanted them to be real in Scooby-Doo, or at least sometimes. But the monster was always just a guy in a suit. One of the weaknesses of the Scooby-Doo format is that it came to be so predictable and is now cliched. Perry Mason is the same way. Too often a formulaic show becomes almost unwatchable.

Finally, weird menace seems to have grown out of mystery and detective stories, then grew back into them again once the fad was all over with. There is of course great appeal to the mystery story. Even if you prefer weird fiction to mysteries, you have to admit that "Ooze," the first cover story of Weird Tales, or "The Call of Cthulhu" is essentially a mystery. My own feeling is that mysteries in fiction appeal to us so much because life itself is a mystery. Living is the investigation.

Spicy Mystery Stories/Spicy Mystery
July 1934 to Dec. 1942
73 Issues (13 Volumes)
Published by: Culture Publications
Edited by: __________
Format: __________
Notes: Became Spicy Mystery with the April 1940 issue. Became Speed Mystery with the January 1943 issue.

Thrilling Mystery/Thrilling Mystery Novel/Detective Mystery Novel
Oct. 1935 to May 1947
74 Issues (26 Volumes)
Published by__________
Edited by__________
Note: Became Thrilling Mystery Novel with the Winter 1945 issue, then Detective Mystery Novel with the Summer 1947 issue.

Eerie Stories
Aug. 1937
1 Issue (presumably 1 Volume)
Published by: Magazine Publishers
Edited by: Harry Widmer
Format: Pulp size

Eerie Mysteries
Aug. 1938 to Apr./May 1939
4 Issues
Published by: Ace Magazines
Edited by: Harry Widmer
Format: Pulp size

Eerie Tales
July 1941
1 Issue (presumably 1 Volume)
Published by: C.K. Publishing, Toronto
Edited by__________
Format: Large pulp size

Ace Mystery Magazine/Detective Romances
May 1936 to Jan. 1937
5 Issues (2 Volumes)
Published by__________
Edited by__________
Notes: Ace Mystery Magazine changed titles and genres with the fourth issue, November 1936. 

Strange Detective Mysteries/Captain Satan
Oct. 1937 to May 1943
33 Issues (9 Volumes)
Published by: Popular Publications
Edited by__________
Note: Strange Detective Mysteries became Captain Satan with the March 1938 issue, then reverted to its original title with the November/December 1938 issue. There were five monthly issues entitled Captain Satan. (4)

(1) Quoted in Danger Is My Business by Lee Server (1993), p. 115.
(2) Danger Is My Business, p. 115.
(3) Writer, editor, and publisher Byron Preiss (1953-2005) issued an eight-volume paperback series called Weird Heroes in the mid 1970s. Ron Goulart, Harlan Ellison, and Philip José Farmer were among the contributors.
(4) I can't say that this list of weird menace titles is complete or even that every title listed here is in fact a weird menace magazine. Also, you'll notice that the information is incomplete. I would like to fill in the blanks, so feel free to send more information. Finally, I made the count of issues for many of these titles. If there is an error, it's mine alone.

Spicy Mystery Stories was one of a line of so-called "spicy" pulps. (Spicy was a euphemism for sexy.) In addition to spicy mysteries, you could read spicy adventure stories and who knows what else. Spicy Westerns? Spicy boxing stories? Spicy railroad stories? Anyway, here's a hybrid with the half-naked woman trying to keep what I presume to be a Scooby-Doo villain in a box. The date was June 1935.
Thrilling Mystery for October 1935. If I remember right, sharp objects to the eye got Bill Gaines and other comic book publishers in trouble in the early 1950s. The crusade against horror magazines in 1940-1941 was recapitulated a dozen years later with horror comics. 
There's the hot poker again, plus the half-naked woman. Note the similar pose as in the first image. I wonder how the man is holding a hot metal rod in his bare hand. Eerie Stories, August 1937.
Red dress, green skinned creatures--even the pose is somewhat similar to those shown above. Eerie Mysteries, August 1938.
The 1930s must have been swarming with men in robes or hoods. Here they are menacing yet another red-haired woman. Ace Mystery Magazine, May 1936.
Strange Detective Mysteries, October 1937, showing a mystery man, a straight-shooter in a domino mask and maybe one of the new weird hero genre.
Finally, once the weird menace fad has come to an end, the red-haired woman in the red dress gets a chance to relax and have a cup of coffee with her boyfriend. Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, 1942.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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