Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Man and Animal

I have placed seven covers in the category of man and animal. Surprisingly, four of the animals are birds, two corvids (a crow and a raven) and two vultures. Otherwise there doesn't seem to be much of a pattern. Sometimes the animals are helpers and sometimes adversaries.

As far as I know, the image of a whip-poor-will, the calls of which figure prominently in several weird tales, never appeared on the cover of the magazine. I'm not sure why whip-poor-wills should be associated with the supernatural. Is that from folklore? In any case, I don't find anything strange or eerie in the sound of whip-poor-wills calling. On the contrary, the call of the whip-poor-will in the evening woods is to me the sound of a kind of wildness, of something that has been lost in the irretrievable past. Seeing a whip-poor-will float through the woods might remind you of a kind of ghost. To me, it's more like the flight of a kite or like a weightless wooden toy with moving parts. The association of the whip-poor-will with the supernatural or paranormal continues. A whip-poor-will is a goatsucker, in Spanish, chupacabra.

Weird Tales, July 1925. Cover story: "The Werewolf of Ponkert" by H. Warner Munn. Cover art by Andrew Brosnatch. If you didn't know better than by the title of the cover story, you would think the creatures attacking the man are wolves rather than werewolves. By the image alone, they appear to be animals, so I have put Andrew Brosnatch's cover in this category. It's also in the category of man and monster.

Weird Tales, July 1930. Cover story: "The Bride of Dewer" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Curtis C. Senf. A little green guy may not be quite a man, but in what other category does he belong? In other words, in terms of telling a story, a character of this type functions as a man, so I think he has to go into the category of a man. So the first two covers show horses, but they're the last horses you'll see for awhile.

Weird Tales first appeared in the 1920s, but it wasn't exactly a creature of the Jazz Age. Fantasy, weird fiction, and ghost stories look to the past. Science fiction is about the future. It shouldn't come as any surprise that Weird Tales had a somewhat old-fashioned look to it, even into the 1940s. That look was exemplified in the cover art of Curtis C. Senf, an artist of Old World sensibilities whose art often looked more like a nineteenth-century lithograph than an illustration from the pulp fiction era.

Weird Tales, February 1939. Cover story: "Death Is an Elephant" by Nathan Hindin, a pseudonym of Robert Bloch. Cover art by Virgil Finlay. When I think of weird fiction, the image of a rogue elephant doesn't leap into my head. Maybe in 1939 a cover with a circus theme would have helped sell magazines. God knows there were enough men wearing turbans. In any case, there is more than just a man and an animal in this picture, but the essential relationship is between the two. I guess the elephant is supposed to be the bad guy and deserves to be stuck with a knife. We in the twenty-first century might see things differently. As an artist, I see that Virgil Finlay made a mistake in aligning the man's left hand with the elephant's knee. Learning not to do things like that is a beginning lesson in drawing. Otherwise it's a perfectly fine cover, although the faces in the foreground seem to have been drawn from stock photos in the artist's morgue. The one in the middle looks really familiar to me.

Weird Tales, September 1939. Cover poem: "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe. Cover art by Virgil Finlay. To me, this is one of the most memorable and iconic covers for Weird Tales. Finlay kept it simple as a magazine cover probably should be for maximum impact. Note that Poe is looking not at the bird but to its right. I don't know why. This is one of only two Weird Tales covers that I have found showing the image of an author. (The other is of Harry Houdini from March 1924.) It may be alone in illustrating a poem rather than a story. By the way, this is the 205th anniversary of Poe's birth month. (He was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston.) Happy Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe!

Weird Tales, September 1944. Cover story: None. Cover art by A.R. Tilburne. The website Yankee Classic has identified this cover as a swipe from the artist Jose Segrelles from an image published in American Weekly Magazine in October 1931. It's a shame that Tilburne resorted to that, but his is a fine version and well executed. If you look at the regular Weird Tales artists of the 1940s--A.R. Tilburne, Hannes Bok, Matt Fox, Lee Brown Coye, Boris Golgov--they stack up pretty well against the artists of the 1920s. The 1930s of course were dominated by J. Allen St. John, Margaret Brundage, and Virgil Finlay. This drawing reminds me of a cartoon by Shaw in The New Yorker from last year (June 3, 2013). The cartoon shows a man crawling through the desert. On his back is a vulture. The man is saying to the vulture, with some annoyance, "If I can crawl, you can circle."

Weird Tales, January 1946. Covers story: None. Cover art by A.R. Tilburne. Many of those 1940s covers didn't illustrate any particular story. Here is another in that category. I don't think this picture is as striking or as well executed as the previous one, but that's not because Tilburne wasn't capable of such a thing on his own. He was in fact a very accomplished and interesting artist. I'll have more on him as time goes by.

Weird Tales, May 1946. Cover story: "The Valley of the Gods" by Edmond Hamilton. Cover art by Ronald Clyne. It's our loss that Ronald Clyne illustrated only one cover for Weird Tales. Fortunately he created a number of covers for hardbound editions issued by Arkham House. He was a very fine designer as this cover shows. His work also has a kind of precision approaching the technique of the lithographer or woodblock engraver. Here, man and vulture lack pupils--their eyes are lit as the lantern is lit.

Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

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