Monday, January 6, 2014

Man and Monster

The relationships among man, woman, and monster are complicated. Those between woman and monster are perhaps less so. In comparison, the man and the monster have a simple relationship: they are contestants in a primeval struggle. The first and last images here are of monsters that are probably or definitely female. Note that the authors are also female. Both show attacks upon mostly defenseless men. (Note also that none of the images shown here was by Margaret Brundage, the only female cover artist for Weird Tales. That may or may not be significant.) All other covers that follow show men relating to monsters as they relate to animals or to other men: as predator to prey, as rival to rival, or as master to servant. Only one--the Virgil Finlay cover--shows a man as a kind of explorer and monsters as more marvelous than dangerous.

Weird Tales, April 1923. Cover story: "The Whispering Thing" by Laurie McClintock and Culpeper Chunn. Cover art by R.M. Mally. Too many weird tales have the word thing in their titles. Here's one of the first to appear in Weird Tales magazine, from the second issue. The eyes in this picture look upon the protagonist as in the previous category of woman and monster. This time however, the eyes are not just looking. They are also attacking. Their appearance is feminine.

Weird Tales, April 1925. Cover story: "When the Green Star Waned" by Nictzin Dyalhis. Cover art by Andrew Brosnatch. This was Nictzin Dyalhis' first story for Weird Tales and one of the most popular in the period 1925 to 1940. It also helped introduce science fantasy to the magazine. Here the struggle is over. Men have lost. Monsters from the moon have enslaved them. Only men of another kind from the planet Venus can save them. 

Weird Tales, June 1925. Cover story: "Monsters of the Pit" by Paul S. Powers. Cover art by Andrew Brosnatch. In movies of the 1950s, men fought giant everything: ants, praying mantises, tarantulas, gila monsters. Most of the time it had something to do with radioactivity. But the struggle against giants is as old as time. In the Bible, they were Nephilim. Before that they were wooly mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, and giant sloths. Here is just another variation on that same theme: the fight with the giant spider. Bilbo Baggins is engaged in that activity this winter at the movies. Nearly six decades ago, Grant Williams did it in . . .
The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957).

Weird Tales, July 1925. Cover story: "The Werewolf of Ponkert" by H. Warner Munn. Cover art by Andrew Brosnatch. Man against wolf is another old story. If you didn't know the title of the story, you wouldn't know these are monsters, werewolves in fact. I'll soon write about the woman and the wolf. You'll see a powerful difference between those covers and this one.

Weird Tales, Feb. 1931. Cover story: "Siva the Destroyer" by J.-J. des Ormeaux. Cover art by C. Barker Petrie, Jr. In this case the monster is man-like and a god (or demon), yet still monstrous. If the man at the desk were of the opposite sex, this image could have gone into the category of man, woman, and monster. Note the conventional pulp hero dressed in an aviator's getup and throwing hot lead. Note also the large cobra added for good measure.

Weird Tales, August 1931. Cover story: "Tam, Son of the Tiger" (part 2) by Otis Adelbert Kline. Cover art by Curtis C. Senf. I suppose Tam was just another offspring of the Tarzan character. I believe Kline's serial was set in a lost land like Pellucidar. The monster is sort of a lion-tiger cross--pretty much Napoleon Dynamite's favorite animal--with maybe a bit of baboon, hyena, or opossum as well. If the creature were more conventional, I could put this picture in with the category of man and animal. It misses another category as well: Instead of a woman, the hero is saving a pachyderm.

Weird Tales, November 1932. Cover story: "Buccaneers of Venus" (part 1) by Otis Adelbert Kline. Cover art by J. Allen St. John. If Tam was a Tarzan clone, I suppose Otis Adelbert Kline found inspiration for his next serial in Edgar Rice Burroughs' Carson of Venus series. In looking at this illustration, I can't help but be reminded of another:
A scene illustrating one of the Carson of Venus books, created three decades later by Frank Frazetta in his watercolor phase. It could have been an illustration for the same story.

Weird Tales, October 1936. Cover story: "Isle of the Undead" by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach. Cover art by J. Allen St. John. I believe that's a man in the picture. If so, he's pretty broad in the beam and maybe the only naked man to appear on the cover of Weird Tales. If it's a woman then I have her in the wrong category. In either case, the undead are monsters, even if they are humanoid. Notice that they're wearing the standard-issue red robes of the 1930s pulp villain.

Weird Tales, July 1939. Cover story: None. Cover art by Virgil Finlay. Despite the blurb on the cover, this illustration is not for "Giants of Anarchy" according to Jaffery and Cook. Instead it's a picture of a man encountering marvels, none of which threatens him overmuch. In that, this image is unique among the category of man and monster. Update (Feb. 10, 2014): I heard from Lemuel Nash who points out that Finlay's illustration is for "Far Below" by Robert Barbour Johnson. Thanks, Mr. Nash.

Weird Tales, March 1942. Cover story: "Hell on Earth" by Robert Bloch. Cover art by Hannes Bok. This cover could be included in two categories, man and monster; or man and man. But the villain, who is monstrous in his way, has some monsters as his helpers, so I have decided to include it here. That brings up a distinction we can make between the monster that is merely animal-like and driven by animal needs vs. the monster that knows good from evil. The monster capable of evil is usually humanoid or is possessed by a human spirit (as in the werewolf). In other words, an animal is incapable of evil. Because of that, it occupies a spot lower on the hierarchy of monsters. The distinction between the animal/monster and the man/monster goes back to my assertion that the only real monsters in this world are human.

Weird Tales, May 1942, Canadian edition. Cover story: "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" by H.P. Lovecraft. Cover art by Edmond Good. H.P. Lovecraft helped pay the bills at Weird Tales, yet when it came to spots on the cover, he got pretty short shrift. If I count correctly, Lovecraft had the cover story on exactly zero issues in his lifetime and only one after this Canadian edition (in September 1952). Good old Canada. And good old Good--Edmond, that is, the cover artist. The Canadian editions of Weird Tales have been overlooked in most sources. I will have to correct that oversight soon. And I'll have to write about Edmond Good.

Weird Tales, November 1942, Canadian edition. Cover story: "Coven" by Manly Wade Wellman. Cover art by an unknown artist. (His or her signature was probably covered up by the red box on the cover.) The Canadian version of the cover for "Coven" is much different than the American version by Margaret Brundage. (See the previous posting.) The woman is gone, replaced by a man (who kind of looks like Ernie Pyle). The horned and winged creature is less ambiguously a threat. That's not an easy pose to draw by the way. Note the translucent wing and the low lighting on the face.

Weird Tales, September 1943. Cover story: "Black Barter" by Robert Bloch. Cover art by A.R. Tilburne. Another cover showing marvels, although the man is more defenseless than in Virgil Finlay's earlier cover. Tilburne, the artist, excelled at drawing animals, monsters, and trippy, phantasmagoric scenes. We'll see more of him later.

Weird Tales, March 1944. Cover story: "The Trail of Cthulhu" by August Derleth. Cover art by John Giunta. This and the following cover are the only two in this category that show the monster as a helper to the man. John Giunta (1920-1970) was also a comic book artist.
Weird Tales, July 1944, Canadian edition.  Cover story: "The Trail of Cthulhu" by August Derleth. Cover art by an unknown artist. An interesting variation on the same theme. Though completed in 1944, the art looks like it could have come from a generation later.
As Ecclesiastes says, there is nothing new under the sun. Here is Frank Frazetta's very similar scene from Lin Carter's novel Thongor in the City of Magicians (1968). Carter tended to get carried away with exotic names. There are three shown here (Thongor, Zaar, Valkarthan) and this is just the cover. It's worth noting that John Giunta was a mentor to Frank Frazetta when Frazetta was still a teenager.

Weird Tales, January 1950. Cover story: "The Ormolu Clock" by August Derleth. Cover art by Matt Fox. A scene as only Matt Fox could have created it. If there isn't yet a book-length collection of his art, there should be.

Weird Tales, January 1954. Cover story: "Effie's Pets" by Suzanne Pickett. Cover art by W.H. Silvey. This is the only image from the category of man and monster in which the monster is obviously female. She reminds me of a Morlock from the later movie version of The Time Machine. Note the menacing trees, a theme for a later category of covers.

Updated January 22, 2014.
Captions and text copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley


  1. Apparently if your story was used as source material for the cover of 'Weird Tales' you got a bonus. On the basis that sex sells, I guess this was a way of incentivising writers to introduce an element of gratuitous nudity into their stories without actually specifying that they do so. This is sometimes used to explain why there are so many scantily clad damsels in distress in the Conan stories.

    It is interesting about the colour scheme - and equally interesting that you drew corollaries with 'The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus'. Looking at the painting made me think of the old artist's adage, 'warm colours advance; cool colours recede', as this is a way of creating a natural depth of field. In a lot of paintings, it's even more specific, with flesh tones verging on orange while the background is blue, so the two main colours used are complementary.

    That said, although this is true of a lot of the covers you show, it isn't true of all of them. I wonder what sort of restrictions were imposed on the artist by the magazine's printers?

  2. Just stopping by. Excellent read as usual. Thanks.

  3. Hi, Aonghus and Ron,

    You're right, Aonghus, that sex sells. I guess that's why Howard got covers and Lovecraft didn't.

    I can think of some other reasons however:

    First, mood is essential in Lovecraft's work, but mood is not easy to capture on paper or canvas, especially for an artist up against a monthly deadline. Mood isn't nearly as enticing to the passing reader as some element of plot or action. Howard's work on the other hand is largely plot-driven. Even a kid could illustrate a Howard story. Most writers for Weird Tales were probably in the same category as Howard. C.L. Moore is a possible exception, but even her stories--despite being full of mood in the proper weird manner--are rich with imagery and action.

    Second, I think Lovecraft was so popular that any issue including his work would have sold. His story didn't have to be the cover story. Howard was also popular, but he got several covers, mostly for Conan stories.

    Third, I don't think Weird Tales had an art director until Dorothy McIlwraith became editor and Lamont Buchanan her assistant and art director. Farnsworth Wright seems to have been a man of taste, but he didn't always make good editorial choices. That includes his choice of the cover story and cover art for many issues. There were some really poor covers for Weird Tales in the years 1923-1932 especially.

    It's too bad A.R. Tilburne, Matt Fox, and Lee Coye Brown came along after Lovecraft had passed away. They could probably have done his work some justice. As good as Margaret Brundage and J. Allen St. John were, I don't think they were the right kind of artists for a Lovecraft story.

    I'm sure there were restrictions in printing, but I can't say what they would have been. There's no question that pulp artists were encouraged to include red and yellow in their illustrations. That may have been part of the reason why there were so many darned red robes on pulp covers of the 1930s. As for warm vs. cool colors, I have always thought of red, orange, and yellow as being feminine colors and blue, green, and purple as more masculine colors. In any case, the figure of a woman drawn with warm colors stands out on a cover, which seems to have been the desired effect.

    Thanks as always for reading and for your comments.