Sunday, October 5, 2014

Red Robes and Cultists

In writing about a monster for our times, I left out the cultist. Cultists were everywhere in the pulps of the 1920s and '30s. I count a baker's dozen covers of Weird Tales showing cultists, satanists, or men in red robes or cloaks. I'm not sure why red robes and cultists were so popular in those days. There were plenty of cults and cult-like religions floating around to be sure. "I AM" Activity, Thelema, and Theosophy are three small examples. There were larger cults as well, the dangerous and deadly cults of Fascism, Nazism, and Communism. A guy in a red robe is pretty safe by comparison. The point is that a cult is a totalitarian system. The head of the cult falls into the category of the real-life monster. Science fiction birthed one of the worst of them. His scary followers are still with us, decades after the end of the pulp-fiction era.

Weird Tales, July 1928. Cover story: "The Witches' Sabbath" by Stephen Brody. Cover art by C.C. Senf. The artist Senf was always good with women, costume, and the trappings of Gothic horror and fantasy. He was after all European by birth and training. His was the first of the red-robed cultist covers for Weird Tales.

Weird Tales, May 1929. Cover story: "The Scourge of B'Moth" by Bertram Russell. Cover art by C.C. Senf. Here the cultist is Oriental but the woman is still a redhead. Those aren't wrinkles on the cover: it's the crocodile's breath.

Weird Tales, Feb. 1932. Cover story: "The Devil's Bride" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by C.C. Senf. More red robes, more menace, but the woman now has dark hair. She looks a little like Joan Crawford.

Weird Tales, Dec. 1933. Cover story: None. Cover  art by Margaret Brundage. 

Weird Tales, Jan. 1934. Cover story: "The Red Knife of Hassan" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Margaret Brundage. With Brundage you get blondes.

Weird Tales, Feb. 1935. Cover story: "The Web of Living Death" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Margaret Brundage. Here the hair colors come in Neapolitan flavors: chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. I'm not sure if these guys are cultists, but they're definitely up to no good. The one on the left has a cat-o'-nine-tails, the torture weapon of choice in the pulps.

Weird Tales, Aug. 1935. Cover story: "Doctor Satan" by Paul Ernst. Cover art by Margaret Brundage. This was the first Doctor Satan story in Weird Tales. I believe the character caused some controversy. Some readers liked him, some thought he made the magazine too much like other pulps with their weird heroes. Dr. Satan must have sold books because he kept coming back.

Weird Tales, Mar. 1936. Cover story: "The Albino Deaths" by Ronal Kayser. Cover art by Margaret Brundage. This was the era of weird menace. Note the blurb on the cover: "weird tortures in a ghastly abode of horrors." That's a pretty tall pile of clich├ęs. The cover has all the required elements, too: a beautiful, shapely, and scantily clad woman, a weird menace villain in a red robe, and a cat-o'-nine-tails.

Weird Tales, May 1936. Cover story: "The Devil's Double" by Paul Ernst. Cover art by Margaret Brundage. Doctor Satan returns.

Weird Tales, Oct. 1936. Cover story: "Isle of the Undead" by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach. Cover art by J. Allen St. John.

Weird Tales, January 1937. Cover story: "Children of the Bat" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales, Apr. 1938. Cover story: "The Garden of Adompha" by Clark Ashton Smith. Cover art by Virgil Finlay. There's always a tendril of hair or vine or smoke covering up parts of a woman's body. Virgil Finlay relied pretty heavily on that device, as in this cover illustration. I'm not sure that the man is a cultist, but he's dressed for the part.

Weird Tales, Jan. 1952 Cover story: "The Black Island" by August Derleth. Cover art by John Arfstrom. Fourteen years passed before the next and last red robe (if I have done my research correctly). The artist, Jon Arfstrom, may be the only living cover artist from the original run of Weird Tales.

Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

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