Monday, October 31, 2016

Haunted Houses and Graveyards on the Cover of Weird Tales

Today is Halloween and time for cover art showing haunted houses and graveyards. I count thirteen of them, mostly from the postwar era and more than half of them from two artists, Lee Brown Coye and Matt Fox. Again, there seems to be some significance to the fact that after World War II, popular culture returned or at least tried to return to prewar monsters, horror, and fantasy. Did it work? Maybe for a while. The again, maybe not. The war changed the world beyond any going back, despite the drive among writers of fantasy and weird fiction to return to the past or to bring the past into the present. The haunted house, a kind of ruin in which people from the past reside, and the graveyard, where the past, though never at rest, lies buried, seem to be the proper setting for weird fiction. As these covers show, they also offer the artist plenty of material for his or her picture-making. Notice, for example, that in nine of the thirteen images below there is either a bird (a vulture or a crow) or a bat.

Weird Tales, April 1939. Cover story: "Susette" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Virgil Finlay.

Weird Tales, September 1944. Cover story: None. Cover art by A.R. Tilburne. This is a fine cover. Unfortunately it's a swipe, as the image below shows.

The American Weekly, Sunday, October 18, 1931. The article is called "A Painter Interprets Beethoven; Music Translated into Pictures," and though the image of this page is too small to read, it seems certain to me that it is about the Spanish artist Josep Segrelles Albert (1885-1969), also called Josep Segrelles or Jose Segrelles. Segrelles' art predates Tilburne's by thirteen years. You could argue that Tilburne, up against a deadline, might be justified in swiping an image from an old newspaper article. In other words, no one would have known. You could also argue that Tilburne made the image his own in some ways, by redoing the background and in general by tightening up and more or less posterizing the remainder of the image. His vulture actually looks better than that drawn by his predecessor. (Tilburne was especially good with animals.) Still, it's a swipe and seemingly done without attribution. Speaking of attribution, the website Yankee Classics identified this swipe before me.

Weird Tales, July 1945. Cover story: None. Cover art by Lee Brown Coye. This was Coye's first cover for Weird Tales. It's not quite accurate to say that there was no cover story. It's just that the cover story didn't appear in Weird Tales. Now that you're confused, I'll explain: Lee Brown Coye provided illustrations for the hardbound anthology Sleep No More (1944), edited by August Derleth. One of the stories in that book is "Count Magnus" by M.R. James. Coye drew a black-and-white illustration for that story, which was published in Sleep No More, then executed this color version of the same drawing. The editors of Weird Tales placed it on their cover. Unfortunately, M.R. James (1862-1936), a very fine writer of ghost stories and weird fiction, was never in the magazine. But an illustration for one of his stories was. Revision (Nov. 3, 2016): Now that I look at this picture more, I'm not convinced that it shows a scene in a graveyard. In fact I'm starting to think I should have a separate category for Lee Brown Coye's otherwise uncategorizable covers.

Weird Tales, March 1946. Cover story: "Twice Cursed" by Manly Wade Wellman. Cover art by Lee Brown Coye. I'm not convinced this is an illustration for a story. It might just have been an exercise in surrealism by Coye. I can't say, as I have not read the story. The image is strange and unsettling, though. I'm not sure that it shows a haunted house, although there is a silhouette of what looks like a building on the right. I'm not sure that it shows a graveyard, either, although it shows a cross in the ground on the left. Where else would I put this cover, though? With skeletons and skulls? Revision (Nov. 3, 2016): One of my readers suggests that the shape in the background is a butte. That could very well be. Or it could be a castle. So if that isn't a gravestone on the left, then this cover has to go somewhere else, into "Skulls and Skeletons" or Coye's uncategorizable covers.

Weird Tales, May 1946. Cover story: "The Valley of the Gods" by Edmond Hamilton. Cover art by Ronald Clyne. A very well done illustration, I think, and I think I detect the influence of Rockwell Kent.

Weird Tales, March 1947. Cover story: "Mr. George" by August Derleth. Cover art by Boris Dolgov.

Weird Tales, March 1948. Cover story: None. Cover art by Lee Brown Coye for the twenty-fifth anniversary issue and with a who's who of weird fiction writers on the cover. I think that's supposed to be a crow on the left. It looks more like a coot or a gallinule.

Weird Tales, May 1948. Cover story: "City of Lost People" by Allison V. Harding. Cover art by Matt Fox. I really wish we could have Matt Fox back.

Weird Tales, September 1948. Cover story: "The Whippoorwills in the Hills" by August Derleth. Cover art by Lee Brown Coye. The story is about birds, but there are no birds on the cover.

Weird Tales, November 1949. Cover story: "The Underbody" by Allison V. Harding. Cover art by Matt Fox.

Weird Tales, May 1951. Cover story: "Notebook Found in a Deserted House" by Robert Bloch. Cover art by Lee Brown Coye.

Weird Tales, January 1952. Cover story: "The Black Island" by August Derleth. Cover art by Jon Arfstrom. I heard it from Jon Arfstrom himself: this was a portfolio piece submitted to Weird Tales. It was not in the proper proportions for a cover illustration but was made so with a green patch pasted under the main title. So I'm not sure this is an illustration for a particular story, but, again, I haven't read the story and can't say for sure.

Weird Tales, March 1952. Cover story: "Morne Perdu" by Alice Farnham. Cover art by Joseph R. Eberle.


Revised January 20, 2017.
Text and captions copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley


  1. And a "Happy Halloween" right back at you, my friend!
    How I wish there were horror publications with painted covers like these still to be found on magazine racks in this country. Looking some these images, I'm reminded of the Warren publications of the sixties with gorgeous, weird cover art by the likes of Frank Frazetta and Basil Gogos. Those covers alone were often worth the price of admission.
    There are a couple of great haunted house images here; the Lee Brown Coye cover art for the May '51 issue is delightfully creepy with a most creative color choice (I never would have thought to make the house green like that), and Boris Dolgov's tall, organic Victorian framed against an orange-red sunset invokes memories of the Addams Family...

    Beware of spooks and goblins,

  2. Mike,

    I agree with you: we need more art and less photography on magazine covers.

    The May 1951 cover by Lee Brown Coye shows a Gothic-style house. Well, when he was a kid, Coye lived in a house that looked really similar to that. That seems to have been his inspiration.

    I really like the Dolgov cover, too. By the time he created it, the Addams family cartoons had been running in The New Yorker for nearly a decade. It's possible that's where Dolgov got his inspiration. On the other hand, Gothic houses have represented--what else--Gothicism and the Gothic romance for who knows how long. By the way, at first I thought this was a Coye cover because of the stick-like motifs in the foreground. Coye was known for his sticks, source of the story "Sticks" by Karl Edward Wagner and the movie The Blair Witch Project.