Monday, October 10, 2016

War on the Cover of Weird Tales

The beasts of this world show that they are about to be unpent, and though the traditional seasons for the commencement of war have passed, those beasts must see opportunities now that may slip from them soon.

One hundred and two years ago at this time, British, French, and German forces had already begun digging the first trenches on the Western Front and were only weeks away from battles that would effectively freeze the action there for the remainder of the Great War. Next year, 2017, will mark the centennial of the American entry into the war. Among the millions of men under arms were future writers and artists for Weird Tales. Among them, too, were the magazine's future publisher, Jacob Clark Henneberger, and future editor, Farnsworth Wright.

Seventy-seven years ago at this time, the last Polish military forces surrendered to the Nazis, and the beginning of the Sitzkrieg was on the horizon. Two years and two months later, the United States was attacked, Nazi Germany declared war upon our country, and World War II began living up to its name as a truly global conflict. Weird Tales survived the war by only nine years (nine years on the dot, in fact), but there were writers and artists for the magazine who served in that war as well. Moreover, the war was the subject of a good deal of art and fiction of that time. "The Dreams of Albert Moreland" by Fritz Leiber, Jr. (The Acolyte #10, Spring 1945) is one very good example.

I count six covers of Weird Tales on the subject of war beginning with the December 1939 issue and ending with the July 1943 issue. The first and last showed dead soldiers in the form of a skeleton or ghost. In between were three covers in which machines have come to life or seem to be guided by a spirit of some kind. In the exact middle is the best of the bunch, I think, Hannes Bok's cover from November 1941, published a month before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Weird Tales, December 1939. Cover story: "Lords of the Ice" by David H. Keller. Cover art by Hannes Bok, his first for the magazine. The artists and writers for Weird Tales may have wanted to put the Great War behind them, but the sequel to that war would have invaded their consciousness. There was no avoiding it, and so, as soon as Weird Tales was able, I think, it had a war cover in this illustration by newcomer Hannes Bok, from December 1939.

Weird Tales, September 1940. Cover story: "Seven Seconds of Eternity" by Robert H. Leitfred. Cover art by Ray Quigley. This is surely one of the most bizarre images to appear on the cover of the magazine.

Weird Tales, November 1941. Cover story: "The Book of the Dead" by Frank Gruber. Cover art by Hannes Bok, one of his finest and one of the most iconic covers for Weird Tales and perhaps for any pulp magazine. 

Weird Tales, May 1942. Cover story: "The Rogue Ship" by Malcolm Jameson. Cover art by Ray Quigley, another of his bizarre machine-monsters.

Weird Tales, January 1943. Cover story: "Quest of a Noble Tiger" by Frank Owen. Cover art by A.R. Tilburne. The artist Tilburne specialized in depictions of animals and in general drew organic forms. It's no surprise that his treatment of an amalgam of a machine and an organism or spirit would include a soft and flowing woman. Ray Quigley on the other hand is most well known as an artist for Popular Science and handled machines, especially cars, very well. His covers for Weird Tales emphasized machines and, strangely enough, monstrous machines.

Weird Tales, July 1943. Cover art: "His Last Appearance" by H. Bedford-Jones. Cover art by Edgar Franklin Wittmack. The story was called "His Last Appearance," and by my estimate this was the last war cover in Weird Tales. I have not read this story, but the ghost looks like a soldier from the Great War (although British and American troops wore the same type of helmet at the outset of World War II). If that's the case, then the war covers had come full circle.

As to why there were no more war covers after July 1943, I can't say. I would hazard a guess that an Allied victory--though not the particulars--was pretty well assured by then. Maybe people had already tired of war and had begun to think about a postwar world.

I would like to take this opportunity to observe the suffering and sacrifices of Poland, its military, and its people during World War II. Invaded on both sides by two totalitarian regimes, the Poles stood little chance in the war. However, Poland which had previously saved Europe at least three times, lent its forces-in-exile to the victorious Allied cause and now stands on the bulwarks of the continent, resisting aggression from the East and extraordinary decadence and demographic collapse from the West. By no coincidence, I think, Poland is one of the last Christian nations in Europe and a predominantly Catholic one. Again, if Christendom stands against invasion and decrepitude, it will be perhaps because of Poland and its people.

Text and captions copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley


  1. Those two Hannes Bok covers really capture the horror of war -- one graphically and one symbolically.

    It was while first reading the Doc Savage stories that I learned that World War One was original called The Great War or simply The World War. A numerical designation wasn't necessary for another quarter century.
    The First World War was indeed an event of long ranging horror... people are still dying from it today. In France approximately 12 million acres of land are uninhabitable because of unexploded ordinance -- some from WW II, but most left over from the first Great War, On average, two dozen French citizens die every year from shells still buried in the ground, shells that float slowly back to the surface, where they are detonated by things such as campfires or farm plows. Each week France's "Departement du Deminage" disposes of six tons of recovered military ordinance, much of it a century old. A hundred years later The War goes on doing damage -- causing death and destruction -- long after the peace treaties were signed.

    1. Mike,

      I think of the last sixteen centuries as being simply the aftermath of the fall of the Roman Empire and the last century as being more or less the aftermath of the Great War. I wasn't at all aware of the facts you gave in your comment, but it isn't surprising that there are still such direct effects of the war. It seems to me that there are effects all over the world and not just in France. The situation in Russia is one example. The situation in Iraq is another.

      Thanks as always for writing.