Monday, November 28, 2016

Coye's Uncategorizable Covers

Lee Brown Coye was a singular artist possessed of a singular vision. His cover designs for Weird Tales sometimes approached the conventional, but they were more often strange and hard to categorize. I have fit some of the following covers in other categories, but the fit isn't perfect. Some are so strange as to stand alone, the January 1949 and March 1950 covers for instance. Notice that all show a single figure in the middle of the composition, a man in a cloak or a robe or wearing threadbare clothing. Notice, too, that all all of these men are in a state of advanced age, decrepitude, or decay. One of them has in fact died, leaving only his bones and the bones of his horse. None of these men looks like Lee Brown Coye, but I can't help but think that they could be self-portraits of a soul.

Weird Tales, July 1945. Cover story: None. Coye's first cover for Weird Tales and an illustration for "Count Magnus" by M.R. James from the hardbound anthology Sleep No More (1944), edited by August Derleth. I included this image with haunted houses and graveyards, but it seems to me now that this is not a scene in a graveyard.

Weird Tales, March 1946. Cover story: "Twice Cursed" by Manly Wade Wellman. (I'm not convinced this is an illustration for a story.) You have seen this image before in the categories of surrealism, and haunted houses and graveyards. 

Weird Tales, March 1948. Cover story: None. Coye received the plum assignment of illustrating the twenty-fifth anniversary cover of Weird Tales. I think this is one of his best for the magazine.

Weird Tales, January 1949. Cover story: "Four from Jehlam" by Allison V. Harding. I created this category of "Coye's Uncategorizable Covers" mostly because of this cover. I don't know where else it might go if not here. Note the stick motif and the giant plant motif in Coye's art.

Weird Tales, March 1950. Cover story: "Home to Mother" by Manly Wade Wellman. This is another of Coye's very strange covers, and here is another motif: the crescent moon, a stylized version of the first letter of his last name.

Text and captions copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley


  1. Terence,
    The first three of Coye's covers pictured here are prototypical of the kind of art that Frank Frazetta would later do so exquisitely well at Warren; dynamic figures in a dismal setting, punctuated with accents and/or background splashes of painfully brilliant red. Frazetta was the Master, for sure, but by his own admission his inspirations and influences were many. Coye was likely one of them. Compare these images to the early Creepy covers by Frazetta (such as issues # 2,3, 6 & 10.) Interestingly, the first cover you displayed here made me also think of Albert Nuetzell's cover for Creepy #20.
    If I had been alive in 1945, I can guarantee that I would have had to have bought that July issue. Not only would the cover have caught my attention, but the promise of new stories by Bloch, Bradbury, Hamilton and Derleth would have made me giddy with glee! What a time for weird fiction...

  2. Mike,

    That splash of red on the cover of a pulp magazine goes back decades. There was one artist in particular who always put red in his paintings as a focal point. I only wish I could remember his name. Dean Cornwell and before him Howard Pyle also used red as focal points in their work.

    Thanks for writing. It's good to get information on Creepy and Eerie. I'm not very familiar with those magazines, but aside from Robert A.W. Landes' digest titles from the 1960s, Creepy and Eerie may have been the closest thing to Weird Tales in that decade.


  3. With those beautiful painted covers, Creepy and Eerie did indeed look much like pulps, though the comic book content was most imitative of the EC comics of a decade earlier. Many EC artists, such as Wally Wood and Reed Crandall worked on those Warren titles as well. By the admissions of Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein, EC was greatly inspired by radio dramas such as Lights Out, which in turn drew upon Weird Tales as a source of bizarre fiction. So it is all intertwined.
    Interestingly, EC also drew upon Bennett Cerf's 1944 book of anecdotes Try and Stop Me for stories...

    1. Mike,

      Bennett Cerf was no stranger to weird fiction. He edited at least two anthologies in the field, Famous Ghost Stories (1944) and The Unexpected (1948). His uncle, Herbert A. Wise, and his wife, Phyllis Fraser, also edited an anthology, Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, published in 1944 by Cerf's employer Random House.