Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Hannes Bok's Uncategorizable Cover, Then Politics on the Cover of Weird Tales

Hannes Bok is known for his strange and fantastic people, monsters, aliens, and other creatures. In March 1940, this design by Bok appeared on the front of Weird Tales:

The image above could go in other places in my categories of covers for Weird Tales: with woman and monster (maybe); with devils and demons (maybe); with vampires and bats (maybe); or with winged creatures (maybe). That's a lot of maybes, and that's because this cover isn't easily categorizable, for the woman isn't a woman, the demon isn't a demon, and the bat isn't exactly a bat. Heck, even the sloth is part bird. That's why I have put this cover alone . . .

Except that it isn't alone, because thirty-three years after "The Unique Magazine" printed that cover, it printed this one (albeit under different ownership and editorship):

The artist was Gary Van Der Steur, and his illustration was clearly meant as an homage to Bok's cover from so many years before. The bat is now a bird (it could be a dove). The demon now looks like a demon and carries a knife with a bloody point. The fetal cyclops remains. So does the face in the lower part of the picture, only instead of a fantasy animal, it looks like (and is) a depiction of Richard Nixon. Times had changed.

By personal correspondence, Mr. Van Der Steur let me know that he had included Richard Nixon in his illustration. As I write this (on Nov. 10, 2016), election week is ending and we now have a president-elect. It seems safe to say that this has been the weirdest election year in American history. I'll close the month in which the election occurred with the only political cover (as far as I can tell) for Weird Tales.

Text copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley


  1. Terence,
    It is telling that Weird Tales never once placed the image of Adolph Hitler on its cover. Throughout the Second World War, comic books endlessly exploited the visages of Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo. The Unique Magazine, on the other hand, continued to favor fantastic horrors over the very real ones that were threatening the world.
    But as you noted, by the early seventies things had changed radically in our culture. It was common to see our then president Richard Nixon demonized -- fairly some would say -- across the various media. Underground comix featured a plethora of sci-fi and horror tales with Nixon, Agnew and their cohorts as monstrous villains. In this environment, it's not surprising that Weird Tales would take the plunge -- albeit subtly -- and put our much maligned 37th president on its cover.
    In another similarity to underground comix; that little cycloptic creature on the Bok cover makes me think of the eyeball creatures that Rick Griffin used to draw for Zap and other comix of the day.

    Yes, this has been a bizarre election year. And three weeks after the election, the battle still isn't over...

  2. Mike,

    Weird Tales treated the war in various stories published in 1939-1945, but there weren't many war covers and no propagandistic covers depicting Tojo, Mussolini, and Hitler as monsters, madmen, or caricatures, racial or otherwise. The magazine must have found itself in a quandary: How is weird fiction relevant in a world full of true-to-life horrors and men-as-monsters? It was easier for comic books, but even they had problems. To wit: why didn't Superman fly over to Europe and defeat the Nazis singlehandedly?

    As for Nixon: time has given us perspective, I hope, enough to see how deeply flawed he was and how his flaws played out in his political career. Americans tend to forget about the past, and so we'll probably forget about Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump, although it might take a generation or more to do so. And as for this year's election: We should probably gird ourselves for more whining and complaining to take place after December 16 and January 20.


  3. Years ago I found one of the best descriptions of how deeply flawed Nixon, the man, was in an unexpected non-political source -- in astronaut Gene Cernan's excellent memoir THE LAST MAN ON THE MOON. Cernan flew two Apollo moon missions -- Apollo 10 & 17 -- and in his book he tells of the crews receiving a phone call from President Nixon before each mission launch, and what a different person Nixon was from one call to the next. The first was in May 1969, early in his presidency, and Nixon was clear, sharp and focused in the pre-launch pep talk. By the time of the last Apollo mission, however, in December of 1972, he rambled on and on in a defensive, paranoid-sounding manner in a one-sided conversation that had little or nothing to do with the astronauts or their mission. Cernan neither defends nor denigrates Nixon in this accounting, but rather paints a grim portrait of a man at his wit's end. How sad for all involved...

    1. Mike,

      Your story comports pretty well with my view of Nixon. I don't think of him as a villain so much as a man with personality problems that came out while he was in public office. Maybe he pursued public office because of his personality problems. Unfortunately we have had too many presidents like that, including our current president. Even Ronald Reagan, who was otherwise a mature, stable, and intelligent individual, had personality problems, probably originating in his childhood.