Friday, January 13, 2017

Fiends and Murderers of the 1940s and '50s

There was less murder and fiendishness on the cover of Weird Tales in the 1940s and '50s. That might be because the editor was a woman. Maybe she didn't want any more of that menacing and threatening of women. As you can see, none of the following four covers fits easily into this category, at least at first glance. I have read The Damp Man series, though, and I can tell you that the title character is the very definition of a fiend.

Weird Tales, January 1942. Cover story: None. Cover art by Gretta. This cover, by Joseph C. Gretter, is kind of a throwback to the 1920s or '30s. This was a time of transition in Weird Tales. Gretter, an artist of those decades (though he later assisted on Riley's Believe It or Not!), seems to have been a fill-in artist, and this was his only cover for "The Unique Magazine."

Weird Tales, March 1944, Canadian edition. Cover story [?]: "The Valley of the Assassins" by Edmond Hamilton. Cover art by an unknown artist. I'm not so sure about putting this cover in the category of fiends and murderers. The man on the right kind of looks like one of the undead. Or maybe he's a sorcerer of some kind. Anyway, here it is. You'll see this cover again.

Weird Tales, May 1949. Cover story: "The Damp Man Again" by Allison V. Harding. Cover art by John Giunta. That's the Damp Man himself, a real creep and a fiend.

Weird Tales, March 1950. Cover story: "Home to Mother" by Manly Wade Wellman. Cover art by Lee Brown Coye. The figure on this cover looks like he could be a murderer or fiend, but he could be just another one of Coye's decrepit souls.

Now it's on to Human Sacrifice and Executions.

Text and captions copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley


  1. I wonder if the change in cover content had anything to do with a change in perspective that grew out US involvement in WWII. This is something you've discussed in the past, the fact that the War altered what people found scary. It is interesting to note that all of the menaces are vague and implied rather than overt, and seem to become moreso as the decade progresses -- simultaneous with the rise of the Cold War mentality and looming fear of The Atom. The Great Unknown had taken control of our collective nightmares.
    Nice to see the cover of the historic January '42 issue. The Shadow Over Innsmouth is my all time favorite HP Lovecraft story. It has a cinematic quality that none of his other stories have and would make a great movie!

    1. Mike,

      I think you're right. There was a change in editors in the 1940s, but there were far more significant changes in the world. I wonder if the conventional imagery of horror on the cover of most issues of the 1940s was a kind of whistling past the graveyard or a kind of nostalgia for a time when the only thing to be afraid of was a vampire or a werewolf. World War II, the Holocaust, atomic bombs, and the Cold War would have shown people that there were far more terrifying things in real life.


    2. Perhaps the vampires and werewolves of the 1940s were, like Godzilla, in their own way analogous to the atomic bomb. Stories of murderers, rapists, torturers are all social statements about the horror of man's inhumanity to his fellow man, and thus easily within our scope of comprehension. But the deployment of the atomic bomb reawakened man's fear of the unknown, of dangerous forces beyond the realm of understanding.
      The mysterious atom was not synonymous with the serial killer who will eventually be captured and contained, but rather it moved into the part of our psyche shared by demonic possession,
      devils and changelings, with Satan himself -- forces that threaten us in ways far beyond our ken.
      Perhaps the return of the werewolf and the vampire was as much a step forward as a step back.