Monday, October 25, 2010

Walker Martin's Favorite WEIRD TALES covers

Here's Walker Martin's contribution to our WEIRD TALES week. Walker, who we all know as one of the most respected collectors in the entire pulp community, was one of those lucky people who was able to collect an entire run of the famous pulp magazine, and here he is to talk about his favorite WEIRD TALES covers.

Walker Martin

In 1968 I was discharged from the army and so relieved to be out in the real world that I decided to set some goals that I wanted to achieve. Somehow all these goals concerned books and pulps, including accumulating a complete set of WEIRD TALES. Even before finding a job, I set about finding issues of what I considered to be one of the great fiction magazines. By the mid-seventies I completed the set of 274 issues by finally obtaining the second issue which is probably the hardest one to find. I had to trade an original Walter Baumhofer cover painting from DIME MYSTERY to get the issue (fortunately I managed to get the painting back in a later trade). When Laurie Powers mentioned this project of listing my favorite covers, I immediately jumped at the chance, since the magazine has been a part of my life for so long a period. This list is highly subjective and includes a couple I've picked not because they are the very best, but because they hold special meaning for me such as the first WEIRD TALES I bought and the only cover painting I managed to ever buy.


This cover is by Margaret Brundage, a woman artist closely connected with the history of WEIRD TALES. She was just about the first woman artist to paint for a fantasy or SF pulp and her subject matter of using nudes was controversal to say the least. The letter column in WEIRD TALES were full of letters praising and condemning her art. But one thing for sure, the sexy paintings increased circulation and helped WEIRD TALES survive the Depression. Nowadays we are jaded and such images may not surprise us but back in the magazine and newstand world of 1934, such covers were unusual and many readers found them shocking. I've picked this one as my favorite because it is not the usual action filled violent scene but instead a bondage scene as the girl meekly awaits her fate as determined by the menacing masked figure. WEIRD TALES could always be depended on to appeal to the male fantasy yearnings. For instance, the excellent story by Robert Howard in this issue, "Rogues in the House," has a scene where Conan gets unhappy with a girl who betrayed him, so he casually picks her up and drops her into a cesspool.

MAY 1934

This is another Brundage cover, and if any WEIRD TALES artist deserved to be listed twice, then she certainly should be the one. This is the first issue of the magazine that I bought. In the 1950's I was a teenager and buying alot of SF books from Richard Witter of the F&SF Book Company. He recommended this as my first WT buy and it cost me $3.00. Now this issue in nice shape will sell for over $100. Several years later, while attending college, the magazine cost me a lower grade. I gave an oral discussion on the horror stories of Poe and thought I'd mention the writers that Poe influenced such as HP Lovecraft, Robert Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, etc. The professor gave me one grade lower because I wasted time talking about "sub-literary" writers, plus he was not happy that I passed this issue of WEIRD TALES around the class to illustrate my lecture.


J. Allen St. John may be the best painter to ever work for WEIRD TALES. He was already a famous painter in Chicago when he started painting for the pulp and probably would have done many more covers, but Brundage was far more popular with her nudes and received the cover assignments. I picked this cover since it fits in the horror and Halloween theme. However most collectors prefer his work done for the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels and earlier WT covers. If you look up at the title strip of Laurie's Wild West, you will see the cover for GOLDEN BLOOD, which will give you an idea of his earlier work. There have been a few books published recently about J. Allen St. John and his excellent art.

MARCH 1940

Hannes Bok was one of the top fantasy artists of the forties and this cover is an example of his unusual and stylish art showing the influence of Maxfield Parrish. He also wrote fantasy fiction and died an unfortunate early death at 50. I've read that WT paid approximately $8 to $11 for interior art and around $100 for cover paintings. Not bad money for the times.

JULY 1946

I picked this cover because I like the work of Matt Fox and it strikes me as a nice horror/Halloween image. He did most of his pulp art for WT and also had a career in comic books.


Boris Dolgov was a close friend of Hannes Bok and it is easy to see the influence of Bok. In fact the two often collaborated on artwork. I picked this cover because it is the only WEIRD TALES cover painting that I ever managed to buy. Back in the late 1970's, I mentioned to Bob Weinberg that I was looking for a WT cover painting and he found this one for me. I paid the owner $700 for it and this was the most I ever paid for art up to that date. Since most pulp paintings show images of violence and women in distress, my wife was not too happy with our walls being covered with such art. But this one she liked so we avoided the usual discussion about our artistic preferences.

MARCH 1948

This issue was the 25th Anniversary issue, and so who better to paint the cover but the great artist, Lee Brown Coye. Actually his interior illustrations for WT are even more impressive and he drew the popular series called "Weirdisms." Most of his work appeared in WEIRD TALES but he also did a lot of dust jackets and interior art for hardcover fantasy and horror publishers. He won the World Fantasy Award for Best Artist twice. Recently an excellent book was published about Coye titled, ARTS UNKNOWN: The Life and Art of Lee Brown Coye. Written by Luis Ortiz, I consider it one of the best books written about a fantasy artist.


Virgil Finlay was one of the very best SF artists and probably the most well known of the painters listed in this post. He certainly did more work than the others and this cover illustrates a scene from "Hallowe'en in a Suburb". There have been several books about Finlay. He did a lot of work for the two great and beautiful fantasy reprint magazines: FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES and FANTASTIC NOVELS.

So ends my discussion of some of my favorite covers from that great magazine of the horror and supernatural, WEIRD TALES. I hope some of you will join in the fun and tell us about your favorite covers.

Thank YOU Walker for contributing!

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Evan Lewis said...

Wow. Stunning choices from both Walker and Barry.

Deka Black said...

Virgil Finlay, IMHO, did the best interior illustrations i've ever seen in a pulp.

By the way, i am very angry each time i see someone calling "sub-literary" writers to the pulp ones. In many cases, if i ask to the gulty, the answer is: "no, i've not readed anyting from them. because are bad writers". This makes me 1-more angry 2-sigh tired.

If you want to state a opinion, first, care to know somethng about the matter!

Walker Martin said...

Evan: WEIRD TALES is a great magazine to collect not only for the excellent fiction, but the covers are as you state, stunning.

Deka: The funny thing is that the professor called these writers "sub-literary" but HP Lovecraft has been included in The Library of America series of hardcovers. This series is supposed to represent only the very best America authors.

And I would not be surprised to see a volume of Ray Bradbury's stories also included. In recent years Robert Howard, Clark Ashton Smith and Robert Bloch, all have had their fiction reprinted in quality hardcovers.

But on the other hand the professor did teach the greatest course I ever took in college: Appreciating the Plays of Shakespeare.

Laurie Powers said...

Walker, I love all of these covers. Thank you again for your post.

Taranaich said...

Your professor would probably like (or not) to know that one of Howard's stories had been included in a collection of the best supernatural tales in the Library of America, and I don't doubt there'll be a full Howard collection in future to follow his episotlary colleague Lovecraft. Howard also has a collection in Penguin Classics, a British counterpart to the Library of America. It's somewhat puzzling that a British imprint dedicated to collecting the best of world literature would have Howard before America did (considering he's a Texan) but there you go.

The very idea of calling Clark Ashton Smith "sub-literary" is simply laughable given his exquisite diction and construction, and I highly doubt said professor has read a single of his tales or poems. Since he loves Shakespeare, he might appreciate the many Shakespearean allusions Howard and Smith make in their stories.

Ron Scheer said...

Thanks, Walker. As for "sub-literary," I had a college teacher in 1960 who was appalled by what I'd been reading in high school. I recall that his objection to BEN HUR seemed particularly unreasonable.

Since then, the emergence of Popular Culture, post-colonialism, and a bunch of other -isms have transformed literature studies - although it's often been a case of one elitism replacing another.

I marvel at your encyclopedic knowledge of this subject. I'm a generalist and have never stuck with anything long enough to become thoroughly steeped in it.

Rick said...

These are fantastic. Thanks!

Charles Gramlich said...

Always evocative pieces. I like these a lot.

Richard R. said...

Wonderful post! Thank you, Walker and Laurie.

Barry Traylor said...

Very good choices Walker. When I look at the cover for the March 1948 issue I get the same thrill I got when I bought my copy because of all the great authors listed on the cover.

Todd Mason said...

Belated thanks for putting this fine taste of WT up. Have you continued to collect all the inpulpations of WT, Walker?