While we live in an age where magazines teeter on the verge of extinction, there's one thing that classic horror pulps will always have over their online counterparts – exotic cover art. Many horror fans cite the gory and gorgeous genre mag covers of their youth as the reason why they turned to the dark side in the first place. However, the concept of horrific cover imagery started long before magazines like 'Cemetery Dance', 'Heavy Metal' and 'Famous Monsters of Filmland' ever existed. 'Weird Tales' was dishing up all the strange and lurid artwork a genre nut could ever want when they appeared on the scene in 1923. The periodical was one of the first to present the horror, sci-fi and fantasy genre in a serious fashion and featured not only the works of luminaries like H.P. Lovecraft (the 'Cthulhu Mythos' stories were first published in the magazine), Ray Bradbury ('Something Wicked This Way Comes'), Robert Bloch ('Psycho'), August Derleth and Clark Ashton Smith (both contributed to the 'Cthulhu Mythos'), but also some absolutely amazing artwork.
The magazine’s best years ran from 1927 to 1949 where famed illustrators like Virgil Finlay, Hannes Bok, J. Allen St. John, Lee Brown Coye and Frank Kelly Freas showcased some of their fantastical creations on the magazine’s covers for the very first time. The most interesting front pieces, however, hail from former fashion designer and illustrator Margaret Brundage – who carries the title of first and only female cover artist of the pulp era. Being a dame amongst men wasn’t the only thing that caused a stir – Brundage’s work often featured provocative imagery (read: naked ladies who sometimes did naughty things).
In many ways, the covers of 'Weird Tales' reads like an illustrated history of horror – introducing many of the genre’s tropes and iconic characters to audiences, all of which have left an impression on our twisted, horror-loving hearts. Check out a few of our favorite covers below.
This cover by Margaret Brundage for Edmond Hamilton’s 'The Vampire Master' (October 1933) is probably the most iconic image to come from the Weird Tales bibliography. The artist traded her signature damsel in distress drawings for something up close and personal with this curiously framed, busty bat lady.
A.R. Tilburne’s 1944 cover for one of Seabury Quinn’s Jules de Grandin stories about the exploits of an occult detective features an illustration inspired by one of horror’s classic monsters. Tilburne’s Dracula look-alike and friends are uber stylized – mimicking the golden age comic book style that was popular at the time. Plus, who doesn’t love miniature women about to be thrust into giant spider webs?
Brundage’s cover for the August 1938 story, 'The Wolf-Girl of Josselin', is another classic cheesecake image from the artist. The “barking women of Josselin” were transformed into wolves after a curse was placed upon their village by a revenge-seeking mother. The issue also included Robert E. Howard’s goth-tastic poem 'Lines Written in the Realization That I Must Die'. The writer also penned several entries in his popular 'Conan' series in the pages of 'Weird Tales'.
Before there was Troll 2, there were the necromantic gardeners of Clark Ashton Smith’s 'The Garden of Adompha' (April 1938). Virgil Finlay did one of his best covers for the story about a King and a “dwarfish wizard” who tend to their morbid garden made up of human body parts and tentacle-like plant hybrids.
The most important stories that came from 'Weird Tales' were often not the ones illustrated on the magazine’s cover. Lovecraft’s seminal 'The Call of Cthulhu' – which was originally rejected by editor Farnsworth Wright – was printed in the February 1928 issue and featured a snooze-worthy C.C. Senf drawing of a “ghost table.” The artist redeems himself, however, with this February 1932 cover for Seabury Quinn’s 'The Devil’s Bride'. Like many pulp mags during that time, Senf’s covers featured tons of helpless women in bondage – aka the covert early 20th century fetish fix.