Weird Tales: The Unique Magazine

Weird Tales debuted in March 1923, providing a venue for fiction, poetry, and non-fiction on topics ranging from ghost stories to alien invasions to the occult. Jacob Clark Hennenberger and J. M. Lansinger, the founders of Rural Publications, broke into the pulps with Weird Tales and Real Detective. Edwin Baird was the initial editor of both magazines. Hennenberger envisioned Weird Tales as an outlet for stories that did not fit the conventions of existing pulps. After thirteen issues, Weird Tales fell into financial difficulties. Hennenberger and Lansinger parted ways with Lansinger taking control of the more successful Real Detective, and Hennenberger devoting his time and money to Weird Tales. 

In November 1924 the first issue of Weird Tales published by Hennenberger's new imprint, Popular Fiction Publishing, and edited by Farnsworth Wright appeared. With this issue, Weird Tales entered its most important era. Wright continued to publish work by H.P. Lovecraft, who sold his first professional story to Baird, and acquired debut stories by Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch, and Frank Belknap Long, among others. Weird Tales also reprinted the works of an eclectic mix of earlier writers: Edgar Allan Poe, Mary and Percy Shelley, Nathanael Hawthorne, Bram Stoker, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, H.G. Wells, John Keats, William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Paul Verlaine, and Charles Baudelaire. Another selling point of the magazine was its artwork; Margaret Brundage's cover illustrations deserve a share of the credit for Weird Tales's popularity.

Weird Tales never had a large circulation and often struggled to make a profit. In the late 1930s Weird Tales faced additional challenges. Howard, whose tales of Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, and Bran Mak More were a major selling point for subscribers, killed himself in 1936. Lovecraft died a year later. Howard's death was a bigger blow to the magazine as Lovecraft had left behind such a stock of manuscripts that Weird Tales ended up publishing more of his work posthumously than when he was alive.

Late in 1938, Hennenberger sold the magazine to William J. Delaney, publisher of Short Stories. Delaney then moved the magazine to New York and imposed new fiscal restraints. He began publishing the magazine through the Weird Tales, Inc. imprint, a subsidiary of Short Stories, Inc.; and Wright, who was seriously ill, ceded many of his duties to Dorothy McIlwraith, the editor of Short Stories, who finally replaced him in May 1940.

Between 1938 and 1940, Weird Tales underwent a series of format changes, expanding from 144 pages to 160 in an effort to court new subscribers and then dropping to 128 pages and slashing the cover price from twenty five to fifteen cents. In January 1940 the magazine switched from a monthly to a bi-monthly schedule. In the 1940s and 1950s McIlwraith published stories by Fritz Leiber, Ray Bradbury, and Theodore Sturgeon. The magazine continued to struggle financially, however; and near the end of the original run of 279 issues, page counts began to drop as cover prices rose. The final issue was published in September 1954.

In successive years, Weird Tales would earn the moniker, The Magazine That Never Dies. It was revived briefly in 1973-74 under the editorship of Sam Moskowitz, and again in 1984-5 under Gordan M. D. Garb. A more successful revival began in 1988, when Weird Tales was reborn yet again as a quarterly publication, edited by Darrell Schweitzer in collaboration with George H. Scithers and John Betancourt. In 2007 Ann VanderMeer became editor, during which time Weird Tales was nominated for three Hugo awards, winning one. In 2011 Nth Dimension Media purchased the magazine. Marvin Kaye will take over as editor early in 2012.

Leif Sorensen, Colorado State University

Works Cited and Consulted

Ashley, Mike. The Time Machines: The Story of the ...[SF] Pulp Magazines from the Beginning to 1950. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2000.

VanderMeer, Ann. "Update on New Publishers!!!" Weird Tales Magazine, blogpost. (Last accessed 1/13/2012).

Weinberg, Robert. "Weird Tales." Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Weird Fiction Magazines. Eds. Marshall B. Tymn and Mike Ashley. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985. 727-36.

Weinberg, Robert. The Weird Tales Story. West Linn, OR: Fax Collector's Editions, 1977.

March 1923

February 1926

June 1938

A complete checklist of scanned cover images is available @ Galactic Central.