Weird Tales is an American fantasy and horror fiction pulp magazine first published in March 1923. The magazine was set up in Chicago by J.C. Henneberger, an ex-journalist with a taste for the macabre. Edwin Baird was the first editor of the monthly, assisted by Farnsworth Wright.
Baird first published some of Weird Tales most famous writers, including H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and Seabury Quinn, author of the hugely popular Jules de Grandin stories. The magazine lost a considerable sum of money under Baird's editorship, however--running through $11,000 in capital and amassing a $40,000 debt--and he was fired after 13 issues.
Henneberger offered the job to Lovecraft, who declined, citing his reluctance to relocate to Chicago; "think of the tragedy of such a move for an aged antiquarian," the 34-year-old writer declared. (HPL: Selected Letters 1.172)
The publisher then gave the job to Farnsworth Wright, who became the magazine's best-known editor. Wright (who suffered from Parkinson's disease) continued to publish stories by Lovecraft, Smith, and Quinn, though he was more selective than Baird; he rejected Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness", "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", and (initially) "The Call of Cthulhu", among other stories. Many of Smith's Hyperborean cycle stories were rejected as well.
Among the new writers Wright found for the magazine were Robert Bloch and Robert E. Howard, whose Conan the Barbarian stories, among many others, were hugely popular. Wright even put playwright Tennessee Williams into print for the first time (with his story "The Vengeance of Nitocris"). Edmond Hamilton's earliest science fiction stories also first appeared in Wright's Weird Tales.
Notably, Wright hired the former fashion designer and illustrator Margaret Brundage to produce the magazine's cover illustrations, starting in 1933--making Brundage the first and only female cover artist of the pulp era. She created many striking images, especially of nude or semi-nude young women in provocative poses (her whipping scenes attracted the highest attention). Though her art was far from flawless, Brundage's covers became a focus of extreme attention and controversy--which of course helped to sell the magazine. Wright also ignited the careers of two important fantasy artists, Virgil Finlay and Hannes Bok, by buying and publishing their work, first and frequently.
Weird Tales always struggled financially. In the 1920s and '30s, the magazine's business manager, William Sprenger, was crucial in keeping the enterprise afloat. It is estimated that the monthly circulation of Weird Tales never topped 50,000 copies per issue. (In the 1920s, circulation figures for the most successful pulps topped one million; even in the depths of the Great Depression, popular pulps like Doc Savage or The Shadow enjoyed circulations of 300,000 per issue, monthly or even semi-monthly.) After 1926 Farnsworth Wright paid his contributors at the rate of one cent per word, double the going pulp rate of a half-cent per word; but during the 1930s the magazine was sometimes very late in making its payments to authors (which was not unusual in the pulp field as a whole, at the time).
In 1938 Henneberger sold Weird Tales to William J. Delaney, owner and publisher of the magazine Short Stories. Davis brought in Dorothy McIlwraith, the editor of Short Stories, to assist Wright. A period of policy clashes and declining sales led to Wright's departure from Weird Tales in March 1940. Wright died in June of that year.
Under the editorship of Dorothy McIlwraith beginning in April 1940, Weird Tales' later years were distinguished by an influx of newer writers, including such major figures as Ray Bradbury, Manly Wade Wellman, Fritz Leiber, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, Theodore Sturgeon, Joseph Payne Brennan, Jack Snow, and Margaret St. Clair, a somewhat more eclectic range. Occasionally the magazine would publish Lovecraftian pastiches presented as pieces of "lost" Lovecraft completed by his self-appointed literary executor August Derleth, who also wrote fiction for the magazine under his own name.
Like most pulp magazines, Weird Tales suffered from the newsprint shortage during World War II, and after the War from increasing competition from comic books, radio drama, television, and inexpensive paperback books. Commercially, the magazine declined until it ceased publication in September 1954, after 279 issues.
The magazine had several short-lived reincarnations in subsequent decades, including four issues as a magazine in the early 1970s edited by Sam Moskowitz and published by Leo Margulies. Robert Weinberg and Victor Dricks purchased the title after Margulies' death and licensed a series of four paperback anthologies from 1981-1983 edited by Lin Carter.
Weird Tales was more lastingly revived in 1988 under license by publisher/editors George H. Scithers, John Gregory Betancourt, and Darrell Schweitzer, beginning with issue 290. The revived magazine has seen reasonable commercial success (as far as fiction magazines go), publishing notable contemporary writers such as Tanith Lee, Brian Lumley, and Thomas Ligotti. Weird Tales became part of the DNA Publications chain for several years around the turn of the millennium, and in 2005 was sold to Wildside Press (owned by former co-editor Betancourt) and changed to a bimonthly (6 issues/year) schedule.
In early 2007, Wildside announced an imminent revamp of Weird Tales, naming Ann VanderMeer the new fiction editor and creative director Stephen Segal the new nonfiction editor. Scithers and Schweitzer remain as contributors, Betancourt as publisher. The April/May 2007 edition (issue #344) featured the magazine's first all-new design in almost 75 years.
- Lin Carter, Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos.
- Clark Ashton Smith, The Book of Hyperborea, Will Murray, ed.