Tuesday, September 27, 2016


The Munsey corporation desperately continues tweaking Argosy's cover format in 1941. There are two changes from the last 1941 issue we looked at, two weeks ago. Argosy has eliminated the white sidebar that occupied about a third of the cover and advertised several authors and stories each week. More importantly, Munsey has reinstated fully-painted covers, starting with this one by Virgil Finlay. More unhappily, Argosy continues its most recent trend of highlighting nonfiction, though this issue's cover story by Jay Hamilton is part speculative fiction, describing an American bomber attack on the Japanese capital while weighing the likelihood of such a scenario. I guess you had to be there to appreciate the thought that truth was more exciting than fiction. The fiction highlights are war-themed novelettes by Louis C. Goldsmith and Joel Townsley Rogers. On the serial front Jack Byrne wraps up his western Cowboy, Ride Your Luck! while William Gray Beyer continues his sci-fi comedy Minions of the Shadow. There's hardly anything as insufferable as a sci-fi comedy from this period. This one continues a series Beyer started in 1939, focusing on a 20th century man who wakes from suspended animation after 5,000 years and befriends Omega, a nigh-omnipotent, whimsical being -- you know, the sort of highly-evolved character who pretty much has magical (if not divine) powers because, well, why wouldn't he? One of that series was enough for me, and Minions of the Shadow is the fourth. There are also short stories by John Russell and Hal G. Evarts, as well as Luke Short's charming "Paper Hero," the story of a busy pulp writer who finds himself accused of plagiarism. This issue is part of the unz.org Argosy trove, but I haven't really read much of it.  The war stuff isn't what I'm looking for in pulp fiction, and the Beyer is probably pretty bad. We saw a few weeks ago that Munsey could still throw a passable Argosy together even at this late point, but worse for the venerable weekly is still to come....

Monday, September 26, 2016


This one's pretty lurid for a 1931 Argosy, at a time when the venerable weekly's covers were still relatively sedate looking. Cover author Frank L.Packard was a major early pulpster best known for his antihero Jimmie "the Grey Seal" Dale. This issue has no listing in the FictionMags Index, but between auction listings and the serial contents of surrounding issues we can fill the picture out a little. It includes the conclusion of Harl Vincent's sci-fi serial Red Twilight while continuing Charles Alden Seltzer's western Double Cross Ranch and Robert E. Pinkerton's The Fighting Prodigal, the tale of a "Logging War in the Wisconsin Forests." Standalone content includes stories by Jack Allman ("The Salvage of the Sagomar"), William Merriam Rouse ("Wiggle and Twist") and C. A. Freeman ("Prisoner-at-Large"). Especially noteworthy is "Seminole," a rare pulp contribution from pioneer environmentalist Marjorie Stoneman Douglas -- she published fiction regularly in The Saturday Evening Post -- who lived to be 108.

Sunday, September 25, 2016


Here's an unusual color scheme for a 1934 Short Stories cover that eschews the magazine's trademark red sun for a blood-red background to a sharply contrasting black and white image of a frightened man. It heralds a "complete novel" (50 pages) by Walter C. Brown, a leading pulp orientalist. The magazine goes on more familiar terrain in James B. Hendryx's latest Halfaday Creek novelette featuring Black John Smith. Some more familiar names in this issue are Berton E. Cook, Hapsburg Liebe and Robert H. Rohde. Reginald C. Barker and Edward T. Turner contribute short stories while Roy Vickers completes the serial Nothing But Diamonds. "Dan Edwards' Bunk Detail" was a nonfiction column that had been running since November 1933 and would continue through the end of 1934. It's not exactly an all-star lineup for Short Stories, though Hendryx may have been their most popular author, but that cover definitely would have gotten browsers' attention.

Saturday, September 24, 2016


Something was going wrong at the Munsey corporation by 1938. Less than a year before, Munsey had launched a new "all stories complete" monthly pulp, All-American Fiction. This was very much an "all-star" title, each issue flaunting the names of contributing authors on the front cover, early on without promoting any individual story. After four issues the 160 page pulp went bimonthly. After the fifth issue it dropped to 144 pages. After the sixth it shrunk to 128, the same size, by that point, of the weekly Argosy. The eighth issue was its last, though Munsey made a point, as you see above, of formally merging it with Argosy. Another Munsey experiment launched at the same time, Double Detective, proved more successful, maintaining a monthly schedule until the fall of 1940. Argosy kept the All-American Fiction name alive until Christmas, though the content most likely was indistinguishable all along. The one arguable concession to the All-American aesthetic was the generic cover of this first merged issue. Unlike All-American, this cover mentions no authors at all. That obscures the presence of novelettes by Donald Barr Chidsey and Luke Short, a Hornblower serial chapter by C. S. Forester, the debut of a new serial by Walter Ripperger and stories by Eustace Cockrell and W. Ryerson Johnson. There's also the rarity of not one but two female contributors, as Frances Shelley Wees continues her serial Lost House and Virginia Dare contributes the short story "Birthday Present." Technically, since Forester was English and Wees Canadian, this issue has no business claiming to be All-American Fiction, but business is business, though it wasn't as good as it used to be for Munsey.

Friday, September 23, 2016


H. W. Scott doesn't quite pull it off this time -- the ghost or devil looks a little too sketchy to me -- but it's another cool cover design for a 1939 issue of Western Story. The magazine's "book-length novels" might not always live up to billing -- Tom Roan's "Rancho del Diablo" is 47 pages -- but they do result in less variety than you'd get in other pulps of similar size. There are only four works of fiction in this 128 page issue. Along with the Roan, you get a good-sized chunk of Jay Lucas's serial Range of Hunted Men and two short stories, John Colohan's "Luck of the McRories" and Mojave Lloyd's "Saddle Savvy." There's arguably a higher percentage of nonfiction here than in other western pulps, given the number or regular columns as well as Gerard Delano's epic-length "Story of the West," which reaches part 73 of 105 this issue. Then again, since Western Story was a weekly, this balance of fiction and nonfiction probably made it easier for regular readers to keep up. And since Western Story remained a weekly longer than just about any other pulp, Street & Smith clearly were doing something right.

Thursday, September 22, 2016


This 1934 Argosy is part of the unz.org pulp trove and gives me an excuse to a piece I wrote a couple of years ago about the cover story, Theodore Roscoe's "That Son of a Gun, Columbo." It's an early example of Roscoe's fascination with the Caribbean undead as well as a perhaps unpatriotic account of Christopher Columbus. Speaking of the dead, this issue concludes George F. Worts' Peter the Brazen serial Kingdom of the Lost in stunning fashion, with the death of Peter's longtime love Susan O'Gilvie. Readers in 1934 may have known already, however, not to trust an author's account of a death plunge like the one Susan takes without confirming a dead body at the bottom. They may not have been surprised to see Worts take it back and explain how Susan survived in the final Peter story, published the following year. Meanwhile, A. Merritt continues his long, long awaited (and final) serial Creep, Shadow!, while W. Wirt continues a Jimmie Cordie three-parter, The Assassin. Erle Stanley Gardner contributes a Jax Bowman novelette, John H. Thompson puts his comic drifters Bill and Jim through another wringer and Jay Lucas offers a tale of the Himalayas, "Shula Set." Sample the issue at your leisure using this link. We'll stay in 1934 for the next two Thursdays so I can show off some more Argosy from my own collection -- including the return of Bellow Bill Williams on October 6!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


The topic of Tarzan's costume and hair color came up a few days ago, and now we're looking at an unusual looking Zorro from 1935. Johnston McCulley's masked man is one of the most famous products of pulp fiction, but he didn't really get too many covers, and in the few that exist, from the 191 All-Story Weekly heralding his first appearance in The Curse of Capistrano to this, his last cover, he never looked the same way twice. Our image of Zorro is formed by Douglas Fairbanks, Tyrone Power and Guy Williams, and it's the image of a man in black. However, I've never read Capistrano, so I can't say for certain what McCulley originally envisioned -- or, for that matter, whether V. E. Pyles' cover represented McCulley's vision for the two-parter Mysterious Don Miguel. Zorro would not reappear in pulp until 1941; during the interval there were variations of Zorro in Republic serials as well as the Tyrone Power film for 20th Century-Fox. When Argosy brought the hero back, it was a period when the venerable but tottering weekly eschewed cover paintings. McCulley then spent more than six years grinding out Zorro short stories on a nearly monthly basis for the Thrilling group's West, but while the hero was mentioned often on the covers, I don't think he was ever shown on one. After a while he wasn't even mentioned. By 1951 McCulley arguably had run Zorro into the ground, but he would live to see the character restored to fame through the good graces of the Walt Disney Studio. In any event, any clarification as to whether Zorro actually ever dressed this way would be appreciated.

Zorro is supported in this issue by W. C. Tuttle's Henry Harrison Conroy and George Challis's Ivor Kildare in continuing serials, and by Erle Stanley Gardner's Jax Bowman, a relatively short-lived character of his, in the novelette "Bunched Knuckles." George F. Worts wraps up The Gold Fist while Ellis Parker Butler and R. V. Gery contribute short stories, as does Edward Better in what's purportedly his only pulp story -- at least under that name. Better is probably more mysterious than Zorro now.