I’m still unpacking all the treasures I brought home from the 2014 Windy City Pulp & Paper show in April. Although, as my wife Alice points out, things would go a little faster if I didn’t fondle everything for 20 minutes.
I found the artifact at right buried in a box of magazines and fanzines from the 70s and 80s I acquired at the show. It’s the 290th issue of Weird Tales, covered dated Spring 1988 — the Sixty-Fifth Anniversary issue, a landmark, and one of my favorite issues of perhaps the most famous fantasy magazine of all time.
Issue 290 was the first issue of Weird Tales from Terminus Publishing, under editors George H. Scithers, John Gregory Betancourt, and Darrell Schweitzer. It’s special to me because the Terminus era was my favorite incarnation of Weird Tales.
I suppose some folks will find that odd. Certainly the early pulp era of the Grand Old Lady of fantasy was its most fertile and famous period — the late 20s to mid-thirties, when it routinely published groundbreaking work by Robert E, Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Edmond Hamilton, and many, many others. Those issue are highly prized by collectors and key copies in good condition from that era routinely command hundreds of dollars.
But the Terminus years, which began in my mid-20s, marked the resurgence of Weird Tales as a vibrant, important and thoroughly modern fantasy magazine, publishing short fiction by the top fantasy writers of the time. It was also the first time I was able to enjoy it as a contemporary publication, rather than a highly collectible relic of a distant era, and I appreciated that very much. I had a subscription, and looked forward to each issue eagerly.
Weird Tales had been absent from magazine racks for several years by the time the first Terminus issue arrived. Issue 290 was the first since the aborted Bellerophon era, under publisher Brian Forbes, who produced two poorly distributed issues in 1984 and 1985 — both of which are quite rare today.
Although the Bellerophon issues had excellent production values and an impressive list of contributors, they were doomed by poor distribution. Just like the pulp issues, they are highly sought by collectors, for their scarceness as much as anything else – I’ve never even seen a copy of the Winter 1985 issue.
If you come across either of them in the back a dimly-lit bookstore some day, snatch them up (and if you find the one on the right, e-mail me immediately).
Scithers, Betancourt, and Schweitzer were far more successful than Forbes, keeping Weird Tales on a (more-or-less) quarterly schedule for roughly a decade, until the magazine became part of Warren Lapine’s DNA Publications stable around the turn of the millennium.
And what a fabulous decade it was! Scithers, Betancourt, and Schweitzer instituted several changes that gave the magazine a distinct look and character, and you can see most of them in issue #290.
First, the magazine was huge — 146 pages, in oversize pulp format — and perfect bound, making it look more like a book than a magazine. I remember being tremendously impressed when I first held a copy in my hands. And in fact, when I finally launched a magazine of my own over a decade later, I consciously imitated it, producing Black Gate in perfect-bound, 7″ x 10″ pulp format.
The pages are also off-white, almost yellow, giving the magazine a warm, pulp-like feel.
The editors showcased a different writer each issue. In #290, it’s Gene Wolfe, who’s represented with no less than six complete stories, and a profile by David Hartwell.
But by far the best feature of the reincarnated version of Weird Tales was the lush, full-page artwork. In this issue, the cover and the interior art are all provided by the talented George Barr, who seems to be channeling Virgil Finlay. Here’s his double-page spread for Gene Wolfe’s “The Other Dead Man.”
[Click any of the images for bigger versions.]
And here’s Barr’s beautiful Finlay-inspired piece for F. Paul Wilson’s “Ménage à Trois.”
The editors worked very , very hard to make the experience of flipping through issue 290 as close as possible to stumbling on a new issue of the pulp incarnation, and they succeeded to a marvelous degree. The design — including the masthead, spot art, and even the “Comments from the Eyrie” (WT’s famous letter column) — mimicked the original extremely well. Perhaps an old-time reader of the original pulp issues could spot a few imperfections, but for me the experience was nearly flawless.
Here’s a few more art samples, just because once I got my wife’s scanner warmed up, it was hard to stop. Here’s Barr’s double-page spread for Darrell Schweitzer’s “The Mysteries of the Faceless King.”
And here’s a fabulous interior illustration for Lloyd Arthur Esbach’s “Sister Abigail’s Collection.”
I have to say, the Terminus Weird Tales had some of the most effective interior art of any magazine I’d ever seen. The single-artist showcase in each issue of was one of my favorite features of Weird Tales and it’s something I sometimes wish other magazines emulated.
Issue 291 featured Stephen Fabian and the next few issues showcased Carl Lundgren, Hank Jankus, J. K. Potter, Vincent Di Fate, Frank Kelly Freas, Janet Aulisio, Jason Van Hollander, Thomas Kidd, and many others.
I was expecting the back cover of issue 290 to have an ad, but instead it trumpeted the return of the magazine and the contents.
Just to make sure I haven’t given you the wrong impression, issue 290 of Weird Tales wasn’t all about Gene Wolfe, nostalgia, and George Barr. There was also fiction from Keith Taylor, Darrell Schweitzer, Felix C. Gotschalk, Ramsey Campbell, Chet Williamson, T. E. D. Klein, Lloyd Arthur Eshbach, and Tanith Lee, and poetry by Joseph Payne Brennan, F. Gwynplaine “Froggy” MacIntyre, Ruth Berman, and Nancy Springer.
Here’s the complete Table of Contents:
The Eyrie by The Editors
“The Dead Man” by Gene Wolfe (reprint)
Profile: Gene Wolfe, by David G. Hartwell
“At the Point of Capricorn” by Gene Wolfe
“Mary Beatrice Smoot Friarly, SPV” by Gene Wolfe
“John K. (Kinder) Price” by Gene Wolfe
“The Boy Who Hooked the Sun” by Gene Wolfe
Weird Tales Talks with Gene Wolfe - interview by Darrell Schweitzer
“The Other Dead Man” by Gene Wolfe
“The Unlawful Hunter” by Keith Taylor
“Ménage à Trois” by F. Paul Wilson
“The Wonderful Wallstretcher” by Felix C. Gotschalk
“Boiled Alive” by Ramsey Campbell
“John Mason Sidd” by Joseph Payne Brennan (poem)
“Improbable Bestiary: The Bigfoot” by F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre (poem)
“The Mysteries of the Faceless King” by Darrell Schweitzer
“What Can a Child Do?” by Chet Williamson
“Had I Approached My Discovery in a More Noble Spirit” by Ruth Berman (poem)
“Well-Connected” by T. E. D. Klein
“Old Gods Prowl” by Nancy Springer (poem)
“Sister Abigail’s Collection” by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach
“Death Dances” by Tanith Lee
Reviews by John Gregory Betancourt
Weird Tales #290 was published Spring 1988 by Terminus Publishing. It is 146 pages, priced at $3.50.
So far I’ve covered the following treasures found at Windy City this year:
Super Science Fiction pulps
The Vril Agenda by Derrick Ferguson and Josh Reynolds
Science Fiction of the 30′s edited by Damon Knight
Fantastic Novels, July 1948
Two Decades of Interzone
The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series XIII edited by Karl Edward Wagner
Weird Tales #290
Stephen E. Fabian’s Ladies & Legends
The Bumper Book of Ghost Stories, edited by Aidan Chambers
Subterranean Magazine #2
Read all of our recent Vintage Treasure articles here.