Fantastic Adventures

Fantastic Adventures
Fantastic Adventures 1940 Oct cover.jpg
October 1940 cover of Fantastic Adventures by J. Allen St. John, which was instrumental in saving the magazine from cancellation
EditorRaymond A. Palmer
Howard Browne
CategoriesFantasy, science fiction
Year founded1939
Final issue1953
CountryUnited States

Fantastic Adventures was an American pulp fantasy and science fiction magazine, published from 1939 to 1953 by Ziff-Davis. It was initially edited by Raymond A. Palmer, who was also the editor of Amazing Stories, Ziff-Davis's other science fiction title. The first nine issues were in bedsheet format, but in June 1940 the magazine switched to a standard pulp size. It was almost cancelled at the end of 1940, but the October 1940 issue enjoyed unexpectedly good sales, helped by a strong cover by J. Allen St. John for Robert Moore Williams' Jongor of Lost Land. By May 1941 the magazine was on a regular monthly schedule. Historians of science fiction consider that Palmer was unable to maintain a consistently high standard of fiction, but Fantastic Adventures soon developed a reputation for light-hearted and whimsical stories. Much of the material was written by a small group of writers under both their own names and house names. The cover art, like those of many other pulps of the era, focused on beautiful women in melodramatic action scenes. One regular cover artist was H.W. McCauley, whose glamorous "MacGirl" covers were popular with the readers, though the emphasis on depictions of attractive and often partly clothed women did draw some objections.

In 1949 Palmer left Ziff-Davis and was replaced by Howard Browne, who was knowledgeable and enthusiastic about fantasy fiction. Browne briefly managed to improve the quality of the fiction in Fantastic Adventures, and the period around 1951 has been described as the magazine's heyday. Browne lost interest when his plan to take Amazing Stories upmarket collapsed, and the magazine fell back into predictability. In 1952, Ziff-Davis launched another fantasy magazine, titled Fantastic, in a digest format; it was successful, and within a few months the decision was taken to end Fantastic Adventures in favor of Fantastic. The March 1953 issue of Fantastic Adventures was the last.

Publication history

Although science fiction (sf) had been published before the 1920s, it did not begin to coalesce into a separately marketed genre until the appearance in 1926 of Amazing Stories, a pulp magazine published by Hugo Gernsback. By the end of the 1930s the field was undergoing its first boom.[1] Gernsback lost control of Amazing Stories in 1929; it was sold to Teck Publications, and then in 1938 it was acquired by Ziff-Davis.[2][3] The following year Ziff-Davis launched Fantastic Adventures as a companion to Amazing; the first issue was dated May 1939, and the editor of Amazing, Ray Palmer, took on responsibility for the new magazine as well.[4]

Fantastic Adventures was initially published in bedsheet format,[note 1] the same size as the early sf magazines such as Amazing,[6][7] perhaps in order to attract fans who were nostalgic for the larger format.[8] It started as a bimonthly, but in January 1940 began a monthly schedule. Sales were weaker than for Amazing, however, and with the June issue the schedule reverted to bimonthly. The size was also reduced to a standard pulp format, since that was cheaper to produce. Sales did not improve, and Ziff-Davis planned to make the October issue the last one. That issue carried Robert Moore Williams' Jongor of Lost Land, and had a cover by J. Allen St. John; the combination proved to be so popular that October sales were twice the August figures. This convinced Ziff-Davis that the magazine was viable, and it was restarted in January 1941—as a bimonthly at first, but switching to monthly again in May of that year.[4][8]

Howard Browne took over as editor of both Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures in 1950. Browne preferred fantasy to science fiction, and enjoyed editing Fantastic Adventures, but when his plans for taking Amazing upmarket were derailed by the Korean War, he lost interest in both magazines for a while.[9][10] He let William Hamling take responsibility for both titles, and the quality declined. At the end of 1950, Ziff-Davis moved its offices from Chicago to New York; Browne relocated to New York, but Hamling decided to stay in Chicago, so Browne became more involved once again, and sf historians such as Brian Stableford and Mike Ashley consider the result to have been a definite improvement in quality.[7][9] Browne's interest in fantasy led him to start a new digest-sized magazine, Fantastic, in the summer of 1952; it was an immediate success, and led Ziff-Davis to convert Amazing Stories to digest format as well. The move from the pulp format to digests was well under way in the early 1950s, and with Fantastic's success there was little reason to keep Fantastic Adventures going. It was merged with Fantastic; the last issue was dated March 1953, and the May–June issue of Fantastic added a mention of Fantastic Adventures to the masthead, though this disappeared with the following issue.[10]

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