The Magazine Reader

Plato's Cream Pie and Other Horror Delicacies

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A disc jockey, who happens to be a werewolf, battles Satan in the mosh pit of a punk bar.

Plato attends a party thrown by the gods and is served the Platonic ideal of a cream pie. "This is the real thing," he says, "not just the shadow on the wall." Then the gods start a food fight.

In Hell, Benito Mussolini is tried for war crimes. When he's convicted, a beast with the head of a hippo and the body of a crocodile eats Il Duce's heart in one big gulp.

Weird things happen to weird creatures in the weird stories in Weird Tales magazine. But the weirdest tale of all might be the story of Weird Tales, an 83-year-old bimonthly pulp magazine that keeps rising from the dead. Now, it is alive and living in a red brick tract house in Rockville.

On the front lawn, there's a sign with pictures of bunnies and eggs and a cheery greeting: "Happy Easter." John Gregory Betancourt, publisher and co-editor of Weird Tales, lives here with his wife, who works for Fannie Mae, and their kids, cats and dogs.

Down in the cellar, in a room packed with pulp magazines, new and vintage, Betancourt, 42, the author of 37 fantasy and sci-fi novels, publishes Weird Tales. With help from editors, writers and illustrators around the country, he also publishes six other genre mags: Adventure Tales, Strange Tales, Cat Tales, Fantasy, H.P. Lovecraft's Magazine of Horror and Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine.

Betancourt's company, Wildside Press, also issues reprints of classic pulp magazines from the '30s and '40s, containing not only the original stories and pictures, but also the original ads, which are kitsch classics:

"ROMEOS: Don't let your love-making be spoiled by a cough due to a cold. . . . Keep Smith Brothers' cough drops handy."

"Why Does a Chicken Cross the Road? $100.00 In Cash for Best Answers."

But the heart of Betancourt's pulp empire is Weird Tales. Founded in 1923 and dubbed "the unique magazine," it published horror and fantasy stories by H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury and Robert E. Howard, whose Conan the Barbarian was born in its pages.

The decades between the world wars were the golden age of pulps, cheaply printed mags packed with sensational stories of crime and love and horror. Weird Tales distinguished itself from the pack by focusing on horror and by printing famously racy covers by Margaret Brundage, the "queen of the pulps," who specialized in painting nearly naked women being tortured by fiends and monsters.

In 1954, Weird Tales died, killed by television. It was born again in 1973, only to die again after four issues. In 1981, it resurfaced in the form of a paperback book but died after four more issues. In 1984, it resurrected, publishing Stephen King and Bradbury before succumbing again. In 1988, it climbed out of the grave -- Betancourt was among the editors -- and lasted four years before once more kicking the bucket. In 1998, it was revived by a husband-and-wife team who also published a vampire magazine called Dreams of Decadence. Last fall, they sold Weird Tales to Betancourt.

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