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Monsters of Pulp Fiction: Home

Virtual Instruction guide to analyzing covers of Weird Tales


For this class we will be utilizing cover art from the magazine Weird Tales to examine the portrayal of monsters and to think through the topic of fear.

Weird Tales was first published in 1923 and was in print until 1954. The magazine featured fantasy and science fiction stories; it was a major title in the field of pulp fiction magazines (so called because they were printed on cheap wood pulp paper). These publications were inexpensive, widely available, and quite popular – but because of the quality of paper they were printed on, copies that still exist today are extremely fragile. There are many more pulp fiction titles, as well as fanzines and fan collection materials housed in the James L. “Rusty” Hevelin Collection in the Special Collections at the University of Iowa Libraries.  

Before Class

Read “Why We’ll Always Be Obsessed with – and Afraid of – Monsters” by Leo Braudy. Take notes on his five categories of monsters.

List five monsters in books, films, or TV that you enjoy or have seen. How do they fit into these categories?

In Class Activity

Choose one cover from Set One.


What do you notice immediately about this cover? What visual element strikes you first?

What do you notice later? What details do you see upon closer inspection?

With a partner or in a group:

What people and monsters are shown on this cover? How are they depicted? What emotions do you think they are designed to provoke?

Examine design elements like typography (font style, font size, and placement), color and lighting, and perspective. What sort of mood is communicated by this cover? What other information is communicated on the cover (either in text or through the image)?  

Who do you think the intended audience was? Are there any audiences that might find elements of this cover unappealing or distasteful?

Set One

January 1941

May 1942

January 1945

March 1942

March 1953

In Class Activity Cont'd

Choose a cover from Set Two.

Using the criteria above, evaluate this cover. Compare: are there elements that are similar or different from the first cover?

Does your cover display a monster that fits into one of Leo Braudy’s categories of monsters? What fears do you think these monsters represent?

Set Two

July 1942

May 1948

July 1941

September 1943

November 1944

Additional activities

Graphic Design: Pick a cover to redesign, focusing on changing the cover for a new audience.

Creative Writing: What do you imagine the cover story is about? Pick a character that is on the cover and write a short story from their perspective.

Film Studies: Think of some horror films that feature iconic monsters. Find historic examples of movie posters for these films. Compare them to the pulp magazine covers in this activity. What design elements are similar or different between these two mediums? Why do you think these style choices were made? 


This virtual instruction guide was created by Kathryn Reuter, Academic Outreach Coordinator - Special Collections & Archives (