Fantastic (magazine)

Fantastic October 1961 front.jpg
Cover of the October 1961 issue, by Alex Schomburg
EditorHoward Browne
CategoriesFantasy fiction, science fiction
FormatDigest size
PublisherZiff Davis
Year founded1952
Final issue1980
CountryUnited States

Fantastic was an American digest-size fantasy and science fiction magazine, published from 1952 to 1980. It was founded by the publishing company Ziff Davis as a fantasy companion to Amazing Stories. Early sales were good, and the company quickly decided to switch Amazing from pulp format to digest, and to cease publication of their other science fiction pulp, Fantastic Adventures. Within a few years sales fell, and Howard Browne, the editor, was forced to switch the focus to science fiction rather than fantasy. Browne lost interest in the magazine as a result and the magazine generally ran poor-quality fiction in the mid-1950s, under Browne and his successor, Paul W. Fairman.

At the end of the 1950s, Cele Goldsmith took over as editor of both Fantastic and Amazing Stories, and quickly invigorated the magazines, bringing in many new writers and making them, in the words of one science fiction historian, the "best-looking and brightest" magazines in the field.[1] Goldsmith helped to nurture the early careers of writers such as Roger Zelazny and Ursula K. Le Guin, but was unable to increase circulation, and in 1965 the magazines were sold to Sol Cohen, who hired Joseph Wrzos as editor and switched to a reprint-only policy. This was financially successful, but brought Cohen into conflict with the newly formed Science Fiction Writers of America. After a turbulent period at the end of the 1960s, Ted White became editor and the reprints were phased out.

White worked hard to make the magazine successful, introducing artwork from artists who had made their names in comics, and working with new authors such as Gordon Eklund. His budget for fiction was low, but he was occasionally able to find good stories from well-known writers that had been rejected by other markets. Circulation continued to decline, however, and in 1978, Cohen sold out his half of the business to his partner, Arthur Bernhard. White resigned shortly afterwards, and was replaced by Elinor Mavor, but within two years Bernhard decided to close down Fantastic, merging it with Amazing Stories, which had always enjoyed a slightly higher circulation.

Publishing history

In 1938, Ziff Davis, a Chicago-based publisher looking to expand into the pulp magazine market, acquired Amazing Stories.[2] The number of science fiction magazines grew quickly, and several new titles appeared over the next few years, among them Fantastic Adventures, which was launched by Ziff Davis in 1939 as a companion to Amazing.[3] Under the editorship of Raymond Palmer, the magazines were reasonably successful but published poor-quality work; when Howard Browne took over as editor of Amazing in January 1950, he decided to try to move the magazine upmarket.[4][5] Ziff Davis agreed to back the new magazine, and Browne put together a sample copy, but, when the Korean War broke out, Ziff Davis cut their budgets and the project was abandoned.[6] Browne did not give up, and in 1952 received the go-ahead to try a new magazine instead, focused on high-quality fantasy,[7] a genre which had recently become more popular.[8] The first issue of Fantastic, dated Summer 1952, appeared on March 21 of that year.[7]

Early years

Spring Summer Fall Winter
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
1952 1/1 1/2 1/3
1953 2/1 2/2 2/3 2/4 2/5 2/6
1954 3/1 3/2 3/3 3/4 3/5 3/6
1955 4/1 4/2 4/3 4/4 4/5 4/6
1956 5/1 5/2 5/3 5/4 5/5 5/6
1957 6/1 6/2 6/3 6/4 6/5 6/6 6/7 6/8 6/9 6/10 6/11
1958 7/1 7/2 7/3 7/4 7/5 7/6 7/7 7/8 7/9 7/10 7/11 7/12
1959 8/1 8/2 8/3 8/4 8/5 8/6 8/7 8/8 8/9 8/10 8/11 8/12
1960 9/1 9/2 9/3 9/4 9/5 9/6 9/7 9/8 9/9 9/10 9/11 9/12
Issues of Fantastic through 1960, identifying volume and issue numbers, and
indicating editors: in sequence, Howard Browne, Paul Fairman, and Cele
Goldsmith. Underlining indicates that an issue was titled as a quarterly (i.e.,
"Fall 1952") rather than as a monthly.

Sales were very good, and Ziff Davis was sufficiently impressed after only two issues to move the magazine from a quarterly to a bimonthly schedule, and to switch Amazing from pulp format to digest-size to match Fantastic. Shortly afterwards the decision was taken to eliminate Fantastic Adventures: the March 1953 issue was the last, and the May–June 1953 issue of Fantastic added a mention of Fantastic Adventures to the masthead, though this ceased with the following issue.[7] Payment started at two cents per word for all rights, but could go up to ten cents at the editor's discretion; this put Fantastic in the second echelon of magazines, behind titles such as Astounding and Galaxy.[9][10] The experiment with quality fiction did not last. Circulation dropped, which led to budget cuts, and in turn the quality of the fiction fell. Browne had wanted to separate Fantastic from Amazing's pulp roots, but now found he had to print more science fiction (sf) and less fantasy in order to attract Amazing's readers to its sister magazine.[7] Fantastic's poor results were probably a consequence of an overloaded sf-magazine market: far more magazines appeared in the early 1950s than the market was able to support. Ziff Davis sales staff were able to help sell Fantastic and Amazing along with the technical magazines that it published, and the availability of a national sales network, even though it was not focused solely on Fantastic, undoubtedly helped the magazine to survive.[11]

In May 1956, Browne left Ziff Davis to become a screenwriter. Paul W. Fairman took over as editor of both Fantastic and Amazing. In 1957, Bernard Davis left Ziff Davis; it had been Davis who had suggested the acquisition of Amazing in 1939, and he had stayed involved with the sf magazines throughout the time he spent there. With his departure Amazing and Fantastic stagnated; they were still issued monthly, but drew no attention from the management of Ziff Davis.[12]

Mid-1950s to late 1960s

In November 1955, Ziff Davis hired an assistant, Cele Goldsmith, who began by helping with two new magazines under development, Dream World and Pen Pals. She also read the slush piles for all the magazines, and was quickly given more responsibility. In 1957, she was made managing editor of both Amazing and Fantastic, doing administrative chores and reading unsolicited manuscripts. At the end of 1958, she became editor, replacing Fairman, who had left to become managing editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.[1][12] Goldsmith—who became Cele Lalli when she married in 1964—stayed as editor for six and a half years.[1]

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
1961 10/1 10/2 10/3 10/4 10/5 10/6 10/7 10/8 10/9 10/10 10/11 10/12
1962 11/1 11/2 11/3 11/4 11/5 11/6 11/7 11/8 11/9 11/10 11/11 11/12
1963 12/1 12/2 12/3 12/4 12/5 12/6 12/7 12/8 12/9 12/10 12/11 12/12
1964 13/1 13/2 13/3 13/4 13/5 13/6 13/7 13/8 13/9 13/10 13/11 13/12
1965 14/1 14/2 14/3 14/4 14/5 14/6 15/1 15/2
1966 15/3 15/4 15/5 15/6 16/1 16/2
1967 16/3 16/4 16/5 16/6 17/1 17/2
1968 17/3 17/4 17/5 17/6 18/1 18/2
1969 18/3 18/4 18/5 18/6 19/1 19/2
1970 19/3 19/4 19/5 19/6 20/1 20/2
Issues of Fantastic from 1961 to 1970, identifying volume and issue numbers, and
indicating editors: in sequence, Cele Goldsmith (Lalli), Joseph Ross, Harry Harrison,
Barry Malzberg, and Ted White

Circulation dropped for both Amazing and Fantastic: in 1964, Fantastic had a paid circulation of only 27,000.[13] In 1965, Sol Cohen, who at that time was Galaxy's publisher, set up his own publishing company, Ultimate Publishing, and bought both Amazing and Fantastic from Ziff Davis.[1][notes 1] Cohen had decided to make the magazines as profitable as possible by filling them only with reprints. This was possible because Ziff Davis had acquired second serial rights[notes 2] for all stories they had published, and since Cohen had bought the backfile of stories he was able to reprint them using these rights.[1][16] Using reprints in this way saved Cohen about $8,000 a year between the two magazines.[16] Lalli decided that she did not want to work for Cohen, and stayed with Ziff Davis. Her last issue was June 1965. Cohen replaced Lalli with Joseph Wrzos, who used the name "Joseph Ross" on the magazines.[1][13] Cohen had met Wrzos at the Galaxy offices not long before; Wrzos was teaching English full-time, but had worked for Gnome Press as an assistant editor in 1953–1954.[13]

Cohen also launched a series of reprint magazines, drawing from the backfile of both Amazing and Fantastic, again using the second serial rights he had acquired from Ziff Davis. The first reprint magazine was Great Science Fiction; the first issue, titled Great Science Fiction from Amazing, appeared in August 1965. By early 1967 this had been joined by The Most Thrilling Science Fiction Ever Told and Science Fiction Classics. These increased the workload on Wrzos, though Cohen made the selection of stories, and Wrzos found himself able to work on Fantastic and Amazing only part-time. Cohen hired Herb Lehrman to help with the other magazines.[13]

Although Cohen felt that his deal with Ziff Davis gave him the reprint rights he needed, the newly formed Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) received complaints about Cohen's refusal to pay anything for the reprints. He was also reportedly not responding to requests for reassignment of copyright. SFWA organized a boycott of Cohen's magazines; after a year Cohen agreed to pay a flat fee for the reprints, and in August 1967 he agreed to a graduated scale of payments, and the boycott was withdrawn.[13]

Circulation and sellthrough (percentage of print run sold) for Fantastic

Harry Harrison had been involved in the negotiations between SFWA and Cohen, and when the agreement was reached in 1967 Cohen asked Harrison if he would take over as editor of both magazines. Harrison was available because SF Impulse, which he had been editing, had ceased publication in early 1967. Cohen agreed to phase out the reprints by the end of the year, and Harrison took the job. Cohen added Harrison's name to the masthead of two issues of Great Science Fiction, although Harrison had had nothing to do with that magazine, but the reprints in Fantastic and Amazing continued and Harrison decided to quit in February 1968. He recommended Barry Malzberg as his replacement. Cohen had worked with Malzberg at the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, and felt Malzberg would be more cooperative than Harrison. Malzberg, however, turned out to be just as unwilling as Harrison to work with Cohen if the reprints continued, and soon regretted taking the job. In October 1968 Cohen refused to pay for a cover that Malzberg had commissioned; Malzberg insisted, threatening to resign if Cohen did not agree. Cohen contacted Robert Silverberg, then the president of SFWA, and told him (falsely) that Malzberg had actually resigned. Silverberg recommended Ted White as a replacement. Cohen secured White's agreement and then fired Malzberg; White took over in October 1968, but because there was a backlog of stories Malzberg had acquired, the first issue on which he was credited as editor was the June 1969 issue.[13][16]

1970s to present

Like his immediate predecessors, White took the job on condition that the reprints would be phased out. It was some time before this was achieved: there was at least one reprinted story in every issue until the end of 1971. The February 1972 issue contained some artwork reprinted from 1939, and after that the reprints ceased.[16][17]

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
1971 20/3 20/4 20/5 20/6 21/1 21/2
1972 21/3 21/4 21/5 21/6 22/1 22/2
1973 22/3 22/4 22/5 22/6 23/1
1974 23/2 23/3 23/4 23/56 23/6 24/1
1975 24/2 24/3 24/4 24/5 24/6 25/1
1976 25/2 25/3 25/4 25/5
1977 26/1 26/2 26/3 6/4
1978 27/1 27/2 27/3
1979 27/4 27/5 27/6 27/7
1980 27/8 27/9 27/10 27/11
Issues of Fantastic from 1971 to 1980, identifying volume and issue numbers, and
indicating editors: Ted White through most of the decade, and then Elinor Mavor.
Note that the apparent error in volume numbering at the end of 1977 is in fact correct.

Fantastic's circulation was about 37,000 when White took over; only about 4 percent of this was subscription sales. Cohen's wife filled the subscriptions from their garage, and according to White, Cohen regarded this as a burden, and never tried to increase the subscription base.[16] Despite White's efforts, Fantastic's circulation fell, from almost 37,000 when he took over as editor to less than 24,000 in the summer of 1975. Cohen was rumored to be interested in selling both Fantastic and Amazing; among other possibilities, both Roger Elwood, at that time an active science fiction anthology editor, and Edward Ferman, the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, approached Cohen with a view to acquiring the titles. Nothing came of it, however, and White was not aware of the possible sales. He was working at a low salary, with unpaid help from friends to read unsolicited submissions—at one point he introduced a 25-cent reading fee for manuscripts from unpublished writers; the fee would be refunded if White bought the story. White sometimes found himself at odds with Cohen's business partner, Arthur Bernhard, due to their different political views.[18] White's unhappiness with his working conditions culminated in his resignation after Cohen refused his proposal to publish Fantastic as a slick magazine, with larger pages and higher quality paper.[18] White commented in an article in Science Fiction Review that he had brought to the magazines "a lot of energy and enthusiasm and a great many ideas for their improvement ...Well, I have put into effect nearly every idea which I was allowed to follow through on ... and have spent most of my energy and enthusiasm."[19] Cohen was able to persuade him to stay for another year; in the event White stayed for another three.[18]

White was unable to completely halt the slide in circulation, though it rose a little in 1977. That year Cohen lost $15,000 on the magazines, and decided to sell.[18] He spent some time looking for a new publisher—editor Roy Torgeson was one of those interested—but on September 15, 1978, he sold his half of the business to Arthur Bernhard, his partner.[20] White renewed his suggestions for improving the format of the magazine: he wanted to make Fantastic the same size as Time, and believed he could avoid the mistakes that had been made by other sf magazines that had tried that approach. White also proposed an increase in the budget and asked for a raise. Bernhard not only turned down White's ideas, but also stopped paying him: White responded by resigning. His last official day as editor was November 9; the last issue of Fantastic under his control was the January 1979 issue. He returned all submissions to their authors, saying that he had been told to do so by Bernhard; Bernhard denied this.[20]

Bernhard brought in Elinor Mavor to edit both Amazing and Fantastic. Mavor had previously edited Bill of Fare, a restaurant trade journal, and was a long-time science fiction reader, but she had little knowledge of the history of the magazines. She was unaware, for example, that she was not the first woman to edit them, and so adopted a male pseudonym—"Omar Gohagen"—for a while.[20] She suggested a campaign to increase circulation, and went so far as to gather information about costs while on a trip to New York in 1979. Bernhard decided instead to merge the two magazines. Circulation was continuing to drop; the figures for the last two years are not available, but sf historian Mike Ashley estimates that Fantastic's paid circulation may have been as low as 13,000.[notes 3] Bernhard felt that since Fantastic had never been profitable, whereas Amazing had made money, it was best to keep Amazing.[20] Until the March 1985 issue, Amazing included a mention of Fantastic on the spine and on the contents page.[17] In 1999, the fiction magazine formerly known as Pirate Writings revived the Fantastic title and Cele Goldsmith-era logotype for several issues, ultimately unsuccessfully, though this was not intended as a continuation of the original magazine.[21]

In August 2014, Warren Lapine, former editor of Absolute Magnitude, Realms of Fantasy, and Weird Tales, revived the Fantastic logotype of Fantastic Stories of the Imagination as a free webzine.[22]

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