Saturday, 14 February 2015

Top 10 cover themes for Adventure magazine

Sorry for posting so irregularly. Work and life are keeping me busy this year, and looks like I will have to do what I can when I can find the time. Of course, if you want to contribute something, just drop me an email at pulpflakes _AT_ Gmail _DOT_ com.

The first thing that made me curious about Adventure magazine were the stories, of course. After that, I was drawn to the covers. When I started collecting, I picked up issues and looked through the covers frequently, even though I would not read them immediately.

I was curious to see the top cover themes, and see how that changed over time. Thanks to Galactic Central site, I got a list of covers and started typing in cover themes. Of course, your choice of theme for a picture might be different than mine, so take this list with a pinch of salt.

However, that said, here are the top themes by number of covers. Western and cowboy covers together accounted for more than a hundred issues, and nautical themes another hundred. Together, the top 10 themes accounted for almost 2/3rds of the 753 issues from 1910-1953

Theme Number of issues
Cowboy 73
Northwestern 68
Pirate 58
Sailor 56
Ship 45
WW2 42
Explorer 39
Animal 37
Western 34
Warrior 32

Surprisingly for a magazine covering adventures in foreign locations, no one locale dominated covers, though collectively, Arab, China and Africa themed covers added up to 35, taking eighth spot on the list (or they would have if I had added them together).

Themes  across the years were almost the same, with the nautical theme showing up repeatedly with at least one cover a year across 33 years. Similarly, a Northwestern themed cover appeared at least once a year for 30 years and Cowboy themed covers for 29 years.

Looking through the covers, it saddens me to see that most of these genres don't have much popularity these days. Perhaps the only genre remaining active on the shelves is western/cowboy fiction and not much of that these days, either. A pity that tastes have changed so much. I know what i'm going to read tonight before going to sleep, and I'm going to have a pleasant time rooting through my collection tonight.

Wish you the same and look to hear from you.


  1. My favorite covers are in the 1918-1926 period when Hoffman was editor. Despite the magazine having many pretty girl covers in the early teens, eventually they were banned completely from the covers because Hoffman and the later editors felt that Adventure was a man's magazine and they didn't want too much women's interest material in the magazine. This ban continued through the twenties, thirties, and forties.

    At first we might think of this ban as sexist but it really wasn't because it was a reaction against the policy of the slick magazines which slanted stories, advertising, and art toward women readers. The editors of such slicks as The Saturday Evening Post really felt that their core readership were women.

    Hoffman many times complained about too much "women's interest" material usually referring to the love and romance element. He occasionally carried it too far by rejecting adventure stories with strong women characters but for the most part he had a valid point. Many a story has been ruined by some pretty girl wandering through the jungle or hunting for buried treasure. The hero then has to take time out to rescue her from the villains. The other pulps may have frequently had this type of cover and story but not ADVENTURE.

    1. Many of my favorite covers are from 1917-1922. There was a spare aesthetic about these covers, with a muted, uncluttered background and usually one figure at the center. I think this might have been a design choice to let the author names stand out on one side of the cover.

      As newsstands grew cluttered with more pulps, the covers had to become brighter to stand out in the crowd. I like some of these covers, but prefer the earlier ones for their simplicity. The one thing that remained reasonably constant till the end was the logo, but even that got reworked a little after 1948, and not for the better, in my opinion.

      Walker, your talk about romance reminds me that Hoffman also launched a magazine of that name, aimed at women but with adventure stories. I've only seen one issue. Do you by any chance have a complete set? If so, would you mind sharing your opinion of it?

  2. ROMANCE lasted 12 issues in 1919-1920 and is a very rare and hard to find magazine. It was killed by a shortage of paper and a printer's strike according to Hoffman. He intended to revive it but this did not happen until 1928 and by then there was a different editor and it was a different magazine. I have most of issues but not all of them. Doug Ellis intends to publish an anthology of stories from ROMANCE but it has been several years since he told me this so I don't know when we will ever see a collection of stories from this excellent magazine.

    By the way the title ROMANCE does not refer to love or romantic scenes like we usually think nowadays. It refers to the old adventure meaning or as one online dictionary puts it:

    "A novel or other prose narrative depicting heroic or marvelous deeds, pageantry, romantic exploits, usually in a historical or imaginary setting." Also " The colorful world, life, or conditions depicted in such tales".

    Joseph Conrad serialized THE RESCUE in 4 or 5 issues, which has to be one of the most literary scoops ever for a pulp magazine. Hoffman did allow more "women's interest" but it was not really a magazine slanted toward the female reader.

  3. In your breakdown of Adventure cover themes. what's the diff between "cowboy" and "western"? Does the latter refer to non-cowboy scenes of the west?

    1. That's right, like the miner in the cover above or a wagon on the trail and so on.