Monday, March 20, 2017

Black Mask Magazine

In April 1920, H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan collaborated to create the Black Mask magazine. This magazine was a “pulp” magazine, which is a term originated from the type of paper to which these were printed. Pulp paper was cheap and was readily available, meaning this medium of writing was easy to release to the public in a timely manner.

Mencken, a well-known literary journalist and poet, and Nathan, a drama critic, set out to support the prestigious, though loss-making, literary magazine Smart Set. They were actually successful with another pulp called Parisienne, which was a money spinner of theirs; this was then followed by an erotic stablemate called Saucy Stories. Though they had a couple of pulps under their wing, keeping Smart Set afloat was one of their top priorities.

After some time, they found that keeping Smart Set solvent was not a sound financial investment, and soon, they scrapped the magazine and moved to the Black Mask. The Black Mask was completely a commercial venture in which the duo attempted to cater to the widest audience possible. The roots of the Black Mask were “Five magazines in one: the best stories available of adventure, the best mystery and detective stories, the best romances, the best love stories, and the best stories of the occult." 

While the early issues of this magazine were poor quality and had miniscule problems, Mencken and Nathan got their money back on their initial investment. After a successful startup, they were able to create eight more issues, in which they raised $12,500. The publishers soon bought out the magazine and moved the direction of the magazine to a more crime-focused pulp.


“Cap” Joseph Shaw was appointed the new editor of the Black Mask after existing for six years. During his writing career, he wrote editorials on controversial topics such as the jury system and gun control and believed that a good writer should create a vehicle for moral responsibility. He channeled this into his work. The Black Mask’s nature grew more violent and darker as Shaw ventured into exclusively detective fiction. By 1933, the magazine was purely crime stories and had doubled in popularity.

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