Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Black Mask March 1928 issue

Black Mask March 1928The Magazine of the Week is the March 1928 issue of Black Mask magazine. The cover story is "The Egyptian Lure," a Race Williams story by Carroll John Daly.

H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan created the pulp magazine Black Mask in 1920 (not because they cared about the magazine, but simply as a means of milking revenues from lowbrow readers to fund their intellectual magazine Smart Set). Black Mask started out as a general fiction magazine -- note that the top of the Magazine of Week's cover boasts of "Western, Detective & Adventure Stories" -- but before long editor Joseph "Cap" Shaw decided to focus on the mystery genre. By the mid-1920's there were already a number of mystery titles in the pulp market, but Black Mask managed to differentiate itself with a distinctive style: a brash, hard-edged narrative voice which came to be called "hard-boiled" detective fiction. In large part, the new hard-boiled form was an American response to the urbane British style of mysteries exemplified by Sherlock Holmes. While British detectives were always smarter than the criminals, American hard-boiled detectives prevailed by being tougher. Hollywood quickly picked up on and further popularized the hard-boiled style, first with film noir and later with bad-assed detectives like Dirty Harry.

Carroll John Daly was the first successful hard-boiled author and Race Williams, his ham-fisted hero (look at the mitts on this guy on the cover), was the first popular hard-boiled detective. Daly told the Race Williams adventures through a first-person narrative dripping with tough-guy attitude. Race Williams was a huge hit for Black Mask, which quickly enlisted a number of other authors to write in the new hard-boiled style. Among the authors whose careers Black Mask launched were Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Erle Stanley Gardner (creator of Perry Mason, who was heavily influenced by Daly, but evolved away from the hard-boiled form over the years). Under "Cap" Shaw's direction, Black Mask's circulation surged to 130,000 per month. But the Depression eventually cut into circulation, and after Shaw was fired in 1935 (reportedly for refusing to cut his writers' pay), the magazine went into a slow tailspin, finally ceasing publication in 1951.

Black Mask, Carroll John Daly, and Race Williams have now been almost forgotten, but the works of Hammett and Chandler and Gardner are still very widely read to this day, and the hard-boiled voice Daly pioneered in Black Mask remains commonly used in American fiction and cinema.

No comments: