|The two Fictions...which began about the same time..
|front and back, May 1965; note "A Telstar in Print"
The Avenue Victor Hugo Bookstore in Boston was one of the first to put its hand in with a new newsstand magazine in the 1970s, beginning to produce Fiction: A Magazine of Storytelling in 1973 (though I might be mistaken here, since I can't find anything online to back up my impression of the first issue date)...despite the fact that the City College (later University) of New York had already begun producing their magazine Fiction in 1972. (And, fwiw, CCNY's Fiction really was devoted exclusively to fiction, rather than adding in poetry and other literary art, as the other magazine did.) The Ave VH Fiction eventually produced nine highly regarded issues published at irregular intervals through 1976, about which time the bookstore tried another gambit, and began publishing Galileo: Science Fact and Fiction, slightly hardier, and generally well-respected, but also facing the same sort of distribution problems that Fiction suffered. (CUNY continues to publish their Fiction.)
|A 1978 issue of the revival, just before briefly
re-introducing cover illustration for newsstands...
Short Story International was a revival, as noted above, of a title which had flourished for several years in the mid 1960s, only with better paper and a relatively high single-issue pricetag, beginning in 1977. Samuel Tankel had been publisher and editor of the 1960s version, with assistance from Francesca van der Ling; Sylvia Tankel was editor of the revival, which as had the previous version reprinted stories from various languages, usually in translation (but with no lack of stories originally published in English, from such places and countries as Gibraltar and India as well as usually a story or two from the UK and the US)...the newsstand presence was relatively brief, running only into the early '80s, but the magazine continued into the late 1990s (at least), on more of a traditional little magazine model.
as well, in being a foreign fiction title to get much distribution in the US. (And an interesting project, though not a newsstand magazine, was attempted briefly in 1990, a series of magazines called Special Report: ____, where the blank would be filled by a number of different topics or forms of lit; these magazines were meant to be available in waiting rooms of doctors and anyone else where waiting was protracted. Special Report: Fiction in its few issues offered at least Francine Prose's "Dog Stories," collected in the 1991 Best American Short Stories (I browsed one issue in an office, once, but don't remember the content well). Similarly interesting and almost as abortive, if a bit hardier, was the attempt by small-press Pulphouse Publishing in 1991 to produce a Pulphouse Weekly fiction magazine...the attempt at weekly publication was soon dropped, and the slim largely newsprint magazine was published irregularly for several years, mildly eclectic and somewhat moreso than the fatter hardcover issues of Pulphouse of earlier years and continuing simultaneously.)
Argosy had been the original pulp magazine, inexpensively printed on cheap "pulp" paper (rather like blotter paper, if you can remember desk blotters) so as to make it very economical to charge very little compared to magazines on better paper...and Argosy had become one of the best-selling magazines of the first half of the 20th Century, featuring a mix of adventure and other sorts of fiction, from a wide array of writers, not least at that time their "discovery" Edgar Rice Burroughs (though Tarzan was introduced in Argosy's sibling magazine All-Story). By the 1970s, Argosy had become a decreasingly profitable men's magazine, a down-market variation on Esquire with a few elements of Men's Sweat magazines thrown in (and not a little right-wing berserkery, in its first revival after briefly folding), but enthusiasts for the eclectic, important Argosy of the fiction-publishing years were twice able to produce a few issues of their vision of what a revived Argosy should look like.
|The 1990s revival
|The 2004 revival.
The 1990s revival attempted to touch mostly on the adventure-story tradition of Argosy, and saw most of its distribution through comics stores (where it saw some resistance, sadly, since it carried only some comics/graphic stories). The later revival was somewhat more literarily ambitious, and certainly was a more elaborate physical specimen; taking a cue from McSweeney's (of which more below), it offered its several issues in slipcases, with more than one bound object within. Alas, neither project had sufficient funding for more than a few scattered issues.
Argosy's stablemate (and occasional merger partner) All-Story was revived as a title by Francis Ford Coppola and associates in 1997 as Zoetrope All-Story, and as a project launched by largely film money was unsurprisingly not only more worried about appearances than nearly every other fiction magazine has been so far (every issue has a different "guest designer") but also tends in each issue to have at least one reprint that was the basis of or related to an important film, including reprints from the likes of Robert Bloch and Philip K. Dick (for a 2000 issue, they also reprinted the first Tarzan cover from the original All-Story). Sadly, though ZA-S has essentially taken over the National Magazine Awards fiction slot vacated by Story, such industry appreciation seems to have hastened rather than slowed the magazine's slide into ever more slightness and notional work, even when talented people are involved.
Even more protean in its appearance, often taking any number of whimsical forms for one issue or another, and sadly even more prone to slight and notional content, is McSweeney's, originally and still officially Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, beginning in 1998 as the first of many projects since tucked under its rubric, or allied with it, by Dave Eggers, the author of a precious and highly popular memoir of taking care of his younger brother, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, itself by title alone indicative of Eggers's tendency toward the desire to do (genuinely) good work (often in the sense of charitable, though he clearly strives artistically) in various directions and to simultaneously congratulate himself for doing so in the most smugly adorable manner.
Eggers has been pouring his money into McSweeney's and the rather more conventionally-shaped nonfiction companion magazine The Believer and the video "magazine" Wholphin, and the first two seem to have found something of an audience, and any given issue is likely to have genuinely good work by the likes of Joyce Carol Oates, Jonathan Lethem or a Robert Coover cheek by jowl with some frippery by an Eggers favorite. Michael Chabon has produced two notable anthologies that have been issued apparently not so much as issues as supplements to the magazine (they are rather better than the magazine as reading experiences, as well); Eggers himself edits an annual, Best American Non-Required Reading, with kids from the literacy project he helped found. As they put it themselves on the McSweeney's site: Each issue of the quarterly is completely redesigned. There have been hardcovers and paperbacks, an issue with two spines, an issue with a magnetic binding, an issue that looked like a bundle of junk mail, and an issue that looked like a sweaty human head.
Basically, at this point, a number of little magazines are selling about as well as the traditional newsstand fiction magazines, and all can often only be found at only the best newsstands one can find...so such latter-day little magazines as Tin House are on an essentially equal footing with Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, The Paris Review or other latter-day arrivals as World Literature Today, a somewhat slicker and less fiction-heavy heir to Short Story International...and one can do worse than to pick up a copy of such fine eclectic magazines as Boulevard or Conjunctions or Black Clock when you see them, or watch the progress of The American Reader, striving to be the Next Big Thing (and announced, in a gush of excessive ambition, as a monthly).
For more of today's books (and perhaps a few more magazines or stories from them) please see Patti Abbott's blog.
Images mostly from Galactic Central.