Black Mask (magazine)

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Black Mask

Cover of September 1929 issue, featuring part 1 of Black Mask's serialization of The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett. Illustration of private eye Sam Spade by Henry C. Murphy, Jr.
Editor H. L. Mencken,
George Jean Nathan,
later Joseph Shaw
Categories Hardboiled
Publisher Popular Publications
style="background-color: #e9e9e9" valign="top" Year founded 1920
First Issue  
Country USA Flag of USA.png
Language English
ISSN unknown

Black Mask was a pulp magazine launched in 1920 by journalist H. L. Mencken and drama critic George Jean Nathan as one of a number of money-making publishing ventures to support the prestigious literary magazine The Smart Set, which Mencken edited, and which operated at a loss. Under their editorial hand, Black Mask was not exclusively a publisher of crime fiction, offering, according to the magazine, "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."

After eight issues, Mencken and Nathan considered their initial $500 investment to have been sufficiently profitable, and they sold the magazine to its publishers, Eltinge Warner and Eugene Crow for $12,500. Joseph Shaw took over the editorship.

Shaw, following up on a promising lead from one of the early issues, promptly turned Black Mask into an outlet for the growing school of naturalistic crime writers led by Carroll John Daly. Daly's private detective Race Williams was a rough and ready character with a sharp tongue, and established the model for many later acerbic private eyes.

Black Mask later published the profoundly influential Dashiell Hammett, creator of Sam Spade and The Continental Op, and other hardboiled writers who came in his wake, such as Raymond Chandler and Erle Stanley Gardner. The magazine was hugely successful, and many of the writers, such as Hugh B. Cave, who appeared in its pages went onto greater commercial and critical success.

Black Mask reached a sales peak in the early 1930s, but then interest began to wane under increasing pressure from the comic book market, cheap paperback books, radio and the cinema. In 1936, refusing to cut writers' already meager pay, Shaw resigned, and many of the high-profile authors abandoned the magazine with him. From this point onward, Black Mask was in decline, eventually ceasing publication in 1951.

Black Mask magazine was the specific pulp fiction magazine that inspired the 1994 Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction. Originally, the title of the film was Black Mask, before being changed.

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