Discover the First Horror & Fantasy Magazine, Der Orchideengarten, and Its Bizarre Artwork (1919–1921)


From the 18th cen­tu­ry onward, the gen­res of Goth­ic hor­ror and fan­ta­sy have flour­ished, and with them the sen­su­al­ly vis­cer­al images now com­mon­place in film, TV, and com­ic books. These gen­res per­haps reached their aes­thet­ic peak in the 19th cen­tu­ry with writ­ers like Edgar Allan Poe and illus­tra­tors like Gus­tave Dore. But it was in the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry that a more pop­ulist sub­genre tru­ly came into its own: “weird fic­tion,” a term H.P. Love­craft used to describe the pulpy brand of super­nat­ur­al hor­ror cod­i­fied in the pages of Amer­i­can fan­ta­sy and hor­ror mag­a­zine Weird Talesfirst pub­lished in 1923. (And still going strong!)


A pre­cur­sor to EC Comics’ many lurid titles, Weird Tales is often con­sid­ered the defin­i­tive ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry venue for weird fic­tion and illus­tra­tion.

But we need only look back a few years and to anoth­er con­ti­nent to find an ear­li­er pub­li­ca­tion, serv­ing Ger­man-speak­ing fans — Der Orchideen­garten (“The Gar­den of Orchids”), the very first hor­ror and fan­ta­sy mag­a­zine, which ran 51 issues from Jan­u­ary 1919 to Novem­ber 1921.


The mag­a­zine fea­tured work from its edi­tors Karl Hans Strobl and Alfons von Czibul­ka, from bet­ter-known con­tem­po­raries like H.G. Wells and Karel Capek, and from fore­fa­thers like Dick­ens, Pushkin, Guy de Mau­pas­sant, Poe, Voltaire, Wash­ing­ton Irv­ing, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and oth­ers. “Although two issues of Der Orchideen­garten were devot­ed to detec­tive sto­ries,” writes 50 Watts, “and one to erot­ic sto­ries about cuck­olds, it was a gen­uine fan­ta­sy mag­a­zine.” And it was also a gallery of bizarre and unusu­al art­work.


50 Watts quotes from Franz Rottensteiner’s descrip­tion of the magazine’s art, which ranged “from rep­re­sen­ta­tions of medieval wood­cuts to the work of mas­ters of the macabre such as Gus­tave Dore or Tony Johan­not, to con­tem­po­rary Ger­man artists like Rolf von Hoer­schel­mann, Otto Lenneko­gel, Karl Rit­ter, Hein­rich Kley, or Alfred Kubin.” These artists cre­at­ed the cov­ers and illus­tra­tions you see here, and many more you can see at 50 Watts, the black sun, and John Coulthart’s {feuil­leton}.


“What strikes me about these black-and-white draw­ings,” like the dense, fren­zied pen-and-ink scene above, Coulthart com­ments, “is how dif­fer­ent they are in tone to the pulp mag­a­zines which fol­lowed short­ly after in Amer­i­ca and else­where. They’re at once far more adult and fre­quent­ly more orig­i­nal than the Goth­ic clichés which padded out Weird Tales and less­er titles for many years.” Indeed, though the for­mat may be sim­i­lar to its suc­ces­sors, Der Orchideen­garten’s cov­ers show the influ­ence of Sur­re­al­ism, “some are almost Expres­sion­ist in style,” and many of the illus­tra­tions show “a dis­tinct Goya influ­ence.”


Pop­u­lar fan­ta­sy and hor­ror illus­tra­tion has often leaned more toward the soft-porn of sev­en­ties air­brushed vans, pulp-nov­el cov­ers, or the gris­ly kitsch of the comics. Rot­ten­stein­er writes in his 1978 Fan­ta­sy Book that this “large-for­mat mag­a­zine… must sure­ly rank as one of the most beau­ti­ful fan­ta­sy mag­a­zines ever pub­lished.” It’s hard to argue with that assess­ment. View, read (in Ger­man), and down­load orig­i­nal scans of the magazine’s first sev­er­al issues over on this Prince­ton site.

via 50 Watts

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Exten­sive Archive of Avant-Garde & Mod­ernist Mag­a­zines (1890–1939) Now Avail­able Online

The Pulp Fic­tion Archive: The Cheap, Thrilling Sto­ries That Enter­tained a Gen­er­a­tion of Read­ers (1896–1946)

The First Illus­tra­tions of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds: The Sur­re­al & Hor­ri­fy­ing Art of Hen­rique Alvim Cor­rêa (1906)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (3)
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  • Merzmensch says:

    Great source, but unfor­tu­nate­ly “This item is not avail­able online (@ Lim­it­ed — search only) due to copy­right restric­tions”.

    (I’m try­ing to access from a net­work of a Ger­man Uni­ver­si­ty, what a pity I can­not reasd this Ger­man mag­a­zine)…

  • Merzmensch says:

    Library of Hei­del­berg pro­vides the PDFs of many issues as well:

    (I’m unsure, if you can access it from USA)

  • David St. albans says:

    Thank you so much for shar­ing this work! I won­dered very often just when the first hor­ror sto­ries were shared in print. I myself am a hor­ror author and illus­tra­tor so I was very hap­py to find these wild and intense images from the ear­ly 1900’s. So many have been lov­ing­ly craft­ed in the Art Nuveau and Deco styles…and yet, yes, the black and white are intense­ly lurid and loose, yet very evoca­tive of fear and con­fu­sion.

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