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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


 

Old Weird and New Weird

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Savoy Books, 1984.

A couple more recent arrivals that feature my work. These are of minority interest but worth noting since academic articles don’t always travel beyond a small audience of subscribers.

A recent issue of Foundation (The International Review of Science Fiction), Volume 45.1, number 123, contains an article by Mark P. Williams, Underground Assemblages: Savoy Dreams and The Starry Wisdom. This examines the legacy of New Worlds magazine under the editorship of Michael Moorcock (from 1964 to 1974) via two writing collections, Savoy Dreams (Savoy Books, 1984) and The Starry Wisdom (Creation Books, 1994). The two collections are very different: Savoy Dreams, edited by David Britton and Michael Butterworth, was an eclectic overview of Savoy’s publishing endeavours up to that point. Among the original writing there’s fiction by Butterworth, M. John Harrison (the first publication of the Viriconium story, Lords of Misrule) and others, plus a reaction by Michael Moorcock to William Burroughs’ Cities of the Red Night, a book that Savoy had contracted to publish before police harassment forced the company’s bankruptcy. The rest of the book is taken up with press reviews of Savoy books.

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Creation Books, 1994. Cover art by Peter Smith.

The Starry Wisdom should require less of an introduction since the book has been in print since 1994, and has a small, possibly notorious, reputation among HP Lovecraft enthusiasts. Editor DM Mitchell felt that the assembling of post-Lovecraftian fiction up to that point had been too cosy and insular: too many story collections were being edited and written by groups of friends in the genre fiction “community”, with the result that the stories were often stale and complacent. The startling newness of Lovecraft’s imagination in comparison to many of his contemporaries in Weird Tales seemed to have been bled away into pastiche, a process that began soon after Lovecraft’s death. Mitchell’s solution was to commission original pieces of Lovecraft-inspired work from writers outside the genre world, notably Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and newcomer David Conway; he also reprinted pieces that would never appear elsewhere as Lovecraftian fiction, including Wind Die. You Die. We Die. by William Burroughs, and Prisoner of the Coral Deep by JG Ballard. Burroughs and Ballard connect directly to New Worlds, of course (Ballard wrote about Burroughs for the magazine), while the pair cast a shadow over many of Savoy’s book productions. Both Savoy Dreams and The Starry Wisdom featured comic strips; Tales of the Cramps by Kris Guidio appeared in Savoy Dreams, while The Starry Wisdom contained strips by Rick Grimes, and the first publication of my own adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu.

I was surprised—and pleased—that my comic strip receives a fair amount of scrutiny in Williams’ piece. My Lovecraft strips have received almost no attention from the comics world, a consequence of having been printed by book publishers and distributed to book shops. (A rare exception was this recent piece by Matt Maxwell.) When you’ve been overlooked in this manner it’s a surprise to find your work receiving serious evaluation from an entirely different quarter. Mark P. Williams’ essay examines the contents of both collections, my strip included, as “assemblages”. This is a valid critique in the case of the Cthulhu strip since Lovecraft’s story is itself an assemblage of what seems at first to be unrelated data. The comic adaptation assembles a range of cultural references—some genuine, others invented—to parallel the narrator’s investigation, and even uses genuine documents in places, including columns from The New York Times. I don’t know if Williams has seen the blog post I made that points out many of the cultural references but he notes some of the more overt ones, such as Joseph Conrad appearing as the doomed Professor Angell, Arnold Böcklin’s The Isle of the Dead, and so on. While I was drawing the strip I was trying to imagine the story as an RKO production, a hybrid of two island films—The Most Dangerous Game and King Kong—and Orson Welles’ unmade Heart of Darkness. These references, many of which aren’t very obvious, were largely for my own amusement. The series I created with David Britton that followed the Lovecraft strips, Reverbstorm, puts assemblage and cultural reference at the forefront.

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Cover art is my illustration for Remnants from Lovecraft’s Monsters, edited by Ellen Datlow.

The Cthulhu strip and the Reverbstorm series—now collected as Lord Horror: Reverbstorm—are the subject of a very perceptive piece by Benjamin Noys in the latest edition of Genre, an academic journal published by Duke University Press. This number of the journal is a kind of Weird special edited by Benjamin Noys and Timothy S. Murphy. Noys’ Full Spectrum Offence: Savoy’s Reverbstorm and the Weirding of Modernity is the final article in a publication that examines aspects of the “Old Weird” (ie: the Lovecraft-era Weird Tales) and contrasts it with the more recent “New Weird”. The latter was a short-lived label coined by M. John Harrison in 2003 for a range of fiction that was ignoring genre boundaries, and consciously developing the Weird as a project. China Miéville was one of the most visible proponents of the New Weird, and Harrison’s term emerged in part as a response to Miéville’s fiction. Miéville is interviewed in this issue of Genre where, as usual, he has some very worthwhile things to say. He prefers the term “haute Weird” for the original manifestation, possibly because it avoids the negative connotations of the word “old”.

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A spread from part 7 of Reverbstorm.

Benjamin Noys’ article is lengthy and resists easy summary, but it begins by investigating the way my work on the Lovecraft strips permeated the Lord Horror comics and dictated some of the imagery, in particular the architectural forms and eruptions of monstrosity. Later discussion concerns the way that Reverbstorm forces the Weird and Modernism together, a collision that I believe is still unique anywhere, never mind in the comics medium. Noys’ piece has given me a lot to think about, not least for its being the first substantial critical appraisal of Reverbstorm. The series is a difficult one, being deliberately excessive and avant-garde, and presenting the reader with a torrent of interrelating cultural references. Many of these are itemised in the appendix but the success (or not) of their working together, and the potential sparking of connections, depends very much on the prior knowledge of the individual reader. Noys is not only knowledgeable but adept at forging his own connections while situating the series in the larger context of the Weird, old (or haute) and new. Even without the inclusion of my work inside the journal and on the cover, I’d recommend this issue of Genre to anyone with an interest in the subject. One of the reasons I favour the Weird as a chosen work label is the way it evades (or ignores) generic boundaries. Years ago I realised that many of the things I liked the best in the arts were the chimeras, those works that transgress boundaries and created new hybrids. No surprise then that I enjoy a genre that refuses easy definition. There aren’t many masts I pin my colours to but the Weird is one of them.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Weird

 


Weekend links 328

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Feathers and Weights (2016) by Susan Jamison.

• The latest release from A Year In The Country is No More Unto The Dance, “a reflection of nightlife memories and the search for the perfect transportative electronic beat”.

Depero Futurista (1927), the bolted book showcasing the artistic work of Fortunato Depero, returns in a facsimile edition.

• This week in the occult: Sam Kean on 21st-century alchemists, and a second volume of The Occult Activity Book.

How could so many jazz critics have overlooked Davis’s powerful trumpet playing on Bitches Brew, and its continuities with his previous work? The reason for their bewilderment was, in large part, the brew, the music’s muddy electric bottom, which bore no resemblance to the jazz they knew. Davis had never been a pure bopper, but his music had always made allusion, however oblique, to the grammar of Parker and Gillespie. On Bitches Brew, Davis decisively broke with his roots in bop. As [George] Grella argues, building on the pivotal work of Greg Tate and Paul Tingen, the more revealing points of comparison were no longer to be found in jazz but in the psychedelic guitar of Jimi Hendrix, the warbled vocals of Sly Stone, and the bass lines of James Brown.

Adam Shatz on Miles Davis

Daniel Wenger on Bob Mizer, “the obsessive photographer behind America’s first gay magazine”.

The Hauntings at Tankerton Park, a book of words and very detailed drawings by Reggie Oliver.

• A 40-minute performance by Pentangle for Norwegian television in 1968.

Maisie Skidmore on ten things you may not know about René Magritte.

• Shirley Collins is the secret queen of England, says Nick Abrahams.

Eighth Climate: ethnographic recordings from the imaginal world.

Pasquale Iannone on five ways to recognise a Pasolini film.

The greatest record sleeves, as chosen by the designers.

Cosmic Horror, new comics work by Ibrahim R. Ineke.

• Mix of the week: FACT mix 569 by S U R V I V E.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: 47 unmade films.

Cosmic Dancer (1971) by T. Rex | Cosmic Slop (1973) by Funkadelic | Cosmic Tango (1973) by Ash Ra Tempel

 


Portraits of futures past

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Since blogging here has become sporadic I find myself continually playing catch-up. Recent arrivals in the book department have included two art-related items that feature work of mine. The first is the catalogue for the Things To Come exhibition which ended last month at the Petach Tikva Museum of Art, Israel. When I posted photos of the exhibition back in May I was wondering about the identity of the curious iridescent structure occupying the gallery floor. This turns out to be a piece from 2015 by Netaly Aylon entitled Armour (Disappearing Methods). The same artist is also responsible for the cover of the catalogue, an homage to SF illustrator Frank R. Paul. I’ve always admired the wild inventiveness of Paul’s work so approve of the choice. There’s more Paul (and many other artists, past and present) inside the catalogue.

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The booklet design by Yon Shavit cleverly solves the need to present bi-lingual information by having the English text run from the front while the Hebrew equivalent runs from the back. The artist pages feature both languages.

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Book design by Emmanuel Dubois.

The other arrival was Portraits de Dorian Gray: Le texte, le livre, l’image by Xavier Giudicelli, a lavish, 404-page study from the Presses de l’université Paris-Sorbonne examining representations of Dorian Gray across various media. Xavier had already written about my illustrations based of Oscar Wilde’s novel for a French academic journal, Imaginaires. The book reprises that piece in the wider context of the many other adaptations of the novel. The text is French so much of the discussion is beyond me but the pictorial content is profuse, and includes many illustrations I’ve never seen before. Xavier says he’s already had an enquiry about a possible English edition so I’m hoping this goes ahead.

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In addition to reproducing two of my pages from the Graphic Canon adaptation, Xavier illustrates my comments with photos of Whistler’s Peacock Room and Sargent’s portrait of W. Graham Robertson, a painting I used as the model for Basil Hallward’s portrait.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
More Things to Come
Things to Come
Foreign appearances
Picturing Dorian Gray

 


Weekend links 327

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The Green Knight Arrives by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Part of a series based on the theme of Gawain and the Green Knight.

• RIP Don Buchla, inventor of the Buchla Electronic Musical Instrument (or simply Buchla to aficionados). The early Buchlas were produced contemporaneously with the Moogs but never achieved an equivalent popularity. Morton Subotnick was an early serious player, using one of the first Buchlas to record Silver Apples Of The Moon in 1967. By coincidence, this month has seen the release of Sunergy, an album created by two Buchla enthusiasts, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani, the latter having been a Buchla player for many years. Sean Hellfritsch made a 25-minute film of the pair playing their machines, while they talked about their collaboration to Danny Riley.

• Erik Davies talks to occult book-dealer Todd Pratum about rejected knowledge, growing up Californian, book synchronicities, and the loss of knowledge in the age of the Internet.

• Mix of the week (month, year, etc) is undoubtedly this 12-hour history of Spiritual Jazz. Less intimidating (and more eclectic) is an exclusive mix by Fenriz for The Wire.

• More electronica: (The Microcosm): Visionary Music of Continental Europe, 1970–1986, another quality music collection from Light In The Attic.

Flying Saucers Are Real! is a history of 20th-century UFOdom by Jack Womack. Related: A map of the last remaining Flying Saucer Homes.

• Coming soon from the Ghost Box label, Peel Away The Ivy by The Pattern Forms. Jon Brooks gives an account of the album’s creation.

• Uri Bram meets computer scientist David Chapman to discuss the limits of formal learning, or why robots can’t dance.

Andrew Male on Julius Eastman: the groundbreaking composer America almost forgot.

Ship found in Arctic 168 years after doomed Northwest Passage attempt.

Anna Cafolia on the resurgence of witchcraft in 1970s Britain.

• Welcome to the Austronesian Embassy of Anaphoria Island.

Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top chooses some favourite records.

A profusion of Marty Feldman links.

• The Flying Saucer Pts 1 & 2 (1956) by Buchanan And Goodman | Flyin’ Saucers Rock’nRoll (1957) by Billy Lee Riley and The Little Green Men | Flying Saucers Have Landed (1972) by Paul St. John

 


Mapping the Boroughs

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Alan Moore’s magnum opus, Jerusalem, is published today so I can talk at last about my small involvement with this huge novel. The request came through just before Christmas last year: Alan and his publishers, Knockabout Comics, wished to know whether I could create a map for the endpapers of the book. Not a flat street plan, but a bird’s eye view (in isometric or axonometric projection) of the now-demolished area of Northampton known as the Boroughs. The area still exists today under this name but Jerusalem concentrates on the region as it was when Alan was living there as a child: a dense labyrinth of houses, shops and a few small factories dating back to the 19th century, with many older buildings among them. This was the oldest area of the town, having originally grown up around Northampton Castle, a structure that was demolished gradually over the past few hundred years. Some of the street names in the Boroughs recall this history: Castle Street, Fort Street, Moat Street, Castle Terrace, etc.

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Compton Street a few years before demolition.

I immediately agreed to the request, of course, while swallowing heavily at what I was sure would be a demanding task. Looking at the crude street plan that Tony from Knockabout sent through, and examining the available maps on local history websites, it was evident that this was going to be a difficult technical challenge. Difficult, but not impossible if I could get hold of accurate maps of the area, which is what I did shortly after the Christmas break.

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The Boroughs mapped by Ordnance Survey, 1899.

There’s a wonderful publishing company, Alan Godfrey Maps, that specialises in reprinting old Ordnance Survey charts of Britain for use by genealogists and local historians. I’ve had some of their maps of Manchester city centre for years, so I knew they’d be ideal if they covered the relevant area of the town. Fortunately for my purposes, they publish two 1899 25-inch-to-the-mile maps of Northampton town centre which cover the whole of the Boroughs. When the maps arrived I scanned them at high-resolution then stitched them together; the top of the Boroughs extends onto the lower part of the map of northern Northampton. After scanning, it was a case of tracing all the streets and the outline of every single building in the area in order to create a plan that was much more accurate than any of the vague plans available online.

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When I began work I had the idea of widening all of the streets in order to have legible street names running along the roads, a common practice among mapmakers who draw city plans. (The map of New York City that Alan and Dave Gibbons used when creating Watchmen is a good example.) However, widening the roads (or diminishing the scale of the buildings) would have risked important landmarks appearing too small, and there were other potential problems looming, so I decided to play safe and keep to the map scale.

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The biggest headache after solving the accuracy of the roads and buildings was what to do about the roofs. It wasn’t too difficult to elevate the ground plan once I had it tilted at a suitable angle: the elevation was achieved by making about 12 copies of the ground plan which are stacked one on top of the other. The first layer was run through the bas relief filter in Photoshop in order to give it some depth and shadow. This had the result of shadowing the building walls so they resembled solid three-dimensional blocks when enough layers were stacked together.

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So all the streets and buildings are accurate up to a point. One inaccuracy is that all the buildings except for the churches are the same height, something that was unavoidable without invention. And there’s no representation of the slight hills which raise the streets in places. As for the roofs, these are mostly speculation. I’d thought at first that I might be able to save time by copying and pasting a generic roof shape but the streets are too meandering, and the building plans are too varied. The only solution was to put a copy of the roofless map into Illustrator then draw every single part of every single roof by hand: over 4500 vector pieces in all. By examining Google’s satellite pictures of the undemolished fringes of the old Boroughs I was able to guess how the some of the roofs might have worked together. At the beginning of the novel there’s repeated mention of the word “angles” (and its confusion with “angels”) so it now seems fitting that I spent the best part of a week drawing so many angles on the map. It would have been nice to also put chimneys on each house, and doors and windows (and add fences and pavements…), but if I’d started doing that I’d probably be finishing the work about now. Louis Bretez spent two years drawing the Turgot Map of Paris; I had deadlines pressing so had to get mine finished in five weeks.

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The map is based on the area as it was in 1899 but some of the landmarks are anachronisms. Alan’s story covers the past and present of the area so The Destructor, for example, wasn’t built until the 1920s. This is the building with the smoking chimney, one of several “municipal destructors” (incinerators) built around Britain at the time. The high-rise blocks of Beaumont Court and Claremont Court are even more out-of-time, having been built in 1962. It’s not so obvious from the printed map but these have a slightly ghostly presence since they don’t fit into the streets of the older Boroughs at all. Beaumont Court was built across Scarletwell Street so if you visit the area today you’ll find a block of flats at the end of a street that used to run from the houses where Alan grew up (on St Andrew’s Road) down to the Mayorhold.

A tough assignment, then, but it worked out in the end. It’s been an immense honour being asked to contribute to such a major novel.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Maps of Midtown Manhattan
The Turgot Map of Paris
Art is magic. Magic is art.
Alan Moore: Storyteller
Alan Moore: Tisser l’invisible
Dodgem Logic #4

 


 


 

Coulthart Books

    The Haunter of the Dark
    Reverbstorm

 


 

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