Tom Adams book covers

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Dust jacket for The Magus (1966) by John Fowles.

I pulled my 1982 paperback of John Fowles’ The Magus from the bookshelf recently. After flicking through the pages I decided to start re-reading it, having realised that in the thirty years which have elapsed since I first read it I couldn’t remember much at all about it. One thing I did remember, however, was the cover of the first edition, a painting and design I’d admired in the past without knowing the name of the artist responsible.

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American illustrator Tom Adams is the artist in question, and looking at his painting again it further occurred to me that his cover deployed an evocative but not wholly specific assemblage of figures and objects that I’d often seen elsewhere, notably on the first edition cover of Peter Straub’s Ghost Story. So it was no great surprise to discover that Tom Adams was also responsible for that cover painting. The Fowles and Straub novels are big books which slowly reveal their layered mysteries. Adams’ approach to illustrating them strikes me as an ideal solution when neither of the novels can be easily reduced to a single image. (This hasn’t prevented subsequent designers from trying.) Fowles approved wholeheartedly of the painting but this isn’t a particularly fashionable technique at the moment, the trend being to try and condense complex narratives into a single motif.

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Cover painting for Ghost Story (1979) by Peter Straub.

Looking for more of Adams’ art tipped me into an entire world of Agatha Christie book covers which were the artist’s main body of work for many years. Adams is understandably celebrated by Christie-philes (Paper Tiger published a book of his Christie covers in 1981) but outside Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown I’ve never had much of a taste for the classic detective story so this was a previously undiscovered niche. Here Adams sidesteps the chore of painting Christie’s meddlesome sleuths in favour of a remarkable display of grotesque Surrealism which—for a sceptic such as myself—makes the books seem potentially interesting. As with The Magus and Ghost Story there’s the same assemblage of evocative figures or objects but with an additional macabre twist. Many of these covers are so grotesque they could easily function as horror illustrations so it’s no wonder he was asked to illustrate the Straub. This Flickr page has many more examples (warning: wretched user-unfriendly Flickr layout in operation) as does this site. The artist has a website where prints of The Magus painting may be purchased.

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Sirene by Raoul Servais

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Sirene (1968), a short animation by Belgian filmmaker Raoul Servais, isn’t as sinister as his nightmarish Harpya (1979), despite the similar titles. But Sirene does have a collection of anthropomorphic harbour cranes, and a flock of inexplicable pterodactyls like something out of a Gerald Scarfe cartoon. Watch it here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Harpya by Raoul Servais
Taxandria, or Raoul Servais meets Paul Delvaux

Words and pictures

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This one has been a long while gestating. Evan J. Peterson asked me late last year to contribute a cover to a new edition of Seattle’s Gay City anthology which he was editing with Vincent Kovar. In May this year the anthology successfully covered some of its production costs with a Kickstarter fund, and the anthology will have its official launch next month (although the book is on sale now). Ghosts in Gaslight, Monsters in Steam combines a loose take on steampunk themes with spectral or horror material, and adds a queer twist. The contents are as follows:

Cover art by John Coulthart
Illustrations by M S Corley and Levi Hastings
Graphic story: Paper Lantern by Jon Macy

Poetry:
from Preternatural Conversations and Oblivious Imperialism is the Worst Kind by CAConrad
Dear Dr. Frankenstein by Jericho Brown
Anaphora as Coping Mechanism and American Dreams by Ocean Vuong
Orpheus on the 74 and The Resurrection Spell by Oscar McNary
Zombie Autopsy by Janie Miller
Moon Goddess by Imani Sims

Hybrid/Flash Fiction/Prose Poetry:
Psychopomp by Lydia Swartz
Thangs by Imani Sims
The Door, Casualties of War, and The Worst is that You Can’t Even Ask Him to Use Protection by Jeremy Halinen

Short Stories:
Demon Lover by Dorothy Allison
Monster Movie by Rebecca Brown
B.E.M.s by Gregory L. Norris
Feeding Desire by Steve Berman
Medium Méchanique by Catherine Lundoff
Study in Blue, Green, and Gold by John Coulthart
A Captive Audience by Ryan Keawekane
Splinter by Ryan Crawford
The Difference Men by Kat Smalley
Alexander’s Wrath by J L Smither
Quota by Amy Shepherd
Heart of the Labyrinth by Tony Rella

This isn’t the first occasion when I’ve produced the cover for an anthology and also contributed some fiction inside—The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases included a short fiction piece—but the Gay City anthology marks the first appearance in print of anything from my ongoing Axiom project. This is a long-term endeavour which I began in March 2001 but haven’t referred to much in public, mainly because the bulk of the project to date has been written fiction. There are few words more dismaying to hear than the dread phrase “I’m writing a novel”, especially today when the activity of fiction writing seems to have undergone an exponential increase. I tend to believe that unless you’re an established author there’s little to be gained by discussing your own literary labours in public until you have some results to offer. Well, now I have.

I know some people have been curious about the Axiom project so—keeping things brief—I can say it’s two novels, one finished, the second one nearly finished. Axiom was written from 2001 to 2007, and concerns a year in the life of an invented city. It’s fantasy of a sort but closer to the world of Reverbstorm than anything you’ll find on the swords-and-dragons shelves. The idea began in the late 1990s when I was working on Reverbstorm with David Britton and realised I could easily shift the city in that book a few degrees sideways to provide a setting for my own obsessions. I’d been writing a lot of fiction in the 1980s—short stories and two unfinished novels—and wanted to return to this seriously having tired of collaborations and illustrating the work of other people. Axiom marked out some territory I wanted to explore; the new novel, Vitriol, uses the territory to stage a “psychedelic apocalypse”. The project as a whole is loose enough to evolve into other media, and eventually there should be some Axiom-related art. I’ve been working on Vitriol since August 2006 (there was some overlap while finishing the first book); my contribution to the Gay City anthology, Study in Blue, Green, and Gold, is an extract from the work-in-progress which happened to function quite well as a self-contained piece. Despite the anthology theme it’s not quite a steampunk affair but there are some steam locomotives present so it has the required flavour.

Whilst working on the new book I’ve had an agent (Leslie Gardner at Artellus) trying to sell Axiom. This would have been in print by now if the London publisher who agreed to take it 18 months ago hadn’t gone bust after they’d sent us a contract. I’ve been considering putting out a limited hardback edition of the novel, although I’m busy enough as it is, and don’t relish having to self-distribute even a small number of books. For now it’s an option that remains open.

Gay City’s own site points to Amazon for sales of Ghosts in Gaslight, Monsters in Steam so on this occasion I’ll do that too. If you’re in the Seattle area there’s a launch party on September 27th. Details here.

Update: I’ve belatedly noticed that Evan is interviewed about the anthology here.

Dr Mabuse posters

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This picture of a séance in the 1920s circulates endlessly in the Tumblr labyrinth, usually without attribution so many of the people seeing it won’t be aware that it’s a still (or a set photo) from Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (1922). Mabuse himself originates in a novel of the same name by Norbert Jacques published in 1921, the tale of a Moriarty-like super-criminal at large in Weimar-era Berlin. Lang made three films about the character, the first two of which, Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) feature Rudolf Klein-Rogge as the sinister Doctor, an actor better known today for his role as the mad scientist Rotwang in Lang’s Metropolis (1927). Testament was banned by Goebbels for being subversive. The third film, The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960), was also one of the director’s last but it managed to revive interest in the character at a time when super-criminals were coming back into vogue. Wolfgang Preiss played Mabuse in this film, and in several sequels by other directors.

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I’ve known about the Mabuse films for years, thanks in part to Lotte Eisner’s superb history of German silent cinema, The Haunted Screen (1952), yet despite this I’ve still not seen any of the films. That should change soon with the news that Eureka Video are releasing a new print of Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler on Blu-ray at the end of October, a restored version which will run for 280 minutes. The running time sounds excessive but Eisner points out that the film was originally screened in two parts: The Great Gambler: An Image of the Age, and Inferno: A Game for the People of our Age. In addition to Rudolf Klein-Rogge fixing everyone with his hawk-like glare there’s also Alfred Abel playing a weaker character than his master of the city in Metropolis. Moviemail describes Mabuse as “a criminal mastermind whose nefarious machinations are based around hypnotism, charlatanism, hallucinations, Chinese incantations, cold-blooded murder, opiate narcosis and cocaine anxiety”; how can one resist?

The posters gathered here are from a web trawl so lack the usual credits. The second film evidently had a wider distribution hence the greater quantity of posters from other countries.

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The art of Roland Cat

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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Axium, 1969).

The work of French artist Roland Cat is less Surreal—although some of it could be classed as such—than Fantastic in a manner similar to that of contemporaries such as Michel Henricot, Jean-Pierre Ugarte, Jean-Marie Poumeyrol, Gérard Trignac and others. Art of this nature receives support and encouragement from the French to a degree which often seems inversely proportional to the ignorance it receives from the Anglophone art world. For years the only example of Cat’s work I’d seen was the picture that Dave Britton used on the cover of the Savoy edition of New Worlds magazine in 1979. The examples here are the result of a web trawl, hence the missing titles and dates.

The Coleridge illustration above was for a volume that was part of a series produced by a French publisher in 1969, each edition of which was illustrated by a different artist. This forum post has more details. For more about Roland Cat see this short appraisal at Visionary Review.

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Sleep (1980).

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Dagon (Belfond, 1987).

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