Picturing Vermilion Sands

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First UK edition, 1971. Art by Brian Knight.

Vermilion Sands (1971) is a story collection by JG Ballard which maintains a cult reputation even while being overshadowed by its author’s more popular (and notorious) novels. Most of the stories were written in the 1960s, and a couple of the pieces are among Ballard’s earliest works, but where many of his other short stories can read like the work of a writer with bills to pay, the tales of Vermilion Sands are much closer to Ballard’s core interests, filled with symbolic resonance and literary allusion.

Vermilion Sands, the place, is a near-future resort with a desert climate and an unspecified location, where the Côte d’Azur meets Southern California but the ocean is a sea of sand. The inhabitants are the idle midde-class types who populate all of Ballard’s work, and each story has a different artistic or cultural theme. Ballard was more receptive to visual art, especially painting, than many authors, particularly the SF writers of his generation for whom art was less interesting than science and technology. There is science and technology in these stories (some of the latter is now inevitably dated) but it doesn’t dominate the proceedings. The stories derive less from scientific speculation than from Ballard’s desire to create a future he would have been happy to inhabit himself, an alternative to the grim dystopias which proliferate in science fiction. The background furnishings also reflect the author’s ideal, owing much to the Surrealist landscapes of Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst, a pair of artists whose works are often referenced in Ballard’s fiction. Given all of this you’d expect that cover artists might have risen to the challenge more than they have. What follows is a look at the more notable attempts to depict Vermilion Sands or its population, only a few of which are covers for the book itself.

Continue reading “Picturing Vermilion Sands”

Weekend links 479

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Cover art by Mike Hinge.

• “[The Family] is an unforgettable fusion of journalism and poetic prose that still holds up precisely because it has no use for category, for genre, or for being anything other than its own unique, obsessive self.” Sarah Weinman on how Ed Sanders wrote the definitive account of the Manson murders.

• “The best-known detail of Sartre’s bad trip is Simone de Beauvoir’s anecdote of him being haunted for weeks after by lobster-like creatures scuttling just beyond his field of vision.” Mike Jay on Jean-Paul Sartre (and Walter Benjamin) under the influence of mescaline.

• The MGM film of The Wizard of Oz had its US premiere 80 years ago today. Of Oz the Wizard is a cut-up of the entire film by Matt Busy which rearranges every piece of dialogue (and all the credits) alphabetically.

• “The screenwriter Nagisa Oshima complained that Mishima’s suicide ‘failed to satisfy our Japanese aesthetic’ because it was ‘too elaborate.'” Anna Sherman on Yukio Mishima in Ichigaya.

• “Anarchists don’t like restrictive labels, including the word ‘anarchism’.” Terry Eagleton reviewing The Government of No One by Ruth Kinna.

• At Strange Flowers: Schloss Zwickledt, home of artist and author Alfred Kubin.

• More French music: Zeuhl collection, a list of recommended listening.

• Caro C on Janet Beat, a pioneer of British electronic music.

John Boardley on pomp, type and circumstance.

10 Goth cheeses and what to pair with them.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Peter Sellers Day.

Longing, Love, Loss by Majeure.

The Lobster (1968) by Fairport Convention | Death Valley 69 (1985) by Sonic Youth | Return To Oz (2004) by Scissor Sisters

The Righteous One

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Another week, another new book cover. Author Neil Perry Gordon was in touch earlier this year asking if I could create something for his latest novel set in New York City. Gordon’s previous novels have been historical narratives about the city’s Jewish community; The Righteous One (subtitled “A Cobbler’s Journey into the Dreamworld and Beyond”) follows suit but is slightly different in having more of a fantasy theme:

The Righteous One is the story of Moshe the cobbler, a gentle, sixty-year-old tzaddik—a righteous and saintly Jew—who is called upon to rekindle his divine connection to the Almighty in order to destroy the notorious New York gangster and rasha Solomon Blass, a man who uses his power of foreseeing events via his vivid dreams to advance his own financial interests.

For a guide to the visual content I was given this illustration from Camille Flammarion’s L’Atmosphère: Météorologie Populaire (1888), a picture whose antiquated appearance has often led it to be taken as a much older engraving. It’s also one of those occult or mystical illustrations you see reproduced in many books about magic or the supernatural without any reference to its origin.

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Neil’s request was for his book cover to show a similar barrier between the worlds with his cobbler character being caught between the wake world and the dream world. An engraved style wouldn’t have suited a story set in New York City (even the NYC of the recent past) but I also didn’t want the cover to look like a piece of typical fantasy art filled with Photoshop mists and translucent layers. The final design is modelled on the bolder art styles of Tarot cards, hence the flattened perspective, simplified colouring and distinct outlines. I spent some time researching old New York for this one as I wanted the buildings and street lamps to look accurate. Did you know those old “bishop’s crook” lamps come in a variety of different shapes? I didn’t until working on this.

The Righteous One will be published next month as a Kindle paperback.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Les Terres du Ciel

Weekend links 478

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Poster by Tadanori Yokoo for The Trip (1967).

• Post of the week is this long-overdue introduction by Warren Hatter to the French rock and electronic music of the 1970s and 80s, a variety of Continental culture which has never commanded the same level of interest in the Anglophone world as its German equivalent. The music made in Germany in the 1970s became popular in Britain thanks to record labels UA and Virgin, and support from enthusiasts like John Peel, but the label “Krautrock” demonstrates how even a favourable form could be promoted in a manner not much better than a tabloid slur. French underground music, as Hatter notes, was never recognised enough to be explicitly labelled although the term “Eurorock” was common for a while in the UK music press, useful for avoiding the slurs while also ignoring national boundaries. Now that German music of the period has been thoroughly explored, resurrected and plundered, more attention may be given to the musicians across la Manche.

Related: Eurock, the long-running distributor/publisher/website/podcast; David Elliott’s Neumusik fanzine, 1979–82; Richard Pinhas: Electronique Guerilla – A Profile by Tony Mitchell; and (linked here before) a Discogs list, French Underground Rock—1967/1980.

• More music: The Flower Called Nowhere, a previously unreleased instrumental version by Stereolab, and Midsummer’s Queen by Meadowsilver.

• Hard Time for the Hardcore: Nick Pinkerton on the pleasure of long feature films, and a decent article once you’re past the stupid sub-heading.

• Coming soon from Strange Attractor Press: Bass, Mids, Tops, An Oral History of Sound System Culture by Joe Muggs & Brian David Stevens.

Anthony Quinn reviews It Gets Me Home, This Curving Track, Ian Penman’s collection of music essays.

Bajo el Sigo de Libra on the art of Touko Valio Laaksonen, better known as Tom of Finland.

• Territory of Dreams: Becca Rothfeld on the world of Bruno Schulz.

• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 601 by Sa Pa.

• RIP Richard Williams, master animator.

A trailer for The Trip. RIP Peter Fonda.

The Trip (1966) by Donovan | Trippin’ Out (1967) by Something Wild | The Trip (1968) by Park Avenue Playground

The Fallen King’s Penitent Soldier

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Despite having been busy throughout this year I’ve not updated my website for a while so this is the first of several posts intended to remedy the situation. It’s also a dismaying entry since it not only sees the end of this series of gay romance titles by Megan Derr but also the end of the publisher, Less Than Three, who closed their doors a couple of months ago. The sombre appearance of The Fallen King’s Penitent Soldier (which I completed late last year) seems in retrospect like an omen. Gloom aside, I was pleased with the way this series evolved, with each cover posing a challenge in how to maintain the format while working a new variation on the theme.

There are more new book covers still to come, and—when I can find the time—some news of a personal project of my own. As with previous posts about Megan’s series, I’ve included the rest of the covers below.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
The Mercenaries of the Stolen Moon
The Heart of the Lost Star
Tales of the High Court