The hundred-year Voyage

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Today’s post at Wormwoodiana reminds me that David Lindsay’s unique novel of philosophical fantasy, A Voyage to Arcturus, was published a hundred years ago today. I designed a lavish reprint for Savoy Books in 2002, an edition which unfortunately used the re-edited text from earlier reprints instead of going to the original publication. This wasn’t done for lack of a first edition, it was more out of ignorance—nobody bothered to look into the history of the text—as well as convenience; Savoy’s earlier reprinting of Anthony Skene’s Monsieur Zenith the Albino had involved many weeks of text preparation, scanning pages from a photocopy of Skene’s very scarce novel, then running the copy through rudimentary OCR software and proofing the result. In Savoy’s slight defence, the reprint of Arcturus did correct a couple of typos that everyone else had missed.

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I still think the best feature of my design was the selection of Jean Delville’s remarkable Symbolist painting, The Treasures of Satan (1895), a picture used with the permission of the Brussels Museum of Fine Art. (They supplied us with a print of the painting together with a photo of Delville’s Angel of Splendour (1894) for the back cover.) With the exception of Bob Pepper’s artwork for the 1968 Ballantine paperback, previous reprints of the novel seldom reflected the contents on their covers. I’m no longer happy with the type layout on the rest of the dust-jacket, however, although the front cover looks okay. The Savoy edition included an introduction by Alan Moore, an afterword by Colin Wilson, a collection of philosophical aphorisms by David Lindsay, plus a couple of photos of the author which I don’t think had been published before. Despite its flaws, the book was well-received. The paper was heavier stock than is generally used for hardback fiction which made for a heavy and expensive volume but the edition still sold out.

Penguin are reprinting the novel next year in an edition which continues the tradition of unsuitable cover art. According to Lindsay site The Violet Apple the figure on the cover is from an illustration for a Dostoevsky novella, so what is it doing on Lindsay’s book? Cover art aside, the novel is in a class of its own, and very highly recommended.

Previously on { feuilleton}
The art of Bob Pepper
Masonic fonts and the designer’s dark materials

Robot Artists and Black Swans

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Four years ago I designed and illustrated a book for Tachyon written by Bruce Sterling, Pirate Utopia. Robot Artists and Black Swans is a kind of sequel, being the work of the same author for the same publisher, and with a similar geographical focus on southern Europe. The new book differs from the earlier one by being a collection of stories rather than a single piece, many of which are set in or near the city of Turin where Sterling and his wife, Jasmina Tesanovic, spend much of their time. Sterling has been living in Europe for many years, long enough to have cultivated an alter-ego, Bruno Argento, an Italian science-fiction writer who is offered as the real author of the stories in Robot Artists and Black Swans.

Pirate Utopia was an easy book to design because of the Futurist theme which I illustrated by adapting graphics by artist and designer Fortunato Depero. For the cover of the new volume I considered trying something similar with another Italian artist/designer, Franco Grignani (1980–1999). In addition to having studied in Turin, Grignani was commissioned by David Pelham to create cover art for a handful of Penguin science fiction titles in the late 1960s. Much of Grignani’s artwork is heavily indebted to the Op Art style popularised by Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely, especially the early Riley formula of dazzling arrangements of parallel lines, a formula he made his own after Riley’s work evolved in other directions. Despite these favourable qualities, Grignani’s art proved too abstract for my purposes, and for Tachyon’s who wanted something more illustrative, so I ended up co-opting a very different Italian artist/designer, Leonardo da Vinci. The figure of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man has been parodied and pastiched many times so this isn’t remotely original (I’ve also used the original drawing on a pastiche book cover I designed for the Lambshead Disease Guide), but making the figure a robot was a convenient way of combining the title with Italian history. One of the stories in the collection, Pilgrims of the Round World, concerns the inhabitants of Turin during the Renaissance years, and mentions Leonardo (or “the Vinci boy”) several times, so the figure does have some actual relevance beyond being recognisably Italian. The background is, of course, the city of Turin given a slightly futuristic tweak, although it’s more Turinesque than a match for the place itself.

As usual, I’ll save discussion of the book’s interior until after publication which will be in March, 2021. Watch this spacetime.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling
Futurismo!

Jodorowsky times three, or The box that never was

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The first three feature films by Alejandro Jodorowsky—Fando y Lis, El Topo and The Holy Mountain—are released this week on Region B blu-ray by Arrow Video, but the box they’re packaged in won’t look like any of the designs shown here. It was almost three years ago that Arrow asked me to create something for this box set, but backstage wrangles meant the project moved out of my hands in the early stages. This was a great disappointment since Jodorowsky’s interests and aesthetics align with my own much more than many other directors whose work has been released by Arrow. And having written the notes for the Arrow release of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Mystery of Picasso, I was looking forward to working with the company again.

In preparation for the work I rewatched almost all of Jodorowsky’s films (I still haven’t seen Tusk or The Rainbow Thief), then drew up a detailed proposal with sketches, something I seldom do for commissions. Arrow releases all have double-sided inserts in the boxes that hold the discs, one side of which shows a poster design from the film’s original release, the other a new design. My idea for the new art was to connect the three films using Tarot-like iconography (the director is a Tarot scholar, among other things), with each film also being assigned a symbol of some kind. The Surrealist fable of Fando y Lis lacks any suitable graphics so for this I chose a yin and yang symbol to represent the film’s opposed-yet-connected brother and sister characters; El Topo was to be represented by a cross-section through a revolver chamber, while the seven characters from The Holy Mountain are represented by the enneagram that Jodorowsky himself wears in the film. All three symbols are connected by the eye-in-a-triangle from El Topo, a symbol that worked while a three-film box was being planned but which wouldn’t have worked for the final release which adds Jodorowsky’s most recent film, Psychomagic, A Healing Art. For the box design I suggested metallic inks (or foils) either as highlights or in other combinations. The font was a further suggestion, Roberta being one of the typefaces of the occult revival of the 1970s. The art for each film didn’t go further than the sketch stage although I was asked to work up the El Topo design into a final piece; I wasn’t very satisfied with the end result so it isn’t posted here. One problem with the extended negotiations was they were taking place at a time when I was extremely busy with other projects, including contracted illustration work for Editorial Alma. There was no contract for the Arrow commission so it had to take second place even though it was the work I most wanted to be concentrating on at the time. Collisions such as these are an occupational hazard when you’re working freelance.

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As things turned out the stumbling block wasn’t my art and design suggestions (which Arrow liked) but the parties described in communications as “the rights-holders”. These individuals apparently disliked the Arrow Video aesthetic and wanted something more directly connected with the films, preferably photographic material which is what you now see on the discs and the box art. It should be emphasised that the rights-holders are not the director, whose wishes for the presentation of his work were never part of the discussion. Given the previous activities of the rights-holders we should probably be grateful that the first three films have been reissued at all. For details of Jodorowsky’s difficulties with one rights-holder in particular, see this interview by Jay Babcock.

On the upside (there is one!), the box set is a typically high-quality Arrow release, with new transfers of the films approved by the director. The bonuses include Jodorowsky’s short films (including his explanation of Tarot symbolism), Louis Mouchet’s feature-length documentary, La Constellation Jodorowsky (1994), soundtrack CDs of El Topo and The Holy Mountain, a small poster and set of postcards, and a substantial booklet. In the end the most important thing is that the films are available for home viewing once again, not their exterior decoration.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Fabulas Panicas by Jodorowsky
• Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune
• Jodorowsky on DVD

The Blake Video

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More from the website update. One of the pages buried in the site is an appendix to my design for Angel Passage, a William Blake-themed CD by Alan Moore and Tim Perkins that was released on Steven Severin’s Re: label in 2001. In addition to designing the CD I also created a video accompaniment for the sole performance of the piece at the Purcell Room in London in February of that year. The old web page showed screen shots of the video, and very small ones at that, so as well as updating the page itself I’ve replaced the thumbnails with the original shots.

The video was created in a rush five days before the performance, and only finished the night before I departed for London, so was rather lazily done in places. I’d just taken delivery of a new G4 Power Mac without which I wouldn’t have been able to do any video editing at all. Raw material was artwork scanned from books plus a stack of VHS tapes, including a TV documentary about Blake that provided a few relevant shots of contemporary London. Another essential component was a borrowed video player that could play both VHS and MiniDV cassettes, as well as connect to the computer. The assembled footage was recorded to a MiniDV master cassette which I still have somewhere although I’ve no idea whether it’s still viewable, and have no way to watch it in any case. Those MiniDV players had a tendency to mysteriously render their tapes unplayable which I think may have happened to my tape when I came to try and archive it after the performance. This is fitting in a way, Alan was always adamant that the music-based readings he was doing at this time were one-off events, and the video was only intended to augment the reading, not be watched away from the performance. Copies of the CD still circulate so the work hasn’t vanished altogether. Alan and Tim collaborated on three readings in this series, together with two earlier outings, The Birth Caul and (with David J) The Moon And Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre Of Marvels. We’re overdue a reissue of the entire Moon and Serpent discography.

Previously on { feuilleton }
William Blake in Manchester

Motorway cities

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The process of updating the main website meant I had to check (and double-check, etc) every single page, so I’ve been looking at more of my old artwork than usual. This 7-inch single sleeve from 1983 made me belatedly realise that the wheel-less levitating car I put on the back of Joe Banks’ Hawkwind book has an ancestor here and on the cover of the third Friends and Relations compilation that Flicknife released in 1985. The continuity was accidental but Motorway City (the song) dates from the end of the period discussed in Joe’s book so it’s good to think that a vague reference to the Levitation era can be found on the cover art.

This odd drawing dates from 1980, a year when my life was in such turmoil I’m amazed I had time to do any drawing at all. I was 18 and had already burned my way through three dead-end jobs after leaving school the year before, by which point I was agreeing with Dave Brock’s Brainstorm ad lib on the Live Seventy Nine album, “I don’t want to be employed!” This attitude led to increasing rows with my mother which in turn led me to spend more time than usual in Blackpool library. Part of the inking on the drawing was done during one of these stress-free afternoons in the library reading room. I’d guess this was shortly after I’d met the group for the first time at their Preston concert on 20th October since most of the drawings I took with me were generic space art rather than pieces derived from Hawkwind songs. They’d played Motorway City that evening (the second song according to Setlist.fm) so I’m sure I would have made a point of showing it off. I say this is an odd drawing because I’ve no idea why I made it look so obviously like a single sleeve, but it’s possible that a single release of the song from the new Levitation album had been rumoured. Whatever the explanation, this was one of the first drawings I made using my new Rotring Rapidograph pen which I used throughout the ensuing decade; one advantage of the dead-end jobs was they at least gave you enough money to afford expensive German technology. A year later, looking through a friend’s copy of Centigrade 232 by Robert Calvert, I was amused to discover a poetic complaint about the tendency of fine-nibbed Rapidograph pens to become blocked with ink. You have to treat them with care and respect, Bob.

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The car on the Friends & Relations cover wasn’t intended to be a reference to the earlier vehicle but removing the wheels was the easiest way of indicating a futuristic scene without any other overt signifiers. A shame, then, that the TV in the foreground is a cathode-ray tube in a wooden case. (And while I’m being critical, the careless use of perspective makes the car much too long.) Both these vehicles look rather graceless, as did cars in general in the late 1970s/early 1980s when there was a trend for boxy design. I’m usually indifferent to the automotive world but I could at least have borrowed some of the carapace sleekness you see in paintings by Syd Mead or Peter Jones.

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The Friends & Relations album was reissued on CD in 2014 in one of the Atomhenge CD box sets: The Flicknife Years, 1981–1988. The set includes two other albums with covers of mine: Zones and Out And Intake. Zones was a compilation of recent live recordings and a few studio outtakes that includes the version of Motorway City released as a single, together with a Michael Moorcock song that’s unique to this album (and sung by the man himself), Running Through The Back Brain.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Reality you can rely on
Hardy art
Silver machines
Notes from the Underground
Hawkwind: Days of the Underground
The artists of Future Life
Science Fiction Monthly
The Chronicle of the Cursed Sleeve
Rock shirts
The Cosmic Grill
Void City
Hawk things
The Sonic Assassins
New things for July
Barney Bubbles: artist and designer