Weekend links 588

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Gerry Barney’s logo for British Rail. A page from the British Rail Corporate Identity Manual (1965).

• RIP Russ Kick, writer, editor, and founder of many websites/blogs such as Rare Erotica, Books Are People Too and (notoriously) the several iterations of The Memory Hole, a space dedicated to keeping visible information that successive US governments would have preferred to remain unseen. I’d known Russ remotely for many years, initially as a reviewer of the Savoy comics in Outposts. Savoy Books later helped find him a publisher for Psychotropedia: A Guide to Publications on the Periphery, a wide-ranging overview of alternative/underground print culture in the late 1990s. In 2004 his information activism gave him a fleeting taste of world-wide attention when he forced the Bush administration to make public the photos of flag-draped coffins returning from Iraq. The scandal put his name on the front pages of newspapers that should have been finding those photos for themselves instead of cheerleading the war. A run of books for Disinformation presented his archival researches for the general reader, then in 2012 he edited The Graphic Canon, a massive three-volume collection of comics and illustrations based on classic works of literature. I was among the many contributors to the latter with an adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray, and would have worked on the follow-up collection of crime stories if I hadn’t been busy with other things. I had hoped that we might work together again in the future.

• “‘The new mainstream has attempted to erase the innovations of the avant-garde from jazz history,’ the film declares.” Geeta Dayal reviews Fire Music, a documentary about the jazz innovations of the 1960s.

• I don’t have the hardware to play this but Sable is a new computer game from Raw Fury whose design owes much to the desert landscapes seen in comics by Moebius.

• New/old music: Stealing Sheep and The Radiophonic Workshop reimagine the score for René Laloux’s animated science-fiction film La Planète Sauvage.

• At Spine: Savannah Cordova on how to perfect your book cover’s typography. Having recently designed an all-type cover design this is timely.

• Mixes of the week: Isolatedmix 113 by Sunju Hargun, XLR8R Podcast 714 by Soela, and Holograficzne Widmo ze Bart De Paepe by David Colohan.

• “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Gerry Barney, designer of the British Rail logo, doesn’t like the green reworking of his design.

• Scottish lord goes blood simple: a teaser for The Tragedy of Macbeth by Joel Cohen and some bloke called William Shakespeare.

• “It’s unmanageable.” Ellen Peirson-Hagger on how the vinyl industry reached breaking point.

Macbeth (1973) by John Cale | Rail (1994) by Main | Logotone (2013) by Steve Moore

Gioconda of the Mausoleum

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“MAGIC REALISM • Like the video technique of “keying in” where any background may be electronically inserted or deleted independently of foreground, the ability to bring the actual sound of musics of various epochs and geographical origins all together in the same compositional frame marks a unique point in history. • A trumpet, branched into a chorus of trumpets by computer, traces the motifs of the Indian raga DARBARI over Senegalese drumming recorded in Paris and a background mosaic of frozen moments from an exotic Hollywood orchestration of the 1950’s [a sonic texture like a “Mona Lisa” which, in close up, reveals itself to be made up of tiny reproductions of the Taj Mahal], while the ancient call of an AKA pygmy voice in the Central African Rainforest—transposed to move in sequences of chords unheard of until the 20th century—rises and falls among gamelan-like cascades, multiplications of a single “digital snapshot” of a traditional instrument played on the Indonesian island of JAVA, on the other side of the world.” — Jon Hassell

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Jon Hassell’s text is part of the sleeve note for his Aka—Darbari—Java (Magic Realism) album which was released on Editions EG in 1983. The description of a picture of the Mona Lisa made from tiny reproductions of the Taj Mahal always intrigued me even though it’s only a shorthand metaphor for the sampling process, as well as being an encapsulation in miniature of one aspect of Hassell”s “Fourth World” concept: the blending of East and West, the sacred and the profane. Nevertheless, 20 years ago—17th May, 2001, according to the date on the file—after realising that Photoshop allowed the creation of just this kind of mosaic imagery, I decided to try and bring Hassell’s metaphor to digital life.

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The end result in its full-size version looks at a distance like an ordinary halftone rendering of the painting but it really is made of tiny images of the Taj Mahal, albeit very rough ones since the process always resulted in a bitmap image. So much time has elapsed I’ve forgotten the procedural details although I do recall the involvement of one of those legacy features of Photoshop that most people ignore, possibly the Apply Image function. And I only did this at all because I’d found a tutorial somewhere that described how to create a mosaic image in this manner. The resulting picture wasn’t particularly satisfying but as a proof of concept it did at least work.

Continue reading “Gioconda of the Mausoleum”

Heartbreak Hotel

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Number One: Teen Angels in Anguish. Cover by Barry Kamen.

Among the recent uploads at the Internet Archive is a complete run of Heartbreak Hotel, a British magazine six issues of which were published in 1988. (More or less…I think the first issue may have appeared at the end of 1987.) Heartbreak Hotel differed from other bi-monthly publications by being predominantly a comics magazine, but it also differed from other comics magazines by a) having the contents of each issue themed to follow a different musical genre, b) running articles by and interviews with people who had little or no connection to the comics world, and c) being a lot more openly sympathetic towards gay men and lesbians than any other magazine aimed at a general readership. The latter stance was a political one in 1988. This was the year when the Thatcher government, growing hubristic after a third election win, passed a Local Government Act whose notorious Section 28 prevented authorities from “promoting homosexuality”. The clause was designed to prevent Labour-run councils from funding gay and lesbian support groups, as well as to stop teachers from mentioning homosexuality in sex education lessons. The editors of Heartbreak Hotel, Don Melia and Lionel Gracey-Whitman, were a gay couple, so the magazine stood against the repressive atmosphere of the time without being too polemical or too serious. The polemic was more overt in affiliated publications Strip AIDS, a benefit comic for the London Lighthouse (a residential and daycare centre for people with AIDS), and AARGH (or Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia), a collection of comics taking a stand against Section 28 which was the first publication from Alan Moore’s Mad Love imprint.

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The other notable feature of Heartbreak Hotel was the attention it gave to new artists, to women artists, or to people who weren’t drawing generic action/adventure strips. The first two issues appeared while I was working on the last pages of my adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu so I sent the magazine some sample pages and was subsequently invited to meet the editors at the launch of the next issue in London. I spent a somewhat nervous weekend in the capital; this was my first introduction to the wider comics world, and my introversion in those days was a lot more pronounced among strangers than it is today. I met Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie for the first time (separately—they weren’t a couple at that time), and was amused when Don made a point of telling me that he and Lionel were gay, something he evidently felt he had to declare even though it had been (for me, at least) quite obvious from the editorial stance of Heartbreak Hotel, as well as the camp graphics scattered throughout the magazine’s pages, and the fact that the publisher was co-named “Willyprods”.

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Dave Gibbons spills the beans in issue one.

The format of the magazine was established in the first issue: five or six strips based on songs that suited that issue’s theme, together with interviews or features, some of which also matched the theme. “Spill It!!” was a regular feature in which a different artist had a page to create an autobiographical piece in strip form, and there was also a column about comics and related matters by artist/writer Trina Robbins. I’d initially hoped to draw something for the psychedelic issue but by the time I posted my photocopies that number was already being prepared for print. I did turn up in the fourth issue, however, in a short news piece which announced the publication of the Caemaen Books edition of my Haunter of the Dark strip.

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Also from issue one, Alan Moore recounts his trip to the USA.

A more important outcome from my journey to London was Lionel’s offer to run The Call of Cthulhu in BLAAM, a spin-off comic that Willyprods/Small Time Ink was planning. Heartbreak Hotel had been inundated with work by talented newcomers so rather than make them wait for a slot in the parent magazine the editors decided to launch another title to provide an additional outlet for new creators. Lionel had been very impressed with my Lovecraft story, and also assisted with its conclusion when he suggested that I add an extra page to help the pacing near the end, something I did, and which I’ve been grateful for ever since. The first issue of BLAAM, printed on tabloid-size newsprint sheets, came bundled with issue five of Heartbreak Hotel. The idea was that BLAAM would continue separately as a free publication thanks to a combination of low production costs, advertising, and Don Melia’s contacts at Titan Distribution. This was all very exciting, especially when two more issues of BLAAM appeared soon after. My strip was slated to run in number four or five but Willyprods/Small Time Ink didn’t publish anything more after December 1988. I was disappointed by this but not for long. A year later I’d started working on the Savoy comics, and Steve Bissette offered to publish the Cthulhu strip in Lovecraft Lives, a book he was planning for Kevin Eastman’s new enterprise, Tundra Publishing. That one didn’t work out either—the stars weren’t right for a variety of reasons—but all this attention, and the enthusiasm shown by everyone involved with Heartbreak Hotel, made the comics world seem like a good place to be. For a while, anyway.

Continue reading “Heartbreak Hotel”

Fire works

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Glowing in the intermittent spring sunshine, the new hardback, paperback and bonus postcard of Alan Moore’s Voice of the Fire from Knockabout. The postcard is signed by the author, and only available with the hardbacks which are a limited run of 300 copies. Top Shelf will be publishing the book in the US (and also using my cover art) but I don’t know whether they’ll be following suit with signed cards. Anyone wanting more information about both editions is advised to check the publishers’ websites.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Voice of the Fire by Alan Moore

The Devourer Below

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Another week, another cover design. This is the third cover of mine for the Arkham Horror line from Aconyte Books, a fiction series which complements the Lovecraftian Arkham Horror game:

Something monstrous has come to Arkham, Massachusetts. There have always been shadows here, but now a new hunger has risen from the depths and threatens those who dwell here. But there are heroes too—people who stand up and fight to stem the tide, even when it costs them everything. Explore eight shocking new tales of occult horror, captivating mystery, and existential fear—from a zealous new heroine to conniving cultists, bootleg whiskey to night terrors, and fiends that crawl from open graves. A nightmare has fallen across Arkham, and it will devour all.

As with the earlier titles I’ve worked on, The Last Ritual and Litany of Dreams, the general style is Art Deco in keeping with the period in which the game and the stories are set. The new cover worked out especially well thanks to the brief which suggested extending the triangle that appears on the previous covers so that it became a frame for a deer skull bedecked like a ritual artefact. This created a little more space for the requisite character panels, the figures here being an underworld investigator and a lycanthropic asylum inmate, both of whom feature in the game. The brief also requested that Arkham be represented somewhere, so I spent a lot of time drawing a view over the gambrel rooftops of the haunted town, only to shrink the panel down to a size which loses much of the detail. It may be a miniature view but it’s like one of those special effects shots you see in a film, something you know must have taken a lot of work to achieve but which is only visible for a few seconds; a minor presence that adds to the texture of the whole. And the view of nocturnal architecture provides a further link with the previous covers.

The Devourer Below will be available in ebook and US paperback in July, with a UK paperback following in September.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Litany of Dreams
The Last Ritual