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


 

The art of John Thompson

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Cosmic Trigger: Final Secret of the Illuminati (And/Or Press, 1977).

John Thompson’s detailed, mystical and erotic illustrations gained prominence in the San Francisco comic scene in the late 1960s–early 1970s, appearing in a handful of titles drawn in their entirety by Thompson or done as collaborations with local artists including Robert Crumb. But it’s as an illustrator of Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger that Thompson is probably best known, something I was reminded of recently with the opening of Daisy Campbell’s play based on Wilson’s book. Wilson had seen Thompson’s comics work, and approached him as illustrator of his (ostensibly) non-fiction sequel to the very popular Illuminatus! trilogy, an encounter that Thompson elaborates on in this interview.

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Here in the UK the comics published by Last Gasp et al weren’t always easy to find (imported comics were still being seized by UK customs into the 1990s), so Cosmic Trigger was my first introduction to Thompson’s art via a sighting of the US edition in a London shop in 1978. The UK paperback was a disappointment when it appeared a year or so later: Thompson’s cover art had been replaced with something more generic but they did at least retain the interior illustrations, albeit shrunk to fit the smaller book size. Many of the drawings in Cosmic Trigger had appeared already in Thompson’s comics which may seem surprising when they don’t resemble typical comic pages, but Thompson’s comics are unusual even compared to the undergrounds of the time. The undergrounds were most obviously radical in the wildness and excess of their content, especially where sex and drugs were concerned. But there’s a smaller subset of underground strips whose approach to narrative is so far removed from typical comic storytelling as to verge on the abstract. Victor Moscoso’s comics exemplify this style but even an ostensible traditionalist like Robert Crumb could experiment with the form (see his Cubist Bee Bop Comics in XYZ, 1972). Thompson’s comics are of this type at all times, blending motifs from a variety of myths and religions with Tantric yoga, astrology, alchemy and pop culture. When speech balloons appear they often contain allusive, esoteric phrases along with untranslated Greek or Hebrew text. It’s a beguiling mix which shows the ability of the comic book to do more than simply ape the stories of film or television. As with many other things from the late 1960s it’s a direction that hasn’t been pursued very much since.

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The interview with Thompson explains why he seemed to vanish after the work for Cosmic Trigger: he says he quit comics and illustration to become a therapist although he still creates private work. The examples here are from The Kingdom of Heaven is Within You (1969), Kukawy [sic] Comics 1 (1969; “Kukawy” is actually a Greek word meaning Cyclops), Tales from the Sphinx 2 (1972) and Eternal Comics (1973).

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Weekend links 359

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An urban scene from Yotsuba&! by manga artist Kiyohiko Azuma.

• The resurgence of interest in Alice Coltrane’s music is very welcome even if she joins for the moment the list of those artists (usually women: see Leonora Carrington) tagged by editors as “lost”, “forgotten”, “unrecognised”, etc. Alice Coltrane was only ever lost if you weren’t paying attention, and was notable enough fifteen years ago to be given the cover of The Wire magazine. Articles appearing this week have been prompted by a compilation of the devotional music that Coltrane recorded for a series of self-released cassettes in the 1980s. Geeta Dayal writes about the creation of the ashram recordings, while Stewart Smith suggests starting points for new listeners.

• Mentioned here before, but there’s now a page for the book: a new edition of Hashish (1902) by Oscar Schmitz will be published by Wakefield Press in November. “A collection of decadent, interweaving tales of Satanism, eroticism, sadism, cannibalism, necrophilia, and death”, illustrated by Alfred Kubin.

• Mixes of the week: A Dark Entries mix for the 400th issue of The Wire, Procedure, LA, April 25, 2017 by Pinkcourtesyphone, and Secret Thirteen Mix 220, a 4-hour epic by Ricardo Gomez Y De Buck.

• More off-the-beaten-path film lists: Sarah Lyons for Dirge Magazine on three occult documentaries, and Terry Ratchett for Dennis Cooper on 18 needlessly obscured avant-garde films.

• An Island of Peace: James Conway on Amanda DeMarco’s new translation of Walking in Berlin: A Flâneur in the Capital by Franz Hessel.

Ryuichi Sakamoto talks to Aaron Coultate about overcoming cancer, The Revenant and his new album, async.

Ingrid D. Rowland on Caravaggio: The Virtuoso of Compassion.

• “I think I am weirdly politically correct,” says John Waters.

Mnemonic Generator

• Berliner Nächte Part 1 (1990) by Seigen Ono | Berlinerstrasse (1995) by Coco, Steel & Lovebomb | Berlin (1998) by Pole

 


Arthur Zaidenberg’s À Rebours revisited

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Arthur Zaidenberg’s Masereel-like renderings of Decadent icon Des Esseintes appear here for the second time courtesy of a recent upload at the Internet Archive. Zaidenberg’s illustrations were for a 1931 edition of Huysmans’ novel, and the copies I linked to back in 2008 were rather fuzzy and low-res compared to these scans. The earlier collection does, however, include an additional illustration not present in the Internet Archive copy, possibly the result of the plate theft that plagues old illustrated volumes. The 1931 edition isn’t the best illustrated À Rebours by any means—the illustrations aren’t even on a par with Zaidenberg’s other work—but this is one cult novel whose treatment in any medium is liable to attract my attention.

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Weekend links 358

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Painted beetle (2016) by Akihiro Higuchi.

David Horbury: The Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition ignores the pioneering scholarship of Emmanuel Cooper, author of The Sexual Perspective: Homosexuality and Art in the last 100 years in the West (1986).

L’Androgyne Alchemique is an exhibition at the Azzedine Alaïa Gallery, Paris, by pascALEjandro, a collaboration between Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky and Alejandro Jodorowsky.

• At Strange Flowers: an interview with DJ Sheppard, biographer of poet Theodore Wratislaw (1871–1933), one of the models for Max Beerbohm’s hapless Enoch Soames.

Eloise or, the Realities is a new 122-page comic book by Ibrahim R. Ineke “inspired in part by Children of the Stones and The Owl Service“.

• Cormac McCarthy hasn’t published a novel for over ten years now but this new piece of writing addresses the mysterious origin of language.

• “…she invented a kind of symbolic code that channelled the occult and the Renaissance masters”. Yo Zushi on Leonora Carrington.

John O’Reilly on the Samuel Beckett cover designs created by Russell Mills and Gary Day-Ellison for Picador.

Porter Ricks (Thomas Köner & Andy Mellwig) have announced their first album in 18 years.

• At The Daily Grail: Alan Moore on science, imagination, language and spirits of place.

• All 66 issues of Performance Magazine (1979–1992) are now available online.

• The Throbbing Gristle catalogue is being reissued (again).

Lost Soul In Disillusion (1967) by The Power Of Beckett | Liquid Insects (1993) by Amorphous Androgynous | Biokinetics 2 (1996) by Porter Ricks

 


Die Buecher der Chronika der drei Schwestern

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Die Buecher der Chronika der drei Schwestern (The Books of the Chronicles of the Three Sisters) is a German fairy tale set down by Johann Karl August Musäus, and presented here in a 1900 edition illustrated by Heinrich Lefler and Joseph Urban. Lefler and Urban were brothers-in-law who worked as set designers as well as illustrators; Urban was also an architect who later moved to the United States. One of his extant buildings is the Mar-a-Lago in Florida but he can’t be held responsible for its current use or its present owner.

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Looking at the excellent illustrations the pair produced for this volume I’d guess that Urban concentrated on the building design which is much more elaborate and inventive than you generally see in children’s books. The selections here are mostly full-page pieces but the book is illustrated throughout, with the text flowing into and around the drawings.

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Below the fold

 

Penda's Fen by David Rudkin