{ feuilleton }


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


Illustrating Frankenstein


Frontispiece by Theodore Von Holst of the 1831 edition of Frankenstein. The monster in this illustration, which Mary Shelley would no doubt have seen, is closer to the description in the text than the myriad shambling figures that came later.

It’s a recurrent feature of commissioned work that you sometimes find yourself illustrating novels or stories you might otherwise have never attempted. Spanish publisher Editorial Alma have just added a new edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to their series of illustrated classics, convenient timing with this year being the bicentenary of the book’s first publication. Last year I produced 33 illustrations for Alma’s collection of Poe stories, as well as 3 new illustrations for a small Lovecraft collection. For their edition of Frankenstein I’ve created 24 full-page pictures, one for each chapter. (I produced 25 in total, 24 for the chapters and one for the letters at the front, but the Spanish translation is arranged slightly differently so one of the drawings has been omitted.) In the past I’ve given little consideration to illustrating classic books, preferring to look for subjects which were less familiar. Frankenstein is a book that isn’t illustrated as much as some but Lynd Ward in 1934, and Bernie Wrightson in 1977/78 both produced sufficiently exceptional sets of drawings for me to regard the novel as almost unassailable. Until last year, that is.


Frankenstein by Lynd Ward (1934).

Despite such formidable predecessors, I felt that with this book at least I might be able to offer something new using the blend of collage and drawing that I’ve been evolving recently. There was additional promise in that the story as it’s written is less familiar than the Poe stories, and much less familiar than its fellow horror classic, Dracula. People think they know Frankenstein but what they often know is the manglings the novel has received in various film and TV adaptations. The Ward and Wrightson illustrations stay close to the text, the latter being replete with period detail, and rendered in a style reminiscent of 19th-century wood engravings. Wrightson even copied two of Gustave Dore’s pictures from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner for the opening scenes on the ship, one of which went unused. But Wrightson’s drawings are closer still to Franklin Booth‘s pen-and-ink style which was also derived from wood engraving yet which achieves its effects in a different manner to the engraving process.


Frankenstein by Bernie Wrightson (1977/78).

Even when artists follow the text of Frankenstein more closely than the screenplay adapters, personal tastes can’t help manifest themselves. So Ward’s drawings reflect the angular and stylised compositions of his “novels in woodcuts”, while Wrightson’s work still shows evidence of his earlier career as a comic artist. With my illustrations I wanted to reflect the artistic spirit that gave birth to the novel, namely Romanticism. Frankenstein is very much a Romantic tragedy with violent passions set against the overwhelming landscapes of the Swiss Alps, the Rhine valley and the Arctic seas. Three of the illustrations below allude to Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings, while many of the others have had their mundane cloudscapes exchanged for gloom and tumult.

I’ve said before that one of the things I enjoy about the collage technique is being able to use engravings and other graphics from the same period (give or take a few decades) as the story itself. The disadvantage of relying on pre-existing sources is that you’re always limited by the available material, so recently I’ve been pushing the technique further to achieve a hybrid style, something midway between the Ernst/Sätty engraving-collage technique and the very laborious, heavily-shaded pen-and-ink style I used when I was drawing comics. The approach isn’t so different to the one I used in my Lovecraft comics many of whose backgrounds and other details were copied from photographs. The difference is that where I used to spend several days working on a single panel (and two weeks working on a page) I can now create an entire picture in half the time. In these new illustrations I feel the hybrid style is working as I intended, allowing me greater freedom to create the picture I have in mind rather than a picture dictated by the source material. Without incorporating original figures and other drawn elements into the compositions it would have been difficult to illustrate a story with the same characters in so many scenes, a problem I encountered when I was illustrating Lewis Carroll’s Alice books and ran out of pictures of Victorian girls.

The full run of pictures follows below, including the one which was omitted from the print edition. All may be seen at a larger size here. Since the scenes aren’t always self-explanatory I’ve included fragments of text from each chapter.


“In the morning, however, as soon as it was light, I went upon deck and found all the sailors busy on one side of the vessel, apparently talking to someone in the sea. It was, in fact, a sledge, like that we had seen before, which had drifted towards us in the night on a large fragment of ice.”


“During one of their walks a poor cot in the foldings of a vale attracted their notice as being singularly disconsolate, while the number of half-clothed children gathered about it spoke of penury in its worst shape.”

This one was omitted from the Alma edition. No loss, really, since the scene doesn’t add much to the story.


“When I returned home my first care was to procure the whole works of this author, and afterwards of Paracelsus and Albertus Magnus. I read and studied the wild fancies of these writers with delight; they appeared to me treasures known to few besides myself.”

The diagrams here are taken from some of the books the young Victor Frankenstein is reading. There’s an allusion to this in the magic square on the wall in the back of Theodore Von Holst’s frontispiece, the square being the kind of thing seen in books like this one by Cornelius Agrippa, one of the occult philosophers mentioned in the novel.

Read the rest of this entry »


Weekend links 401


TIME, June 21st 1968. Cover by Roy Lichtenstein.

• “Forget the democratic processes, the judicial system and the talent for organization that have long been the distinctive marks of the US. Forget, too, the affluence (vast, if still not general enough) and the fundamental respect for law by most Americans. Remember, instead, the Gun. That is how much of the world beyond its borders feels about the US today. All too widely, the country is regarded as a blood-drenched, continent-wide shooting range where toddlers blast off with real rifles, housewives pack pearl-handled revolvers, and political assassins stalk their victims at will.” The TIME magazine feature with the famous Roy Lichtenstein cover (prompted by the assassination of Robert Kennedy) will be fifty years old in June.

• “Where do we feel at home? What do our cities look like? How do we see? In 1908, architect and theorist August Endell set out to answer these deceptively simple questions.” Endell’s The Beauty of the Metropolis is coming from Rixdorf Editions in May.

Beardsley 120: The Death of Pierrot is a series of events in Aubrey Beardsley’s birthplace, Brighton, taking place throughout the month of March.

Like the Bloomsbury Group and the Beats, the Surrealists could be incestuous, choosing lovers from inside the circle and often remaining close to their exes. When [Max] Ernst and [Leonora] Carrington reached Paris, he introduced her to Leonor Fini, his friend and former lover. Tall, dazzling, and bejeweled, Fini cultivated a baroque theatricality; every day with her was a masked ball. Recognizing Carrington as “a revolutionary,” she claimed her as an astrological twin—a feat possible only because Fini lied about her age. “This chronological charade, combined with later cosmetic surgeries, sustained the image of youth and beauty that remained vital to Leonor’s self-image, the sexuality and her sense of her place in the world,” writes Chadwick:

Imperious and mercurial, she was also generous, loving and happy to share her rich intellectual life with the younger woman she considered her double. Like Leonora, she believed that cats possessed highly developed psychic powers, that horses had mythological powers that identified them with the feminine, and that painting was an alchemical process.

Regina Marler reviewing three new books about Leonora Carrington and the women artists of the Surrealist movement

As Serious As Your Life: Black Music and the Free Jazz Revolution, 1957–1977 by Val Wilmer receives a welcome republication next month.

• At Dangerous Minds: Occultism, cinema and architecture: How a ouija board built the Bradbury Building.

• When Books Read You, a Defence of Bibliomancy by Ed Simon.

• Ä Brïëf Hïstöry Öf Mëtäl Umläüts by Mike Rampton.

Joey Zone Illustration – Art from The joey Zone.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Brad Dourif Day.

Alva Noto‘s favourite albums.

Eddie Campbell, Dammit!

• Metropolis (1978) by Edgar Froese | Metropolis (1979) by Motörhead | Under The Gun (Metropolis Mix) (1993) by The Sisters Of Mercy


Derek Jarman: Know What I Mean…


The recent news from the BFI about their forthcoming collections of Derek Jarman films sent me to YouTube once more in search of a documentary I’d been hoping to see again. Derek Jarman: Know What I Mean… is the film in question, and was posted a few months ago by director Laurens Postma on his own YouTube channel. Postma produced a number of arts features for Channel 4 (UK) in the 1980s, one of which, Six Into One: The Prisoner File, a documentary about the making of Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner, has been mentioned here already. The Jarman film was made in 1988, and I think was the first lengthy television examination of Jarman’s career. It’s still one of the best since the later documentaries tended to be either shortish interview sessions or posthumous works such as Derek (2008) by Isaac Julien and Bernard Rose.


Postma’s film captured Jarman shortly after he’d moved to his cottage at Dungeness, a relocation that was a kind of semi-retirement even though his films were becoming more visible as a result of funding and screening from Channel 4. This was also the period when he was becoming more vocally political thanks to what seemed at the time to be the unending reign of the iniquitous Margaret Thatcher. The Tories of the day had recently announced the now-infamous Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act (discussed in the film as both Clause 28 and—confusingly—Clause 29, the labels by which the amendment was first known), a ruling that forbid councils from promoting homosexuality, especially in schools. The late 80s saw the peaking of anti-gay bigotry in Britain, a reaction against the growing freedoms of the 1970s and, inevitably, the menace of AIDS which was still being regarded as “the gay plague”. Jarman had recently been diagnosed as HIV+, something he discusses here with typical good cheer although the conversation is generally more about art than his health, and about the way his own works were always related to gay sexuality. Jarman was one of many gay artists who welcomed their sexual identity as fixing them in the position of outsiders, and it’s notable how many of his films are concerned with outsider figures. When discussing The Tempest (1979) he compares Prospero’s island to gay sexuality, an uncharted enclave and a home to outcasts where different rules apply. This was still a common view among gay men and lesbians in the 1980s—Jarman’s friends in Coil used to say similar things in their interviews—and very different from today’s drive towards conformity and social assimilation. Postma’s film ends with Jarman on the beach at Dungeness, the perfect zone for a lifelong outsider, midway between the land and the sea.

(Note: the Winston Churchill referred to in the film is the grandson of the famous Prime Minister. Winston Churchill Jr. was an MP in the Thatcher government who tried to bring in a bill banning the public exhibition of “explicit homosexual acts” following Channel 4′s TV broadcast of Jarman’s Sebastiane.)

Previously on { feuilleton }
David Tibet meets Derek Jarman
Shooting the Hunter: a tribute to Derek Jarman
Derek Jarman’s landscapes
Derek Jarman album covers
Ostia, a film by Julian Cole
Derek Jarman In The Key Of Blue
The Dream Machine
Jarman (all this maddening beauty)
Sebastiane by Derek Jarman
A Journey to Avebury by Derek Jarman
Derek Jarman’s music videos
Derek Jarman’s Neutron
Mister Jarman, Mister Moore and Doctor Dee
The Tempest illustrated
In the Shadow of the Sun by Derek Jarman
Derek Jarman at the Serpentine
The Angelic Conversation
The life and work of Derek Jarman


Weekend links 400


Le Répit (La Mort allaitant une chauve-souris) (1895) by Valère Bernard.

Playhouse 90 presents Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. An American TV production from 1957 starring Boris Karloff, Roddy McDowall, Eartha Kitt and others; introduced by Sterling Hayden. It’s bizarre. Acidemic goes into the detail.

• Erik Davis talks to occult writer and drug geek Julian Vayne about Baphomet, the (sur)reality of spirits, evolution, ritualizing entheogens, and his new book Getting Higher: The Manual of Psychedelic Ceremony.

• “Unsurprisingly, 1. Outside was the record that the #BowieBookClub readers most readily associated with Hawksmoor.” Anna Aslanyan revisits Peter Ackroyd’s architectural mystery.

The Flowers of Dorian Gray: part one of a series of posts examining one of Oscar Wilde’s favourite symbols.

• At Haute Macabre, an interview with Michael Locascio & Heather Jean Skawold of Dellamorte & Co.

One Minute Art History, an animated film by Cao Shu.

Film posters at the Harry Ransom Center, UT-Austin.

• Mix of the week: FACT mix 639 by Black Milk.

Susanna‘s favourite albums.

• Welcome to The Spoodoir.

• Flowers Of Evil (1983) by Cortex | Baphomet (1989) by Foetus Inc. | Heart Of Darkness (1989) by Syd Straw


A view from a hill


This week I’ve been rushing to complete a series of illustrations so there’s been no time to write the post I had in mind. In its place, here’s a preview of another series I was working on in September which I’m told should be published soon. More about that later, and yes, the similarity to Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog was intentional.



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Penda's Fen by David Rudkin