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

Litany of Dreams

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One of the covers I was working on during the summer months was revealed this week so here it is. Litany of Dreams by Ari Marmell is another title from games-related imprint Aconyte, and a further addition to their Lovecraft-related Arkham Horror series of games and novels:

The mysterious disappearance of a gifted student at Miskatonic University spurs his troubled roommate, Elliott Raslo, into an investigation of his own. But Elliott already struggles against the maddening allure of a ceaseless chant that only he can hear… When Elliott’s search converges with that of a Greenland Inuk’s hunt for a stolen relic, they are left with yet more questions. Could there be a connection between Elliott’s litany and the broken stone stele covered in antediluvian writings that had obsessed his friend? Learning the answers will draw them into the heart of a devilish plot to rebirth an ancient horror.

The new cover follows the form of The Last Ritual with an Art Deco style and a similar arrangement of triangular panels with an architectural focus. The building is Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University, and this is the first time I’ve attempted a proper depiction of the place. A couple of the panels in my unfinished adaptation of The Dunwich Horror showed Wilbur Whateley entering the university but the buildings there owed more to Manchester University’s Gothic facades with a pair of gateposts borrowed from Brown University in Providence. The building here is a better match, a typical Ivy League structure with added spikes. The latter are an unusual feature given the generally conservative appearance of these places but still a long way from the eccentricities of Gavin Stamp’s depictions in the George Hay Necronomicon. The faces in the corners of the cover design are based on tupilak figures carved from antlers or whale teeth by the Inuit of Greenland, figures which feature in the story.

Litany of Dreams will be published on April 6, 2021.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Last Ritual
Psychetecture

Notes from the Underground

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This time last year I was about to start working on the cover of Joe Banks’ Hawkwind book, and here it is at last, after a considerable delay. The special edition has been worth the wait since it comes with an additional 200-page volume, Sideways Through Time, containing the interviews that Joe used for his research. There’s also a set of cards with photos by Laurie Lewis from the session used for the cover of Space Ritual (we used some of the same photos on the book cover), and a print of the Moorcock/Cawthorn Hawklords comic strip from Frendz which further developed the group’s self-mythologising begun by the In Search Of Space “Hawklog”. And for people who pre-ordered the book last year then had to wait for months, there’s a bonus enamel pin based on the hawk design I supplied for the front board. I like badges, and I designed a few for Hawkwind in the past, but this is a better design and a nicer object than any of those I did in the 1980s.

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It’s a big book.

Now that the book is out I can show off the full cover wrap. As mentioned earlier, I followed Barney Bubbles’ preference for retro futurism by creating a cityscape based on the Deco-styled architecture that Frank R. Paul liked to use in his pulp illustrations. Some of the details refer obliquely to Hawkwind’s cover art or songs of the 1970s, so the speeding car can be taken as a reference to both Kerb Crawler and Death Trap, as well as the speeding Art Deco vehicle on the cover of Roadhawks. The flying saucers are a nod to those by Barney Bubbles on the inner sleeve of the Doremi album (and on one of his black-and-white posters from the same period), while the Philippe Druillet rocket refers to Barney’s own appropriation of a Druillet figure in his Hawk graphics. The combination of vehicles fleeing a burning city gives us the recurring theme in the group’s lyrics about the need to escape from a self-destructing society/planet. Welcome to the future.

Hawkwind: Days of the Underground is available now from Strange Attractor.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Hawkwind: Days of the Underground
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

The ceramic art of Eduard Stellmacher

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The Art Nouveau style is seldom more grotesque than in these vases and amphorae designed around the turn of the century by Eduard Stellmacher (1868–1945) for his father’s company, Amphora, in the Tur-Teplitz region of Bohemia. Art Nouveau (or Jugendstil as it was in Germany and Austria) emerged in Europe in the 1890s, and though its development ran parallel to the Decadence of the fin de siècle it wasn’t really a Decadent form in the literary sense of a dwelling on the perverse, the morbid or the blasphemous. The sinuous curves of Art Nouveau are too suggestive of vigorous life and energy to appear corrupt; Alphonse Mucha’s femmes are too healthy to be fatale, they’re nothing like the dissolute, hollow-eyed sirens seen in the drawings of Félicien Rops, an artist who wasn’t Nouveau (he died in 1898) but who was thoroughly Decadent.

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Stellmacher and co. created their share of delightful ceramic figures with Mucha-like tresses and flowing garments but Eduard’s designs around this time were preoccupied with ferocious creatures: bats, fish, lizards, octopuses, and a profusion of fire-breathing dragons. Even the plant forms have a diseased, unhealthy aspect. The designs may not have been intended as Decadent but they embody the quality more than anything used as vase decoration before or after this period. Art Deco also favoured predatory animals (snakes and leopards especially) but only in forms that were suitably sleek and abstracted.

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The Last Ritual

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Starting the new year with a new cover, and another from the plethora I was working on last year. Art Deco occultism is the theme this time, a satisfying combination since the rectilinear Deco style is a good match for the sigils and thaumaturgic diagrams you find in grimoires. The publisher is Aconyte Books, a new imprint launched a year ago to produce novels that complement the games created by parent company, Asmodee UK. Arkham Horror is an Asmodee game with a Lovecraftian theme, and S.A. Sidor’s novel is set in the game’s world:

Aspiring painter Alden Oakes is invited to join a mysterious art commune in Arkham: the New Colony. When celebrated Spanish surrealist Juan Hugo Balthazarr visits the colony, Alden and the other artists quickly fall under his charismatic spell. Balthazarr throws a string of decadent parties for Arkham’s social elite, conjuring arcane illusions which blur the boundaries between nightmare and reality. Only slowly does Alden come to suspect that Balthazarr’s mock rituals are intended to break through those walls and free what lies beyond. Alden must act, but it might already be too late to save himself, let alone Arkham (more).

The design of the cover combines the look of much Art Deco metalwork, especially bronze door and grille designs, with the kind of inlay you see on Deco furniture and the more lavish leatherbound books of the period. Part of the brief was to show a magic ritual taking place but I thought it wouldn’t do to make the figures look too realistic, hence the stylised poses; Georges Barbier rather than Weird Tales. Another request in the brief was to incorporate the Yog-Sothoth sigil from the Simon Necronomicon (the bronze circle under the title). I think I’ve said before that the symbols in the Simon Necronomicon tend to be used a lot today as though they’re the only ones available, even though the book is only one of several unofficial attempts to imagine the contents of Lovecraft’s notorious grimoire. I’ve always favoured the George Hay-edited Necronomicon so the symbol at the top of the cover is the Yog-Sothoth sigil from the Hay volume.

The Last Ritual will be published in August 2020.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Psychetecture