Victor Valla book covers

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Lancer Books, 1971.

Victor Valla’s cover for The Dunwich Horror has appeared here before, and his cover for The Colour Out of Space is very familiar, but I hadn’t gone looking for anything else of his until this week. There isn’t much to be found on genre titles, just the rest of these covers plus a handful of undistinguished paintings for Gothic dramas and Dracula novels. His Lovecraft and Derleth covers are the kind of thing I always like to see more of, however, being less illustrations of story details than renderings of the feelings the story generates when you read it. This is especially the case with The Colour Out of Space, a story that suggests far more than it shows, and whose central motif—a colour alien to the Earth—is impossible to depict at all. In the 1970s it was easier to get away with this on paperback covers; Lovecraft was still a niche author and there wasn’t the legacy of imagery there is today. Incidentally, the Richard Lupoff book below isn’t as anomalous as it may seem if you know that Lupoff later wrote a novel, Lovecraft’s Book, with HPL as one of the main characters.

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Lancer Books, 1971.

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Beagle Books, 1971.

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Beagle Books, 1971.

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Beagle Books, 1971.

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Beagle Books, 1971.

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Beagle Books, 1971.

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Beagle Books, 1971.

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Beagle Books, 1971.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The book covers archive
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Illustrating Lovecraft again
Die Farbe and The Colour Out of Space

Howard/Seward

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Frank Belknap Long and HP Lovecraft, New York, 1931. Photo by WB Talman.

Two friends—HP Lovecraft and Frank Belknap Long—visit the Egyptian antiquities in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1920s:

Tom Collins (for The Twilight Zone Magazine): I seem to recall a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art that you two made together.

Frank Belknap Long: You mean the time we visited the Egyptian tomb? Well, the Metropolitan apparently still has it. This was way back in the 1920s. The tomb was on the main floor in the Hall of Egyptian Antiquities, and we both went inside to the inner burial chamber. Howard was fascinated by the somberness of the whole thing. He put his hand against the corrugated stone wall, just casually, and the next day he developed a pronounced but not too serious inflammation. There was no great pain involved, and the swelling went down in two or three days. But it seems as if some malign, supernatural influence still lingered in the burial chamber—The Curse of the Pharaohs—as if they resented the fact that Howard had entered this tomb and touched the wall. Perhaps they had singled him out because of his stories and feared he was getting too close to the Ancient Mysteries.

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William Burroughs, New York, 1953. Photo by Allen Ginsberg.

Two friends—William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg—visit the Egyptian antiquities in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1950s:

Allen Ginsberg: We went uptown to look at Mayan Codices at Museum of Natural History & Metropolitan Museum of Art to view Carlo Crivelli’s green-hued Christ-face with crown of thorns stuck symmetric in his skull — here Egyptian wing William Burroughs with a brother Sphinx, Fall 1953 Manhattan.

When I last wrote about the parallels between Lovecraft and Burroughs in a post from 2014 I wasn’t aware of Lovecraft and Long’s visit to the same museum exhibits that Burroughs and Ginsberg visited some 30 years later. I did, however, use the same photos which are posted here, a curious coincidence when Long wasn’t mentioned in the earlier post. This minor revelation is a result of reading the features in back issues of The Twilight Zone Magazine, one of which is an interview with an 81-year-old Frank Belknap Long. The coincidence is a trivial thing but it adds to the small number of connections between the two writers.

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A Cthulhu Sphinx from The Call of Cthulhu, 1988.

Lovecraft and Burroughs were both living in New York City at the time of their excursions, and both touched on Egyptian mythology in their writings, so their having viewed the same museum exhibits seems inevitable rather than surprising. A more tangible connection between the pair is alluded to in Ginsberg’s photograph note when he mentions the Mayan codices. A few years before the museum visit, Burroughs had been studying the Mayan language and the Mexican codices in Mexico City under the tutelage of Robert H. Barlow, the former literary executor of HP Lovecraft. Burroughs’ studies subsequently fueled the references to Mayan mythology that turn up repeatedly in his fiction, and he was still at Mexico City College in 1951 when Barlow killed himself with a barbiturate overdose, afraid that his homosexuality was about to be exposed by one of his students. Burroughs mentioned the suicide in a letter to Ginsberg. The connections don’t end there, however. After Barlow’s death the rights to Lovecraft’s writings passed, somewhat controversially, to August Derleth and Donald Wandrei at Arkham House, and in another curious coincidence Derleth happened to be one of the complainants against a literary journal, Big Table, in 1959, when the magazine ran Ten Episodes from Naked Lunch, and was subsequently prosecuted for sending obscene material through the US mail. Derleth and Arkham House are both mentioned in the court papers.

I’ve never seen any indication that Burroughs was aware of these connections but if he was I doubt he would have paid them much attention, he always seemed rather blasé about his intersections with popular culture. He did think well enough of Lovecraft (or at least the version of Lovecraft’s fiction as presented by the Simon Necronomicon) to invoke “Kutulu” along with the Great God Pan and the usual complement of Mayan deities in Cities of the Red Night. Years later I remember seeing something in a newspaper about him retiring to Lawrence, Kansas, where he was described as passing the time “reading HP Lovecraft”. (I wish I could give a reference for this but I don’t recall the source.) If so then I like to think he might have given Creation Books’ Starry Wisdom collection more than a passing glance when it turned up at his door.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Taking Tiger Mountain
The Big Fix!
Paging Doctor Benway
Birth of a Zimbu
Seward/Howard
Interzone: A William Burroughs Mix
Sine Fiction
The Ticket That Exploded: An Ongoing Opera
Burroughs: The Movie revisited
Zimbu Xolotl Time
Ah Pook Is Here
Jarek Piotrowski’s Soft Machine
Looking for the Wild Boys
Wroblewski covers Burroughs
Mugwump jism
Brion Gysin’s walk, 1966
Burroughs in Paris
William Burroughs interviews
Soft machines
Burroughs: The Movie
William S Burroughs: A Man Within
The Final Academy
William Burroughs book covers
Towers Open Fire

The Cthulhu Mythos in the pulps

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The Nameless City: First published in The Wolverine, November 1921. Reprinted in Weird Tales, November 1928. Illustration by Joseph Doolin.

This would have been “The Cthulhu Mythos in Weird Tales” if some of HP Lovecraft’s more substantial stories hadn’t been published elsewhere. To prevent sprawl I’ve limited the list to Lovecraft’s own stories even though the Mythos takes in the work of contemporaries such as Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Frank Belknap Long, Zealia Bishop, August Derleth and others. I like seeing the first appearance in print of familiar tales, and I like seeing their accompanying illustrations even if the drawings are inferior pieces, which they often were for the first decade of Weird Tales. These are the short-story equivalent of first editions, and in the case of The Call of Cthulhu you get to see the first printing anywhere of that mysterious name.

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The Hound: Weird Tales, February 1924. Illustration by William Fred Heitman.

This issue is also notable for a story by Burton Peter Thom which shares a title with a Mythos-derived song by Metallica, The Thing That Should Not Be.

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The Festival: Weird Tales, January 1925. Illustration by Andrew Brosnatch.

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The Colour Out of Space: Amazing Stories, September 1927. Illustration by JM de Aragon.

Lovecraft didn’t think that Weird Tales would appreciate this one even though it’s more horror than science fiction so he sent it to Amazing Stories instead.

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The Call of Cthulhu: Weird Tales, February 1928. Illustration by Hugh Rankin.

It’s doubtful that Rankin, Senf and co. would have been up to the task of depicting Great Cthulhu or the non-Euclidean nightmare of R’lyeh, but this hardly excuses editor Farnsworth Wright’s decision to give the cover to Elliott O’Donnell’s ridiculous ghost table.

Continue reading “The Cthulhu Mythos in the pulps”

Weekend links 341

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Fountain (1917) by R. Mutt (Marcel Duchamp), and God (1917) by Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.

• “What is there left to know about David Bowie? What is there left to unearth?” asks Ian Penman whose lengthy review of recent Bowie books is better by far than a shelf full of cash-in doorstops.

Strázci z hlubin casu is a collection of stories by HP Lovecraft and August Derleth from Czech publisher Volvox Globator. The book reprints artwork of mine on the cover and inside.

• Mixes of the week: Through December by David Colohan, At Alien Altars: A Conjurer’s Hexmas by Seraphic Manta, and Secret Thirteen Mix 204 by James Welburn.

• “Something vindictive resides in soot.” Timothy Jarvis on the weird fiction of Stefan Grabinski. From 2003: China Miéville on Grabinski.

• Paintings by Jakub Rozalski of eastern European peasants with mechas and werewolves.

Colm Tóibín on James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 100 years on.

Jesse Singal on why straight rural men (in the USA) have “bud-sex” with each other.

Mark Valentine recommends books on tasseography, or divination by tea leaves.

• “Northampton Calling: A Conversation with Alan Moore,” by Rob Vollmar.

Bill Schutt at Scientific American asks what human flesh tastes like.

Gwendolyn Nix on the Tritone, aka The Devil’s Musical Interval.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: _Black_Acrylic presents…Penda’s Fen Day.

• The latest Buddha Machine from FM3 is Philip Glass-themed.

Listen to The Wire’s top 50 releases of 2016

Tritone (Musica Diablo) (1980) by Tuxedomoon | Diabolus In Musica (1987) by The Foetus All Nude Review | Tritone (Musica Diablo) (2016) by Aksak Maboul

The Gable Window

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The Gable Window (1984) by John Coulthart.

Presenting some of my first Lovecraftian illustrations, neither of which have been made public before. This drawing, and the one below, are as much Derlethian as they are Lovecraftian, depicting scenes from a short story and a short novel written by August Derleth from fragments and notes found in Lovecraft’s papers. The Gable Window was collected in The Survivor and Others (1957) which happens to be the only Lovecraft-related title I own in its original Arkham House printing. Derleth’s posthumous collaborations are often more Derleth than Lovecraft but I liked the central idea of The Gable Window which, like The Music of Erich Zann, concerns a window that also serves as a portal to other dimensions.

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The Lurker at the Threshold (1982) by John Coulthart.

Before I began adapting The Haunter of the Dark in 1986 I hadn’t made much of an attempt to illustrate Lovecraft seriously. These drawings and a handful of other pieces were more like experimental sketches, although The Gable Window is obviously a very polished piece of work. Rather than depict anything overtly monstrous, each piece began as an arrangement of ink splotches and washes applied to cartridge paper soaked with water. The Lurker at the Threshold is one of several small pictures made with this technique in 1982, none of which are very successful. This one doesn’t look too bad but the best one, depicting the climax of The Dunwich Horror, I sent to the late Roger Dobson for possible use in an issue of Aklo, and haven’t seen it since. The Gable Window refined the technique by using fewer splotches and a more detailed drawing applied afterwards. I’ve never been happy with the figure, and the books on the left are lazily done, but it’s one of the better things I was doing in 1984. The biggest surprise looking at the drawing again was noticing the crest over the window which features a triangle/crescent motif that’s very similar to the one I designed a year later for Hawkwind’s Chronicle of the Black Sword album. This wasnt intentional.

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Today The Gable Window seems like an indicator of where my head was at during this time. I was tired of doing Hawkwind-related things, and eager to immerse myself in something different; a series of Ballard illustrations was one potential way forward, Lovecraft was another. A year later I’d made a decision and, as it were, stepped through the window.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Yuggoth details
A Mountain Walked
Lovecraft’s Monsters unleashed
Lovecraft’s Monsters
JK Potter and HP Lovecraft
Cthulhu Labyrinth
Tentacles #4: Cthulhu in Poland
Cthulhu Calendar
S. Latitude 47°9, W. Longitude 126°43
Resurgam variations
De Profundis
H.P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction
Heavy Metal, October 1979: the Lovecraft special
Cthulhoid and Artflakes
Cthulhu for sale
Cthulhu God
Cthulhu under glass
CthulhuPress
The monstrous tome
Cubist Cthulhu