Old Weird and New Weird

savdreams.jpg

Savoy Books, 1984.

A couple more recent arrivals that feature my work. These are of minority interest but worth noting since academic articles don’t always travel beyond a small audience of subscribers.

A recent issue of Foundation (The International Review of Science Fiction), Volume 45.1, number 123, contains an article by Mark P. Williams, Underground Assemblages: Savoy Dreams and The Starry Wisdom. This examines the legacy of New Worlds magazine under the editorship of Michael Moorcock (from 1964 to 1974) via two writing collections, Savoy Dreams (Savoy Books, 1984) and The Starry Wisdom (Creation Books, 1994). The two collections are very different: Savoy Dreams, edited by David Britton and Michael Butterworth, was an eclectic overview of Savoy’s publishing endeavours up to that point. Among the original writing there’s fiction by Butterworth, M. John Harrison (the first publication of the Viriconium story, Lords of Misrule) and others, plus a reaction by Michael Moorcock to William Burroughs’ Cities of the Red Night, a book that Savoy had contracted to publish before police harassment forced the company’s bankruptcy. The rest of the book is taken up with press reviews of Savoy books.

starrywisdom.jpg

Creation Books, 1994. Cover art by Peter Smith.

The Starry Wisdom should require less of an introduction since the book has been in print since 1994, and has a small, possibly notorious, reputation among HP Lovecraft enthusiasts. Editor DM Mitchell felt that the assembling of post-Lovecraftian fiction up to that point had been too cosy and insular: too many story collections were being edited and written by groups of friends in the genre fiction “community”, with the result that the stories were often stale and complacent. The startling newness of Lovecraft’s imagination in comparison to many of his contemporaries in Weird Tales seemed to have been bled away into pastiche, a process that began soon after Lovecraft’s death. Mitchell’s solution was to commission original pieces of Lovecraft-inspired work from writers outside the genre world, notably Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and newcomer David Conway; he also reprinted pieces that would never appear elsewhere as Lovecraftian fiction, including Wind Die. You Die. We Die. by William Burroughs, and Prisoner of the Coral Deep by JG Ballard. Burroughs and Ballard connect directly to New Worlds, of course (Ballard wrote about Burroughs for the magazine), while the pair cast a shadow over many of Savoy’s book productions. Both Savoy Dreams and The Starry Wisdom featured comic strips; Tales of the Cramps by Kris Guidio appeared in Savoy Dreams, while The Starry Wisdom contained strips by Mike Philbin & James Havoc, Rick Grimes, and the first publication of my own adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu.

I was surprised—and pleased—that my comic strip receives a fair amount of scrutiny in Williams’ piece. My Lovecraft strips have received almost no attention from the comics world, a consequence of having been printed by book publishers and distributed to book shops. (A rare exception was this recent piece by Matt Maxwell.) When you’ve been overlooked in this manner it’s a surprise to find your work receiving serious evaluation from an entirely different quarter. Mark P. Williams’ essay examines the contents of both collections, my strip included, as “assemblages”. This is a valid critique in the case of the Cthulhu strip since Lovecraft’s story is itself an assemblage of what seems at first to be unrelated data. The comic adaptation assembles a range of cultural references—some genuine, others invented—to parallel the narrator’s investigation, and even uses genuine documents in places, including columns from The New York Times. I don’t know if Williams has seen the blog post I made that points out many of the cultural references but he notes some of the more overt ones, such as Joseph Conrad appearing as the doomed Professor Angell, Arnold Böcklin’s The Isle of the Dead, and so on. While I was drawing the strip I was trying to imagine the story as an RKO production, a hybrid of two island films—The Most Dangerous Game and King Kong—and Orson Welles’ unmade Heart of Darkness. These references, many of which aren’t very obvious, were largely for my own amusement. The series I created with David Britton that followed the Lovecraft strips, Reverbstorm, puts assemblage and cultural reference at the forefront.

genre.jpg

Cover art is my illustration for Remnants from Lovecraft’s Monsters, edited by Ellen Datlow.

The Cthulhu strip and the Reverbstorm series—now collected as Lord Horror: Reverbstorm—are the subject of a very perceptive piece by Benjamin Noys in the latest edition of Genre, an academic journal published by Duke University Press. This number of the journal is a kind of Weird special edited by Benjamin Noys and Timothy S. Murphy. Noys’ Full Spectrum Offence: Savoy’s Reverbstorm and the Weirding of Modernity is the final article in a publication that examines aspects of the “Old Weird” (ie: the Lovecraft-era Weird Tales) and contrasts it with the more recent “New Weird”. The latter was a short-lived label coined by M. John Harrison in 2003 for a range of fiction that was ignoring genre boundaries, and consciously developing the Weird as a project. China Miéville was one of the most visible proponents of the New Weird, and Harrison’s term emerged in part as a response to Miéville’s fiction. Miéville is interviewed in this issue of Genre where, as usual, he has some very worthwhile things to say. He prefers the term “haute Weird” for the original manifestation, possibly because it avoids the negative connotations of the word “old”.

reverbstorm.jpg

A spread from part 7 of Reverbstorm.

Benjamin Noys’ article is lengthy and resists easy summary, but it begins by investigating the way my work on the Lovecraft strips permeated the Lord Horror comics and dictated some of the imagery, in particular the architectural forms and eruptions of monstrosity. Later discussion concerns the way that Reverbstorm forces the Weird and Modernism together, a collision that I believe is still unique anywhere, never mind in the comics medium. Noys’ piece has given me a lot to think about, not least for its being the first substantial critical appraisal of Reverbstorm. The series is a difficult one, being deliberately excessive and avant-garde, and presenting the reader with a torrent of interrelating cultural references. Many of these are itemised in the appendix but the success (or not) of their working together, and the potential sparking of connections, depends very much on the prior knowledge of the individual reader. Noys is not only knowledgeable but adept at forging his own connections while situating the series in the larger context of the Weird, old (or haute) and new. Even without the inclusion of my work inside the journal and on the cover, I’d recommend this issue of Genre to anyone with an interest in the subject. One of the reasons I favour the Weird as a chosen work label is the way it evades (or ignores) generic boundaries. Years ago I realised that many of the things I liked the best in the arts were the chimeras, those works that transgress boundaries and created new hybrids. No surprise then that I enjoy a genre that refuses easy definition. There aren’t many masts I pin my colours to but the Weird is one of them.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Weird

Weekend links 186

mutu.jpg

One Hundred Lavish Months of Bushwhack (2004) by Wangechi Mutu.

I wouldn’t be so bold as to call Benjamin Noys’ contribution to the recent The Weird conference at the University of London a highlight, but it was a surprise to find Lord Horror in general and the Reverbstorm book in particular being discussed alongside so many noteworthy offerings. Noys’ piece, Full Spectrum Offence: Savoy’s Neo-Weird, is now available to read online, a very perceptive examination of the tensions between the Old Weird and the New.

• Le Transperceneige is a multi-volume bande dessinée of post-apocalypse science fiction by Jacques Lob & Jean-Marc Rochette. Snowpiercer is a film adaptation by Korean director Bong Joon-ho featuring John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton. Anne Billson calls the director’s cut an “eccentric masterpiece” so it’s dismaying to learn that the film is in danger of being hacked about by the usual rabble of unsympathetic Hollywood distributors.

• This month marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. Public Domain Review posted some of the paintings mentioned in Swann’s Way (or The Way by Swann’s as the latest translation so inelegantly has it).

How the Paris World’s Fair brought Art Nouveau to the Masses in 1900: a huge picture post about my favourite exposition.

• Mix of the week: “Sport of Kings” Mix by Ricardo Donoso. Related: Paul Purgas on five favourite records.

Ernst Reichl: the man who designed Ulysses. Related: Hear all of Finnegans Wake read aloud over 35 hours.

• “Why does Alain de Botton want us to kill our young?” A splendid rant by Sam Kriss.

• Love’s Secret Ascension: Peter Bebergal on Coil, Coltrane & the 70th birthday of LSD.

• Malicious Damage: Ilsa Colsell on the secret art of Joe Orton & Kenneth Halliwell.

• Just Say No to the Bad Sex Award, or the BS Award as Tom Pollock calls it.

• Lauren O’Neal’s ongoing PJ Harvey Tuesdays: One, Two, Three and Four.

Neville Brody on the changing face of graphic design.

A Brief History of the London Necropolis Railway.

Des Hommes et des Chatons: a Tumblr.

• At Pinterest: Androgyny

• Virgin Prunes: Pagan Lovesong (vibeakimbo) (1982) | Caucasian Walk (1982) | Walls Of Jericho (live at The Haçienda, Manchester, 1983; I’m in that audience somewhere)

The Weird

weird.jpg

This is a piece of promotional art I’ve done for The Weird: Fugitive Fictions/Hybrid Genres, a two-day event taking place in London next month at the Horse Hospital and the Institute of English Studies, University of London. Organiser Tim Jarvis asked me to contribute an unspecified something; I suggested a poster but that idea proved to be too ambitious, somewhat fortuitously since I had an elaborate design in mind that the current workload would have compromised. This design is the distilled version. The five inset images are a result of having written this post at the beginning of the month. The bespectacled owl is an alchemical illustration from a book I’d found in a charity shop a couple of days earlier.

The event looks like a good one. In addition to the opportunity to see M. John Harrison and others reading on day one, there’s a host of talks on day two that push many of my cult buttons, including discussion of the works of Nigel Kneale and William Hope Hodgson. There’s also Dr Benjamin Noys on “Full Spectrum Offence: The Neo-Weird of Savoy” which I guess may touch on some of the work I’ve done for Savoy Books with David Britton. I’ve got a couple of deadlines looming at the moment so it’s unlikely I’ll be able to attend but I’ll certainly be there in spirit.