Claude Shepperson’s First Men in the Moon

shepperson01.jpg

In the week following the Moon-landing anniversary I’ve been re-reading The First Men in the Moon by HG Wells. This was a late entry in Wells’ extraordinary run of science fiction novels, and is both shorter and lighter in tone than his earlier novels, some of which veer at times into outright horror. The First Men in the Moon might have been a serious examination of interstellar travel but the narrative is overtly comic in places, rather like The Man Who Could Work Miracles, a Wells story in which a fantastic gift is offered to a character unprepared to make the most of it. Wells’ lunar explorers—Bedford, a failed entrepreneur, and Cavor, an absent-minded inventor—lurch from one mishap to another, yoked together through their own inadequacies. Early in the proceedings Cavor destroys his house when his gravity-repelling “Cavorite” generates a violent funnel of air before launching itself into space. Cavor regards this as fortunate, explaining that a slightly different set of circumstances might have removed the breathable atmosphere from the entire planet for a day or so. The trip to the Moon is conducted almost on a whim: Cavor has no real reason for going, and Bedford tags along in the hope of finding some future business opportunity. Like the hapless protagonists of Withnail and I, this is a lunar voyage undertaken “by mistake”.

shepperson02.jpg

It’s probable that Wells regarded absurdity as being the best way to approach a story that was less original than his earlier works. The first edition of the novel opens with an epigraph from Lucian’s True History (or True Story), a book from the second century AD which includes a journey to the Moon among its planetary travels. Lucian’s book was the first to feature such a journey (and is often regarded as the first work of science fiction) but many others followed, even before From the Earth to the Moon (1865) by Jules Verne, a book which Bedford mentions during the expedition discussions. (Cavor has never heard of it.)

shepperson03.jpg

The illustrations here by Claude Allin Shepperson are also from the first edition, and are closer to the tone of the novel than those by other artists. E. Hering’s illustrations for American readers are in a style which is more detailed and inventive than Shepperson’s but which also suggests a more serious story. Readers expecting a new War of the Worlds would have been surprised. Shepperson’s drawing of Cavor’s spacecraft evidently provided the model for Ray Harryhausen in the 1964 film adaptation, although Harryhausen’s Selenites differ from both Shepperson and Wells’ descriptions. Nigel Kneale’s screenplay deviates from the book elsewhere but the film is still a more faithful adaptation than those based on Wells’ more popular novels, as are many of the other screen adaptations, the first being a lost silent from 1919. All of which reminds me that I’ve not seen Harryhausen’s film for many years. I’d welcome another date with the Grand Lunar.

shepperson04.jpg

shepperson05.jpg

Continue reading “Claude Shepperson’s First Men in the Moon”

Weekend links 465

palladini.jpg

The Star (1970) from The Aquarian Tarot by David Palladini.

• Artist David Palladini died in March but I only heard the news this week. His poster for Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu has been a favourite of mine ever since the film’s release, while some of his other works have featured here in the past. Still popular among Tarot users is the Aquarian Tarot (1970), a deck published a few years after Palladini had helped with the production of the Linweave Tarot. From the same period as the Aquarian deck is a set of Zodiac posters, all of which exhibit Palladini’s distinctive blend of Art Nouveau and Deco stylings. In addition to posters, Palladini produced book covers and illustrations, and even a few record covers. A book collecting all of this work would be very welcome.

Erotikus: A History of the Gay Movies (1974? 75? 78?): Fred Halsted presents a 90-minute history of American gay porn, from the earliest beefcake films to the hardcore of the 1970s, some of which Halsted also helped create. Related: Centurians of Rome [sic]: Ashley West and April Hall on the bank robber who made the most expensive gay porno of all time.

Peter Bradshaw reviews Too Old to Die Young, a Nicolas Winding Refn TV series described as “a supernatural noir”. Sign me up.

Naomi Wolf’s Outrages establishes the context for [John Addington] Symonds’s desperate efforts to justify his own sexual feelings. Since he was born in 1840, he was 15 when the first edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass appeared, the same year that legislation in Britain streamlined the laws against sodomy and ensured that men found guilty of it served long prison sentences. With intelligence and flair, Wolf uses the various responses to Whitman to show the levels of intense need in the decades after the publication of Leaves of Grass for images and books that would rescue homosexuality from increasing public disapproval.

Colm Tóibín reviews Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalisation of Love by Naomi Wolf

• Record label Dark Entries has discovered 40 more reels (!) of music by Patrick Cowley dating from 1974 to 1979.

• “Is Stockhausen’s Licht the most bonkers operatic spectacle ever?” asks Robert Barry.

• Sex, Spunk, Shoes and Sweet Satisfaction: A Q&A with artist Cary Kwok.

• Tripping his brains out: Eric Bulson on Michel Foucault and LSD.

• Paul O’Callaghan chooses 10 best Dennis Hopper performances.

• “More obscene than De Sade.” Luc Sante on the fotonovela.

• Karl Blossfeldt’s Urformen der Kunst (1928).

• The Strange World of…Gong

Neonlicht (1978) by Kraftwerk | Brüder Des Schattens, Söhne Des Lichtes (1978) by Popol Vuh | Lichtfest (2017) by ToiToiToi

Born to be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey

dery.jpg

Cover design by Jim Tierney; photo by Richard Corman.

When so many current biographies are recounting the lives of those about whom we’ve already heard a great deal (see the new biography of Oscar Wilde by Matthew Sturgis), a book exploring the career of a previously undocumented yet worthwhile figure is especially welcome. Such is the case with Born to Be Posthumous, Mark Dery’s life of the elusive Edward Gorey: artist, writer, illustrator, book designer, book creator, bibliophile, theatre designer, cat lover and balletomane.

gorey5.jpg

The Gashlycrumb Tinies (1963).

Gorey’s small books have long been one of the more curious fixtures of American culture: many of them look like children’s books but aren’t (unless the child is Wednesday Addams); others look like comic books but they aren’t comics either. The books are sometimes (but not always) Surrealist fables; or brief accounts of irreducible mystery; or sombre inexplicabilities; or camp ripostes to the pieties of Victorian morality; infrequently spiced with black humour and with lurches into outright horror. Gorey delivered his miniature tales in an idiosyncratic drawing style that combines a cartoon-like stylisation with the density of shading found in old wood engravings, a blend that would prove influential as his popularity grew. As Dery notes in his book’s introduction, without Edward Gorey’s work there would be no Lemony Snicket, while Tim Burton would be a skeletal shadow of his present self. (Given the latter’s current output, this might do him some good. But I digress.)

gorey4.jpg

The Doubtful Guest (1957).

In Britain, however, Gorey remains a cult rather than cultural figure, still overshadowed by better-known contemporaries such as Maurice Sendak and Charles Addams. Until the publication of the Amphigorey story collections Gorey’s books were produced in small editions with such a limited availability you were more likely to encounter his art on the cover of another author’s book than within the pages of his own. I became aware of Gorey’s work by gradual osmosis. The first substantial piece I read about him was his entry in Philip Core’s Camp: The Lie that Tells the Truth (1984), in which Core’s mention of an art style “recollecting Victorian engravings” marked Gorey as an artist to be investigated. Two years later he received a longer entry in The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural edited by Jack Sullivan. (Camp and horror: how many other artists sit so easily in both worlds?) But Gorey is absent from many books about 20th-century illustrators, and despite the sequential nature of his work you won’t find him in histories of comic art.

gorey6.jpg

Edward Gorey’s Dracula: A Toy Theatre (1979).

In a way it’s fitting that the work of a man who was adamant in his determination to avoid being pinned down should be so difficult to find. But it’s also a shame that the work of an ardent Anglophile should be hard to find in the country that fuelled his imagination. Among Gorey’s literary favourites Dery lists Jane Austen and Agatha Christie together with Ronald Firbank, Saki, and EF Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels. (The latter trio are all present in Core’s book on camp, which no doubt makes Gorey camp to the core. Whether he would have approved of being labelled as such is another matter.) I wasn’t surprised by the mention of Saki when so many of Saki’s story titles (The Secret Sin of Septimus Brope) sound like Gorey books, while many of the stories themselves are like Gorey scenarios in prose. Not all Gorey’s work is camp or comic, however; the 32 drawings that comprise the wordless masterpiece of The West Wing (1963) are closer to David Lynch or the “strange stories” of Robert Aickman, the latter an author that Gorey illustrated on several occasions. Dery emphasises how Gorey’s love of silent cinema contributed to The West Wing and other pieces, especially the serials of the Surrealists’ favourite filmmaker, Louis Feuillade.

Continue reading “Born to be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey”

The Joe Phenix Detective Series

joephenix.jpg

After six months of black-and-white drawing it’s been good to return to colour book covers of which this is the first of a new crop of designs. Albert W. Aiken (c.1846–1894) was a prolific American author of pulp fiction, whether writing under his own name or pseudonymously (and sometimes as a woman) for Dime Library, Banner Weekly, Saturday Journal and many other publications. Joe Phenix (also named Phoenix in later stories) was one of his more popular creations, a late-Victorian detective whose investigations ran to over 20 adventures. These tales are in the process of being made available by Mark Williams in ebook form so my task was to provide a single cover design that could function for all the titles.

In keeping with the new format, the style deployed here is mostly a pastiche of the dime novel idiom with a few contemporary touches. Many of the dime publications favoured a large box in the top third of the cover which would contain a typically florid title arrangement. The accompanying illustrations were often comparatively crude but the titles followed the style of the period with engraved drop shadows, gradients and lots of fine decoration. It’s fun to imitate this style although it can also be more time-consuming than contemporary design since everything has to be worked out one piece at a time. Several of the decorative elements on this cover are what printers used to refer to as “combination ornaments”, very small details which can be pieced together in a number of ways to form banners, borders and other motifs. Combination ornaments were a solution to the problem of working elaborate decoration into spaces of variable size and shape; instead of a pre-shaped design you’d shape the decoration to fit the space. They were also lucrative since printers charged for the use of each small element. In a digital composition such as this the joins between the pieces are invisible but in a period design you can often spot the combination pieces (especially in border designs) when the individual elements fail to line up properly. The figure with the gun, incidentally, is Mr Phenix himself, taken from the cover of Beadle’s Dime Library.

The first few Joe Phenix titles are available now at Amazon and other ebook outlets with further titles to follow.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The man who wasn’t Tesla
The George Dower Trilogy by KW Jeter
Steampunk in the Tank
More vapour trails
Steampunk catalogued
Steampunk: The Art of Victorian Futurism
Steampunk Calendar
Words and pictures
Nathanial Krill at the Time Node
Fiendish Schemes
Ghosts in Gaslight, Monsters in Steam
Steampunk Revolution
The Bookman Histories
Aether Cola
Crafting steampunk illustrations
SteamPunk Magazine
Morlocks, airships and curious cabinets
The Steampunk Bible
Steampunk Reloaded
Steampunk overloaded!
More Steampunk and the Crawling Chaos
Steampunk Redux
Steampunk framed
Steampunk Horror Shortcuts

Weekend links 423

howe.jpg

The Miracle (Genet’s Dream) (2001) by Delmas Howe.

• “Zachary Lipton, an assistant professor at the machine learning department at Carnegie Mellon University, watched with frustration as this story transformed from ‘interesting-ish research’ to ‘sensationalized crap’.” Oscar Schwartz on how the media gets AI alarmingly wrong.

• The Aesthetics of Science Fiction: what does SF look like after cyberpunk? Very Brutalist if you ask Rick Liebling, although the first example shown in his piece—the Brunel University Lecture Centre—appears briefly as future architecture in A Clockwork Orange.

• At Expanding Mind: Erik Davis talks with philosopher and religious studies professor Dustin Atlas about ancient skepticism, Madhyamaka Buddhism, the taste of honey, Montaigne, Robert Anton Wilson, and the path of doubt.

• At Muddy Colors: Part 1 of their choices for best fantasy book covers of the year so far, a list which includes my cover for Moonshine by Jasmine Gower. Thanks!

• Soundtracking with Edith Bowman, episode 84: director Todd Haynes on the music of Wonderstruck, I’m Not There, Carol and Far From Heaven.

• Mixes of the week: FACT mix 663 by Space Afrika, Secret Thirteen Mix 262 by Mieko Suzuki, and Black Minimalism, a playlist by David Toop.

• Two minutes, eight barrels: drone and GoPro footage of surfer Koa Smith riding the waves of the Namibia shoreline.

• David Lynch’s Sacred Clay: Shehryar Fazli reviews Room to Dream by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna.

Charlotte Higgins on myths, monsters and the maze: how writers fell in love with the labyrinth.

• Monstrous Geometries in the Fiction of HP Lovecraft by Moritz Ingwersen.

Listen to the mournful wails of planets and moons.

• A Peel Session by Laika

Surf Ride (1956) by Art Pepper | Surf (1976) by Tim Blake | Surfside Sex (1982) by Patrick Cowley