Merlin

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Merlin building Stonehenge (14th century) from Folio 30r of British Library, Egerton 3028.

The Arthurian magus in art and illustration. Despite the antiquity of the Arthur legend there doesn’t seem to be much early representation of Merlin outside a few drawings in old manuscripts. The British Library’s folio showing the raising of Stonehenge is the oldest known depiction of the ancient structure.

Most of the pictures here are illustrations for the Merlin and Vivien section of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, the first book of which was published in 1859. Vivien (or Viviane, Nimue, etc) is the sorcerous Lady in the Lake who either imprisons Merlin underground or in a tree depending on whose account you read. Edward Burne-Jones’ The Beguiling of Merlin has long been my favourite of that artist’s paintings. This is only a very small selection of possible pictures, of course. A more complete catalogue would include Nicol Williamson in John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981), a performance that some find overly mannered but one that I’ve always enjoyed.

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Merlin and Vivien (1867) by Gustave Doré.

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The Beguiling of Merlin (1874) by Edward Burne-Jones.

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More Esteban Maroto

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Psychedelic Kali from Vampirella 18.

Copies of the Dracula comics may be scarce these days but two of the artists who appeared in the title—Esteban Maroto and José Beá—were also appearing regularly in Vampirella around the same time. The Internet Archive has a large collection of Warren titles including an almost complete run of Vampirella. Esteban Maroto’s work stands out for me for his draughtsmanship, his page layouts, the atmosphere of heady eroticism, and the frequent touches of psychedelia of which the panel above is one of the more striking examples. The best strips are the ones he wrote himself; when he works with American writers the results tend to be more restrained. It’s a shame Vampirella was mostly a black-and-white title, so many of these pages would benefit from the same colour treatment as Wolff.

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Wolf Hunt from Vampirella 14.

And speaking of wolves, there’s a similar collection of witches and lycanthropes in these stories.

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Tomb of the Gods: Horus from Vampirella 17.

Tomb of the Gods is a short series in which mythological stories are explored Maroto-style. The exception is Gender Bender, a piece of science fiction with masculine and feminine psyches pitted against each other in a virtual arena. The story title is a surprise for anyone thinks that phrase originated in the 1980s.

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Tomb of the Gods: Kali from Vampirella 18.

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Du Tac au Tac: Druillet, Hogarth and Buscema

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I thought I was done with Druillet for this week but no, there’s more. I hadn’t come across Du Tac au Tac before, a French TV show from the early 70s in which three (sometimes four) different comic artists are given a total of 15 minutes to improvise a drawing on a single board. The list of contributors is a who’s who of comic talent from France, Belgium, America and elsewhere. French TV site Ina.fr (which is pay-to-view) has 130 episodes in their archive, many of which have found their way onto YouTube. Druillet was a regular contributor, as was Moebius.

I’ve singled out this episode from 1972 for the astonishing conjunction of Druillet with Burne Hogarth, two artists with a considerable influence on my own comics work. Without the example of Heavy Metal magazine in general, and Druillet in particular, I might not have bothered trying to adapt Lovecraft’s stories into comics in the 1980s; at one point I was prepared to put together a book of stories-plus-illustrations along the lines of Berni Wrightson’s Frankenstein. Burne Hogarth, meanwhile, casts a Tarzan-shaped shadow over the darker shadows of the Reverbstorm series, his work being quoted throughout, especially in the appropriation of the bizarre and sinister Ononoes from the Tarzan Sunday strips. The third artist present, John Buscema, is notable if only for representing the comics creation that I like the least: the over-muscled, flat-groined, stupidly-costumed, always-fighting, corporate superhero. As it is, Buscema doesn’t fare too well in this exchange, sketching a half-hearted Silver Surfer while Hogarth (who was left-handed; don’t think I knew that) draws a profile of Tarzan in pastels, and Druillet works furiously with markers to create a typical melange of bat-winged demon, alien glyph and screaming head. I’ve not watched any of the other episodes yet but for those interested there are two channels of the things here and here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Sorcerer: Druillet and Friedkin
Ô Sidarta: a film about Philippe Druillet
Lovecraft: Démons et Merveilles
Heavy Metal, October 1979: the Lovecraft special
Philippe Druillet album covers
Druillet’s vampires
Salammbô illustrated
Druillet meets Hodgson

Reverbstorm at Supervert

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Keith Seward’s Horror Panegyric was a concise examination of David Britton’s multimedia Lord Horror project which Savoy Books published in 2007. I designed the book, the cover of which was my Arcimboldo pastiche of Lord Horror’s profile which appeared on the cover of issue 3 of Reverbstorm. The Supervert site which hosts an online copy of Horror Panegyric has this month posted my answers to some questions about Reverbstorm, the series having grown out of the first Lord Horror novel and the earlier comics:

The graphics in Reverbstorm sometimes seem more narrative than the words. How did you and David work out a scenario?

I don’t have objections per se to the usual story structures but in this series we both wanted to create something that wasn’t following familiar adventure narrative lines. The precedents for me were the European comic artists from Métal Hurlant who often favoured art over story; also Burne Hogarth whose work was a great influence on the style I used to draw Lord Horror. Hogarth’s Tarzan strips are adventure narratives but in his later books it’s the art that’s paramount. James Joyce is one of the characters in Reverbstorm, and you can also find a precedent in Ulysses where the story is overwhelmed by the surface detail.

Reverbstorm began with Paul Temple’s lyrics for the Reverbstorm song and a brief Lord Horror film treatment that Dave and Mike had put together for a production company. I don’t recall much about the treatment — I only looked at it once in the office — but it concerned Horror and Jessie Matthews in New York City, opening with a sequence where his Lordship kills some policemen in an alleyway. That vague outline can be seen in the first few pages of Reverbstorm with NYC changed to Torenbürgen. Other elements taken from the film treatment included the name Blue Blaze Laudanum — the actual robotic character came later — and the Souls which likewise became more substantially developed as the comic progressed.

Once we’d introduced all the characters things developed along thematic lines rather than strictly narrative ones. So the second part introduces the Ether Jumpers, the third part has the Apes, the fourth part the Ononoes, the fifth part Picasso and T.S. Eliot, and so on. Musical structure is an obvious parallel, and I consider some of the recurring background material to be visual leifmotifs which can indicate or imply one of the three main characters even if they aren’t present on the page. This musical analogy is an important one for appreciating the series as a whole. The entwined themes and references work in a manner that’s a lot closer to musical works than to the mechanics of an adventure narrative. (more)

Previously on { feuilleton }
Reverbstorm in print
Reverbstorm update
James Joyce in Reverbstorm
A Reverbstorm jukebox
Reverbstorm: Bauhaus Horror
Reverbstorm: an introduction and preview

Virgil Finlay’s Tarzan

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Thanks are due to Ty Reutel for alerting my attention to this one. I’d no idea that the great Virgil Finlay had illustrated Tarzan but here’s the proof, one half of an interior drawing for The Quest of Tarzan in Argosy Weekly for 1941. That’s the first surprise, the second, of course, was that Finlay had copied Frederic Leighton’s Athlete Wrestling with a Python (1877) ( below), a sculpture which has been a subject of discussion here recently. I’ve mentioned before my including Leighton’s work in one of my Lovecraft adaptations; I referred to many other artworks in those stories but never made any direct reference to Virgil Finlay even though he was the original illustrator of Lovecraft’s The Haunter of the Dark when it was first published in Weird Tales in 1936. Finlay’s illustrations for that story later appeared with some of my own in the enormous Centipede Press collection of Lovecraft art so it’s strange to find that we were also led to the same Leighton sculpture.

Tarzan illustration has been in my thoughts for the past few weeks while I’ve been at work (again!) on the collected Reverbstorm, many pages of which played variations on Burne Hogarth’s comic adaptations of the Tarzan stories. Reverbstorm is at long last very close to being finally, absolutely finished, and ready for printing in a single definitive volume. No production schedule just yet but any news will be announced here.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Frederic Leighton’s sculptures
Virgil Finlay’s Salomé
Die Farbe and The Colour Out of Space
Lovecraft’s favourite artists revisited
Angelo Colarossi and son
The monstrous tome
Men with snakes