Beksinski at Mnémos

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More book covers. Mnémos is a French publisher of horror, fantasy and science fiction some of whose recent titles have their covers filled with paintings by the great Polish artist Zdzislaw Beksinski. The pairings of book and picture aren’t always ideal but I appreciate the impulse to choose art from other sources than genre artists. Omni magazine adopted a similar approach in its early issues, matching stories and science features with paintings by artists who are often grouped together as Fantastic Realists: Mati Klarwein, Ernst Fuchs, HR Giger, Bob Venosa, De Es Schwertberger and others. Beksinski’s work was less visible in the late 1970s than that of his contemporaries but one of his (always untitled) paintings did appear in a 1993 issue of the magazine.

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Of the Mnémos covers the one for the collection of Averoigne stories by Clark Ashton Smith is the most immediately fitting, Averoigne being an invented region of France that suits a painting of a Gothic cathedral turned fibrous and fungal. The painting for Zothique, on the other hand, could easily be used for HP Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, while the dog-like creature on the cover of the Frank Belknap Long collection is nothing like the author’s trans-dimensional hounds. Mnémos have given Lovecraft his own Beksinski covers in a seven-volume collection of translated fiction, Lovecraft, l’intégrale prestige, but there doesn’t seem to be a page anywhere that shows the individual books.

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What the artist would have made of all this attention may be gauged by comments like this one from The Fantastic Art of Beksinski (1998): “Meaning is meaningless to me. I do not care for symbolism, and I paint what I paint without meditating on a story.”

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For more about the anti-symbolist, see The Cursed Paintings of Zdzislaw Beksinski by Marek Kepa. (As before, my apology to Polish readers for the unaccented names. The blog coding only works with a limited range of accents.)

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The book covers archive
The fantastic art archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Cosmic music and cosmic horror

Cosmic music and cosmic horror

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Track titles by Tangerine Dream (again) if they were stories or chapters in a book of weird fiction:

– Alpha Centauri
– Ultima Thule
– Origin Of Supernatural Probabilities
– Mysterious Semblance At The Strand Of Nightmares
– Sorcerer
– Abyss
– Stratosfear
– Choronzon
– Remote Viewing
– Hyperborea

Clark Ashton Smith’s tales of the northern continent of Hyperborea were Cthulhu Mythos fantasies with a sardonic CAS twist. The connection with Tangerine Dream is most likely coincidental, the name being one that Smith borrowed rather than invented, but I enjoy the intersection all the same. The title of TD’s first single, Ultima Thule, refers to another remote northern realm. If you’re reaching for associations, as I invariably am, then it’s also worth mentioning Haunted Island by an affiliated group, Agitation Free. The last track on their 2nd album features a partial recitation of Dream-Land by Edgar Allan Poe that includes the words “from some ultimate dim Thule”; the keyboard player in Agitation Free was Michael Hoenig who was briefly a member of Tangerine Dream in 1975. As for Choronzon, this was a demon that Aleister Crowley claimed to have tangled with in the Algerian desert in 1909. The malevolent and chaotic nature of the entity, together with its unavoidably Lovecraftian epithet of “the Dweller in the Abyss”, places it close to the Mythos god of “nuclear chaos”, Azathoth, although the music that bears the Dweller’s name doesn’t convey any of these qualities. Tangerine Dream’s Choronzon is an uptempo piece of electro-pop that Virgin optimistically released as a single in 1981. For a group with a long history of eccentric title choices this maybe isn’t so surprising.

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Tangerine Dream feature on another cosmic-horror music list that I suggested as soundtracks for The Haunter of the Dark in 1999. (The Lustmord somehow lost a couple of words from its title.) Most of these are drone works, and several were released after I’d drawn most of the pages, but I was listening to Zeit and Rubycon during many late-night work sessions, the latter especially while drawing The Call of Cthulhu. Discovering weird fiction and spacey electronica simultaneously caused the two things to become inextricably connected, and besides which there wasn’t much else to be found in the music world of the late 1970s that complemented such stories to the same degree. Rubycon offered satisfying associations, from the liquid green of the cover art (Cthulhu always suggests the colour green), to the predominantly sinister, minor-key music within. When the sequencers in Rubycon: Part 2 give way to the sounds of waves breaking on a shoreline this only reinforces the suitability of the album as a Cthulhoid soundtrack.

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The dedication from Alpha Centauri as printed in the Virgin double-disc reissue with the Atem album. It’s never been clear whether the “space” referred to is a noun or a verb.

If you’re looking for cosmic-horror soundtracks today then you’re spoiled for choice, there are numerous examples, from the general—the occulted universe of Dark Ambience—to the very specific. I enjoy the drones, obviously, but the Berlin School still has something to offer so long as the key remains a minor one and the titles avoid New Age vapidity. See this mix for further examples.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Tangerine Dream in concert
Drone month
Pilots Of Purple Twilight
Synapse: The Electronic Music Magazine, 1976–1979
A mix for Halloween: Analogue Spectres
Edgar Froese, 1944–2015
Synthesizing
Tangerine Dream in Poland
Hodgsonian vibrations
White Noise: Electric Storms, Radiophonics and the Delian Mode

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”

Illustrating Zothique

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Cover art by George Barr, 1970.

A few years ago I wrote a short piece about Virgil Finlay’s illustrations for a Zothique story by Clark Ashton Smith, The Garden of Adompha, so this post may be regarded as a more substantial sequel. If Smith remains something of a cult author then Zothique is the pre-eminent cult creation from his career as a writer of weird fiction. Most of Smith’s stories can be grouped together according to their location: Atlantis, Hyperborea, Averoigne in medieval France, the planet Mars, and so on. Zothique was a more original conception than his other worlds, being the last continent on Earth in the final years of the planet, an idea which had precedents in earlier novels such as William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land but which hadn’t been used before as a setting for a cycle of stories. The distant future suggests science fiction but, as with the Zothique-influenced Dying Earth of Jack Vance, science and technology is long-forgotten and sorcery rules the day. The poetry that Smith wrote before he took to writing short stories had a distinctly Decadent quality—”like a verbal Gustave Moreau painting“—and Zothique is a richly Decadent world, with the entire planet in a state of decay along with its barbarous, demon-worshipping peoples.

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Weird Tales, September 1932. Art by T. Wyatt Nelson.

All the Zothique stories had their first printings in Weird Tales, a magazine that ran illustrations with most contributions, but unless you’re a pulp collector many of the illustrations have been difficult to see until very recently. One of the pleasures of looking through fiction magazines is seeing how their stories might have been illustrated when they were first published. Popular tales eventually find their way into book collections but their illustrations tend to be marooned in the titles where they first appeared unless the artist is of sufficient merit to warrant a collection of their own.

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Weird Tales, March 1933. Art by Jayem Wilcox.

The examples here are all from recent uploads at the Internet Archive which now has a complete run of Weird Tales from 1923 to 1954. The illustrations also run in order of publication with links to the relevant issues, although I agree with Lin Carter’s ordering of the stories. Smith never organised them himself, and the later reprints from Arkham House and others tend to scatter them through separate volumes. When Lin Carter edited the Zothique collection in 1970 he put the stories into an order that follows the very loose chronology running through the cycle.

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Weird Tales, January 1934. Art by Clark Ashton Smith.

One surprise of this search was discovering that Smith himself had provided illustrations for several of the stories. Some Smith enthusiasts like his drawings and paintings but I’m afraid I’m not among them, his sculpture work is better. It’s doubtful that these would have been printed at all if they weren’t the work of the author.

Continue reading “Illustrating Zothique”

Weekend links 468

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“The atom shall work for peace…” Soviet poster promoting the benefits of nuclear power.

• RIP Mac Rebennack aka Dr. John Creaux, The Night Tripper. Dan Auerbach remembers the man whose return to funky form, Locked Down, he produced in 2012. Elsewhere, Michael Hurtt details Mac Rebennack’s pre-Dr. John exploits; some of his music from that period is linked at the end of this post. Entries at YouTube are inevitably skewed to the present but among the older clips you’ll find these: The Doctor and his band in full voodoo regalia miming to Zu Zu Mamou on the Something Else TV show; audio extracts from a Dutch festival performance in 1970, here and here; more quality audio from a 1972 concert in Syracuse, NY; and an hour-long Chicago TV show from 1974 featuring Dr. John, Professor Longhair, The Meters, and Earl King.

• More Tangerine Dream: all the soundtrack music for Vampira (1971), a drama-documentary directed by George Moorse for German TV. Recommended to those who like the group’s Ohr period.

• More Chernobyl: a photo-essay by Tom Skipp featuring survivors of the disaster, and from 2013, Hari Kunzru‘s report from the Exclusion Zone.

• At The Quietus: Lottie Brazier on The Strange World of Stereolab, and Ned Raggett talking to Liz Harris about her Nivhek project.

• The sixth edition of Wyrd Daze—”The multimedia zine of speculative fiction + extra-ordinary music, art & writing”—is out now.

Clark Ashton Smith: The Emperor of Dreams, a DVD of the feature-length documentary by Darin Coelho Spring.

• Moon Wiring Club is back this month with fresh releases at Bandcamp, a YouTube post, and the EVP MVP Mix.

• Once the “Swingingest Street in the World”: Rob Baker on pictures of Carnaby Street 1924–1975.

• New video footage of Coil playing live at All Tomorrow’s Parties, 6th April, 2003.

Dean Hurley explores life after death on Philosophy of Beyond.

Tom Walker on Harry Clarke’s uncanny visions of Ireland.

Alex Barrett on where to begin with Alain Resnais.

• Martin Parr’s Soviet space dog collection.

Dennis Cooper winds you up.

Storm Warning (1959) by Mac Rebennack | Morgus The Magnificent (1959) by Morgus & The 3 Ghouls | Sahara (1961) by Mac Rebennack & His Orch.