Outer Alliance Pride Day

outer.jpgToday is Outer Alliance Pride Day so let’s begin with a statement:

As a member of the Outer Alliance, I advocate for queer speculative fiction and those who create, publish and support it, whatever their sexual orientation and gender identity. I make sure this is reflected in my actions and my work.

Various members of the Outer Alliance are either posting fiction, or reviewing something or otherwise attempting to fill that declaration of intent. For my part I decided today to do a sketch based on my favourite chapter of The Ticket that Exploded by William Burroughs, the sequence entitled the black fruit which Burroughs wrote with Michael Portman. Ticket was the first Burroughs book I read at the age of 16 or so, having discovered a copy in a local library, and it really felt like something exploding in the head. For a start, the text is some of his least accommodating for an average reader, although I was already familiar enough with literary experiment to cope with that. Far more electrifying was seeing familiar scenarios from science fiction and fantasy infused with a raw and relentless gay sexuality of endless erections and spurting cocks. The black fruit begins with a science fiction scene of lost astronauts encountering alien fishboys intent on having sex; it then progresses through a series of descriptions which read like a pornographic rewriting of similar scenes from HP Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith. In the opening pages of Ticket, Burroughs describes his book as “science fiction” but this was like no sf I’d read; I started to wish there was more like it. There are flashes of similar stuff in The Soft Machine (including an idea borrowed from Henry Kuttner) and elsewhere, and Cities of the Red Night is pretty much a full-on fantasy in its second half, but I’d still like to read more about the fishboys…

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Fishboy and Astronaut (detail).

So here’s an explicitly erotic sketch based on the black fruit (click the picture for the full thing). This should have been a lot better but I’m out of practice drawing at the moment and I didn’t give myself enough time. The scene doesn’t really match the book either, and the astronaut figure is pretty crappy. Feeble excuses aside, Burroughs’ rotting swamp gardens with their marble statues of copulating boys deserve better. And where his fiction leads, I’m still hoping that more writers will follow, not by copying his obsessions but by being as fearless and honest in mining their own.

Previously on { feuilleton }
William S Burroughs: A Man Within
The art of NoBeast

The art of Ed Emshwiller, 1925–1990

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Another item brought to light during the Great Shelf Re-ordering and Spring Clean is this 1950 Lancer paperback of The Dying Earth by Jack Vance, a slim collection of six short connected stories, and another favourite book. Despite the sf label this is far more a work of fantasy (science fantasy, if you must), being tales of the bizarre and occasionally grotesque inhabitants of the last days of the earth. Magic is the order of the day, not advanced technology, although Vance hints that the book’s elaborate spells may be a higher ordering of mathematics capable of manipulating reality. I like the simple cover layout of this edition, and Ed Emshwiller’s illustration manages to be sparing yet fully representative of a key scene.

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French sf portal Noosfere has recently revamped its artwork showcase and has a substantial collection of Emshwiller’s cover paintings. I’d prefer to see more of his earlier style but the collection includes some striking designs.

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Sunstone (1979).

Emshwiller was a very prolific illustrator but from the 1960s on also developed his own style of experimental filmmaking, some examples of which can be found at YouTube. I’d actually seen Sunstone—a very early piece of computer animation—years ago without registering the credit. In addition there’s also Thanatopsis, a strange b&w short which is remarkably similar in tone to some of the films which William Burroughs and Antony Balch were making at around the same time.

The genre artist | Jack Vance profiled in the NYT

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The book covers archive
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The King in Yellow
Ballantine Adult Fantasy covers
Clark Ashton Smith book covers
Revenant volumes: Bob Haberfield, New Worlds and others
The World in 2030
The art of Virgil Finlay, 1914–1971
Towers Open Fire

The King in Yellow

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Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink beneath the lake,
The shadows lengthen
In Carcosa.

Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.

The King in Yellow, Act i, Scene 2.

Rearranging the bookshelves this week had me looking again at this old Ace paperback of Robert Chambers’ weird classic, one of that select handful of books which can bear a blurb from HP Lovecraft. Any Lovecraft aficionados yet to read the first four stories in Chambers’ collection (the others pieces are of lesser interest) are missing out. These are as good as anything that Weird Tales published and together they achieve that unique blend of science fiction, fantasy and horror which Lovecraft and others also managed in the days when writers, and readers for that matter, were far less concerned with the definition and boundaries of genre.

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My Ace edition was the first paperback printing from 1965 and the cover painting is by Jack Gaughan, credited inside as being based on Chambers’ own first edition design. I’d often wondered what the original cover looked like and now, of course, it’s easy to find. Whether Chambers himself drew this is unclear but whoever the artist was, the design is rather more finessed than Gaughan’s sketchy painting.

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Searching around reveals two further variations, one of which—the green cover—is described on a bookselling site as the actual first edition of the book from 1895. Yours for a mere $1,750. The other cover is probably a later reprint which gives a clearer view of the mysterious King. What’s notable here is the curious sigil on both the Neely editions. I was hoping this might be the dreaded Yellow Sign which is the subject of Chambers’ fourth (and Lovecraft’s favourite) story; it’s certainly more suitable than the squiggle which seems so unaccountably popular among certain quarters of Lovecraft fandom. It isn’t the Yellow Sign, however, it turns out to be the monogram for publisher F. Tennyson Neely. Perhaps this is just as well. “The solution to the mystery is always inferior to the mystery itself,” as Borges said, and some things, like the malevolent play which gives its name to this collection, are best kept out of reach.

The King in Yellow at the Internet Archive

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Arthur Machen book covers
Clark Ashton Smith book covers

The art of Ian Miller

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From the Hollywood Gothic series (1984).

Jeff VanderMeer has a great post about artist/illustrator Ian Miller at io9 which prompts me to write a few words about his work myself, something I’ve intended for a while.

Miller is indelibly linked for me with HP Lovecraft on account of his covers for the Panther Horror editions of the 1970s, the first Lovecraft volumes I bought. His sinister and minutely detailed ink drawings were a big inspiration when I started to draw seriously myself, unsurprisingly when my own drawings possessed a similar quantity of detail and macabre atmosphere. I still think his cover for William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland (below) is one of the most successful anyone has produced for that novel. His Mountains of Madness cover, while not being a direct illustration, perfectly encapsulates the feel of much of Lovecraft’s later fiction.

Jeff’s post has a wide range of work which I’ve avoided duplicating. The items shown here are all scans from my own library. More of Miller’s Lovecraft illustration will appear in the forthcoming Artists Inspired by HP Lovecraft from Centipede Press, along with several pieces by yours truly.

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The House on the Borderland (1972).

Continue reading “The art of Ian Miller”

Clark Ashton Smith book covers

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I hadn’t looked at Eldritch Dark, the premier Clark Ashton Smith site, for a while so it’s good to see they now have a substantial collection of CAS covers from books, magazines and fanzines. The ones shown here are further examples of my Panther Books fetishism and were the first CAS titles I came across in the mid-Seventies. The artist is Bruce Pennington who produced much fine sf and fantasy art during this period and whose spiky, bone-strewn paintings are especially suited to cosmic horror vistas or the more apocalyptic end of the fantasy spectrum. He also painted a couple of Lovecraft-related covers for Panther, hence his inclusion in the forthcoming Lovecraft art book from Centipede Press.

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• Bruce Pennington at ImageNETion: I | II | III | IV

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Witness my hand and official seal