Howard/Seward

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Frank Belknap Long and HP Lovecraft, New York, 1931. Photo by WB Talman.

Two friends—HP Lovecraft and Frank Belknap Long—visit the Egyptian antiquities in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1920s:

Tom Collins (for The Twilight Zone Magazine): I seem to recall a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art that you two made together.

Frank Belknap Long: You mean the time we visited the Egyptian tomb? Well, the Metropolitan apparently still has it. This was way back in the 1920s. The tomb was on the main floor in the Hall of Egyptian Antiquities, and we both went inside to the inner burial chamber. Howard was fascinated by the somberness of the whole thing. He put his hand against the corrugated stone wall, just casually, and the next day he developed a pronounced but not too serious inflammation. There was no great pain involved, and the swelling went down in two or three days. But it seems as if some malign, supernatural influence still lingered in the burial chamber—The Curse of the Pharaohs—as if they resented the fact that Howard had entered this tomb and touched the wall. Perhaps they had singled him out because of his stories and feared he was getting too close to the Ancient Mysteries.

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William Burroughs, New York, 1953. Photo by Allen Ginsberg.

Two friends—William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg—visit the Egyptian antiquities in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1950s:

Allen Ginsberg: We went uptown to look at Mayan Codices at Museum of Natural History & Metropolitan Museum of Art to view Carlo Crivelli’s green-hued Christ-face with crown of thorns stuck symmetric in his skull — here Egyptian wing William Burroughs with a brother Sphinx, Fall 1953 Manhattan.

When I last wrote about the parallels between Lovecraft and Burroughs in a post from 2014 I wasn’t aware of Lovecraft and Long’s visit to the same museum exhibits that Burroughs and Ginsberg visited some 30 years later. I did, however, use the same photos which are posted here, a curious coincidence when Long wasn’t mentioned in the earlier post. This minor revelation is a result of reading the features in back issues of The Twilight Zone Magazine, one of which is an interview with an 81-year-old Frank Belknap Long. The coincidence is a trivial thing but it adds to the small number of connections between the two writers.

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A Cthulhu Sphinx from The Call of Cthulhu, 1988.

Lovecraft and Burroughs were both living in New York City at the time of their excursions, and both touched on Egyptian mythology in their writings, so their having viewed the same museum exhibits seems inevitable rather than surprising. A more tangible connection between the pair is alluded to in Ginsberg’s photograph note when he mentions the Mayan codices. A few years before the museum visit, Burroughs had been studying the Mayan language and the Mexican codices in Mexico City under the tutelage of Robert H. Barlow, the former literary executor of HP Lovecraft. Burroughs’ studies subsequently fueled the references to Mayan mythology that turn up repeatedly in his fiction, and he was still at Mexico City College in 1951 when Barlow killed himself with a barbiturate overdose, afraid that his homosexuality was about to be exposed by one of his students. Burroughs mentioned the suicide in a letter to Ginsberg. The connections don’t end there, however. After Barlow’s death the rights to Lovecraft’s writings passed, somewhat controversially, to August Derleth and Donald Wandrei at Arkham House, and in another curious coincidence Derleth happened to be one of the complainants against a literary journal, Big Table, in 1959, when the magazine ran Ten Episodes from Naked Lunch, and was subsequently prosecuted for sending obscene material through the US mail. Derleth and Arkham House are both mentioned in the court papers.

I’ve never seen any indication that Burroughs was aware of these connections but if he was I doubt he would have paid them much attention, he always seemed rather blasé about his intersections with popular culture. He did think well enough of Lovecraft (or at least the version of Lovecraft’s fiction as presented by the Simon Necronomicon) to invoke “Kutulu” along with the Great God Pan and the usual complement of Mayan deities in Cities of the Red Night. Years later I remember seeing something in a newspaper about him retiring to Lawrence, Kansas, where he was described as passing the time “reading HP Lovecraft”. (I wish I could give a reference for this but I don’t recall the source.) If so then I like to think he might have given Creation Books’ Starry Wisdom collection more than a passing glance when it turned up at his door.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Taking Tiger Mountain
The Big Fix!
Paging Doctor Benway
Birth of a Zimbu
Seward/Howard
Interzone: A William Burroughs Mix
Sine Fiction
The Ticket That Exploded: An Ongoing Opera
Burroughs: The Movie revisited
Zimbu Xolotl Time
Ah Pook Is Here
Jarek Piotrowski’s Soft Machine
Looking for the Wild Boys
Wroblewski covers Burroughs
Mugwump jism
Brion Gysin’s walk, 1966
Burroughs in Paris
William Burroughs interviews
Soft machines
Burroughs: The Movie
William S Burroughs: A Man Within
The Final Academy
William Burroughs book covers
Towers Open Fire

Old Weird and New Weird

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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

Yuggoth details

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Yuggoth Cultures (1994) by John Coulthart.

Earlier this week I spent a day scanning this painting—which I’m now surprised to find is 21 years old—so I might at last have a good quality digital copy. There’s been a copy on the website for years but that was a print made at a high-street copy shop that did nothing for the detail and range of colour. It’s quite a large piece—49.54 x 71.39 cm (19.5 x 28.1 inches)—done with acrylics on board. Since 2003 the painting has been used (in another poor reproduction) on the cover of The Starry Wisdom, the controversial collection of Lovecraftian fiction from Creation Books. The painting wasn’t originally intended for that collection, however, and doesn’t quite fit since a number of the portraits don’t feature in the book at all.

Yuggoth Cultures would have been an earlier collection of Lovecraftian fiction and non-fiction that Alan Moore had begun writing for Creation in 1993. Alan’s idea was to take Lovecraft’s Fungi from Yuggoth sonnet sequence as the basis for a collection that would explore Lovecraft’s fictional world and also draw together a variety of figures from the same era: fellow writers, occultists like Aleister Crowley and Austin Spare, and Harry Houdini for whom Lovecraft ghost-wrote Imprisoned with the Pharaohs in 1924. Unfortunately the stars were not right on this occasion; Alan took the sole copy of the half-written manuscript to London in order to read selections at an event in Soho but left the papers in a cab. Some pieces survived, having been copied and stored elsewhere—The Courtyard in The Starry Wisdom is one of these—and there was talk for a while of the lost pieces being rewritten but enthusiasm for the project flagged.

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This is Alan’s sketch for the cover, the idea being to have a Lovecraft head made of fungal growths rather like an Arcimboldo painting. The head would be sprouting tendrils whose loops would contain pictures of some of the people featured in the book. Alan’s quick sketch is actually a better approximation of Lovecraft’s strange features than my painted version which isn’t narrow enough. For the record (and because people always ask), the other people on the cover are Alan himself, Austin Osman Spare, Aleister Crowley, Harry Houdini, Robert E Howard (not Al Capone as people often think) and Clark Ashton Smith.

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While searching through the archives I discovered these lettering designs although they’re probably not bold enough to read very well on such a busy painting. Before I started using a computer, designs like this had to be drawn at large size then scaled down using a photocopier.

Continue reading “Yuggoth details”

Heliotropic

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Arriving in the post this week was a catalogue for a Maison & Objet exposition of design and decoration which includes one of my paintings among the listed “Inspirations“. The event was held in Paris at the end of January but I’ve been so busy for the past few of months I forgot to see when it was on. Not that I could have said much about it since this is a showcase event you have to attend rather than experience remotely.

Catalogues for big art and design events often tend to the lavish and expensive but the Elsewhere book is the most lavish I’ve ever encountered. The production runs the gamut of the many expensive options which modern printing can provide: metallic inks, varnish effects, iridescent and translucent sheets, embossing, die-cutting, tipped-in inserts, and variable page sizes. The inflexible icing on the cake comes in the shape of a small square of polished marble glued to one of the pages. Excess aside, the print quality is excellent, and I’m very pleased with the way my Elvis painting appears.

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Sun King (1996).

Sun King was commissioned by Creation Books in 1996 as cover art for a Jeremy Reed novel which ended up being dropped by the company. The concept was the author’s, and while I’m pleased with the way it turned out I always felt it should have had more of a Gustave Moreau quality. This is the first time the picture been used anywhere although I did reuse the Elvis-in-a-Cadillac idea recently for one of the Alas Vegas Tarot cards.

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My painting is included in the Heliotropic section of the book which shows some of François Bernard’s inspirations. I’m pleased they placed one of the die-cut overlays before my piece. The photos below show some of the pages from the other sections which concern the inspirations of Elizabeth Leriche—her section includes the chunk of marble—and Vincent Grégoire whose section features futurism, space scenes, metallic effects, and Daft Punk.

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Continue reading “Heliotropic”

CthulhuPress

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The Twitter consensus yesterday was that CafePress products based on this design were required so here they are. As usual I never know what people want from CafePress so I tend to throw the design on their entire range so long as it fits the requisite size and shape. This piece works better than most since it’s simple and direct, my more detailed and pictorial creations look better as prints. I keep feeling that someone must have made a design like this already, these variations on the “Keep Calm” poster have proliferated so much, but searching didn’t reveal anything so… The web address doesn’t appear on the CafePress things, that’s just for the images posted here if and when they drift into Tumblr’s Sargasso Sea of uncredited pictures.

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The Call of Cthulhu (1987–88).

While we’re on the subject of everyone’s favourite Great Old One, I may as well take the opportunity to remind those interested that these earlier renderings are also available as various CafePress products. The Call of Cthulhu piece above is the opening page of my comic strip adaptation of the story as seen in The Starry Wisdom anthology from Creation Books and my Haunter of the Dark collection.

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Cthulhu from The Great Old Ones (1999).

The Great Old Ones drawing was one of the plates from the series of the same name I produced with Alan Moore for the Haunter book. And Cthulhu Rising is the cover of that volume, of course, seen here with its Haeckel-derived frame. The Great Old Ones Cthulhu was drawn with a Biro pen then tweaked slightly in Photoshop. I don’t think I’ve ever posted a large version of it so here it is.

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Cthulhu Rising (2004).

Previously on { feuilleton }
Design as virus #8: Keep Calm and Carry On
Cubist Cthulhu