Weekend links 419

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Cover art by Leo & Diane Dillon, 1975.

Art is not supposed to be easier! There are a lot of things in life that are supposed to be easier. Ridding the world of heart attacks, making the roads smoother, making old people more comfortable in the winter, but not Art. Art should always be tough. Art should demand something of you. Art should involve foot-pounds of energy being expended. It’s not supposed to be easier, and those who want it easier should not be artists. They should be out selling public relations copy.

Typical of the late Harlan Ellison to describe his vocation in terms of difficulty and struggle even when his prolific output made writing seem effortless. When my colleagues at Savoy Books published a Savoy issue of New Worlds magazine in 1979 one of the features they ran was an introduction by Michael Moorcock to an Ellison story collection. (They also published two books of Ellison’s around this time.) A copy of the magazine was duly sent to the subject of the essay since Ellison always liked to keep track of his print appearances. The back page of that particular issue is blank but for a few words in bold type from singer PJ Proby: “I am an artist; and should be exempt from shit.” Ellison cut this slogan from the magazine then glued it to his typewriter, no doubt transferring it to later models since it was still visible in the 2008 Ellison documentary, Dreams With Sharp Teeth.

My first encounter with Ellison’s work was also my first encounter with what became labelled the new wave of science fiction, via a reprint of I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream in a book in the school library. I was only about 12 or 13 at the time, and found Ellison’s story so shocking and disturbing that it overpowered everything else in the collection. The only other story that made an equivalent impression at the time was The Colour Out of Space by HP Lovecraft, so it’s perhaps fitting that Ellison gave my work a favourable mention in his introduction to the huge Centipede Press collection of Lovecraft artwork, A Lovecraft Retrospective: Artists Inspired by HP Lovecraft. I still haven’t got over that one. After the initial encounter, the Ellison-edited Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions were just as important for me as the paperback reprints of stories from the Moorcock-edited New Worlds: a handful of books that showed science fiction to be a literary form of limitless possibilities, as opposed to the stereotype of space adventure and future technology. The Ellison and Moorcock anthologies led me to William Burroughs, James Joyce and all points beyond; they also soured for me the preoccupation with space adventure and future technology which persists today.

My final connection with Ellison replayed his compliment in a small way, when editor Jill Roberts and I took extra care with the typesetting of Jeffty is Five for The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2. Ellison was the only author I’ve encountered in the digital age whose corrections were still handwritten comments on printed sheets; these had to be faxed to San Francisco then scanned and emailed to me (to this day I still don’t know why the oft-reprinted story required so many adjustments). It was awkward but amusingly so, a benign taste of a legendary bloody-mindedness and insistence on precision.

• “Laughing about an acid trip with members of Can and opening up about some of the ‘scars’ left from his association with Brian Eno and David Byrne’s My Life In the Bush of Ghosts, [Jon] Hassell is candid in a way that comes naturally to those who’ve lived life on their own terms.”

• Drone Metal Mysticism: Erik Davis talks with music scholar and ethnographer Owen Coggins about amplifier worship, sonic pilgrimage, “as if” listening, metal humour, and his new book Mysticism, Ritual and Religion in Drone Metal.

Psychedelic Prophets: The Letters of Aldous Huxley and Humphry Osmond; “Letters between the men who coined the term ‘psychedelic’ and opened doors to a different way of thinking about human consciousness.”

Artaud 1937 Apocalypse: Letters from Ireland by Antonin Artaud; translated and edited by Stephen Barber.

• “I thought female sexuality was an OK thing?” says writer and porn performer, Stoya.

• “How did a major label manage to lose a John Coltrane record?” asks Ted Gioia.

• Welcome to the dollhouse: Alex Denney on a century of cinematic cutaways.

• The trailer for Mandy, a new (and much-awaited) film by Panos Cosmatos.

• Rest in Anger, Harlan Ellison (1934–2018) by Nick Mamatas.

• Mix of the week: FACT Mix 659 by BD1982.

Emily Gosling on library music design.

Record Label Logos

The Deathbird Song (1997) by The Forbidden Dimension | Eidolons (2017) by Deathbird Stories | Deathbird (2017) by Tempos De Morte

Burt Shonberg’s Poe paintings

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House of Usher (1960): Vincent Price and Mark Damon.

This post ought to have followed the one in January about the sinister portraits glimpsed in Roman Polanski’s Dance of the Vampires. I still don’t know who was responsible for those paintings but the artist who created the equally outré family portraits in Roger Corman’s House of Usher (1960) was credited for his work. Burt Shonberg (1933–1977) was a friend of Corman’s who had to produce the six portraits at speed (the entire film was shot in fifteen days) so the results are sketchier than they might have been in a production with a bigger budget. I always liked the anachronism of these pictures, the way they look very much of their time; the effect is a jarring one that adds a note of much-needed strangeness to Corman’s otherwise sparse interiors.

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Shonberg was a curious artist, the gallery page on his website shows a progression from Picasso-style early works in the 1950s to his own brand of mystical psychedelia. Some of his paintings from around the time of House of Usher have that stained-glass fragmentation one finds in the work of Leo & Diane Dillon from the same period. Shonberg’s biography says Corman used more paintings in The Premature Burial (1962) but I don’t have a copy of that to hand and haven’t found any examples. There’s also the detail that Shonberg was involved for a while with Marjorie Cameron, herself an artist who appeared as the mysterious “Water Witch” in another AIP production, Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide, a year after House of Usher.

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Continue reading “Burt Shonberg’s Poe paintings”

Leo Dillon, 1933–2012

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Illustrations for Dangerous Visions (1967) by Leo & Diane Dillon.
top left: Lord Randy, My Son by Joe L. Hensley; top right: Gonna Roll the Bones by Fritz Leiber
; bottom left: The Happy Breed by John Sladek; bottom right: Shall the Dust Praise Thee? by Damon Knight

Beyond my love for them and my understanding that they have influenced my ethical and moral life almost more than anyone else I’ve ever known, my respect for their artistic intelligence and their incomparable craft is enormous. Leo and Diane Dillon are the best. Simply put: the best.

Harlan Ellison, from The Illustrated Harlan Ellison (1978)

Pre-internet, illustrators and designers often suffered from being landlocked by whatever territories (to use that wretched marketing term) the work they embellished was sold in. I’ve said as much in the past but it’s worth repeating since it explains how reputations could loom large in one country while the artists in question might be unknown elsewhere. Leo and Diane Dillon are a good example of this, lauded in the US for work that spanned a variety styles and media yet barely visible in Europe unless you chanced across an imported paperback bearing one of their covers. Their long and fruitful relationship with Harlan Ellison saw them illustrate many of his major works, books which when they were reprinted here were often packaged with inappropriate spaceship art by Chris Foss or one of his imitators. Happily the Dillons’ superb woodcut illustrations for Ellison’s Dangerous Visions anthology survived the journey across the Atlantic. I still find those illustrations thrilling for the way they condensed the essence of thirty-two challenging stories with the greatest economy of means. And thanks to the internet we can see just how versatile they were at The Art of Leo and Diane Dillon. That site also includes links to interviews and further examples of their art.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

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Science fiction and fantasy covers
Groovy book covers
Harlan Ellison: Dreams with Sharp Teeth

Groovy book covers

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top left: Leo & Diane Dillon (1969); top right: Tom Huffman (1968).
bottom left: Gray Morrow & Henry Berkowitz (1967); bottom right: no credit.

Great examples of typically florid Sixties’ cover design at Font of all Wisdom – Unique lettering in design, a Flickr pool. The masterful Leo & Diane Dillon illustrated many of Harlan Ellison’s books, inside and out.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The book covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Harlan Ellison: Dreams with Sharp Teeth