T-shirts by Skull Print

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I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve partnered with T-shirt printers Skull Print to make shirts available featuring my artwork. See this standalone page for details. Skull Print are a small business based in the UK who specialise in music-related merchandise. Joe Banks pointed me in their direction when he was wondering if I’d considered doing a shirt design based on the cover of his Hawkwind book, Days of the Underground. To thank Joe for this, the first shirt is an adaptation of his cover design, which is followed by a very old piece of cover art for the Zones album by Hawkwind. Skull Print cater to a substantial Hawkwind fanbase so it makes sense to make this one available. And since we’re now in the horror month, I’ve added a couple of recent Lovecraft-related designs which have been tailored specially for this purpose.

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A design based on my cover for Lovecraft’s Monsters, an excellent story collection edited by Ellen Datlow.

I should emphasise that these aren’t the only shirt designs available. Skull Print operate on a print-on-demand basis so in theory any artwork of mine may be printed as a shirt if someone makes a request for one. (With a couple of exceptions; a few designs are subject to copyright restrictions.) The advantage that Skull Print have over other services such as CafePress is that I don’t have to spend time uploading the artwork to a website then creating a special sales page for it. Anyone who wants a shirt can now send me a request for one then I send the artwork to Skull Press and they’ll take care of everything else.

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I’ll be setting up a few more designs with PayPal buttons when I have a spare moment. Some designs have been surprisingly persistent sellers at CafePress, such as my ideogrammatic portrait of James Joyce which is often ordered in the run-up to Bloomsday. A few years ago a shirt bearing this design was ordered by one “M. Atwood” of Halifax, Nova Scotia. I’ve been hoping ever since that the M. Atwood who everyone knows as a writer might turn up somewhere dressed in this item. If anyone sees a photo like this then please let me know!

Previously on { feuilleton }
Hawkwind: Days of the Underground
The Chronicle of the Cursed Sleeve
Rock shirts
Void City

Body Shocks

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Presenting my latest cover design for Tachyon Publications, and one which it hardly needs stating is another collection of horror stories edited by Ellen Datlow. Body horror is the general theme but these aren’t all accounts of evisceration and dismemberment of the type that made the later Pan horror collections an increasingly dismal read. Several of the stories are outright science fiction, while the final entry, Tissue Ablation and Variant Regeneration: A Case Report by Michael Blumlein, is a Ballardian critique of a former US President that unnerves with its dispassionate medical tone.

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The cover design for this one went through many drafts before everyone was satisfied, the placing of the solitary eyeball being the crucial element. This is something of a stereotype on horror covers, a feature I’ve seen often enough to have it mentally tagged as “the Eyeball of Horror” (see above). But design stereotypes evolve because they serve their purpose so well, as this one does. Some of the earlier drafts incorporated anatomical diagrams but none of the results were really satisfying, especially when a large amount of text also needed to be placed on the cover. In the past I might have posted one or two of these early versions but I was dissuaded from doing this when Jonathan Barnbrook wrote about the gentle rebuke he received from David Bowie after he showed the preliminary stages of his cover design for Bowie’s The Next Day. Bowie’s attitude was that making public a working version changed the audience’s perception of the end result, a comment that comes to mind every time Spine has a new post showing drafts of recent cover designs.

Body Shocks will be published in October.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Monstrous
Lovecraft’s Monsters unleashed
New work: Two forms of darkness

Nightmares calendar

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Presenting the latest Coulthart calendar. Last year’s Lovecraft-themed collection was well-received (and is on sale again this year) so I thought I’d try a similar accumulation of horror imagery. Much of the artwork this time is from my intensive painting period circa 1996–1998, and includes one piece—the red painting below—that hasn’t been made public before. Further traces of Lovecraft may be found in the tentacles of the Lord Horror canvas—HPL by way of Frank Frazetta—and the two panels of the Red Night Rites diptych. The latter was a large picture of Reverbstorm-level grotesquery done as a wraparound cover for The Unspeakable Oath, a Lovecraftian gaming journal. While working on it I had William Burroughs in mind as much as Lovecraft, and Burroughs happened to die while work was still in progress so the picture is dedicated to him. Also Lovecraftian is In Spaces Between, one of the pages from my Kabbalistic collaboration with Alan Moore, The Great Old Ones. Howl from Beyond is a title that some people may recognise from Magic: The Gathering. I painted over 20 pictures for the card game but most of them were done in haste, and not to my satisfaction. Howl from Beyond is one of the few I felt worked as intended.

As before, this calendar is available at Zazzle, and comes with black pages and a minimal layout for the dates. Larger images of the artwork may be seen here. I said last year that I’d move some of the other calendar designs to Zazzle (CafePress having discontinued the vertical format I’d been using for years) but I still haven’t done this. One day… And speaking of nightmares, earlier this year I was designing the interiors for another excellent collection of horror stories edited by Ellen Datlow which happens to bear this title. When I get some of that elusive spare time I’ll add the book to the website.

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January: Steps of Descent (digital, 2008).

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February: Untitled (acrylics on board, 1997).

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March: Waltzes and Whispers (acrylics on board, 1998).

Continue reading “Nightmares calendar”

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

The Monstrous

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One of the books I was working on over the summer is officially published this week. The Monstrous is a horror anthology edited by Ellen Datlow, and the third Datlow collection that I’ve designed for Tachyon Publications after Lovecraft’s Monsters (2014) and Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror (2010).

My work on this new collection isn’t as full-on as for the Lovecraft volume: I designed the interior, and also illustrated each story but this time many of the illustrations are details or vignettes rather than full-page pictures. There are still 20 stories and over 20 illustrations, however, illustrating pieces by Jeffrey Ford, Peter Straub, Dale Bailey, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Gemma Files, Livia, Adam-Troy Castro, Kim Newman, Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois, Carole Johnstone, Brian Hodge, Stephen Graham Jones, Adam L. G. Nevill, Sofia Samatar, Terry Dowling, Glen Hirshberg, A. C. Wise, Steve Rasnic Tem, Christopher Fowler, and John Langan. Not everything here is a monster in the common sense of that word, the collection explores monstrousness in many different forms, from Sumerian demons and Japanese ghosts to Peter Straub’s disturbing portrait of a psychotic school teacher.

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Missing from this selection of pages is additional pictorial material from Fortunio Liceti’s De Monstris (1665). The capitals on the contents pages are the collaged letterforms by Roman Cieslewicz taken from Dover’s book of bizarre and ornamental alphabets.

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Continue reading “The Monstrous”