Eduardo Paolozzi at New Worlds

paolozzi00.jpg

I was working on this book throughout the autumn, and it could hardly be more different to some of the visual extravagance that came before and after. Eduardo Paolozzi at New Worlds is published by Savoy Books this month. Predominantly an examination by David Brittain (no relation to David Britton) of the connections between artists such as Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton with New Worlds magazine in the 1960s, the book is also a rare study of the science fiction magazine when it was making its greatest impact in the late 60s and early 70s.

Brittain highlights many examples of Paolozzi’s sf-influenced art of the period, and examines the development of the magazine under Michael Moorcock’s editorship during which time New Worlds evolved from being a slightly moribund sf title in the early 60s to what JG Ballard later called “one of the most exciting magazines of any kind in this country”. An appendix features interviews with some of the key creators and contributors: editor Moorcock, designer Charles Platt, art editor Christopher Finch, contributor Michael Butterworth, and critic John Clute. Writer and illustrator Pamela Zoline created some original artwork for the endpapers. The introduction is by Rick Poynor.

paolozzi01.jpg

Despite being pressured for time I was very pleased to be designing this book. I’d liked Paolozzi’s work since I first encountered it in the Tate Gallery in the 1970s; a couple of years later I was buying up anthologies featuring New Worlds stories (I was too young for the 60s magazine), so discovering that Moorcock had made Paolozzi the magazine’s “Aeronautics Advisor” made perfect sense. In the past I’ve said that New Worlds ruined my taste for hard sf but that’s not really true since I never really liked the stuff beyond a few Arthur C. Clarke books. Too much bad writing, too many cardboard characters shuffling around between chunks of explanation about made-up technology. The discovery of New Worlds merely demonstrated that there were other ways of approaching sf, and you didn’t have to put up with the rubbish.

I also enjoyed the magazine’s bolshy attitude, a quality shared by Harlan Ellison in his Dangerous Visions anthologies. Moorcock says in Brittain’s interview that NW sympathised with the Underground of the late 60s but also tried to be more disciplined in its approach, especially where the design was concerned. You couldn’t have treated fiction to the semi-legible printing that Oz and Frendz often deployed. But the radical attitudes of the Underground can be discerned in the stance NW adopted. Some of the reviews and polemical articles by Moorcock (often under his “James Colvin” pseudonym), M. John Harrison and John Clute are bracingly vitriolic to a degree which if delivered today would probably see them ostracised for life.

paolozzi02.jpg

With the design the main intention was to present the information clearly and let the visuals speak for themselves. The book is heavily illustrated throughout, with many examples of Paolozzi’s marvellous prints. The layout nods obliquely to the period; before getting started I spent some time looking at the work of Erik Nitsche. I like the way Nitsche laid out the books he designed in the 1960s, and there’s also a connection in his work as a designer for the General Dynamics corporation: one of Paolozzi’s print series of the period is entitled General Dynamics F.U.N.

Being full-colour throughout, the print run for this book is smaller than usual so anyone interested is advised to move swiftly. Official publication is December 16th but it’s on sale now at Savoy and at Amazon.

paolozzi03.jpg

Continue reading “Eduardo Paolozzi at New Worlds”

Weekend links 178

bantjes.jpg

Pretty Pictures, a new book by designer Marian Bantjes, is out on October 1st.

• A writer admired by Angela Carter, Michael Moorcock, Harlan Ellison, Anthony Burgess, Jonathan Meades and Iain Sinclair; a “writer’s writer…[whose] best stories bear comparison with the Ficciones of Jorge Luis Borges”; a writer with an “unsettling quality to his writing, a whiff of brimstone that links him to fin-de-siècle occult figures such as HP Lovecraft—and even, at a further remove, Aleister Crowley”. David Collard explains why you may want to read something by Gerald Kersh (1911–1968), four of whose books are being republished.

• The Eccentronic Research Council and Maxine Peake pay homage to Delia Derbyshire’s The Dreams project with a new single out at the end of the month (Pye Corner Audio and Carol Morley appear on the flip). Ms Peake’s barm-cake reverie may be heard here.

• “Applying for grants, writing artist statements, showing up to openings—artists have to do far more than just make art if they want to find an audience for it.” Jen Graves on lies and deception in the art world.

The material does not make the work. The life does not make the art. Exactly the opposite. The work creates the material. The art creates the life. Did Trinidad exist before Naipaul? Did cargo ships exist before Joseph Conrad? Did Newark and the New Jersey suburbs exist before Philip Roth? Did women in playgrounds in New York City exist before Grace Paley? See how the writer invents the material? These places did not exist as literary subjects. They were invisible to literature. The magic of a great book is that it makes its own subject seem inevitable. The danger is, it makes the subject seem like the source of power in the work.

Phyllis Rose on life and literature.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 087, 40 minutes of original electronic music by Geistform (Rafael Martinez Espinosa).

• “You’ve Got This“, an It Gets Better-style video support campaign for people recently diagnosed with HIV.

• At Dangerous Minds: Babalon Working: Brian Butler’s trippy occult odyssey with Paz de la Huerta.

Manfred Mohr‘s computer-created artwork, from the 1960s to the present.

Robert Macfarlane on the strange world of urban exploration.

Rick Poynor on Bohumil Stepan’s Family Album of Oddities.

• Oli Warwick talks to Martin Jenkins, aka Pye Corner Audio.

• The 384-page BUTT calendar for 2014 is now on sale.

• Pye Corner Audio: We Have Visitors (2010) | Toward Light (2011) | The Mirror Ball Cracked (2012)

Covering Viriconium

pennington-pastel.jpg

The Pastel City (New English Library, 1971). Illustration by Bruce Pennington.

There are writers’ writers, of course, and M. John Harrison is one of those. He moves elegantly, passionately, from genre to genre, his prose lucent and wise, his stories published as sf or as fantasy, as horror or as mainstream fiction. […] His prose is deceptively simple, each word considered and placed where it can sink deepest and do the most damage.

Neil Gaiman in the introduction to the Bantam/Spectra edition of Viriconium (2005)

This is a lengthy post of potentially minority interest for which I make no apologies. It’s often been a function of the writing here to think aloud while communicating an enthusiasm; as enthusiasms go this one runs deeper than usual. I love these books indecently. If they were people I’d want to sleep with them even though doing so might mean contracting some debilitating illness. When you’re employed as a book designer and illustrator it’s impossible to avoid taking a professional interest in the packaging of your favourite books. M. John Harrison‘s Viriconium books—three novels and a collection of short stories—present challenges that the illustrators and art directors of the past have invariably failed to meet. This post looks at prior cover designs while a subsequent post will suggest some solutions to the challenges. But first it’s necessary to say something about Viriconium itself.

In the distant future of the Earth, when the human race has flourished then lapsed into a state of terminal decay, only one city of note remains: Viriconium, the Pastel City, surrounded by the wastes and fens of a ruined world. Or so we’re told in the first book of a series which begins as outright fantasy and moves by an astonishing feat of authorial dexterity closer to our world and our time. (A shorthand description might describe a series that starts out reading like Jack Vance and ends up closer to Bruno Schulz.) It becomes apparent that Viriconium stands for all the cities that have ever been, and with its avenues, rues and strasses often seems to be a composite of them all. Aside from the unspecified future its fixture in time is indeterminate: one story may concern events which are in the distant past of another while the streets and quarters never remain anchored enough for any kind of map to be drawn. Areas of continuity rise like towers from a sea of vapour. Even the city’s name slips its mooring: the origin is Viroconium Cornoviorum, a Roman town in Shropshire, and Viroconium, a poem by Mary Webb. In the later books we’re told the city is also called Uriconium or Vriko but whether these variants lie in the past or future of Viriconium is unclear. The indeterminacy was deliberate, a riposte to what Harrison calls “fauxthenticity”, and the tendency of genre readers to reduce the subtleties of fiction to the schematics of role-playing games, spaceship diagrams and books with titles like The Science of Middle-Earth. It’s this indeterminacy and a refusal to offer neat resolutions (or that awful term “closure”) that no doubt explains why Harrison’s books often seem to attract more praise than actual readers.

The most remarkable aspect of the books presents the greatest problems in design terms. In the fourteen years that Harrison worked on his series he used its mutable qualities to pull the entire project to pieces without actually destroying it or turning the whole thing into a self-regarding postmodern game. The early books critique the lazy assumptions of the fantasy genre while the later books recast the earlier stories as myths or half-remembered dreams. The first two books may use the apparatus of the fantasy genre but that doesn’t mean the tired imagery of fantasy illustration necessarily suits their covers. The very last story, A Young Man’s Journey to Viriconium, is set in the north of England in our own time. Changing the name Viriconium to London throughout the text, which Harrison has done when the story has been published elsewhere, dissolves the remaining genre trappings. The process is akin to watching those Buddhist monks who construct elaborate mandalas of coloured sand only to sweep them away when the work is finished. All this makes the Viriconium books unique, it’s one of many reasons why I hold them in such high regard and it’s also why they frequently irritate those who want simpler fare. The problem of appealing to a reactionary readership may explain why many of the following covers have failed to honour the content of the books.

pastel-minor.jpg

The Pastel City (Doubleday, 1972) Illustration by Wendell Minor.

Dustjacket summaries do none of the books any favours but for the unacquainted they help give a flavour of each volume. They also show how the presentation gradually shifts emphasis. Here’s the Doubleday edition:

An intriguing fantasy in which past and future blend uniquely on an Earth far different from any known to man.

There, in the Empire of Viriconium, a world of chivalry, of magic and strange powers, two Queens clash in bloody warfare for control of the Pastel City and all of its domains. The armies of the defender, Queen Methvet, are led by Lord tegeus-Cromis and the rest of a legendary band of knights, while their attackers are the vicious and cunning Northmen who serve the rival Queen Moidart.

More is involved than a struggle for a throne however, for in their lust for victory the forces of Queen Moidart have unleashed creatures from Earth’s dim past whose terrible potential they little realize until too late. And as Lord Cromis and the rest of his band seek to meet the challenge of these nightmare apparitions, their quest leads them on a perilous journey across many weird lands to a deadly climax in a buried city where a solution is revealed that is as old as time itself.

It’s apposite that a series about an indeterminate city begins with some confusion evident from the outset. The Pastel City in its first UK printing was described on the cover as a fantasy yet compared to Dune which is generally regarded as science fiction; the Doubleday edition is labelled science fiction yet the cover illustration shows a mailed and armoured warrior; the narrative is situated somewhere between the genres in what used to be called science fantasy. While the story concerns the distant future many of the props are the familiar material of heroic fantasy: horses, swords, feuding queens, an axe-wielding dwarf. What technology remains is either defunct or barely functioning. The ruin and decay of Harrison’s world is part of the pleasure, as is the vacillating and ambivalent nature of the characters, a quality which increases as the series develops. None of the publishers dare to reflect this ambivalence in the cover art. Unaware readers would be led to believe from subsequent editions that these books contain the determined and super-efficient heroes they’d find in other books. Compared to what follows the first two covers aren’t so bad; Bruce Pennington gives us one of his flying saucer apocalypses while Wendell Minor’s avoidance of a genre scene is an approach that might have been deployed a lot more often later on.

Continue reading “Covering Viriconium”

Weekend links 111

thefox.jpg

The Fox (1968). Design by Bill Gold, art by Leo & Diane Dillon.

Mark Rydell’s The Fox may be regarded unfavourably now for its retrograde idea of a lesbian relationship but that’s still a great poster by the Dillons. Equally retrograde (well it was 1957) is Anders als du und ich, a film about wayward German youth directed by ex-Nazi propagandist Veit Harlan:

Klaus is a young man in post-war Berlin. He is drawn to his friend Manfred and, under the encouragement of their acquaintance, Dr. Winkler, explores the underground world of gay clubs and electronic music. His family begins to learn of his other life and do everything they can to set him straight.

A saving grace is the conspicuous deployment of Oskar Sala’s Trautonium. They’re deviants—of course they like weird electronic music! Sala’s instrument was his own invention which means it has a unique pre-Moog sound, famously used by Alfred Hitchcock in the score for The Birds. YouTube has a collection of the electronica moments from Anders als du und ich. Wait for the wrestling scene…

Netherwood: Last Resort of Aleister Crowley by A Gentleman of Hastings. Related: Jimmy Page’s Lucifer Rising sessions part 1 and part 2.

• “This coming 16 June, [BBC] Radio 4 will be a wall-to-wall Joycefest, kicking off at 9am and running until midnight.”

A World Where Architecture is the Driving Force Behind Society, Core77 on the Cités Obscures of François Schuiten.

• At The Hooded Utilitarian an examination of the thorny problem of adapting Lovecraft for the comics medium.

• Plates from La Plante et ses Applications Ornementales (1897–1900) by Eugene Grasset.

• Coilhouse found a rough copy of Todd Haynes’ Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story.

Three Quick Ways to Introduce Yourself to the Work of Harlan Ellison.

Daniel Buren’s Monumenta 2012 at the Grand Palais, Paris.

Our Sorrows, a new video from Julia Holter.

I, Cyclops: Monocularity in a 3-D World.

JG Ballard: The Concordance.

• RIP Pete Cosey.

• Pete Cosey with Miles Davis et al, November 1973: Ife | Turnaroundphrase

Leo Dillon, 1933–2012

dillons.jpg

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

Previously on { feuilleton }
Science fiction and fantasy covers
Groovy book covers
Harlan Ellison: Dreams with Sharp Teeth