Byam Shaw’s illustrated Poe

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There’s always more Poe. Selected Tales of Mystery was published in 1909, and is one of several illustrated editions produced by British artist Byam Shaw (1872–1919), a painter like Frederick Simpson Coburn who was better suited to the one-off canvas than the illustrated text. There ought to be a term for this kind of illustration—”The Easel School”, perhaps—in which all the techniques and staging of the academic artist are applied to stories or novels, techniques which too often lead to a succession of well-painted figures gesticulating to each other in well-painted rooms. The canvas painter in the first years of the 20th century was also subject to the limitations of print technology which at the time could only reproduce a narrow range of colours.

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William Wilson

The question of how best to illustrate a story using realism rather than stylistisation has been a recurrent one recently with regard to a commission of my own. I’ll be discussing this later but something that occurred to me while considering the issue was that illustrators today have access to a visual vocabulary derived from cinema that didn’t really exist until the 1920s. An artist like Byam Shaw would never think to depict a scene from a very high or very low angle, even though high- and low-angle views of dramatic scenes had been familiar to theatre audiences for many centuries. (He does use a high angle for A Descent into the Maelström but so do most artists who illustrate that particular story.) Virgil Finlay’s 1952 illustration for The Tell-Tale Heart is a cinematic view with its combination of flattened perspective and deep focus. In the same issue of Fantastic there’s an illustration by Gaylord Welker that could be a still from any film noir of the 1940s.

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The Gold Bug

Reservations aside, Shaw’s Poe is worth a look if only to see which moments he chooses to highlight from each of the stories…or those he doesn’t. One of the problems with illustrating a popular writer like Edgar Allan Poe is that you have the choice of attempting to compete with other artists by illustrating the same scene as everybody else or you avoid the obvious moments in favour of something new. Shaw had an advantage in working without the burden of precedent but his climax for The Masque of the Red Death is overwhelmed today by our acquaintance with Harry Clarke’s definitive illustration. The most original thing about the Shaw edition is its cover, with a trail of human and animal footprints spiralling into a maelström towards…what? A webbed foot? This curious design suggests a set of illustrations that the contents don’t deliver.

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The Fall of the House of Usher

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The Assignation

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Squirm: Drew Struzan versus Gustav Klimt

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This poster by Drew Struzan turned up in my RSS feed courtesy of 70s Sci-Fi Art. So Struzan did the US poster for Squirm, thought I, …who knew? Wait a minute…are those Klimt figures?! Closer scrutiny confirmed that, yes, Struzan does indeed appear to have swiped a handful of figures from Gustav Klimt as victims for the carnivorous worms. Squirm (1976) for those who haven’t seen it, is described by The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film as:

Pretty bad film about electrified earthworms in Georgia that have teeth and make noises like horses. It does have an amazing scene with long worms burrowing through a man’s face. Whole rooms are filled with what looks like thick spaghetti. Don Scardino is the studious young hero. The ads claimed there were “250,000 real worms” in the film. From the director of Blue Sunshine.

Michael Weldon’s book has a very lenient attitude towards this kind of nonsense so for a film to be labelled as bad is always a warning. Having seen Squirm, I agree with Weldon’s appraisal. There were a lot of animals attacking humans in the cinema of the 1970s, thanks in part to the success of Jaws, so a story about worms on the rampage is merely another addition to the trashy pile. (The Japanese poster even managed to emulate the famous Jaws poster.) Squirm is especially ridiculous when the humble earthworm is so resistant to being any kind of menace unless its size is dramatically increased, as in Dune or Tremors, the latter being a much better horror film with its own Jaws-like poster.

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Jurisprudence (1907) by Gustav Klimt.

Struzan’s figures are based on those in Jurisprudence, one of the paintings that Gustav Klimt worked on from 1900 to 1907 for the ceiling of the Great Hall at the University of Vienna. There were three pictures—the others represented Philosophy and Medicine—but all were deemed too pornographic for public display. The paintings were subsequently destroyed in 1945 by retreating Nazi troops after having been seized from their Jewish owners and moved with other loot to the Schloss Immendorf.

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Klimt’s Jurisprudence is the strangest of all his works, with three Furies presiding over the cowed figure of a man ensnared by evil, represented here by an octopus. Philippe Jullian in Dreamers of Decadence declares Klimt’s symbolic cephalopod to be “unique in European Art”. I alluded to the Furies, and thereby surreptitiously alluded to those tentacles of evil, when I put a Klimt-like figure into my adaptation The Call of Cthulhu in 1988.

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David Britton, 1945–2020

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Mister Rock’n’roll, 1969.

David Britton, author, artist and publisher, died on 29th December. I wrote this for the Savoy Books news announcement:

My closest artistic collaborator from 1989 to 1999, and a close friend for longer than this: capricious, determined, fearless, funny, generous and inspirational. No David Britton, no Lord Horror; no Lord Horror, no Reverbstorm. He changed my life.

He’d been increasingly ill for several years so this came as less of a surprise to those of us close to him than to others. Dave and I used to talk at least once a week, and on the last occasion he’d sounded worse than usual. Those talks were episodes in a conversation about art that ran for over 30 years, beginning in the mid-1980s at the counter of the Savoy bookshop in Peter Street, Manchester, continuing in the Savoy offices with co-publisher and collaborator Michael Butterworth, and resuming on the phone; art in all its forms and in any medium, with no attention paid to categories of “high” and “low”.

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Reverbstorm, the Lord Horror comic series that we created throughout the 1990s, was the product of those conversations, and was also produced mostly through conversation, working by instinct without a script. The series, which was compiled into definitive book form in 2012, is testament to a pooled breadth of interest, encompassing/quoting/appropriating/reworking Pointillist, Cubist and Expressionist painting, Modernist poetry, pop songs, Sondheim musicals, Finnegans Wake, Tom Phillips’ Humument, Burne Hogarth’s Tarzan comics, Joel-Peter Witkin’s photographs, voodoo chants, Piranesi, King Kong, Bauhaus graphic design, Hugh Ferriss architecture, and illustration of all kinds, from fairy tales to cosmic horror via Aubrey Beardsley and Harry Clarke; there’s even ballet in the mix if you look closely. Dave always liked the idea of Lord Horror leaping and pirouetting like a dancer. More than anything, Reverbstorm is rock’n’roll, and this is partly what the title refers to: a thundering rhythm.

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Britton art from Weird Fantasy #2, 1971. This is the drawing that caught the attention of William Burroughs when Britton and Butterworth visited Burroughs in New York City in 1979.

The term “rock’n’roll” always requires qualification when considering the Britton oeuvre, he used it with regularity while remaining bitterly aware that the original charge of the words had been degraded by over-use, reduced to a caricature by too many mediocre music acts and lazy journalists. I chided him a couple of times that his use of the term was functionally meaningless, a synonym for “my favourite things”. But the application was always a serious one, a label for any work that he found sufficiently thrilling, wild, original, excessive, anarchic, flamboyant, boundary-breaking or confrontational. Little Richard, Larry Williams, Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley were Dave’s kind of rock’n’roll, as were Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, PJ Proby, Iggy Pop, the Sex Pistols, The Cramps, The White Stripes and the Wu-Tang Clan. No surprise there, but Burne Hogarth was also rock’n’roll, although Hogarth would no doubt have disputed this. Another favourite artist, James Cawthorn, was given the label because Dave had discovered Cawthorn’s work when his teenage rock’n’roll obsession was at its height; two forms of art were permanently bound together, with sword & sorcery recast as the literary equivalent of a delinquent musical idiom. Dave’s other artist collaborator, Kris Guidio, was rock’n’roll for having served time as a peerless portraitist of The Cramps. LaVern Baker was rock’n’roll, as was CL Moore. Aubrey Beardsley was rock’n’roll and Harry Clarke was rock’n’roll; William Burroughs and William Hope Hodgson were rock’n’roll, so were Michael Moorcock and Harlan Ellison. Francis Bacon and Paula Rego were rock’n’roll; Alan Clarke was rock’n’roll and so was David Lynch. The quest for more of this rare commodity was relentless and unceasing. Many of our conversations were little more than enthusiastic discussions of shared favourites, or recommendations to watch/read/listen to something new.

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The first Savoy publication from 1976—Cawthorn adapting Moorcock’s apocalyptic Elric novel—was a declaration of intent: maximum rock’n’roll.

The photo at the head of this post is one that Dave had reused in recent years, one of the few portraits he seemed to like. It first appeared inside his debut publication, Weird Fantasy #1, a genre fanzine that was also enough of an underground publication to receive a passing mention in Oz magazine. The picture is emblematic of the Britton character, dressed in a manner at odds with the north Manchester surroundings he grew up in, and where he was still stuck at the time, a world of back-to-back housing and squalid ginnels. Rock’n’roll in all its forms was the great escape from a world of severely limited horizons and circumscribed lives, where all you could look forward to after a few years of poor education was a job in the local mill or factory. People who dismiss the gaudier forms of entertainment as “escapist” are usually middle class and blessed with comforts and opportunities that reinforce their condescensions; people who never had to consider a life so lacking in promise that a song heard on the radio, a vinyl record, a comic book, a paperback found on a market stall, might be the key to a wider world, an affirmation that there was more than the brick walls of your immediate environment, and there could be even more than this. “Escapist” suggests a hiding away but it also means breaking free. In later years Dave maintained a sporadic correspondence with Alan Moore; they never met but were mutually supportive, thanks in part to a shared background as bright boys from working-class backwaters with no encouragement to try and transform their lives through their escapist enthusiasms. Alan maintained an affection for his background, but Dave seldom spoke of his without a shudder, as though he’d evaded a fate worse than death. One thing he retained from north Manchester was an ebulliently vulgar sense of humour. He agreed with Picasso that good taste is the enemy of creativity.

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David Britton’s first novel wasn’t one he considered his best but it remains the most notorious thanks to the conscientious literary assessments of the Greater Manchester police.

I’ll miss Dave’s infectious humour, just as I’ll miss the conversations that so often provoked it, the quest for better art, some new kind of kick, more rock’n’roll. I’ll miss being able to show him something I know he’ll enjoy. He always liked quotations so I’ll end this with a lengthy one from Walter Pater, the aesthetic theorist whose ideas energised the Decadents and the founders of The Savoy, the magazine from which Savoy Books took its name. It summarises Dave’s attitude to life even if he’d never discuss things in such a grandiloquent manner:

…we are all condamnes, as Victor Hugo says: we are all under sentence of death but with a sort of indefinite reprieve—les hommes sont tous condamnes a mort avec des sursis indefinis: we have an interval, and then our place knows us no more. Some spend this interval in listlessness, some in high passions, the wisest, at least among “the children of this world,” in art and song. For our one chance lies in expanding that interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible into the given time. Great passions may give us this quickened sense of life, ecstasy and sorrow of love, the various forms of enthusiastic activity, disinterested or otherwise, which come naturally to many of us. Only be sure it is passion—that it does yield you this fruit of a quickened, multiplied consciousness. Of this wisdom, the poetic passion, the desire of beauty, the love of art for art’s sake, has most; for art comes to you professing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments’ sake.

Previously on { feuilleton }
James Cawthorn: The Man and His Art
A Reverbstorm jukebox
Reverbstorm: an introduction and preview

Harry Clarke online

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The Devil’s Wife and her Eldest. A frontispiece for The Golden Hind, July, 1924, a magazine edited by Clifford Bax and Austin Osman Spare. I’ve seen this drawing referred to in print as “Goddem with Attendants” although this isn’t how it was titled in the magazine.

It’s taken some time but with a little careful searching it’s now possible to see (almost) all of Harry Clarke’s major works of illustration online. The Poe illustrations have been available in a variety of different scans for many years, their popularity being followed by some of the Faust drawings. But Clarke’s other books are more elusive, so what you have here is links to the most complete collections of illustrations from each title, several of which also include the accompanying text.

This isn’t all of Clarke’s illustration work, of course. He produced many single pieces for magazines, as well as two rare promotional publications for the Irish whiskey distiller, Jameson. If he hadn’t been so tied up with the stained-glass business he inherited there would have been much more. The biographical books mention titles he suggested to publishers as potential projects, a list which includes Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Huysmans’ À rebours, and—most tantalising of all—Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen, 1916.

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A post at Flickr. Despite Clarke’s achievements as a stained-glass artist his colour illustrations aren’t always as successful as those in black-and-white. That’s certainly the case here.

Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe, 1919.

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The 1923 edition is at the Internet Archive, a reprint which added several new colour pieces, none of which fare well in this scan. The book is also missing the frontispiece.

The Year’s at the Spring, edited by Lettice D’Oyly Walters, 1920.

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Another complete edition at the Internet Archive.

The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, 1922.

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An almost-complete edition. This one again suffers from a missing frontispiece.

Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1925.

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Not great reproductions since this edition is adapted from an e-book, but it does feature all of the black-and-white Faust illustrations in order, and with their accompanying quotes. No colour plates, however.

Selected Poems of Algernon Charles Swinburne, 1928.

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Clarke’s most Decadent and erotic work, this one has yet to turn up in complete form but the defunct art blog, Golden Age Comic Book Stories, posted all of the art here.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Harry Clarke record covers
Thomas Bodkin on Harry Clarke
Harry Clarke: His Graphic Art
Harry Clarke and others in The Studio
Harry Clarke’s Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault
Harry Clarke in colour
The Tinderbox
Harry Clarke and the Elixir of Life
Cardwell Higgins versus Harry Clarke
Modern book illustrators, 1914
Illustrating Poe #3: Harry Clarke
Strangest Genius: The Stained Glass of Harry Clarke
Harry Clarke’s stained glass
Harry Clarke’s The Year’s at the Spring
The art of Harry Clarke, 1889–1931

Harry Clarke record covers

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Hector Berlioz: Highlights From La Damnation De Faust (1960); Paris Opera Orchestra And Chorus, André Cluytens.  Artwork: “I wish you had something else to do than torment me when I’m quiet” from Faust (1925).

Continuing an occasional series about artists or designers whose work has appeared on record sleeves. Harry Clarke would have been added to this list some time ago but it’s taken a while for Discogs to fill in the gaps ignored by its dominant core of techno-techno-techno obsessives. Clarke’s work is also much more visible today, as a result of which many of the releases here are very recent. The viral nature of internet popularity is a great thing for artists whose work can be shared and appreciated instantly. The drawback is demonstrated by the following albums, many of which recycle the same few drawings from Clarke’s Poe and Faust volumes. I’m sure the musicians who relish Clarke’s work for its grotesque or decadent qualities would find something equally appealing in his Swinburne illustrations if they sought them out. As before, this is probably an incomplete list so if anyone knows of other suitable candidates then please leave a comment.

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Tales of Terror (1971) read by Nelson Olmsted. Artwork: The Man of the Crowd from Tales of Mystery and Imagination (second edition, 1923).

A double album of readings from horror stories. I used to own this one, mainly for the cover since I don’t recall playing it very much. The gatefold interior features Clarke’s painting for The Fall of the House of Usher together with a note from beyond the grave by HP Lovecraft.

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Hector Berlioz / Claude Debussy: La Damnation De Faust / La Damoiselle Elue (1988); Suzanne Danco, David Poleri, Martial Singher, Donald Gramm, Victoria De Los Angeles, Charles Munch, Boston Symphony Orchestra. Artwork: “Forward! Forward!—Faster! Faster!” from Faust (1925).

The classical labels are at least justified in their use of the Faust illustrations. This cropped painting is one of two pieces depicting Faust and Mephistopheles on horseback that suggest Clarke’s parallel career as a stained-glass artist.

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New Dark Age (1998) by Solstice. Artwork: collage of drawings from Faust (1925).

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Mythical & Magical (2008) by Pagan Altar. Artwork: collage of drawings from Faust (1925).

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