Weekend links 410

hog.jpg

William Hope Hodgson’s final Carnacki mystery, The Hog, received its first magazine publication in January 1947. The cover art by AR Tilburne may not have been originally created for Hodgson’s tale but it complements the story’s atmosphere of febrile dread.

• It’s still April so that means it’s still the month that saw the 100th anniversary of the death of William Hope Hodgson, bodybuilder, manacler of Harry Houdini, and the author of several novels of weird fiction that continue to entrance new generations of readers. The edition of Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland that I illustrated for Swan River Press would have been on sale this month but print problems have caused delays with the run as a whole; anyone interested is advised to contact the publisher for news. • Meanwhile, Jon Mueller (composer of the book’s accompanying soundtrack CD) and myself talked to Swan River Press about the attractions of Hodgson’s novel. • More Hodgsoniana: Greydogtales acknowledged the Hodgson centenary via a discussion with Hodgson scholar Sam Gafford, while Michael Dirda reviewed the new edition of The House on the Borderland and another SRP title, The Scarlet Soul (whose cover I also designed), for The Washington Post.

• “From the ashes of countless decayed Modernities comes Neo-Decadence, a profaned cathedral whose broken stained glass windows still glitter irregularly in the harsh light of a Symbolist sun. Behind this marvellously vandalised edifice, a motley band of revellers picnic in the graveyard of the Real, leaving behind all manner of rotting delicacies and toxic baubles in their wake.” Drowning in Beauty: The Neo-Decadent Anthology edited by Daniel Corrick & Justin Isis is published this month by Snuggly Books, an imprint whose catalogue of new books and first-time translations will be of interest to anyone who comes here for Decadence, Symbolism or anything related. Related to the above: A Neo-Decadence Day at Dennis Cooper’s.

• “Witches are change-makers. They’re transgressive beings who dwell on the fringes of society, and so they’re the perfect icon for rebels, outsiders, and rabble-rousers, especially those of the female persuasion.” Pam Grossman talks to Grimoire about witchcraft and related arts.

• Mixes of the week: Resident Advisor Podcast 621 by Grouper, and Bacchus Beltane 5: The Owl Service by The Ephemeral Man.

• Back in black: Publisher/translator James Conway and designer Cara Schwartz on the cover designs of Rixdorf Editions.

• I was talking again this week at The Writer’s Corner where JKA Short asked me about working as an illustrator.

All Gates Open: The Story of Can by Rob Young is published next week. The Wire has an extract.

• Delusional Albion: Brad Stevens on how foreign directors saw Britain in the Swinging Sixties.

• “There’s no book I love more than Derek Jarman’s Modern Nature,” says Olivia Laing.

Eden Tizard on Soliloquy For Lilith, the drone album by Nurse With Wound.

Owls (1969) by Ruth White | Decadent & Symmetrical (1995) by ELpH vs Coil | The Owls (2013) by Félicia Atkinson

Yuggoth details

yuggoth01.jpg

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.

yuggoth08.jpg

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.

yuggoth09.jpg

yuggoth10.jpg

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”

The Bookman Histories

bookman.jpg

Now that Angry Robot books has revealed the cover design which kept me busy throughout July I can do the same here. The Bookman Histories is an omnibus reprinting of Lavie Tidhar‘s steampunk trilogy which comprises The Bookman, Camera Obscura and The Great Game. The stories are frenetic, crowded with incident and feature a huge range of characters that find real people such as Jules Verne and Harry Houdini encountering contemporaries—both human and non-human—from the fiction of the late 19th century. All the requisite steampunk boxes are ticked. David Icke will be thrilled to know that in these books the British royal family are a bunch of lizards from space…

My initial impulse when faced with far too much material was to cram every square centimetre of the cover with detail but if I’d have done that I’d probably still be working on it, and would also have run the risk of it turning into an incoherent mess. So this layout, which is crowded enough, is something of a compromise. I also wanted to save some space for the title design.

bookman2.jpg

The main body of the title isn’t a font but was created from scratch based on letterforms and decorative elements from this fantastic set of fire insurance title pages. I’d been wanting to try something based on these hand-drawn designs ever since Mr Peacay posted them at BibliOdyssey last year. This particular design provided the basic letter shapes although I had to invent several of missing characters.

bookman3.jpg

In the third part of the trilogy the Martians from HG Wells’ War of the Worlds invade, so I spent rather too much time fashioning a Martian tripod from lots of tiny bits of machinery. This is one of the earlier drafts. It was an odd thing finishing this cover (which includes the planet Mars in the background) whilst the world was getting excited by the real landing on Mars of the Curiosity Rover.

The Bookman Histories will be published in March next year. Meanwhile there’s more steampunk design on its way. Watch this space.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Aether Cola
Crafting steampunk illustrations
SteamPunk Magazine
Morlocks, airships and curious cabinets
The Steampunk Bible
Steampunk Reloaded
Steampunk overloaded!
More Steampunk and the Crawling Chaos
Steampunk Redux
Steampunk framed
Steampunk Horror Shortcuts

More Golems

barta.jpg

Golem by Jiri Barta.

There are always more golems. Among recent reading I’ve been catching up with the works of Michael Chabon, and have just finished The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000), a novel concerned with several things that obsessed me when I was 13, namely Harry Houdini, conjuring tricks and the Empire State Building. Chabon even acknowledges JC Cannell’s The Secrets of Houdini, a book I re-read many times trying in vain to learn some of Houdini’s card tricks. What didn’t obsess me at that age happens to be the main subject of the novel: superhero comics. Chabon does a good job of communicating the enthusiasm that powered the early days of the American comics industry, however, and I can appreciate the enthusiasm that history generates for him even if I don’t quite share it. Lurking at the back of his story is the mute and symbolic figure of Rabbi Loew’s Golem of Prague, mention of which prompted me to see whether Czech animator Jiri Barta had managed to complete his film of the Golem story, a project which has been stalled since the 1990s. He hasn’t, unfortunately, but there is a trailer which I hadn’t seen before, a sight that makes the prospect even more tantalising. Someone give this man some money to finish his film.

emet.jpg

Emet (2009).

Elsewhere, there’s Emet by Bonsaininja Studio, Milan, a short steampunk take on the Golem creation story. Great use of CGI and digital animation but I’d still prefer to see Barta’s version. Meanwhile, the whole of Paul Wegener’s The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920) is now on YouTube. If you’ve never seen Wegener stomping around medieval Prague with his shopping basket then here’s your chance.

See also:
Golem: The Recipe For Life by Michael Chabon

Previously on { feuilleton }
Hodgson versus Houdini
Das Haus zur letzten Latern
Hugo Steiner-Prag’s Golem
Barta’s Golem

Hodgson versus Houdini

whhhh.jpg

William Hope Hodgson and Harry Houdini.

Work this week has had me scouring the Internet Archive’s scanned books more than usual for source material. You’ll see the fruits of this in due course but the search turned up a small book from 1922, The Adventurous Life of a Versatile Artist: Houdini, an anonymous account of the escapologist’s career padded out with many newspaper reports of his exploits in various cities. One of these is the notorious meeting between Houdini and writer William Hope Hodgson on the stage of the Palace Theatre, Blackburn, Lancashire, in 1902. Hodgson was still running his School of Physical Culture in the town at this time, and was otherwise unknown; he only began writing the weird fantasy for which he’s celebrated when the school failed and he needed to earn a living some other way.

The following account has been reprinted often enough in collections of Hodgson ephemera but this is the first time I’ve seen it in a Houdini book. Houdini was a hero of mine when I was 12 or 13, not so much for his escapology but for his magic tricks. I had an obsession with stage magic for a while, and had read and re-read JC Cannell’s The Secrets of Houdini (1932) which exposed for the first time the workings of Houdini’s tricks and many of his escape acts. It was a surprise after finding Hodgson’s work to read about the Houdini encounter. Strangest of all is that Hodgson’s books were later championed by HP Lovecraft who ghost-wrote Under the Pyramids (aka Entombed with the Pharaohs or Imprisoned with the Pharaohs) for Houdini, a story published in Weird Tales in 1924. I’ve wondered for years whether Houdini or Lovecraft were aware of this connection. Probably not. Hodgson in 1902 was unknown and Houdini’s career and fame were such he would have been far too busy to dwell on the matter or care what happened to the diminutive bodybuilder who treated him so badly that evening.

*

AN EPISODE IN HOUDINI’S LIFE.

Star, Blackburn, England, Saturday, Oct. 25, 1902.

MANACLED BY A STRONG MAN.
TRUSSED TILL MIDNIGHT.
Unparalleled Scenes at the Palace Theatre.

Never in the history of Blackburn or music hall life has there been witnessed so remarkable a scene as occurred last night. Houdini, the Handcuff King, and Mr. Hodgson, principal of the School of Physical Culture, provided a big sensation for the patrons of the Palace Theatre, Blackburn.

Houdini, who has been appearing at the Palace during the week, claims to be able to release himself from any of the regulation shackles or irons used by the police of Europe or America, and offered nightly to forfeit £25 if he failed to prove his claim. Mr. Hodgson, of the Physical Culture School, Blackburn,took up the challenge, stipulating that he was to use his own irons and fix them himself. Houdini consented, and deposit the £25 with the editor of the Daily Star.

The trial of skill and strength was fixed to take place last night, and the crowd which came together to witness it crammed the theatre literally from floor to ceiling — even standing room being ultimately unobtainable.

Shortly after ten o’clock the parties to the challenge faced each other, and excitement at once became intense.

Mr. Hodgson produced 6 pairs of heavy irons, furnished with clanking chains and swinging padlocks. These were carefully examined by Houdini, who raised some disappointment and much sympathetic cheering by stating that his claim was that he could escape from “regulation” irons. The “cuffs ” brought by Mr. Hodgson, he said, had been tampered with — the iron being wrapped round with string, the locks altered, and various other expedients adopted to render escape more difficult.

Mr. Hodgson’s answer, given dramatically from the stage,was that he stipulated that he should bring his own irons.

Houdini again protested that Mr. Hodgson was going beyond the challenge, but added that he was quite willing to go on, if only the audience would give him a little time in which to deal with the extra difficulties.

This announcement was greeted with great cheering, and the work of pinioning proceeded.

First, Mr. Hodgson, with the aid of a companion, fixed a pair of irons over Houdini’s upper arm, passing the chain behind his back and pulling it tight, and fixing the elbows close to the sides.

To make assurance doubly sure, he fixed another pair in the same way, and padlocked both behind.

Then, starting with the wrists, he fixed a pair of chained “cuffs” so that the arms, already pulled stiffly behind, were now pulled forward. The pulling and tugging at this stage was so severe — the strong man exercising his strength to some purpose — that Houdini protested that it was no part of the challenge that his arms should be broken.

He also reminded Mr. Hodgson that he was to fix the irons himself.

This led to Mr. Hodgson’s assistant retiring.

Proceeding, Mr. Hodgson fixed a second pair of “cuffs” on the wrists and padlocked both securely, Houdini’s arms being then trussed to his side so securely that escape seemed absolutely impossible.

Still Mr. Hodgson was not finished with him.

Getting Houdini to kneel down, he passed the chain of a pair of heavy leg irons through the chains which bound the arms together at the back. These were fixed to the ankles,and after a second pair had been added, both were locked,and Houdini now seemed absolutely helpless.

A canopy being placed over Houdini in the middle of the stage, the waiting began, and excitement grew visibly every minute.

Meanwhile Mr. Hodgson and others kept strict watch on the movements of Houdini’s wife and brother (Hardeen), who were both on the stage.

At the end of about 15 minutes the canopy was lifted and Houdini was revealed lying on his side, still securely bound.It was at first thought he had fainted, but he soon made it known that all he wished was to be lifted up. This Mr. Hodgson refused to do, at which the now madly excited audience hissed and ” booed ” him for his unfair treatment, and Hardeen lifted his brother to his knees. The curtain of the cabinet was again closed.

Another 20 minutes passed, and again the curtain was lifted. This time Houdini said his arms were bloodless and numb owing to the pressure of the irons, and asked to have them unlocked for a minute so that the circulation could be restored.

Mr. Hodgson’s reply, given amidst howls, was: “This is a contest, not a love match. If you are beaten, give in.”

Great shouting and excited calling followed, which was renewed when Dr. Bradley, after examining Houdini, said his arms were blue, and it was cruelty to keep him chained up as he was any longer.

Still Mr. Hodgson was obdurate, and the struggle proceeded, Houdini again appealing for time.

Fifteen minutes more: Houdini appeared and announced that one hand was free.

This was the signal for terrific cheering, which was continued after the canopy was dropped.

At intervals Houdini now appeared, and announced further progress in his escape; and when, shortly after midnight, he came out with torn clothing and bleeding arms, and threw the last of the shackles on the stage, the vast audience stood up and cheered and cheered, and yelled themselves hoarse to give vent to their overwrought feelings. Men and women hugged each other in mad excitement. Hats, coats, and umbrellas were thrown up into the air, and pandemonium reigned supreme for 15 minutes.

Houdini, when quietness had been restored, said he had been doing the handcuff trick now for 14 years, but never had he been subjected to such brutality as that to which his bleeding arms and wrists gave witness.

When Houdini again obtained a hearing, it was to state that, not only had the irons been altered, but the locks had been plugged.

It was well after midnight when the huge audience left the theatre, and broke up into excited, gesticulating groups.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Weekend links: Hodgson edition
Druillet meets Hodgson