Weekend links 647

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A local dispute on the planet Mars. Art by Kevin O’Neill from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

• “…this image has puzzled enthusiasts of the scientific mystic’s works, both for its obscure provenance and cryptic symbolism. With its pastiche of Renaissance visual style and medieval caption — “A missionary of the Middle Ages tells that he had found the point where the sky and the Earth touch” — the illustration was once thought to have originated centuries before Flammarion published his text.” Hunter Dukes on the enduring mystery of the “Flammarion Engraving”.

• “For Spare, radio, and the waves that carried the music he loved to listen to, were more than just a metaphor for the spirit world. They were an active mode of conveyance for occult energies and vibrations – the swirling, ectoplasmic tendrils from which odd figures emerge in some of his most dense and haunting work.” Mark Pilkington explores Austin Osman Spare’s influence on the world of music.

• At Spine: Design studio Milk & Bone’s designer Alicia Raitt re-imagines all 14 of Kurt Vonnegut’s book covers to celebrate his 100th birthday.

• Farewell to Kevin O’Neill and Nik Turner, both of whom headed to the Western Lands this week.

Mean, moody and magnificent: film noir studio portraits – in pictures.

• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 773 by Roméo Poirier.

• New music: Evergreen by Patrick Shiroishi.

Brainstorm (1972) by Hawkwind | Hurricane Fighter Plane (1985) by Inner City Unit | Brainstorm (1993) by Monster Magnet

Twinkle, twinkle little stars

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Xitintoday (1978) by Nik Turner’s Sphynx.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a reason to write about Barney Bubbles but I’ve finally worked out why one of his more mysterious album covers looks the way it does.

When Nik Turner was unceremoniously kicked out of Hawkwind in 1976 he headed to Cairo to consider his next move. While there he recorded an hour or two of flute improvisations inside the sarcophagus in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid of Cheops. The resulting tapes provided the basis for his first solo album, Xitintoday, which was released in 1978 on the Charisma label, and credited to Nik Turner’s Sphynx. Steve Hillage produced the album, helping to craft the meandering solos into a suite of songs based on passages from The Egyptian Book of the Dead. Xitintoday is one of the more unusual concept albums from a decade filled with such things. I’ve always liked it, in many ways it’s closer to Hillage’s oeuvre than Turner’s, as well as being very different to anything else in the Hawk-sphere.

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A faded promo badge. The ballpoint scrawl is Mr Turner’s autograph.

Barney Bubbles’ design for the album is also very different to anything else in the Hawk-sphere, an example of what might be called his High Modernist period, when the hippy motifs and decorative pastiches of his earlier work were replaced with bold, flat colours and playful graphic designs. Xitintoday was released with a square booklet containing lyrics, notes about the mythological theme, and a series of pictures which combine diagrams and Ancient Egyptian reliefs with calligram-like wordplay. The back cover of the album exemplifies the latter, with the word “Day” spelled out in much smaller words reading “Night”; inside the booklet there’s a page for Isis the Moon Goddess where the words “Isis is is is is…” form a curve around a photograph of the Moon. The cover design continues the cosmic theme with a field of star shapes in which each star is created by the word “Twinkle”. The star field makes sense in the context of the booklet but I’ve wondered for a long time why Barney Bubbles thought it was a suitable cover design rather than simply being another booklet page.

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The solution arrived last week when work-related research had me looking through old design books for examples of Ancient Egyptian ornamentation. One of these, The Grammar of Ornament (1856) by Owen Jones, contains several pages of full-colour plates filled with Egyptian pattern samples.

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And on one of those pages there are these two squares which made me think immediately of the Xitintoday cover. This might seem tenuous when the cover design doesn’t feature any red dots but Barney Bubbles was an avid Egyptophile, avid enough to name his son after one of the Egyptian gods. A quick search revealed many more examples of this pattern which are closer matches for the cover design.

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It turns out that the yellow star on a blue background was a common way of representing the night sky in Egyptian art, you’ll find the same stars in wall paintings and on the ceilings inside royal tombs.

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For years I’ve regarded the Xitintoday cover as being uncharacteristically random and abstract, surprisingly so when Bubbles designs from the same period are all so smart and well-considered. This discovery puts the Sphynx album in the same category, a design which avoids many more obvious solutions for a combination of the very old and the very new. Another feature of Barney Bubbles design is a kind of “Aha!” moment, when your appreciation of the design catches up with the thinking behind it. The appreciation this time has taken an outrageously long time to arrive but I’m pleased to have got there in the end.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Led Zeppelin IV: Jimmy Page versus Little Bo-Peep
The Grammar of Ornament revisited
On the pyramid

A Penrose pentagram

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A classic text although that cover art always looks a little off. I’m sure MC Escher would have insisted on the triangle being equilateral.

Most people are familiar with the Penrose triangle by sight even if they don’t know who “Penrose” was. (Psychiatrist Lionel, together with his son, Roger, the celebrated mathematician and physicist.) I’ve been playing with these things for years, most notably on the cover art I created for Zones by Hawkwind, although the triangle also formed the basis for the robot pathways I created a couple of years ago when illustrating Bruce Sterling’s Robot Artists and Black Swans.

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Earlier this week it occurred to me that I hadn’t tried applying the Penrose effect to a pentagram. For a fleeting moment I thought the idea might be a novel one but a quick web search disabused me of this; plenty of similar examples exist already. Here it is anyway, after 20 minutes or so in Illustrator. I’m tempted to try a few more things like this when I have the time. Many possibilities present themselves.

Previously on { feuilleton }
More Swans and Robots

The Dreaming City by Michael Moorcock

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Cover art by James Cawthorn. Chaos pin not included.

More sword and sorcery. Last month I was asked to design a reprinting of the very first Elric story by Michael Moorcock, a standalone publication from Jayde Design intended to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Moorcock’s most popular character. The Dreaming City was published in issue 47 of Science Fantasy magazine in June 1961, following a request from the editor, John Carnell, for Moorcock to write a new series of fantasy stories. Over the next three years Science Fantasy published all ten of the novellas that established Elric’s character and his world, ending with Doomed Lord’s Passing in April 1964, the entry which saw Moorcock destroy his creation in a Boschian apocalyptic finale.

The Dreaming City: A Sixtieth Anniversary Edition is a compound facsimile of these publications. The interior design follows the template of the magazine interiors while the front cover is based on one of the later numbers which ran the fifth Elric story, The Flame Bringers, with a cover illustration by James Cawthorn. That illustration may have been attached to a different story but it actually depicts a scene from the end of The Dreaming City when Elric is leaving Imrryr in burning ruins after the place has been sacked by the raiding party he led there. It’s also a much better illustration than the one by Brian Lewis that appeared on the cover of the June 1961 issue. In addition to recreating the cover we’ve also restored the drawing, which in its printed form was slightly cropped at one side, with the complete version taken from Cawthorn’s original. Jim Cawthorn was closely involved with the creation of Elric, and even co-wrote Kings in Darkness, another of the stories in the Science Fantasy sequence. Inside the new edition there are four further illustrations which Cawthorn produced for a German collection of Elric stories published by Heyne in 1979.

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One of James Cawthorn’s interior illustrations.

This small publication will only be of interest to collectors but it was a good thing to be involved with. In the past I’ve designed an Elric-themed album cover for Hawkwind, and last year designed The Stormbringer Sessions, a very limited publication of Jim Cawthorn’s sketched outline for his unfinished Elric graphic novel. The Dreaming City is the first Elric design of mine that features Moorcock’s own text. For an opening shot in what would become a saga spanning several decades and a variety of media The Dreaming City is a remarkably confident piece of work, even more so when you consider that the author was only 21 at the time. Elric begins and ends the story as an outsider, exiled and alone, and with his existence bound to his cursed sword, Stormbringer. Subsequent novels and stories would fill in the history before pitching Elric into the multiverse along with many of Moorcock’s other characters. But this is where it all begins, with six Sea Lords waiting in a tavern wondering whether the albino prince will turn up at all.

The Dreaming City: A Sixtieth Anniversary Edition is available here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Stormbringer Sessions by James Cawthorn
James Cawthorn: The Man and His Art
The Chronicle of the Cursed Sleeve
Moorcock: Faith, Hope and Anxiety
Elric 1: Le trône de rubis
The Sonic Assassins
Jim Cawthorn, 1929–2008

Getting shirty

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Another post about T-shirts… I discontinued daily posting in 2016, and I don’t usually write anything on Sundays, so take this as a bonus.

Skull Print sent these photos of the first batch of orders from the new shirt range. Very impressive detail and colour quality on both designs, especially the Zones shirt which contains a lot of fine detail. My thanks to everyone who’s placed an order so far!

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Previously on { feuilleton }
More shirts
T-shirts by Skull Print