Cocteau and Lovecraft

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This one arrives via Tentaclii, via ST Joshi’s news page. Jean Cocteau paying homage in pencil to HP Lovecraft is both unlikely and almost too good to be true. But the drawing, circa 1951, is from a Beverly Hills gallery where other Cocteau artwork is up for sale so it can be accepted as the genuine article.

Cocteau’s enthusiasm for Lovecraft’s fiction doesn’t seem to be news either, even though this is the first I’ve heard of it. Another of Joshi’s links is to this newspaper feature from 1954 in which Cocteau together with various notables of the time are asked to choose their books of the year. While the other contributors list the kinds of titles you’d expect, Cocteau has a book about Atlantis by Denis Saurat, books about parapsychology and “les soucoupes volantes” (flying saucers), plus the first French collection of Lovecraft’s stories, translated by Jacques Papy. I knew that Cocteau had a mystical side—you’d expect nothing less from the director of Orphée—but this combination of Lovecraft and full-on crankery is a surprise. He lived just long enough to see the first publication of Pauwels and Bergiers’ Ur-text of the 70s’ crankosphere, The Morning of the Magicians, so I can imagine him lapping up that one as well.

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As for the doodle, this is Cocteau’s version of a sea-monster illustration from Conrad Gessner’s Historia Animalium (1551–1558), a five-volume study which includes a number of fantastic creatures among its descriptions of the animal life known to 16th-century Europeans. Gessner has a page or two about the so-called “sea bishop” which includes this illustration together with another one I adapted myself in 2010 for the Neil Gaiman story in Lovecraft’s Monsters. Good to know that Cocteau and I were on the same page, as it were.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Cocteau drawings
Querelle de Brest
Halsman and Cocteau
La Belle et la Bête posters
The writhing on the wall
Le livre blanc by Jean Cocteau
Cocteau’s sword
Cristalophonics: searching for the Cocteau sound
Cocteau at the Louvre des Antiquaires
La Villa Santo Sospir by Jean Cocteau

Virgil Finlay’s magazine illustrations

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The Time Machine by HG Wells; Famous Fantastic Mysteries, August 1950.

This one will be popular, I’m sure. One of the recent uploads at the Internet Archive is a massive collection of Virgil Finlay’s interior illustrations from the magazines that published most of his work—Weird Tales, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Amazing Stories, etc, etc—together with the astrological illustrations he created later in his career, plus other material, including a few pieces that never appeared in print. Pencil drawings, lithographs and hundreds of meticulous renderings in ink on paper or scratchboard; 1888 illustrations in all. Whoever put the haul together has been much more thorough than I’d have expected. Rather than a stash of random drawings you get 10 separate folders (best appreciated in the cbz format; see the note below) with each illustration tagged with the name of the story it was illustrating, and the date of publication. The contents are a mix of reproductions from later reprints, together with cropped pages from magazine scans. Taken together, this must comprise almost all of Finlay’s published work excluding his magazine covers and other paintings.

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Earth’s Last Citadel by Henry Kuttner and CL Moore; Fantastic Novels Magazine, July 1950.

Virgil Finlay (1914–1971) can be a frustrating artist for anyone who admires his work. He was massively prolific, and maintained a high level of quality for almost 40 years; but his interior illustrations were often printed on pulp stock, the kind of paper that offers the worst kind of print reproduction, and which darkens and eventually crumbles into dust unless it’s carefully stored. Descriptions of his illustrations often note that his drawing style evolved to compensate for the deficiencies of the printing but much of his artwork was very finely rendered, and I’m not sure his minute stipple effects would have printed any better (or worse) than the traditional cross-hatching which he used from time to time. His drawings have at least been well-served by reprint collections, where the white art paper makes his striking compositions leap off the page. Inevitably, the best of these—Gerry de la Ree’s seven-volume collection from the 1970s, and a four-volume set from the 1990s—are all out of print. The sheer quantity of illustrations also presents a problem for any reprint collection: what to include…or leave out? All of which is a roundabout way of saying that this accumulation of his interior art may be unauthorised, and even frowned upon by some, but it benefits Finlay by keeping his work in circulation and showing the full range of his career.

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The Faceless God by Robert Bloch; Weird Tales, May 1936.

With 1888 illustrations to choose from, picking out a representative selection is a hopeless task, so what you see here are a few favourites. I said that Finlay maintained a high level of quality but there are unsuccessful Finlays, especially in the early years when his style was still evolving. (It should be noted that he was in his early twenties when he was creating pieces such as these. His errors are a lot less grievous than mine were at the same age.) One of the hallmarks of the Finlay style is a frequent use of photo-reference, especially for faces, and it’s the disjunction between faces and bodies which occasionally jars. Disparities between the size or angle of a head and a body are common in photo-collage but you don’t expect to see them in a drawing. Occasionally the disparities worked for him, as in his illustration for The Faceless God by Robert Bloch, a drawing that so impressed HP Lovecraft that he responded with a short poem praising both picture and artist. The reference images used for his later work are much more seamlessly integrated, and in the 1940s and 50s he seemed to be using posed models as frequently as the illustrators for the big American magazines.

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The Man Who Mastered Time by Ray Cummings; Fantastic Novels Magazine, March 1950. Remove the fungi from this illustration and you’d have an almost abstract image.

Regarding cbz or cbr files: these are simply folders filled with jpegs or pngs which have been zipped then given a new suffix. They can be browsed using a suitable comics-reader application; I use Simple Comic for the iMac and ComiCat for the tablet. The files can also be opened with any unzipping software to give you access to the images inside. I find these files so much easier to use than pdfs, especially for image-heavy publications, that I’ve taken to exporting pdf pages as jpegs then zipping a folder of the images into a cbr. One of the advantages of the cbr format is that the readers allow you to extract an image without unzipping the whole file. The only drawback with the Finlay files is that ComiCat doesn’t let you see the file name the way that Simple Comic does.

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Full Moon by Talbot Mundy; Famous Fantastic Mysteries, February 1953.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Virgil Finlay’s Tarzan
Virgil Finlay’s Salomé
The monstrous tome

Weekend links 613

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An engraving by Rafael Custos from Cabala, Spiegel der Kunst und Natur, In Alchymia (1615) by “Father C.R.C.”.

• “Writing is very subconscious and the last thing I want to do is think about it.” Cormac McCarthy responded to a handful of questions from a couple of lucky high-school students. Lithub’s list of McCarthy’s rare public manifestations missed this chatty encounter with the Coen Brothers from 2007.

• Strange Flowers celebrates Rosa Bonheur, “the most famous and successful woman artist of the 19th century, dressing in men’s clothing, smoking cigars, riding astride and living openly with female partners.”

A Secret Between Gentlemen by Peter Jordaan “details a British Government coverup of a gay scandal involving great names. Hidden for 120 years, it is a history that has never been told, and until recently could not be told.”

[Mark E. Smith] liked HP Lovecraft, whose monster of The Call of Cthulhu and The Dunwich Horror appears in the song N.W.R.A., “Body a tentacle mess”. He quite liked MR James’ Ghost Stories. He liked the more recent, seemingly disgraced, and by then unfashionable, occult fiction of Colin Wilson: The Black Room and Ritual in the Dark. But He LOVED the writing of early twentieth century Arthur Machen. “Machen’s fucking brilliant.” In his autobiography Renegade he comments, “He lives in this alternative world: the real occult’s not in Egypt, but in the pubs of the East End and the stinking boats of the Thames—on your doorstep, basically.”

Woebot goes deep into the grotesque and esoteric worlds of Mark E. Smith and The Fall

• “It sometimes seems as though inn signs are the symbols and the focus of some great alchemical experiment in the landscape of England.” Mark Valentine on inn signs and some of the theories about their origins.

• “…we’re going back into this shipwreck and, you know, pulling out the gold pieces”. Dennis Bovell on reworking the Pop Group’s incendiary debut album as Y in Dub.

• Mixes of the week: A Wendy Carlos mix by Erik DeLuca for The Wire, and a psychedelic/post-punk mix by Robert Hampson for NTS.

Landscapes is an exhibition of torn-paper collages by Jordan Belson at Matthew Marks Gallery, New York.

• “A force entirely of itself”: Robert Fripp on the difficult legacy of King Crimson.

White Landscape I (1971) by Douglas Leedy | John Cage: In A Landscape (1994) performed by Stephen Drury | Primordial Landscape (2013) by Patrick Cowley

Weekend links 611

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Let The Power Fall (1981) by Robert Fripp. A postcard included with the original vinyl release of the Let The Power Fall album.

Exposures 1977–1983 is the title of another wallet-busting CD/DVD/blu-ray box which will be released by DGM at the end of May. Unlike the previous King Crimson sets this one will be devoted to Robert Fripp’s first run of solo releases, covering the albums that emerged from the artistic campaign he described at the time as “The Drive to 1981”: Exposure (1979), God Save The Queen/Under Heavy Manners (1980), The League Of Gentlemen (1981), and Let The Power Fall (1981). If you’re as interested as I am in this period of Fripp’s career then this is all very exciting. Exposure has been reissued several times over the years, and exists in three different “editions” featuring alternate mixes and song variations, but the other albums have been unavailable in any form for decades, possibly as a result of the turmoil caused by the mismanagement and eventual collapse of the EG label. In addition to the reissues the box will include live recordings, a League Of Gentlemen Peel session plus a substantial quantity of Frippertronics material, including the loops that were recorded for Eno & Byrne’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. Fripp retained a credit for his contribution to Regiment but the results are so far down in the mix that they’re easy to miss. Related: The Drive to 1981: Robert Fripp’s Art-Rock Classic Exposure.

• Galerie Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Valloisin, Paris, is currently creeping out visitors to Strange Aeons—We will meet you there, an exhibition by Peybak (Peyman Barabadi and Babak Alebrahim Dehkordi) that borrows its title from HP Lovecraft and includes a number of creatures, “neither embryos nor chimeras”, which may be found prostrate and breathing on the gallery floor.

• New music: Sub Zero, in which Kevin Richard Martin returns to the subterranean/subaqueous/subarctic zones he charted on his Isolationism and Driftworks compilations in the 1990s; plus The Carrier by Large Plants, an album of “psych rock belters” coming soon on the Ghost Box label.

• Science fiction as revolution: Joe Banks talks to Iain McIntyre, co-editor of Dangerous Visions and New Worlds—Radical Science Fiction, 1950–1985, about the flourishing of the New Wave of SF in the 1960s and 70s.

• “We know from his letters that Joyce sent a Greek flag to Nutting for him to colour-match. So, he was aiming for ‘Greek’ blue.” It’s that book again. Cleo Hanaway-Oakley on Ulysses, blindness and blue.

• Intermittent Eyeball Fodder: More visual delights gathered by S. Elizabeth.

• Steven Heller’s font of the month is Nicholas.

• Galerie Dennis Cooper presents…Liz Larner.

Let The Power Fall (1971) by Max Romeo | Minor Man (1981) by The League Of Gentlemen ft. Danielle Dax | Heptaparapashinokh (1981) by The League Of Gentlemen

Weekend links 603

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Weird Tales (Canada), May 1942. Cover art by Edmond Good.

• “…in 1968, seven years after the MOMA retrospective, Orson Welles appreciatively got in touch and suggested that Bogdanovich do a book-length set of interviews with him like the one that Bogdanovich had just done with Ford. The resulting book, This Is Orson Welles (which took a winding path to publication, in 1992, seven years after Welles’s death), is a classic of the literature of movies.” Richard Brody on the late Peter Bogdanovich. The book of Welles interviews is one of my favourite film books, as good in its way as Hitchcock/Truffaut, and like Truffaut’s book you wish it was twice as long.

• At Public Domain Review: Paloma Ruiz and Hunter Dukes on Johann Caspar Lavater’s frog-to-human physiognomies. If you reverse the sequence, as I did for one of the illustrations in Lovecraft’s Monsters, you approach The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

• The week in virtual exploration (via MetaFilter): Mini Tokyo 3D and Explore the Soane Museum, London.

• Submissions are open for the 16th issue of Dada journal Maintenant which will have the theme “Nyet Zero”.

• At Spoon & Tamago: Artists and artisans collaborate on exhibition of 144 maekake aprons.

• DJ Food unearths flyers and posters for the Million Volt Light & Sound Rave, 1967.

• Mix of the week: Isolatedmix 116 by Chris SSG.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Stephen Dwoskin Day.

The Little Blue Frog (1970) by Miles Davis | Jail-House Frog (1972) by Amon Düül II | Tree Frog (1995) by Facil