James Cawthorn: The Man and His Art

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The past year would have been busier than usual with the amount of illustration work I had to deal with, but it was made even busier with my having to design this book at the same time. James Cawthorn: The Man and His Art was originally intended to be a modest memorial by Maureen Cawthorn Bell for her artist brother following his death in 2008, but the book grew into a heavyweight volume of 448 pages containing over 800 individual pieces of art: book covers, illustrations for magazines and fanzines, private pieces for friends and relatives, and many sketches or preliminary works, most of which have never seen print before.

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Given Jim Cawthorn’s long association with Michael Moorcock, as both friend and collaborator, the task of collating the artwork and editing the book went to Moorcock bibliographer John Davey, who also serves as the book’s publisher. John spent three years locating over 3000 pieces of artwork, large and small. Some of these pieces are now lodged with the Moorcock archives in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, while others may only be found in the pages of the many science fiction and fantasy fanzines that Jim illustrated, copies of which are stored at the British Library. From this body of material Maureen and John selected a core of representative work from Jim’s private as well as public life, although no-one at the outset of the project was expecting the final picture tally to be so high.

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My task as the book’s designer involved making the text presentable (easy) and corralling the artwork (not so easy, and I also had to either clean or colour-adjust every single piece). Maureen had divided the book into several sections, beginning with a lengthy biographical reminiscence. Following this was “Jim by Jim”, a selection of interviews, magazine pieces, some fiction, essays and book reviews. There was also a lengthy extract from Fantasy: 100 Best Novels (1988), a book credited to Jim and Michael Moorcock but, by Moorcock’s admission, mostly Jim’s work. Jim Cawthorn was very well-read, especially in the genres—he was old enough and interested enough to have read The Lord of the Rings when it was first published—and could also present his erudition engagingly for a reader, so the text section of Maureen’s book is far from indulgent.

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The book design isn’t as elaborate as some I’ve worked on but it didn’t need to be when the pictorial material is rich with what Moorcock calls “wizardry and wild romance”. Maureen wanted a particular picture of Moorcock’s Elric character on the cover so I took details and motifs from some of Jim’s many Elric illustrations to give the book a thematic thread and internal consistency. Cawthorn was present at the creation of Elric in the early 1960s; he not only provided Moorcock’s characters with their first illustrations but even helped plot one of the earliest stories, Kings in Darkness.

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Page numbers are framed by the swords from the Elric stories.

Using motifs such as the sword silhouette and Elric head is something I frequently do with book designs but for this book I also went to the trouble of creating a one-off font for the drop capitals based on Jim’s hand-drawn lettering. Jim drew titles and other lettering throughout his career, so again this was a decision warranted by the book’s contents. The few times we met I never asked him about this but I’ve always thought his lettering designs were derived from the stylised titles that J. Allen St. John created for many of the early Edgar Rice Burroughs books. Jim spent most of his life drawing Burroughs’ characters, and was very familiar with the work of Burroughs’ original illustrators. I was hoping to find a title design of Jim’s that I could rework for the book’s title but none of the examples worked as well as I hoped. For this reason the title lettering is based on different styles from the John Carter novels that were Jim’s favourites among Burroughs’ works.

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Other features include a foreword by Alan Moore, an afterword by Michael Moorcock, a gallery of Jim’s Lord of the Rings drawings and character sketches from the early 1960s (which predate all others bar those by Tolkien himself), artwork for Hawkwind (including Dave Brock’s “Meliadus” T-shirt), and even a handful of photos from the set of The Land that Time Forgot (1975), the ER Burroughs-derived feature film scripted by Jim with Michael Moorcock. The page samples here are necessarily few given the size of the book.

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For the moment James Cawthorn: The Man and His Art is available exclusively from publishers Jayde Design at a special pre-publication price of £20. After publication on 6th August the price will rise to £35. Further page samples follow.

Continue reading “James Cawthorn: The Man and His Art”

Pavomania

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Colour me Mr Popular as I’m interviewed once again, the venue on this occasion being Coilhouse which is a fine place to be featured. My thanks to S. Elizabeth for the indulgence. In the course of our discussion I mentioned The Peacock Obsession, and by coincidence these pages have been receiving links recently from Peacock’s Garden, a site devoted to that ubiquitous fowl. These two pieces can be found there with the Vogue cover being a new one to me. The artist is the great J. Allen St John, better known for his Edgar Rice Burroughs illustrations and distinctive title designs; Golden Age Comic Book Stories has many examples of his work.

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This splendid Art Nouveau poster is by Gisbert Combaz (1869–1941) and those who’ve seen my Dodgem Logic cover may recognise the peacock whose outline I rather shamelessly swiped. Combaz’s poster turns up regularly in Art Nouveau histories but his other work is less visible which is a shame, he has a very bold graphic style and I’d love to see more. Lastly, I’ve linked to this before but it’s worth mentioning again, Seasons of the Peacock at Animalarium which also has Combaz’s poster.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Art Nouveau dance goes on forever
Dodgem Logic #4

Frank Frazetta, 1928–2010

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Conan the Adventurer aka The Barbarian (1965).

How to appraise Frank Frazetta? In November last year I wrote about this Conan portrait for an SF Signal Mind Meld feature on favourite book covers:

The covers that launched a thousand imitators. Lancer’s series of Conan books in the 1960s were the first appearance of Howard’s barbarian in paperback and came sporting cover art by Frank Frazetta. A great example of artist and subject being perfectly matched, these are the standard by which all subsequent barbarian art must be judged. Frazetta’s painting of a brooding warrior lord (which he reworked slightly for its poster edition) is for me the definitive portrait of Howard’s hero, battle scarred and proudly malevolent, with a chauvinistic blur of trophy female clinging at his feet. Other artists can do the muscles and monsters but none capture the physical presence and brute animality of Howard’s characters the way Frazetta does.

I found Frazetta’s work through the great series of fantasy art books which Pan/Ballantine published in the 1970s. I hadn’t read any Robert E Howard at the time, I only knew the diluted version of the Conan character in the Marvel comics series but Frazetta’s work was so powerful it was a spur to search out Howard, especially when I read that the writer had been a pen-pal of HP Lovecraft. I was never as interested in Frazetta’s other staple inspiration, Edgar Rice Burroughs, probably because Tarzan was too familiar from films and TV.

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The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta (1975).

Both Howard and Frazetta defined a milieu which combined an intensity of vision with a projection of their own personalities into the worlds they created. (Many of Frazetta’s protagonists resemble their creator.) Both suffered from having that intensity of vision watered-down by ham-fisted imitators or the vulgarisations of films and comics. Howard’s Conan stories at their best are a blend of heavyweight adventure story with supernatural horror; many of them were first published in Weird Tales magazine alongside other masters of the weird like Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. What impressed me about Frazetta’s paintings was the way he managed to capture a sense of eldritch weirdness as well as the more obvious barbaric adventure in a manner which eluded so many of the sword and sorcery illustrators who followed. What’s even more remarkable when you read interviews is that he seemed to do all this instinctively. He’d learned from looking at earlier artists such as J Allen St John, Howard Pyle, Frank Schoonover and Roy Krenkel, and found the means to apply their painting style to his own internal aesthetics and sense of drama.

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Swords of Mars (1974).

Aesthetics is one of the things I always come back to with Frazetta. I used to pore over these paintings wondering how it was that all the details of weapons and decor seemed absolutely right. Nothing was ever over-worked or too elaborate. Where did this invention come from? The other obvious feature is a raw sexiness which pervades everything. I’ve had people tell me that Frazetta must have been bisexual because of the equal care he lavished on his male and female figures. I’ve always disagreed with this. The point about Frazetta’s world is that everything is sexy: the people, the decor, the architecture, the animals, even the monsters; so naturally the men are going to be as sexy as the women. In addition, he wasn’t afraid of giving his men real balls (so to speak) unlike the endless parade of costumed eunuchs filling the comic books. These figures may be dealing death but they’re filled with vigour and life when they’re doing it.

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Bran Mak Morn (1969).

I said everything is sexy; I’ll make an exception for the extraordinary painting of Bran Mak Morn and his tribal horde, a picture of feral nightmarishness that goes beyond mere illustration and makes you feel the artist has shown you an atavistic glimpse of ages past. Robert E Howard would have been thrilled to see his characters brought to life with this kind of visceral intensity. For years Howard’s fiction was dismissed as pulp, now he’s a Penguin Modern Classic. And it’s as a modern classic that I’ll continue to think of Frank Frazetta.

Unofficial gallery site

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Frazetta: Painting with Fire
The monstrous tome
Men with snakes
My pastiches
Fantastic art from Pan Books

Born again pagans

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Ave Pan by the amazing J Allen St John. Via.

In the spirit of basic human generosity I try not to be too anti-Christian here, especially when so many churchgoers these days feel themselves rather beleaguered; after centuries persecuting much of the world, the world has finally pushed them back and it hurts the poor things. Much as I’d love to refer to Christianity as a Patriarchal Death Cult that seems unfair to those of its adherents who aren’t hate-mongering bigots, those who put agape before “Thou shalt not…”. But goddamn if those self-appointed leaders don’t make generosity difficult at times. Men (and they’re always men) such as poisonous geriatric Pat Robertson whose recent blather has included this gem:

Any country that openly embraces homosexuality throughout the history of mankind has gone down into ruin. That’s history. That’s the historical record. Whatever nation embraces this so-called lifestyle, it ends up in the garbage heap of history.

Given the onward march of gay rights versus the mortal diminishing of ageing gasbags like the recently deceased Jerry Falwell, the only thing the garbage heap of history awaits is Robertson himself. One might even propose in a spirit of distinct un-generosity that the reason Robertson’s god hasn’t already called him home is because heaven’s inhabitants want to have a few more years of peace before they have to listen to his drivel for the rest of eternity.

And speaking of drivel, the porcine Newt Gingrich dropped this bon mot earlier in the month while speaking to a crowd of evangelicals:

“I think this is one of the most critical moments in American history,” Gingrich said. “We are living in a period where we are surrounded by paganism.”

Setting aside the obvious point that America is actually surrounded by large tracts of water and a nation called Canada, Gingrich (or Lissotriton vulgaris as we’d call him if he really was a newt) was proposing a specious equivalence between what he would perceive as social iniquities and, er…Satanism or something. Whether he actually believes any of this nonsense is moot; he’s telling an audience of believers who may one day be asked to vote for him what they want to hear. Nonetheless, he complains about paganism as though it’s somehow a bad thing. Maybe he’d like to come to our cheerfully pagan isles and argue the point with the increasing number of genuine witches, warlocks and sundry earth-worshippers. A Guardian feature this week entitled Everyone’s a pagan now reported that:

There are said to be a quarter of a million practising pagans in this country, double the number of a decade ago. That would make them more numerous than Buddhists (of which there are 144,500, according to the 2001 census) and almost as numerous as Jews (259,000).

It’s no surprise that this comes at a time when church attendance, which has been declining for years in the UK, continues to plummet:

According to Religious Trends, a comprehensive statistical analysis of religious practice in Britain, published by Christian Research, even Hindus will come close to outnumbering churchgoers within a generation. The forecast to 2050 shows churchgoing in Britain declining to 899,000 while the active Hindu population, now at nearly 400,000, will have more than doubled to 855,000. By 2050 there will be 2,660,000 active Muslims in Britain – nearly three times the number of Sunday churchgoers. (More.)

Before Pat Robertson starts looking for our place on the garbage heap of history it ought to be noted that Christianity’s high-water mark in Britain was the late 19th century which saw a profusion of church building and church attendance. The decline set in after the First World War with many of those churches being abandoned then converted or demolished. (I can point to at least four sites in Manchester which were once Victorian churches). A recent study by the University of Derby found that the church’s antiquated attitudes to women was driving away one half of the population:

The report claims more than 50,000 women a year have deserted their congregations over the past two decades because they feel the church is not relevant to their lives.

It says that instead young women are becoming attracted to the pagan religion Wicca, where females play a central role, which has grown in popularity after being featured positively in films, TV shows and books. (More.)

TV and films only remind people of what’s always been there. Prior to the 19th century we were a Christian nation in name, of course, and I’ve always been grateful for our many cathedrals. But the far older pre-Christian ways are impossible to forget when you have a landscape littered with significant monuments such as Stonehenge, Avebury, Glastonbury Tor, the Callanish Circle, Silbury Hill, the Uffington White Horse, the Long Man of Wilmington, and the Cerne Abbas Giant whose enormous phallus is one of many things which makes me proud to be British. The latter pair can’t be claimed as prehistoric, unfortunately, but they remain fixtures in catalogues of Britain’s venerable un-Christian past.

Early Christianity did its best to co-opt the sites and festivals of our pagan ancestors but it seems as though two thousand years of dominance may now be drawing to a close. People today are far more sympathetic to spiritual attitudes which see the earth as something to be respected not exploited. And women will obviously respond to philosophies which don’t regard them as some unclean extrusion from a masculine creation with no part to play in religious ritual. Ask yourself what’s more attractive: the regressive bile of withered old men or a touch of pagan poetry?

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Great God Pan
Gay for god