In Germany before the war

1: Fritz Haarmann (1879–1925)

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Arrow shows Haarmann’s attic residence in Rote Reihe, Hanover.

Haarmann was one of several serial murderers haunting Weimar Germany, variously nicknamed “the Butcher of Hanover”, “the Vampire of Hanover”, “the Wolf Man”, etc. for his sexual assault, murder and dismemberment of at least 24 boys and young men between 1918 and 1924. Haarmann also sold meat on the black market which led to rumours that some of the mince and other produce he sold was human flesh.

2: M (1931), a film by Fritz Lang.

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Thea von Harbou’s script for M is based in part on the Haarmann case although Lang’s child-killer is shown preying on girls rather than boys. Peter Lorre is superb in his first major role as the murderer, while Lang’s use of the new sound technology is remarkably inventive when compared to his stagey contemporaries in Hollywood.

3: M (1953), a film by Joseph Losey.

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Lang’s masterwork reworked as a Los Angeles film noir by Joseph Losey before McCarthyism sent him to Europe. This is one noir I still haven’t seen even though a major sequence takes place in that cult location, the Bradbury Building.

Continue reading “In Germany before the war”

More trip texts

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More psychedelia of a sort. Anthologist Michel Parry, who died last year, was a familiar name to British readers of fantasy, horror and science fiction for his themed collections: Beware of the Cat (1972; horror stories about cats), The Devil’s Children (1974; horror stories about children), The Hounds of Hell (1974; horror stories about dogs), Jack the Knife (1975; Jack the Ripper stories), The Supernatural Solution (1976; occult investigators), Sex in the 21st Century (1979), and so on.

Parry also compiled multi-volume anthologies throughout the 1970s, two of which have always stood out for me: the Mayflower Books of Black Magic Stories ran to six volumes presenting a wide range of occult fiction that included a number of obscure tales from Victorian and Edwardian writers; for Panther Books he compiled three collections of drug-related fantasy and SF stories that are just as varied, and may even be unique for the way they place authors as such as Lord Dunsany and Norman Spinrad together in the same volume. Both series are very much of their time—occult psychedelia!—and are worth seeking out, if you can find them. I emphasise the last point because it’s taken me a while to find a copy of Strange Ecstasies that wasn’t being offered for bizarrely inflated prices; my paperback habit has its limits… None of these anthologies have been reprinted so they’ll become increasingly scarce. For more invented drugs, there’s a good list at Wikipedia.

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Cover art by Bob Haberfield.

Strange Ecstasies (1973)
The Plutonian Drug (1934) by Clark Ashton Smith
The Dream Pills (1920) by FH Davis
The White Powder (1895) by Arthur Machen
The New Accelerator (1901) by HG Wells
The Big Fix (1956) by Richard Wilson
The Secret Songs (1962) by Fritz Leiber
The Hounds of Tindalos (1929) by Frank Belknap Long
Subjectivity (1964) by Norman Spinrad
What to Do Until the Analyst Comes (1956) by Frederik Pohl
Pipe Dream (1972) by Chris Miller

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Cover art by Bob Haberfield.

Dream Trips (1974)
The Hashish Man (1910) by Lord Dunsany
As Dreams Are Made On (1973) by Joseph F. Pumilia
The Adventure of the Pipe (1898) by Richard Marsh
Dream-Dust from Mars (1938) by Manly Wade Wellman
The Life Serum (1926) by Paul S. Powers
Morning After (1957) by Robert Sheckley
Under the Knife (1896) by HG Wells
The Good Trip (1970) by Ursula K. Le Guin
No Direction Home (1971) by Norman Spinrad
The Phantom Drug (1926) by AW Kapfer

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Cover art by Brian Froud.

Spaced Out (1977)
The Deep Fix (1964) by Michael Moorcock
All the Weed in the World (1961) by Fritz Leiber
The Roger Bacon Formula (1929) by Fletcher Pratt
Smoke of the Snake (1934) by Carl Jacobi
Melodramine (1965) by Henry Slesar
My Head’s in a Different Place, Now (1972) by Grania Davis
Sky (1971) by RA Lafferty
All of Them Were Empty— (1972) by David Gerrold

Previously on { feuilleton }
Trip texts
Acid albums
Acid covers
Lyrical Substance Deliberated
The Art of Tripping, a documentary by Storm Thorgerson
Enter the Void
In the Land of Retinal Delights
Haschisch Hallucinations by HE Gowers
The art of LSD
Hep cats

Weekend links 227

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A Follower by Jason Grim.

Haunted Futures, a multi-genre anthology from Ghostwoods Books, will feature stories by Warren Ellis, John Reppion, Liesel Schwarz, Chuck Wendig, Richard Kadrey, Stephen Blackmoore and others. It will also feature some of my illustrations but only if this this Kickstarter fund is successful.

• “…at issue here is restriction versus potential: protect a specific set of choices versus open the field to the exploration of everything.” Sam Potts offers a refutation of Robert Bringhurst’s design textbook The Elements of Typographic Style.

• “I discovered that if one looks a little closer at this beautiful world, there are always red ants underneath.” Morgan Meis quoting David Lynch in a review of David Lynch: The Unified Field, a new exhibition of Lynch’s paintings.

But among these novels only Moravagine, first discovered for English-speaking readers by Henry Miller and a direct ancestor of Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit, has survived as an underground classic. A monstrous admixture of Lautréamont’s Maldoror, Feuillade’s Fantômas, Nietzsche’s Superman, Jack the Ripper and (according to the Cendrars scholar Jay Bochner) the deranged Jung and Freud disciple Otto Gross, Moravagine remains Cendrars’s most nihilistic and darkly comic other.

Richard Sieburth on Blaise Cendrars and his “Dada update of Dostoevsky”, coincidentally the subject of a post here earlier in the week.

• “…the duchess became enthralled with the idea of creating a garden of plants that could kill instead of heal.” Natasha Geiling on Jane Percy’s Poison Garden.

• Mix of the week: Kosmik Elektronik [part 3] by The Kosmische Club. More Kosmische musik: Agitation Free on French television in 1973.

• At Dangerous Minds: Secret Weapons (1972), 22 minutes of made-for-TV dystopian science fiction directed by David Cronenberg.

Project Praeterlimina, “a journal of daemonology, magic, and the human condition”.

The NOS Project: download Shed’s score for Murnau’s Nosferatu.

• At Lambda Literary: Toy, a poem by Evan J. Peterson.

Drew Daniel doesn’t want to play the listicle game.

Surrealism and Magic

Stuff in old books

Haunted Island (1973) by Agitation Free | Haunted Heights (1977) by Peter Baumann | Haunted Dancehall (1994) by The Sabres of Paradise

Weekend links 206

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Nova Express (2014) by Paul Komoda.

• Last week it was Kraftwerk, this week it’s Can in another astonishing 70-minute TV performance from 1970. For those who know where to look in the torrent world there are copies of these recordings circulating there.

JG Ballard: five years on. Extracts from introductions by John Gray, Hari Kunzru, Robert Macfarlane, Deborah Levy, James Lever, China Miéville and Michel Faber for a new series of Ballard editions.

• Mix of the week: Needle Exchange 147 by Inventions. Also at Self-Titled Mag: Suzanne Ciani on her Buchla beginnings, talking dishwashers, and why no one got electronic music in the ’70s.

• At Dangerous Minds: It’s So Far Out It’s Straight Down, a Granada TV documentary from 1967 featuring Paul McCartney, Allen Ginsberg, International Times, Pink Floyd et al.

The Wonderful World of Witches: Portraits of English Pagans. A photo-special from the 1960s at LIFE. Related: From 1974, the US TV ad for Man, Myth and Magic.

• Suspicious Minds: Adam Curtis on Stephen Knight, Jack the Ripper, squatters, heists, From Hell, and why people no longer trust those in authority.

• Here be men with beards and syntezators: Andy Votel‘s Top 10 Early Patch-Bay Polymaths From Eastern Europe.

The New York Public Library has made 20,000 maps available as free, high-res downloads.

• An oscilloscope video by Vincent Oliver & Steve Bliss for Riff Through The Fog by Clark.

Anne Billson interviewed Alejandro Jodorowsky in 1990.

• At BLDGBLOG: When Hills Hide Arches.

Do gay people still need gay bars?

Pixelord Dreams

I’m So Green (1972) by Can | Nova Feedback (1978) by Chrome | Gay Bar (2003) by Electric Six

The horror

Last year I was asked to write something about my favourite horror comics for Nørd Nyt, a Danish comics zine. I’d pretty much forgotten about this until the printed copy arrived, so here’s my piece in English, a choice of three favourite horror stories.

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The Dunwich Horror by Breccia (1973)

The October 1979 issue of Heavy Metal magazine came as a revelation. I’d only bought a few issues prior to this, and seeing an entire magazine devoted to HP Lovecraft seemed far too good to be true. Lovecraft art is so common now that it needs to be emphasised how scarce this kind of illustration used to be, the most you saw was paperback art of varying quality. There had been a few comic-strip adaptations but they were mostly in American publications or foreign editions I hadn’t seen. As it turned out, Heavy Metal‘s great JK Potter cover promised more than it actually delivered: at least half the magazine was taken up with continuing strips that had nothing to do with Lovecraft, or strips that did little but borrow a few Lovecraftian motifs for a slight horror tale. The one really outstanding piece was Alberto Breccia’s The Dunwich Horror, one of several Lovecraft adaptations the artist produced in 1973. Breccia’s style was sketchy, shadowy and replete with period details. The faces of his characters looked absolutely right for what I still consider to be one of Lovecraft’s darkest stories (people tend to miss the implication that a backwoods magus very nearly destroys humanity). Until I encountered the artists in Heavy Metal I’d given up on comics as an artistic medium, having no time at all for superheroes or the poor science fiction of 2000AD. Artists like Breccia, Moebius and Druillet showed that there was more than one way of drawing imaginative work, that you could use the refined techniques of illustration to tell a story.

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Les Yeux du Chat (The Eyes of the Cat) by Jodorowsky and Moebius (1978)

This story came to my attention when it received its first English translation in the pages of Steve Bissette’s Taboo anthology. It was printed in black on yellow paper, the original French edition having been yellow and black with white highlights. Compared to Jodorowsky’s customary flights of fancy the story is a very simple one, if typically grotesque: a silhouetted figure stands at a tall window overlooking a futuristic (or alien) city, directing with its thoughts the action of an eagle who hunts down a cat in the streets below. The horror comes from the shocking predicament revealed at the end, and the final line of dialogue, although this remains secondary to the formal perfection of the drawing and storytelling. Even by the standards of Moebius’s meticulous draughtsmanship this is a superbly controlled piece of work. Each spread operates as a kind of split-screen, with the left page showing the dialogue and the silhouetted figure, while the full-page illustration opposite shows a simultaneous moment of action somewhere in the city. One thing I immediately liked about this was Moebius’s architecture which even more than usual manages to seem otherworldly yet completely convincing. Everything we see in this brief tale poses questions that remain unanswered. And like many of the best short stories, a few carefully chosen details can imply an entire world.

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From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell (1991–1996)

Horror doesn’t have to be delivered within genre stereotypes, in fact these days it’s often better if it isn’t when so many of those stereotypes—vampires and zombies, for example—have been diminished by over-familiarity. From Hell isn’t a horror story per se—it’s self-described as “a melodrama in sixteen parts”—but it debuted in Steve Bissette’s anthology Taboo where the brief was to offer the reader something dark or challenging that they hadn’t seen before. From Hell certainly fulfilled that brief: Alan Moore’s writing has never shied from the dark—consider the nihilistic Rorschach chapter of Watchmen—but this is as black as he gets. Eddie Campbell has been vocal about his dislike of horror stories but he was the perfect artist here with his long experience drawing ordinary human beings rather than posturing superheroes. Together the pair delivered a story that was novelistic in scope and minute in its attention to detail. Most people would have thought they knew more than enough about Jack the Ripper but no other representation has been this thorough in its exploration of all aspects of the case.

Watchmen had already aimed for a panoramic range of characters—from the president to a newspaper-seller—but From Hell went much further and in greater detail, with a scope that ranges from a group of homeless women to the head of the British Empire and all the classes in between. One of the most impressive aspects of the story was its exposure of the awful gap at the heart of previous dramatisations, namely the reduction of the lives of the murdered women to a cast of frequently nameless unfortunates who we glimpse for a moment sidling up an alley before their blood splashes on a wall. Moore’s script showed us (as much as is possible) the real women behind the roll-call of victims, crushed by poverty yet still distinct individuals. Looking for human detail has always been a feature of Moore’s writing, it’s why his work seemed so fresh in the 1980s compared with lesser writers who were simply recycling clichés as though there was no other way to behave. So too with Campbell’s artwork which has never been subject to the exaggerations of the superhero genre. One of my favourite moments in the entire story was utterly human and utterly trivial: the scene in Chapter 3 when Walter Sickert and Annie Crook meet. Annie says “I need a wee” so she hitches up her shift and squats in the road. It’s the accumulation of numerous human moments such as this—the moments that genre comics invariably avoid—that makes From Hell such a powerful and memorable piece of work. Eddie Campbell’s art shows us the true London dark, a city as black and terrible as it would have been in the days before electric light.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Heavy Metal, October 1979: the Lovecraft special