The Stormbringer Sessions by James Cawthorn

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One of the books I was designing last year is published next month. The Stormbringer Sessons is a resurrection by John Davey of a sketchbook created by James Cawthorn in the mid-1980s for an Elric graphic novel that Cawthorn was commissioned to adapt and illustrate for Savoy Books. This is a limited edition that’s unlikely to be reprinted so anyone interested is advised to pre-order. (See below.)

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Slipcase decoration.

The original Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock isn’t a novel as such but a collection of the second series of linked novellas about Elric of Melniboné that Moorcock wrote for Science Fantasy from 1961 to 1964. Over the course of ten stories Moorcock introduced a character and a world that acted as a riposte to the Tolkienite school of heroic fantasy, where the divisions between Good and Evil are clear and fixed. Elric is like one of Sergio Leone’s characters: the difference between Clint Eastwood’s “Good” in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Lee Van Cleef’s “Bad” is merely a matter of degree; both men are killers chasing the same hoard of gold coins. (By coincidence, Leone was preparing to the upset the Western genre with A Fistful of Dollars just as Moorcock was finishing the first Elric stories.)

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James Cawthorn was one of Moorcock’s oldest friends, and a frequent collaborator. He not only illustrated the first Elric stories but also co-wrote the fourth one, Kings in Darkness. Despite having created many Elric illustrations Cawthorn always seemed to want to draw comics based on other characters, notably Moorcock’s Dorian Hawkmoon whose adventures have recently been reprinted in three volumes by Titan Books. The Stormbringer commission was a result of the late David Britton’s obsession with Elric in general and the Stormbringer book in particular. Stormbringer begins with Elric having retired from adventuring; his soul-stealing sword is locked away and he’s settled down to married life. The opening scenes parallel (and prefigure) many Hollywood plots: Elric’s wife is abducted for unknown reasons so Elric has to take up his sword and go after her. What follows is a pursuit into a world growing increasingly dark and chaotic, and with it the realisation that the events taking place are a part of a long-foretold apocalypse that will (and does) destroy that world. The progression from a regular sword & sorcery tale to doom-laden widescreen baroque, with a dragon army flying over a churning Boschian hellscape, is one of the enduring attractions of the book.

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Britton had first persuaded Cawthorn to adapt Stormbringer into comic form in 1976 but the work on that occasion was compromised by lack of time. The sketches in The Stormbringer Sessions are Cawthorn’s roughs which were drawn in preparation for the second attempt, with the entire story worked out in panel form over 250 pages, complete with dialogue and captions. Some of the opening pages are rough indeed, but the drawings for the apocalyptic finale, presented in many double-page spreads, are almost finished pieces. The sketches may lack the finesse of Cawthorn’s other comics work but the power of his drawing and his imagination shines through. Nobody seems to know why he abandoned this project despite having a publisher waiting for it, but he was also adapting the third Hawkmoon book at the time, and had already spent the past decade working on the Hawkmoon trilogy.

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My design for this one is fairly straightforward, mostly a matter of framing and typesetting the opening and closing pages, as well as creating graphics for the cover and the slipcase. As with the Elric-themed Hawkwind album, The Chronicle of the Black Sword, I opted for Celtic-style knotwork for the decoration. Elric’s world isn’t our world but knotwork designs are universal (maybe even multiversal) while being satisfyingly antique and abstract. The publication is a co-production between Jayde Design and Savoy Books, with the book being limited to 100 numbered hardbacks in a decorated slipcase. Each copy also contains a colour print of the cover painting. The book may be ordered here. More page samples follow.

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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.

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Weekend links 338

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At the mountains of madness, fragment I (2014–16) by Céli Lee.

Spirits of Place, edited by John Reppion: new writings from Bryndís Björgvinsdóttir, Vajra Chandrasekera, Maria J. Pérez Cuervo, Warren Ellis, Alan Moore, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Kristine Ong Muslim, Dr. Joanne Parker, Mark Pesce, Iain Sinclair, Gazelle Amber Valentine and Damien Williams.

• “Are we wrong to neglect [Jean Cocteau]? We are.” Kevin Jackson reviews Jean Cocteau: A Life, a biography by Claude Arnaud that’s finally available in an English edition (translated by Lauren Elkin & Charlotte Mandell). Related: Jean Cocteau speaks to the year 2000.

Void Beats / Invocation Trex by Cavern of Anti-Matter has been one of my favourite music releases this year. Tim Gane talks about the inadvertent origin of the group, and there’s also the welcome news of a reissue for the scarce first album, Blood Drums.

• Pauline Oliveros: 1932–2016; Geeta Dayal looks back on the life of US composer Pauline Oliveros, including reflections from, amongst others, Betsey Biggs, Fred Frith, Terry Riley, and Morton Subotnick.

• The relaunched Jayde Design website is selling copious Moorcock publications and ephemera, back issues of New Worlds magazine, and much else besides, including rare works of my own.

• New from Mute Records: Richard H. Kirk #7489 (Collected Works 1974–1989) and Sandoz #9294 (Collected Works 1992–1994).

• Drawings by Austin Osman Spare are on display for the next two weeks at the Atlantis Bookshop, London.

The Architecture of the Overlap: Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, scanned in three dimensions.

• Mixes of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 201 by Félicia Atkinson, and FACT mix 579 by Jenny Hval.

• “No one has the slightest idea what is and isn’t cultural appropriation,” says Fredrik deBoer.

• I’m never keen on end-of-year lists but I’ll read any list that John Waters writes.

• “The Driller Killer and the humanist behind the blood and sickening crunch”.

• More Lovecraft: Stories to make you say UGH! by Pete Von Sholly.

Alan Moore talks to Stewart Lee.

At The Mountains Of Madness (1968) by H.P. Lovecraft | Mountains Falling (2001) by Bluebob | Mountains Crave (2012) by Anna von Hausswolff