Weekend links 237

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Le Palais des Merveilles, 1907 – 1927 – 1960 by Clovis Trouille.

• “Why is it OK to show a male ejaculation but not a female one? What are the qualifications of those who cobble together these rules?” Suzanne Moore on the latest batch of discriminatory restrictions against porn production in the UK. Porn laws in Britain have long been like the drug laws, sprouting fresh Hydra-heads of unwarranted bans and crackdowns after the previous bans and crackdowns have been discredited. Last month Zoe Williams talked to women who make niche porn for other women. This week she discovered that some of those she interviewed now find their work is illegal under the latest restrictions.

• “[Derek Jarman] considered In the Shadow of the Sun to be just as important as any of the feature films that he made in the 1970s.” Film producer and archivist James Mackay talking to Beatrix Rux about Derek Jarman’s Super-8 films. Related: Tilda Swinton is GQ’s Woman of the Year.

The Art of Big O by Michael Fishel (author) and Nigel Suckling (editor), a collection of the fantastic and psychedelic poster art published by Peter Ledeboer’s company in the 1970s. Good to see but at $67 (really?) I’d expect a better cover design.

• New electronica: More “confusing English electronic music” from Moon Wiring Club; Shut-Eyed Stories, an album by Jim Cheff; and Shapwick by Jon Brooks, previously vinyl-only and out-of-print, now has a digital edition.

JK Potter Mutates the Story: Christopher Burke & David Davis talk to the horror illustrator about his photographic work.

• Beth Maiden on The Fascinating Life of Pamela Colman Smith, artist of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck.

• Under the Influence: The Sexy, Sordid Surrealism of Clovis Trouille by Kirsten Anderson.

Geoff Manaugh on The Fiery Underground Oil Pit Eating LA.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 137 by Teste.

The Wild Horny Goat

The Young People (2010) by Belbury Poly & Moon Wiring Club | Goat Foot (2012) by Belbury Poly | Walking Through Me (2014) by Moon Wiring Club

Lovecraft’s Monsters unleashed

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I posted my illustrations for this anthology back in December, after which Tachyon also asked me to create a cover for the book, something that hadn’t been planned at the outset. Lovecraft’s Monsters, edited by Ellen Datlow, is in the shops this month so here’s the cover and a few of my page layouts from the interior. I’m very pleased with this one so it’s been good to hear it’s been selling well already, and picking up positive reviews. My illustrations may be seen at large size here while the book itself should be available via all the usual outlets. If you insist on shopping in a river filled with piranhas then here’s a link. (That fish head on the cover is based on a piranha as it happens.)

The big Lovecraft collection from Centipede Press, A Mountain Walked, was also supposed to be out this month but the release has been bumped (again) to May 2014. It’s a huge volume so I’m not surprised if it’s taking longer than expected.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Lovecraft’s Monsters
JK Potter and HP Lovecraft
Cthulhu Labyrinth
Tentacles #4: Cthulhu in Poland
Cthulhu Calendar
S. Latitude 47°9′, W. Longitude 126°43′
Resurgam variations
De Profundis
H.P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction
Heavy Metal, October 1979: the Lovecraft special
Cthulhoid and Artflakes
Cthulhu for sale
Cthulhu God
Cthulhu under glass
CthulhuPress
The monstrous tome
Cubist Cthulhu

Lovecraft’s Monsters

Lovecraft's Monsters

Graphic for the title page and ends of chapters.

I don’t usually post things so far away from publication, but editor Ellen Datlow put these pictures on her Facebook page a few hours ago so I may as well do the same here.

Back in February I bought a Wacom Intuos drawing tablet, something I’ve been using with regularity for the past few months. The Alas Vegas Tarot cards I designed in the summer were the first major attempt at getting used to working with it; Lovecraft’s Monsters, a forthcoming fiction anthology for Tachyon is the second, and I now feel very comfortable working with it. More than that, I’m increasingly pleased with the way it’s possible to combine the drawing techniques I’ve been using for years with the additional possibilities provided by working in Photoshop. As always, it’s the end result that counts but arriving at an end result can be easy or difficult. Some of these illustrations look no different than they would have done had I used ink on paper but they took half the time to create, a considerable benefit when a deadline is looming.

The stories Ellen Datlow has chosen for this collection all present different aspects of monstrosity seen through the lens of Lovecraft’s fiction and his cosmic menagerie. Some are full-on extensions of the Mythos, others are more allusive; all the pieces bar one have been published before but I’d not read any of them so for me this was fresh material. Having spent the past few years saying I was finished with Lovecraft’s fiction I was excited to be working on this book. The stories are good, and I welcomed the challenge of having to illustrate such a variety of material.

Larger copies of all the pictures can be seen here.

The star-headed thing at the top of this page is another amalgam of elements plundered from Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur and other sources. I’ve leaned rather heavily on Haeckel in the past, something I wanted to avoid here; this serves as a kind of visual punctuation separating the stories.

Lovecraft's Monsters

Cthulhu.

The drawing I’ve called Cthulhu is a piece for the introductory pages. Having already produced a lot of Cthulhoid art I didn’t want to repeat myself. The initial idea was of a tiny human figure faced with something enormous and nightmarish; that could be a vast eyeball or it could be a mouth or some other organ/aperture, the vagueness was intentional. Lovecraft continually impresses upon his readers how difficult things are to describe or apprehend but you seldom find this quality in art based upon his stories. Cthulhu especially has devolved into little more than an outsize man-in-a-rubber-suit à la the Creature from the Black Lagoon. In The Call of Cthulhu the figure on the mysterious statuette is described as having a humanoid shape but Lovecraft doesn’t describe the appalling reality in any detail at all. When Cthulhu is struck by a ship at the end of the story it breaks apart and is then seen recombining, the implication being that the creature is corporeally amorphous.

Lovecraft's Monsters

Only the End of the World Again by Neil Gaiman.

Neil Gaiman’s entry concerns a werewolf private detective in Innsmouth. Lovecraft’s decaying fishing village and its inhabitants turn up in several of the stories so care was taken to avoid repetition.

Lovecraft's Monsters

Bulldozer by Laird Barron.

A great story about another detective, a Pinkerton agent this time, hunting his quarry through the Old West. Collin de Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal is mentioned so I used some of Louis Breton’s illustrations from the third edition.

Continue reading “Lovecraft’s Monsters”

JK Potter and HP Lovecraft

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American artist JK Potter is another photo-montagist whose work since the 1970s has been very popular as illustration for books of horror, fantasy and science fiction. Potter’s portrait of HP Lovecraft on the October 1979 issue of Heavy Metal was my first introduction to his work. The original version of that picture can be seen below. Despite Potter’s flair for horror imagery there’s fewer Lovecraft illustrations than you might expect, certainly fewer than I used to hope there might be, although tentacles—real ones—do feature in a number of his other pictures.

While we’re on the subject, HPL continues to dog my footsteps. I recently autographed an enormous block of contributor signing sheets for a new doorstop anthology from Centipede Press. A Mountain Walked is a 636-page collection edited by Lovecraft scholar ST Joshi which will be published in March, 2014. Be warned that like many other Centipede volumes it won’t be cheap! Meanwhile I’m currently working on a new series of illustrations for a completely different anthology of Lovecraftian fiction. That will also be out early next year. It’s going to be a good one but I’ll say more about it at a later date.

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Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1990).

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

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