Old Weird and New Weird

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Savoy Books, 1984.

A couple more recent arrivals that feature my work. These are of minority interest but worth noting since academic articles don’t always travel beyond a small audience of subscribers.

A recent issue of Foundation (The International Review of Science Fiction), Volume 45.1, number 123, contains an article by Mark P. Williams, Underground Assemblages: Savoy Dreams and The Starry Wisdom. This examines the legacy of New Worlds magazine under the editorship of Michael Moorcock (from 1964 to 1974) via two writing collections, Savoy Dreams (Savoy Books, 1984) and The Starry Wisdom (Creation Books, 1994). The two collections are very different: Savoy Dreams, edited by David Britton and Michael Butterworth, was an eclectic overview of Savoy’s publishing endeavours up to that point. Among the original writing there’s fiction by Butterworth, M. John Harrison (the first publication of the Viriconium story, Lords of Misrule) and others, plus a reaction by Michael Moorcock to William Burroughs’ Cities of the Red Night, a book that Savoy had contracted to publish before police harassment forced the company’s bankruptcy. The rest of the book is taken up with press reviews of Savoy books.

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Creation Books, 1994. Cover art by Peter Smith.

The Starry Wisdom should require less of an introduction since the book has been in print since 1994, and has a small, possibly notorious, reputation among HP Lovecraft enthusiasts. Editor DM Mitchell felt that the assembling of post-Lovecraftian fiction up to that point had been too cosy and insular: too many story collections were being edited and written by groups of friends in the genre fiction “community”, with the result that the stories were often stale and complacent. The startling newness of Lovecraft’s imagination in comparison to many of his contemporaries in Weird Tales seemed to have been bled away into pastiche, a process that began soon after Lovecraft’s death. Mitchell’s solution was to commission original pieces of Lovecraft-inspired work from writers outside the genre world, notably Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and newcomer David Conway; he also reprinted pieces that would never appear elsewhere as Lovecraftian fiction, including Wind Die. You Die. We Die. by William Burroughs, and Prisoner of the Coral Deep by JG Ballard. Burroughs and Ballard connect directly to New Worlds, of course (Ballard wrote about Burroughs for the magazine), while the pair cast a shadow over many of Savoy’s book productions. Both Savoy Dreams and The Starry Wisdom featured comic strips; Tales of the Cramps by Kris Guidio appeared in Savoy Dreams, while The Starry Wisdom contained strips by Mike Philbin & James Havoc, Rick Grimes, and the first publication of my own adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu.

I was surprised—and pleased—that my comic strip receives a fair amount of scrutiny in Williams’ piece. My Lovecraft strips have received almost no attention from the comics world, a consequence of having been printed by book publishers and distributed to book shops. (A rare exception was this recent piece by Matt Maxwell.) When you’ve been overlooked in this manner it’s a surprise to find your work receiving serious evaluation from an entirely different quarter. Mark P. Williams’ essay examines the contents of both collections, my strip included, as “assemblages”. This is a valid critique in the case of the Cthulhu strip since Lovecraft’s story is itself an assemblage of what seems at first to be unrelated data. The comic adaptation assembles a range of cultural references—some genuine, others invented—to parallel the narrator’s investigation, and even uses genuine documents in places, including columns from The New York Times. I don’t know if Williams has seen the blog post I made that points out many of the cultural references but he notes some of the more overt ones, such as Joseph Conrad appearing as the doomed Professor Angell, Arnold Böcklin’s The Isle of the Dead, and so on. While I was drawing the strip I was trying to imagine the story as an RKO production, a hybrid of two island films—The Most Dangerous Game and King Kong—and Orson Welles’ unmade Heart of Darkness. These references, many of which aren’t very obvious, were largely for my own amusement. The series I created with David Britton that followed the Lovecraft strips, Reverbstorm, puts assemblage and cultural reference at the forefront.

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Cover art is my illustration for Remnants from Lovecraft’s Monsters, edited by Ellen Datlow.

The Cthulhu strip and the Reverbstorm series—now collected as Lord Horror: Reverbstorm—are the subject of a very perceptive piece by Benjamin Noys in the latest edition of Genre, an academic journal published by Duke University Press. This number of the journal is a kind of Weird special edited by Benjamin Noys and Timothy S. Murphy. Noys’ Full Spectrum Offence: Savoy’s Reverbstorm and the Weirding of Modernity is the final article in a publication that examines aspects of the “Old Weird” (ie: the Lovecraft-era Weird Tales) and contrasts it with the more recent “New Weird”. The latter was a short-lived label coined by M. John Harrison in 2003 for a range of fiction that was ignoring genre boundaries, and consciously developing the Weird as a project. China Miéville was one of the most visible proponents of the New Weird, and Harrison’s term emerged in part as a response to Miéville’s fiction. Miéville is interviewed in this issue of Genre where, as usual, he has some very worthwhile things to say. He prefers the term “haute Weird” for the original manifestation, possibly because it avoids the negative connotations of the word “old”.

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A spread from part 7 of Reverbstorm.

Benjamin Noys’ article is lengthy and resists easy summary, but it begins by investigating the way my work on the Lovecraft strips permeated the Lord Horror comics and dictated some of the imagery, in particular the architectural forms and eruptions of monstrosity. Later discussion concerns the way that Reverbstorm forces the Weird and Modernism together, a collision that I believe is still unique anywhere, never mind in the comics medium. Noys’ piece has given me a lot to think about, not least for its being the first substantial critical appraisal of Reverbstorm. The series is a difficult one, being deliberately excessive and avant-garde, and presenting the reader with a torrent of interrelating cultural references. Many of these are itemised in the appendix but the success (or not) of their working together, and the potential sparking of connections, depends very much on the prior knowledge of the individual reader. Noys is not only knowledgeable but adept at forging his own connections while situating the series in the larger context of the Weird, old (or haute) and new. Even without the inclusion of my work inside the journal and on the cover, I’d recommend this issue of Genre to anyone with an interest in the subject. One of the reasons I favour the Weird as a chosen work label is the way it evades (or ignores) generic boundaries. Years ago I realised that many of the things I liked the best in the arts were the chimeras, those works that transgress boundaries and created new hybrids. No surprise then that I enjoy a genre that refuses easy definition. There aren’t many masts I pin my colours to but the Weird is one of them.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Weird

Weekend links 305

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Threads of Fate—The Weird Sisters from Macbeth (2013) by Fiona Marchbank.

• The week in books: Claire Cameron on the difference between US & UK cover designs | Jason Diamond asks “Why do cats love bookstores?” | Alan Moore’s cover art for his forthcoming novel, Jerusalem, has been revealed | Brian Phillips on the typefaces used by New English Library for their Dune covers in the 1970s.

• On writing: Poetry and horror “share a universally human quest toward intimacy” says Evan J. Peterson | “The best work neither shows nor tells: it says by being, not by saying,” says M. John Harrison.

• At the BFI this week: Where to begin with Jerzy Skolimowski, and 10 overlooked British horror films of the 1970s. Both lists include Skolimowski’s excellent The Shout (1978).

Cultures do not, and cannot, work through notions of ‘ownership’. The history of culture is the history of cultural appropriation—of cultures borrowing, stealing, changing, transforming.

Nor does preventing whites from wearing locks or practicing yoga challenge racism in any meaningful way. What the campaigns against cultural appropriation reveal is the disintegration of the meaning of ‘anti-racism’. Once it meant to struggle for equal treatment for all. Now it means defining the correct etiquette for a plural society. The campaign against cultural appropriation is about policing manners rather than transforming society.

Kenan Malik on ill-considered complaints against “cultural appropriation”. Malik isn’t the first to note the intersection of such complaints with those of white supremacists who also want cultural purity and segregation

OUT, DEMONS, OUT!: The 1967 Exorcism of the Pentagon and the Birth of Yippie! An oral history by Larry “Ratso” Sloman, Michael Simmons and Jay Babcock.

• The long-overdue republication of Moebius’s work in English will begin with a new edition of The World of Edena (1985).

• More from radioactive Russia: Nadav Kander’s photographs of Soviet nuclear test sites.

• Comic artist and illustrator Kris Guidio in conversation with Jonathan Barlow.

• Francesca Gavin meets Tadanori Yokoo, “the Grandmaster of Pop-Psych Art”.

• “LSD’s impact on the brain revealed in groundbreaking images”

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 182 by Paul Jebanasam.

• A trailer for Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon.

• Tony Conrad: 1940–2016 by Geeta Dayal.

Brian Eno’s favourite records

Neonlicht (1994) by Mitja VS (with Enzo Fabiani Quartet) | On Demon Wings (2000) by Bohren & Der Club of Gore | Shout At The Devil (2002) by Jah Wobble & Temple Of Sound

The Cramps at the Haçienda

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At last: something that has no connection with HP Lovecraft… This was one of several design jobs during a very busy summer, a long-delayed DVD release by Savoy of the Cramps playing Manchester’s trendiest club of the 1980s, the Haçienda. The posthumous reputation of the Hac (as it was locally known) has been inflated in recent years; you’ll hear much about its thriving dance nights but little about the early days when the huge and often chilly space was seldom even half full. The Cramps played there twice in 1984, and like many bands with a cult following, managed to fill the floor with eager fans; Savoy’s video captures the second performance on May 23rd. It was standard policy at the Haçienda to film every event, and some of the more popular performances—William Burroughs’ reading, a concert by The Birthday Party—were later released by Ikon, the video wing of Factory Records. Two cameras on either side of the Haçienda balcony covered the stage but on the night of the Cramps’ performance none of the Ikon staff wanted to assist Linda Dutton in filming the gig. So this recording is a rudimentary one—a single U-matic camera and mono sound—but Linda captured a tremendous hour-long concert with an outstanding Iggy Pop-like performance from Lux Interior.

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For my design I wanted to avoid Goth clichés and create something in keeping with the band’s trashy rock’n’roll aesthetic. All the portraits are by Kris Guidio from the comic strips he was producing in the early 1980s for Lindsay Hutton’s Next Big Thing zine; the lurid headlines are lifted from film posters found in back issues of Psychotronic Video magazine. The DVD has an 8-page booklet and an interface which I also designed although this is merely functional, nothing like the elaborate animated affair I created for The Mindscape of Alan Moore. When concerts such as this are routinely put onto YouTube for free it hardly seems worth going to all this trouble, but for Savoy it provides another connection to a favourite band. The PAL DVD is priced at £10, and may be ordered direct.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Haçienda ephemera
Lux Interior, 1946–2009
The Final Academy

Weekend links 257

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The Nine of Swords by Pamela Colman Smith, and the same card from The Ghetto Tarot, a Haitian deck created by photographer Alice Smits and Haitian art group Atis Rezistans.

Almost four months after the murders in Paris, Charlie Hebdo continues to be problematic, to use a common epithet. The “p” word occurs with such frequency in current discussions about offence—and those discussions so often seem like a secular version of old religious arguments, with Manichean forces pitted against each other, and the same schisms, heresies and witch hunts—that I’ve taken to translating “problematic” as “sinful”. Charlie Hebdo is nothing if not a heretical text even if many of those pronouncing on its heresies have never read a copy. Back in January I was confident that we’d be seeing a great deal of equivocation (if not outright victim-blaming) when people began to look closely at the magazine, or at least read hasty appraisals of its contents. You didn’t have to be a psychic to predict any of this because the equivocations are merely the current manifestation of a familiar syndrome. This week’s authorial objections about PEN America honouring Charlie Hebdo have led to a reiteration of the grumblings we heard in January: “Yes, of course, we condemn the violence but…” But, what? “But, it’s a sinful publication…”(This piece by one of the PEN objectors in the LRB is typical.) Publication liberties, which in the UK are more constrained than in the US, are apparently best championed for the virtuous (the responsible, the respectful, etc), not the sinful. In 1963 “Yes, but…” equivocations about freedom of speech were being deployed in the letters page of the Times Literary Supplement with worthies such as Victor Gollancz and Edith Sitwell wondering why it was necessary to defend a deplorable book like The Naked Lunch; in 1992 I sat in a courtroom watching a judge make similar comments when grudgingly overturning an obscenity ruling against David Britton’s Lord Horror novel. The same judge then upheld the obscenity charge against Britton & Guidio’s Meng & Ecker comic which he regarded as trashier fare, “luridly bound” and containing “pictures that will be repulsive to right-thinking people”.

So much for old arguments. Jodie Ginsberg at Index on Censorship goes into some detail about the PEN kerfuffle in a piece entitled “I believe in free expression, but…”; Justin EH Smith for Harper’s says:

I heard from [friends and equals] countless variations on the banality that “violence is always wrong.” How did I know that this judgment, though perfectly true in itself, was only a banality, the expression of a sentiment that had little to do with pacifism? By the clockwork predictability of the “but” that always followed.”

Kenan Malik, who writes a great deal about these issues (his new book is The Quest for a Moral Compass: A Global History of Ethics) posted a statement from Jo Glanville from English PEN, and a lengthy piece by Leigh Phillips. This affair will rumble on.

• More sinful material: Samuel R. Delany’s Hogg is a novel so transgressive/offensive that it took 26 years to find a publisher. You seldom see any mention of the book when Delany’s work is being discussed, especially in prudish SF circles, but Dennis Cooper’s blog ran a retrospective feature about it this week. Caveat lector. Related: Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany is looking for crowdfunding.

• “[Judy] Oppenheimer relates that Jackson kept a library of over two hundred books on witchcraft, and her interest in the subject was not purely academic.” Martyn Wendell Jones on Shirley Jackson.

The Satyr and Other Tales, a collection by Stephen J. Clark, the title story of which is “inspired by the life and ethos of sorcerer and artist Austin Osman Spare”.

• Mixes of the week: Bacchus Beltane 2: The Mists of Avalon by The Ephemeral Man, and The Ivy-Strangled Path Vol. VI by David Colohan.

Boy and his SIR: BDSM and the Queer Family, a photo series by Kevin Warth, and Xteriors II, a photo series by Desiree Dolron.

• The Quest for Stenbock: David Tibet talks to Strange Flowers about his obsession with the eccentric Count.

Dark Star: HR Giger’s World is a documentary about the artist by Belinda Sallin.

1 in 3 Impressions, a free EP of Moog music by M. Geddes Gengras.

The rise and fall of the codpiece

Blade Runner Reality

Some Weird Sin (1977) by Iggy Pop | Sin In My Heart (1981) by Siouxsie and The Banshees | It’s A Sin (1987) by Pet Shop Boys

The Use and Abuse of Books

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Savoy • Savoy • Savoy: The first wave of book covers pinned to the Beardsley wallpaper of the Deansgate office.

I often feel I’m in a minority in never having been desperate to see my work in a gallery. We are, after all, living in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (thanks, Walter), and the idea of having to visit a physical location in order to see a work of art can seem like a rather antiquated affair. (Plenty of arguments counter this, of course, but I don’t create anything that needs to be experienced in situ, and I’m also not enmeshed in the art market.) So it’s been surprising this month to realise that examples of my work are currently on display in Monterey, California (the Tentacles exhibition), London (Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK at the British Library which ends today) and in Manchester (The Exhibition Centre for the Use and Abuse of Books at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation). If all goes according to plan, some of my steampunk book covers will also be exhibited in Beijing next month; more about that later.

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Britton & Butterworth by Kris Guidio (1986).

The Use and Abuse of Books is a necessarily brief overview of the 40-year history of Savoy Books, a notable moment in the life of the company since this is the first time any Manchester institution has acknowledged the existence of a local publisher with such a long, varied and often controversial history. In part this is a result of the cultural histories of Manchester concentrating almost exclusively on the music scene. Many of the books and features written about Manchester arts have been produced by DJs or ex-musicians who appear tone-deaf to literary culture despite the existence of Carcanet Press (established 1969), Savoy Books, and other more recent publishers who are happy to operate outside London. (The venerable Jon Savage gets a pass here.) Carping aside, The Use and Abuse of Books describes itself thus:

Featuring text, images and rare promotional content from Savoy’s infamous 1989 publication Lord Horror, the exhibition tackles the question of whether the depiction and description of horrific acts is justified in satire. In 1992 Lord Horror was declared by Judge Gerrard Humphries as ‘a glorification of racism and violence’ whereas writer Michael Moorcock believed the book to belong to ‘a tradition of lampoon, of exaggeration. Its purpose is to show up social evils, and the evils within ourselves.’ Displaying artwork from Sinister Legends and Meng and Ecker alongside other panels from rare comics and graphic novels (including Reverbstorm), The Use and Abuse of Books also examines the relationship between text and imagery within Savoy’s publications, revealing how artwork from John Coulthart, Kris Guidio and James Cawthorn supplements and enhances the storytelling through visual references to architecture, cultural figures or specific works of art. The exhibition will be open 10am–4pm weekdays and in the evenings during events from Friday 15th August until Friday 5th September. (more)

Some of my pages from Lord Horror: Reverbstorm have been printed large-size for the walls, and there’s also a life-size cardboard figure of my Beardsley-style Lord Horror. Savoy publications past and present are on display, including some of my book designs. It’s fitting that this should be taking place under the aegis of the Anthony Burgess Foundation; Burgess was a great Joycean and a champion of two Savoy favourites: William Burroughs and JG Ballard. I can’t imagine him getting too enthusiastic about many of Savoy’s publications but I’d hope he might have appreciated the spirit of Mancunian bloody-mindedness in which they were produced.