Andreas, HPL and RHB

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Mention of Robert H. Barlow last week reminded me of a comic strip which is an unusual addition to the world of Lovecraft-related art. RHB, written by François Rivière and illustrated by Andreas (Martens), was published in a French magazine, À Suivre, in 1978. I discovered the story when it was reprinted in The Cosmical Horror of HP Lovecraft (1991), an Italian volume that was the first substantial collection in book form of Lovecraftian comic strips and illustrations. Andreas and Rivière’s strip is a short biographical sketch of Robert H. Barlow’s equally short life which focuses on his connections to HP Lovecraft but doesn’t attempt any spurious fictionalisation. A few of the pages were posted at Deep Cuts in June of this year, together with a translation of the French text. The post there notes something that hadn’t occurred to me before, that Rivière would have taken most of his information about Barlow from L. Sprague de Camp’s Lovecraft biography. The post also made me realise that the Cosmical Horror reprint is missing its last two pages, so after 30 years I finally discover that the panel sequence showing a falling cat (seen earlier being dropped from a height by the young Barlow) has a happy conclusion that also ends the strip itself.

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The Spitzner Museum’s Wax Woman.

Andreas has been a favourite comic artist of mine for many years, thanks in part to strips like RHB with its combination of unorthodox page layouts, scraperboard drawings (scratchboard, if you’re American) and the occasional use of enlarged half-toned photos. The scraperboard technique can be a laborious one for a comic artist, especially when applied in a photo-realist manner, which may explain why Andreas has used a more stylised pen-and-ink rendering for many of his own books, the drawings of which often resemble the engraving-like illustrations of Franklin Booth. The only other Andreas strip I’ve seen to date that uses scraperboard is The Spitzner Museum’s Wax Woman, another collaboration with Rivière which relates the ill-fated encounters of a Belgian painter with the woman of the title. The story received its first English printing in issue 17 of Escape magazine in 1989, and its appearance there made Andreas an artist to look out for in the future. The museum tale and the Barlow story were collected with several similar pieces in a book collection, Révélations Posthumes, in 1980. I’d really like to see this even though my French is très pauvre:

Avec ce livre, vous découvrirez d’étonnantes révélations posthumes concernant la vie fulgurante d’un ami et confident de Lovecraft, l’étrange aventure survenue en 1926, à Hastings, à un orphelin et une mystérieuse Thérèse Neele. La rencontre d’un soldat nommé Raymond Roussel et de Jules Vernes, à Amiens. Les origines du talent morbide d’un peintre belge fasciné par les figures de cire du Musée Spitzner. L’avatar maléfique joué à un malheureux jeune Anglais par Pierre Loti en sa maison de Rochefort-sur-Mer.

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Rork.

Révélations Posthumes seems to have been a one-off for Andreas. His subsequent, self-written books are more commercial fare, being a succession of weird adventure stories which follow the exploits of eccentric characters such as Cromwell Stone (an occult detective), the ageless, enigmatic Rork (a white-haired magus and occult detective), Capricorne (an astrologer and occult detective), and so on. As with Philippe Druillet, Lovecraft is never far away: the first episode of Cromwell Stone opens with an epigraph from HPL’s Supernatural Horror in Literature, while elsewhere inexplicable leviathan entities lurk in parallel dimensions, and architectural anomalies abound. The Rork series is especially enjoyable, like Doctor Strange without the superhero histrionics, featuring wildly audacious storylines such as Le Cimetière de cathédrales (1988), in which a graveyard for cathedrals is discovered in the Amazonian jungle.

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The fantasies of Andreas, like those of François Schuiten, might be more familiar to Anglophone readers if his works had been translated more often (or, in the case of RHB, translated at all). Dark Horse ran English versions of stories by Andreas and Schuiten in their Cheval Noir anthology series in the 1990s, and also published English reprints of the Rork and Cromwell Stone books but, as with the translated editions of Schuiten, these are now hard to find. More recently, Titan Books has published a new English edition of the first Cromwell Stone book but I’ve not seen any indication that they’ll be following this with more of the same. (I’ve also not seen the book itself so can’t vouch for the quality of the translation. Titan’s recent Druillet reprints have been riddled with textual errors. Beware.) Rather than wait for translations that might never arrive, the better option would be to improve my French reading skills. Writing this post has prompted me to order a secondhand copy of Révélations Posthumes. I’m looking forward to seeing what else it contains.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Lovecraft: Démons et Merveilles
The art of François Schuiten
The art of Andreas Martens

Yuggoth details

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Yuggoth Cultures (1994) by John Coulthart.

Earlier this week I spent a day scanning this painting—which I’m now surprised to find is 21 years old—so I might at last have a good quality digital copy. There’s been a copy on the website for years but that was a print made at a high-street copy shop that did nothing for the detail and range of colour. It’s quite a large piece—49.54 x 71.39 cm (19.5 x 28.1 inches)—done with acrylics on board. Since 2003 the painting has been used (in another poor reproduction) on the cover of The Starry Wisdom, the controversial collection of Lovecraftian fiction from Creation Books. The painting wasn’t originally intended for that collection, however, and doesn’t quite fit since a number of the portraits don’t feature in the book at all.

Yuggoth Cultures would have been an earlier collection of Lovecraftian fiction and non-fiction that Alan Moore had begun writing for Creation in 1993. Alan’s idea was to take Lovecraft’s Fungi from Yuggoth sonnet sequence as the basis for a collection that would explore Lovecraft’s fictional world and also draw together a variety of figures from the same era: fellow writers, occultists like Aleister Crowley and Austin Spare, and Harry Houdini for whom Lovecraft ghost-wrote Imprisoned with the Pharaohs in 1924. Unfortunately the stars were not right on this occasion; Alan took the sole copy of the half-written manuscript to London in order to read selections at an event in Soho but left the papers in a cab. Some pieces survived, having been copied and stored elsewhere—The Courtyard in The Starry Wisdom is one of these—and there was talk for a while of the lost pieces being rewritten but enthusiasm for the project flagged.

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This is Alan’s sketch for the cover, the idea being to have a Lovecraft head made of fungal growths rather like an Arcimboldo painting. The head would be sprouting tendrils whose loops would contain pictures of some of the people featured in the book. Alan’s quick sketch is actually a better approximation of Lovecraft’s strange features than my painted version which isn’t narrow enough. For the record (and because people always ask), the other people on the cover are Alan himself, Austin Osman Spare, Aleister Crowley, Harry Houdini, Robert E Howard (not Al Capone as people often think) and Clark Ashton Smith.

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While searching through the archives I discovered these lettering designs although they’re probably not bold enough to read very well on such a busy painting. Before I started using a computer, designs like this had to be drawn at large size then scaled down using a photocopier.

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Etidorhpa by John Uri Lloyd

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I wouldn’t usually post so many illustrations but these depictions by J. Augustus Knapp for Etidorhpa by John Uri Lloyd add a great deal to the attractions of this early work of science fiction. Lloyd’s book is subtitled The End of Earth; The Strange History of a Mysterious Being; The account of a remarkable journey as communicated in manuscript to Llewellyn Drury who promised to print the same, but finally evaded the responsibility. The novel was published in 1895, and shares features with similar works that concern travellers exploring the interior of the Earth. What sets it apart is a degree of imagination that generated enough interest for it to be reprinted many times.

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Science fiction and fantasy evolved so rapidly in the early 20th century that the products of previous centuries often seem uninventive in comparison. Whatever hidden cities, lost continents or subterranean kingdoms are promised, too many of them reveal a race of pompous individuals, usually clad in Greek, Roman or Egyptian attire with little variety to their civilisations unless their world is also populated by the odd monster or two. The manuscript in Lloyd’s novel relates a journey to the Earth’s interior by a bearded, white-haired character variously named I-Am-The-Man and The-Man-Who-Did-It who reads his adventures in a series of visits to the irresponsible Llewellyn Drury. I-Am-The-Man is kidnapped by a secret society who take him to a cave in Kentucky where he’s eventually delivered into the care of a mysterious, unnamed guide from the subterranean world:

The speaker stood in a stooping position, with his face towards the earth as if to shelter it from the sunshine. He was less than five feet in height. His arms and legs were bare, and his skin, the color of light blue putty, glistened in the sunlight like the slimy hide of a water dog. He raised his head, and I shuddered in affright as I beheld that his face was not that of a human. His forehead extended in an unbroken plane from crown to cheek bone, and the chubby tip of an abortive nose without nostrils formed a short projection near the center of the level ridge which represented a countenance. There was no semblance of an eye, for there were no sockets. Yet his voice was singularly perfect. His face, if face it could be called, was wet, and water dripped from all parts of his slippery person.

The illustrations by J. Augustus Knapp show the guide as naked but conveniently sexless. The pair descend into the Earth’s interior where they encounter a succession of wonders, from giant fungi (possibly derived from A Journey to the Centre of the Earth) and a sea of “crystal liquid” which the pair traverse in a metal boat, to a variety of strange fauna and flora. Knapp’s illustrations make the journey seem much more interesting than it is on the page where Lloyd spends far too much time lecturing the reader—there’s a chapter about the evils of drunkenness—or having I-Am-The-Man relate his continual bewilderment. “Etidorhpa”, it turns out, is “Aphrodite” reversed, and Etidorhpa herself appears as the embodiment of love at the culmination of what has become a spiritual journey rather like a weak precursor of David Lindsay’s extraordinary A Voyage to Arcturus (1920). Lindsay had the good sense to write a continuous narrative whereas Lloyd frequently interrupts his story with scientific speculations that seek to qualify some of the less outlandish features of his interior world. There’s also a curious note from the author on page 276 about the various properties of intoxicating drugs, and the possibility that they might be combined by a chemist to create strange visions for a writer. Lloyd was a chemist as well as a writer so the speculation that he might have experimented on himself—and thus produced this book—is understandable. Speculation aside, L. Sprague de Camp dismissed the novel as “unreadable” (despite its multiple reprintings) whereas HP Lovecraft apparently enjoyed it. You can judge for yourself here.

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