L’outrageant Lord Horror

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Cover art by Enki Bilal.

Arriving in the post this week was the catalogue for the Shoah et bande dessinée exhibition which is currently running in Paris at Mémorial de la Shoah. I’ve mentioned previously that the exhibition includes some of my pages from my first collaboration with David Britton/Savoy, the death-camp issue of the first Lord Horror series, Hard Core Horror, but until the catalogue arrived I wasn’t sure how that work would be presented. Consequently, I’m surprised to find the comic and Britton’s wider Lord Horror project given a section of its own in the catalogue, with a lengthy appraisal by British comics historian Paul Gravett. The text is French throughout so I can’t follow Gravett’s piece very well but it looks to be an expansion of earlier pieces he’s written about the Savoy comics and their troubled history.

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The book itself is a solid production that I’m pleased to find following the hardback “album” format used by Continental comics. Denoël Graphic, a publisher of bandes dessinées, is the publisher. Among the other artists represented are Will Eisner and Art Spiegelman (of course), plus many French artists whose work I hadn’t seen before. The exhibition runs throughout the year to 30th October, 2017.

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Exhibitionism

Exhibitionism

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Art by Enki Bilal.

My work is featured in two very different exhibitions over the next few weeks, so different, in fact, that they’re almost at opposite poles to each other.

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Hard Core Horror 5 (1990).

The first, Shoah et bande dessinée, takes place at Mémorial de la Shoah, Paris, and opens on 19th January. This is an exhibition of comic-book art dealing with the Holocaust, and will include three of my pages from the death-camp scenes in the final issue of the Lord Horror series, Hard Core Horror (created with David Britton in 1990, and published by Savoy). This is one instance where the term “comic” is particularly inappropriate, unlike the more neutral French designation, bande dessinée. I haven’t yet seen a list of all the other artists being represented but I was very pleased to see a drawing by Enki Bilal being used to promote the event. Bilal was one of several French comic artists whose work I discovered in the pages of Heavy Metal/Metal Hurlant in the 1970s, and it was the example of the artists there that kept me interested enough in the comics medium to attempt something of my own a few years later. The exhibition will run until 30th October, 2017, and will feature a printed catalogue.

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The second event, Alice’s Adventures in the Underground, has already been mentioned here, and takes place at the Horse Hospital, London, at the beginning of February:

“Feed your head…” An evening discourse on all things Wonderland, with John Coulthart, Andy Roberts, Nikki Wyrd and Jake Fior (facilitator).

This event marks the opening of a three day exhibition hosted by the Horse Hospital, featuring John Coulthart’s psychedelia-themed ‘Alice’ artwork, printed for the first time as (drug-free) blotter art. John’s depictions of the twelve chapters of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ view the 1860s through the iridescent lens of the 1960s; Victoriana refracted through a psychedelic prism. Come along for a discussion of the links between psychedelic art and music, and the persistent fascination of Lewis Carroll’s books. There will be talk of many things, not only cabbages and kings, but far more than you can possibly imagine before breakfast. Signed blotter prints will be on sale.

Psychedelic artists – particularly in the 60s – and many other outsider creative types (before and since that influential decade), have drawn their inspiration from the well of imagery found within the ‘Alice’ books. As well as John’s artwork, there will be Alice themed creations by other artists on show. In addition, the Psychedelic Museum will be holding its second pop-up museum display, with particular focus on the 60s counterculture.

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This show came about after an offer from Paul at Blotter Art to produce a series of blotter prints from my psychedelic Alice series. The first set of sheets are shown here, and I’m very pleased with the print quality after having been a little worried that the paper might not reproduce the colour and detail to the best effect. As noted above, signed sheets will be on sale (either as singles or a series of 12) during the event and afterwards via the Blotter Art website. People often ask about signed prints but most of my print sales are through CafePress which doesn’t allow this; so here’s a rare opportunity to get something spoiled by my signature. In addition to my work there should be Alice-themed art by other artists filling out the space. This exhibition will run to 4th February. I’m looking forward to it.

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Nightmares calendar

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Presenting the latest Coulthart calendar. Last year’s Lovecraft-themed collection was well-received (and is on sale again this year) so I thought I’d try a similar accumulation of horror imagery. Much of the artwork this time is from my intensive painting period circa 1996–1998, and includes one piece—the red painting below—that hasn’t been made public before. Further traces of Lovecraft may be found in the tentacles of the Lord Horror canvas—HPL by way of Frank Frazetta—and the two panels of the Red Night Rites diptych. The latter was a large picture of Reverbstorm-level grotesquery done as a wraparound cover for The Unspeakable Oath, a Lovecraftian gaming journal. While working on it I had William Burroughs in mind as much as Lovecraft, and Burroughs happened to die while work was still in progress so the picture is dedicated to him. Also Lovecraftian is In Spaces Between, one of the pages from my Kabbalistic collaboration with Alan Moore, The Great Old Ones. Howl from Beyond is a title that some people may recognise from Magic: The Gathering. I painted over 20 pictures for the card game but most of them were done in haste, and not to my satisfaction. Howl from Beyond is one of the few I felt worked as intended.

As before, this calendar is available at Zazzle, and comes with black pages and a minimal layout for the dates. Larger images of the artwork may be seen here. I said last year that I’d move some of the other calendar designs to Zazzle (CafePress having discontinued the vertical format I’d been using for years) but I still haven’t done this. One day… And speaking of nightmares, earlier this year I was designing the interiors for another excellent collection of horror stories edited by Ellen Datlow which happens to bear this title. When I get some of that elusive spare time I’ll add the book to the website.

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January: Steps of Descent (digital, 2008).

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February: Untitled (acrylics on board, 1997).

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March: Waltzes and Whispers (acrylics on board, 1998).

Continue reading “Nightmares calendar”

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 264

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Stonehenge Suite, No.10 (1977) by Malcolm Dakin.

• “Part of me always wanted to write a teatime drama. That’s something that I wanted to get out of my system,” says director Peter Strickland. The results may be heard here. In the same interview there’s news that Strickland will be adapting Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape for radio later this year.

• “He was, as one obituary stated in terms unusually blunt for the time, ‘not as other men’.” Strange Flowers on the eccentric and profligate Henry Cyril Paget (1875–1905) aka The Dancing Marquess.

• “Please tell Mr Jagger I am not Maurits to him.” MC Escher rebuking The Rolling Stones. The artist is the subject of a major exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland from June 27th.

Often mentioned in the same breath as works of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, Ó Cadhain’s novel is, in some ways, even more radically experimental. For starters, all the characters are dead and speaking from inside their coffins, which are interred in a graveyard in Connemara, on Ireland’s west coast. The novel has no physical action or plot, but rather some 300 pages of cascading dialogue without narration, description, stage direction, or any indication of who’s speaking when.

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin on the newly-translated Cré na Cille (The Dirty Dust) by Máirtín Ó Cadhain

Paul Woods examines “10 Edgy Properties No Film Producer Dared To Touch
(Yet)”. No. 2 is David Britton’s Lord Horror.

Mallory Ortberg ranks paintings of Saint Sebastian “in ascending order of sexiness and descending order of actual martyring”.

The Sign of Satan (1964): Christopher Lee in a story by Robert Bloch for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Sympathy For The Devil – The True Story of The Process Church of the Final Judgment.

• At Dangerous Minds: Paul Gallagher on the seedy malevolence of Get Carter (1971).

• Mix of the week: Sonic Attack Special – Earth by Bob’s Podcasts.

Sanctuary Stone (1973) by Midwinter | The Litanies Of Satan (1982) by Diamanda Galás | Sola Stone (2006) by Boris