Reverbstorm: an introduction and preview

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Reverbstorm: 1994–2012.

Art, intellectual pursuits, the development of the natural sciences, many branches of scholarship flourished in close spacial, temporal proximity to massacre and the death camps. It is the structure and meaning of that proximity that must be looked at. […] But there is a […] danger. Not only is the relevant material vast and intractable: it exercises a subtle, corrupting fascination. Bending too fixedly over hideousness, one feels queerly drawn. In some strange way the horror flatters attention, it gives to one’s own limited means a spurious resonance. […] I am not sure whether anyone, however scrupulous, who spends time and imaginative resources on these dark places, can, or indeed, ought to leave them personally intact. Yet the dark places are at the centre. Pass them by and there can be no serious discussion of human potential.

George Steiner, In Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes Towards the Re-definition of Culture (1971)

Reverbstorm is an eight-part comic series which I began drawing in 1990. Last week I finished work on the final section, and also completed the layout and design for the collected edition, a 344-page volume which Savoy Books will be publishing later this year. All the artwork has been scanned afresh, re-lettered and, in a few places, improved to fix compromises and print errors present in the published issues. This unfinished project has been hanging over me for so long that I make this announcement with some relief. The book will be published without a foreword so this post can serve as an introduction for the uninitiated. But before I get to the details, some history.

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David Britton was the writer and instigator of Reverbstorm, the series being a continued exploration in the comics medium of his Lord Horror character. Lord Horror is an alternate-history equivalent of the real-life William Joyce, a member of the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s whose propaganda broadcasts to Britain from Nazi Germany during the Second World War led the press to dub him Lord Haw-Haw. The first five-part Lord Horror comic series, Hard Core Horror, showed the evolution of Horace William Joyce, aka Lord Horror, from charismatic politician to Nazi collaborator; the final two issues of the series concerned Horror’s involvement in the Holocaust. In Britton’s mythos James Joyce is the brother of Horace Joyce while Jessie Matthews, a popular British musical star of the 1930s, is Lord Horror’s wife. (Britton’s Lord Horror novels are examined in detail by Keith Seward in his Horror Panegyric essay.) My fellow artist at Savoy, Kris Guidio, drew the first four issues of Hard Core Horror; I drew issue five which was less a comic story, more a portfolio of static scenes of death-camp architecture. The series was well-received by regular Savoy readers but mostly ignored by the British comics world, with some justification: the comics were a glossy production but the narrative was very erratic, even technically inept in places. At Savoy the series was regarded as a failed experiment, Kris’s drawing style and flair for cartooning being more suited to the broad humour of the Meng & Ecker strips. But Dave liked what I’d done with the final issue and felt we could try something new that was also more original than a fictional skate through recent history.

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In addition to producing comics in the late 1980s, Savoy had been recording a number of eccentric cover versions, most of them sung by PJ Proby. A music journalist, Paul Temple, came to interview Proby about the songs and stayed in touch. He subsequently approached the company with a song of his own entitled Reverbstorm, a bombastic number best described as “Wagnerian Northern Soul” which Savoy recorded in 1993. (Temple recounts the origin of the song here.) This gave a title to the new comic series that Dave was planning, the story outline being expanded from a scenario that he and Savoy colleague Michael Butterworth had sketched out when a film company showed some fleeting interest in Lord Horror. Kris Guidio and I worked on the opening pages, the initial idea being that Kris would continue drawing the Lord while I would do everything else. Once I’d convinced Dave that I could draw his Lordship to his satisfaction I took over the series while Kris carried on with the Meng & Ecker comics. I spent most of 1991–1996 drawing the first seven parts of Reverbstorm which were published as separate comics during that period. The first issue came with a CD single of Paul Temple’s song which was sung by Sue Quinn but credited to Jessie Matthews. (It’s now available on iTunes.) The last part of the series was always going to be something that differed from the preceding sections but I didn’t know how this might manifest until 1997 when I painted a series of monochrome double-spreads intended to form backgrounds for Dave’s text. That’s where the series stalled after the paintings had improvised themselves to such a degree of abstraction and incoherence that I didn’t feel able to continue. The breakthrough came a couple of years ago when I started scanning all the artwork into the computer and thinking again about the series. I realised I could complete everything now that my computer graphics skills were adequate enough to complement the earlier issues whilst also adding something new.

Continue reading “Reverbstorm: an introduction and preview”

Magritte’s Maldoror

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Seen briefly in yesterday’s film about René Magritte were some of the artist’s 77 illustrations created for a 1948 edition of Lautréamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror published by Éditions “La Boetie”, Brussels. The examples here are from various auction sites, and they can’t be counted among Magritte’s best work which probably explains why they’re not reproduced very often. Salvador Dalí’s set of engravings for a 1934 edition were appended last year to a new English translation by RJ Dent for Solar Books. And from French publisher La Baconniere there’s this recent edition with a set of fresh illustrations by TagliaMani (also here).

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Sibylle Ruppert revisited

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Empusae Raptus (1977).

Another post about this astonishing artist (I’ll keep talking about her if no one else does…). The pictures here are taken from the catalogue for the 2010 Sibylle Ruppert exhibition at the HR Giger Museum, Gruyères, Switzerland. Leslie Barany was good enough to send me a copy of this, and the pictures are posted courtesy of the museum. To purchase a copy of the catalogue contact marcowitzig@gigerworkcatalog.com

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Le Chant de Maldoror (1978).

Looking over Sibylle Ruppert’s work this week I’ve been pondering why she wasn’t better known. She was working throughout the 1970s and could easily have been swept up in the vogue for fantastic art when it was being popularised by Omni magazine. Giger, Mati Klarwein, Robert Venosa, De Es Schwertberger and others all benefited from Bob Guccione’s publication, and to a lesser degree from appearances in Heavy Metal magazine. Ruppert’s lack of visibility may have been a result of the usual situation whereby women artists were overlooked or marginalised. But I think it’s far more likely that her work was simply too intense and visceral for the newsstands. Giger could get by with paintings like the semi-abstract NY City series which were attached to science fiction stories without causing a stir. It’s difficult to imagine Ruppert’s work gaining such a popular acceptance, especially in the United States where, lest we forget, Giger’s Penis Landscape did cause a stir in 1985. One of the great benefits of the web is the way so much previously buried culture is surfacing and finding new and enthusiastic audiences. Sibylle Ruppert’s greatest audience has yet to find her but they’re surely out there, you can’t keep work of this quality buried forever.

For a few more Ruppert works see that haven of all things grotesque, Monster Brains.

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Le Spectacle de l’Univers (1977).

Continue reading “Sibylle Ruppert revisited”

Weekend links 23

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“The Go-Go wonder of Paris — That’s space girl. Transistors never wear down, they just go on and on — Even her heart is made of vinyl — It’s a marvy life — With nothing else to do but dance — Why not? – Love? — Forget it, baby — Not for her —” From Mod Love (1967) by Michael Lutin and Michel Quarez.

• “Gay people are not advancing themselves in the (publishing) industry, they’re just regurgitating familiar territory. Of course, artists are always ahead of gatekeepers. That’s the way it works—artists innovate. But in order to fulfill your promise as an editor, agent, publisher or reviewer, you have to be a person who’s embracing the new and looking to elevate what is not yet known. And unfortunately, there’s not a discussion among publishing professionals about enhancing this aspect of people’s responsibilities. In fact, it goes the other way. So there needs to be a psychological revolution on behalf of the people who are controlling what information is allowed to be seen.” From an interview with Sarah Schulman at Lambda Literary.

Jonathan Ross meets Jim Steranko. Also at the Guardian: Unearthing the truth about Alan Moore.

• Photographing an abandoned Art Deco skyscraper. From the people who photographed Neverland at night.

Powers: “aural sculptures” by Andy Partridge inspired by the strange science fiction art of Richard M Powers.

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La Paresse (Laziness) (1924) by George Barbier.

Lautréamont’s poison-drenched pages. Roger Cardinal reviews a new edition of Les Chants de Maldoror and Poésies.

The Wire‘s Top 50 Rhythms of All Time, a list from 1992. Some great recommendations but it’s impossible to imagine that being written now without a mention of Klaus Dinger. And where’s Fela Kuti?

• The Wire Salon at Cafe Oto, London, on August 5th presents Rob Young discussing his forthcoming book, Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music.

American Pictorial Photography, 1912–1955. Another astonishing picture set at Golden Age Comic Book Stories.

The Beats: Pictures of a Legend. Edmund White on a new exhibition of Allen Ginsberg’s photographs. Related: the trailer for Howl.

The Dream Machine is a point-and-click adventure game made using hand-crafted animation.

Fuck yeah Francisco Lachowski: Brazilian model cutie has many Tumblr fans.

Polly Morgan’s wings of desire. The taxidermy artist interviewed.

Thomas Dolby’s solar-powered boat studio.

Rückstoss Gondoliere (1971) by Kraftwerk: pt. 1 | pt. 2

Frans De Geetere’s illustrated Maldoror

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Calling this 1927 edition “illustrated” perhaps stretches the point seeing as Frans De Geetere’s illustrations are rather more minimal and restrained than you’d expect for Lautréamont’s proto-Surrealist masterwork. The Koopman Collection’s page for this book lists 65 Geetere’s etchings but only shows a handful. I’d like to see more of these even if the samples here are representative, Les Chants de Maldoror being a book more deserving of illustration than most.

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Frans De Geetere (1895–1968) was Belgian and there’s a Symbolist lineage in this work with his naming Fernand Khnopff and other Belgian Symbolists as influences. He was also a friend of the wealthy arts patron Harry Crosby whose note about the artist promises more than the artwork here delivers:

The darkness of the forest where he was born, the sombre curriculum of the monks together with the rich darkness of ecclesiastical music, the spark of revolt kindled at the Academy of Brussels and whipped into a flame of hatred by the frescoes his father compelled him to paint in the neighboring churches, his first escape (if artists can be said to escape), the year of hunger whitewashing the walls of houses (le soleil contre le mur blanc) and, at nineteen, night duty as guardian in a maison de fous, these were, for M. Frans de Geetere, the foundation stones of that strange building men call the soul. In the madhouse he worked at his painting by day, and by night snatched unsettled hours of sleep, and in this environment developed those queer, abnormal faces that stare out at us from the pages of Maldoror. …And if “Lautreamont has liberated the imagination and dispelled our fear to enter into darkness” as Mr. Jolas so significantly remarked, M. de Geetere with a smoldering rage and fearlessness of creation followed the poet into darkness–“into the occult beyond” to quote Mr. Jolas again, “where new and demonic visions” (I am reminded of Beardsley and Redon and Alastair) “people our solitude.”

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Elsewhere on {feuilleton }
The illustrators archive
The etching and engraving archive

Previously on {feuilleton }
The art of Sibylle Ruppert
Maldoror illustrated