Something from Below

My first encounter with author, editor and Lovecraft biographer ST Joshi was in the form of an artwork request that arrived out of the blue in the late 1980s. My comic-strip adaptation of The Haunter of the Dark had just been published in a large-format edition by Caermaen Press, a small imprint run by Roger Dobson and Mark Valentine, and this prompted a flurry of interest among weird-fiction enthusiasts in Britain and the USA. Joshi was editing Lovecraft Studies for Necronomicon Press at the time, and asked if I’d be willing to contribute illustrations, something I ended up not doing for a variety of reasons. I always felt bad about this, and admitted as much when we eventually met at the Providence NecronomiCon in 2015, so my cover art for his new cosmic-horror novella may be regarded as a kind of recompense.

Something from Below is horror with an industrial setting and a Lovecraftian slant, hence the sinister coal mine dominating the artwork:

When 22-year-old Alison Mannering returns to her home in northeastern Pennsylvania after college, she finds a troubling situation. Her father, Guy Mannering, a longtime coal miner, has died recently under suspicious circumstances, and her mother refuses to provide any details of his passing. Alison feels she has no option but to investigate the matter herself, enlisting her high school sweetheart, Randy Kroeber, as well as Randy’s twin sister, Andrea called Andy, to assist her… (more)

The brief for this one was to create a wraparound cover without showing anything overtly monstrous, something I was happy to do since I dislike horror covers that reveal too much. In addition to the wrap I also produced a black-and-white piece for the inner boards. As is evident from the pictures above, the artwork was flipped around in the design but that’s okay, it works both ways. The coal mine is the central location, however.

Something from Below is published this month by PS Publishing in signed and unsigned hardcovers.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Lovecraft archive

Weekend links 483

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Fantastic Sea Carriage (1556) by Johannes van Doetecum the Elder.

• I’ve grown increasingly tired of Kubrick-related micro-fetishism (despite contributing to it myself with previous posts) but this piece at Film and Furniture about the history of David Hicks’ Hexagon carpet design is a good one.

• “In hindsight, we can see how rarely one technology supersedes another…” Leah Price on the oft-predicted, never arriving death of the book.

• From Rome To Weston-Super-Mare: Eden Tizard on Coil’s Musick To Play In The Dark.

“It is,” the editor of the London Sunday Express had written nine years earlier, sounding like HP Lovecraft describing Necronomicon:

the most infamously obscene book in ancient or modern literature….All the secret sewers of vice are canalized in its flood of unimaginable thoughts, images and pornographic words. And its unclean lunacies are larded with appalling and revolting blasphemies directed against the Christian religion and against the name of Christ—blasphemies hitherto associated with the most degraded orgies of Satanism and the Black Mass.

Regarded as a masterpiece by contemporary writers such as TS Eliot and Ernest Hemingway, celebrated for being as difficult to read as to obtain, Ulysses had been shocking the sensibilities of critics, censors, and readers from the moment it began to see print between 1918 and 1920, when four chapters were abortively serialized in the pages of a New York quarterly called The Little Review. Even sophisticated readers often found themselves recoiling in Lovecraftian dread from contact with its pages. “I can’t get over the feeling,” wrote Katherine Mansfield, “of wet linoleum and unemptied pails and far worse horrors in the house of [Joyce’s] mind.” Encyclopedic in its use of detail and allusion, orchestral in its multiplicity of voices and rhetorical strategies, virtuosic in its technique, Ulysses was a thoroughly modernist production, exhibiting—sometimes within a single chapter or a single paragraph—the vandalistic glee of Futurism, the decentered subjectivity of Cubism, the absurdist blasphemies and pranks of Dadaism, and Surrealism’s penchant for finding the mythic in the ordinary and the primitive in the low dives and nighttowns of the City.

Michael Chabon on the US trial of James Joyce’s Ulysses

• Mix of the week: Through A Landscape Of Mirrors Vol. III—France II by David Colohan.

• Another Not The Best Ambient And Space Music Of The Year Post by Dave Maier.

Sarah Angliss and friends perform Air Loom at Supernormal, 2019.

• Out next month: The World Is A Bell by The Leaf Library.

Amy Simmons on where to start with Pier Paolo Pasolini.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Candy Clark Day.

• Uccellacci E Uccellini (1966) by Ennio Morricone | Liriïk Necronomicus Kahnt (1978) by Magma | Ostia (The Death Of Pasolini) (1986) by Coil

A view over Yuggoth

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I mentioned in the post about the Sherlock Holmes illustrations that the next book from Editorial Alma featuring my work would be another Lovecraft collection. One of the illustrations in the new volume was of the planet Yuggoth, a world known to human beings as Pluto. In Lovecraft’s mythos Yuggoth has long been an outpost of advanced alien civilisations, particularly the fungoid crustaceans of The Whisperer in Darkness and the splendidly-titled sonnet sequence Fungi from Yuggoth. I’d broached this subject a couple of times in the past, first with a panel in my Haunter of the Dark comic strip (the Shining Trapezohedron is described as being brought to Earth from Yuggoth) then with a photocopy collage of Haeckel organisms for the first Starry Wisdom collection.

Yuggoth is one of several alien outposts in Lovecraft’s fiction, allied in its remoteness from humans with the underwater city of R’lyeh and the Antarctic city in At the Mountains of Madness. All these locations suggest exotic architecture so they’ve long been some of my favourite features in Lovecraft’s work, hence this new piece which I couldn’t resist doing after completing work on the Alma book. Since I acquired a Wacom tablet four years ago I’ve become so used to using it for line drawing that working with it now feels as natural as working with pens and inks. But digital painting was something I still didn’t feel happy with. This is mainly because the brush options in Photoshop are limitless, and one thing I’ve never liked with art materials is too much choice. When I was working with physical media I used to use a minimum of pens and brushes so what I really wanted from Photoshop was a single brush that would do what I wanted without having to swap tools all the time when working. This view of Yuggoth is the result of having finally settled (by chance, as it happened) on a brush that does everything I want without getting in the way. The drawing was completely improvised so as a composition it has some flaws; it could also have been developed a lot more to bring out highlights and details. But as an experimental piece it worked out well and also didn’t take too very long to do. When I have the time I’ll be doing more with this new brush.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Lovecraft archive

HR Giger’s Passagen

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HR Giger’s art books were always very thorough in detailing all the media manifestations of the artist’s work, including film and television appearances. For years this presented tantalising questions, especially regarding the lengthy pre-Alien documentaries that were listed there: what were these films, and when would we get to see them? Giger’s Necronomicon (1976) did finally appear on YouTube a few years ago, and now here’s the second of the pair thanks to an upload of what appears to be a Japanese laserdisc.

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Passagen was made in 1972 by Giger’s friend Fredi M. Murer, their third film collaboration after Heimkiller and High (1967) and Swiss Made 2069 (1968). The latter (which Giger co-directed) is still frustratingly absent from the web, and similarly tantalising for being a 45-minute piece of underground science fiction which features Giger’s first production designs for cinema. Passagen was less ambitious, a 50-minute documentary about Giger’s work made for the German TV station, WDR. As a documentary it functions as a companion to Giger’s Necronomicon, while both films complement the subsequent art books, especially Giger’s Necronomicon (the book) which features many of the paintings seen in the films, together with anecdotes about their origins and inspiration. One of these anecdotes, about the nightmares induced in the young Hans Rudi by a stairway in the hotel next door to the Giger family home, is recounted in Passagen alongside the vertiginous drawings the nightmares inspired. It’s impossible to consider this piece of child psychology, and to watch the artist walking up and down stairs and stepladders, without recalling that Giger died after falling down a flight of stairs in 2014.

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Giger’s Necronomicon is the more interesting of the two documentaries, especially now that the life and work is so well known; the art is taken more for granted, and we also get to see Giger at work on one of his big airbrush paintings. Passagen spends much of its time attempting to contextualise Giger’s drawings and paintings for an unwitting television audience, so a great deal of the running time is given over to newsreel footage of wars, riots, terrorism, atomic explosions and so on. A geneticist discusses the effects of atomic mutation while Giger’s earliest series of pictures, Atomkinder, is shown; psychoanalysts examine his paintings from a psychosexual angle.

Of more interest for Giger aficionados is the presence of his partner at the time, Li Tobler, the subject of several memorable portraits from this period. Among the working shots, the best shows Giger improvising a drawing with the same speed as Philippe Druillet in the Ô Sidarta film. Giger only started using an airbrush in 1972 so most of the works seen here are either early drawings or the paintings in the Passagen and Alptraum series, the style and colouring of which is much closer to the art world of 1972 than anything which would follow. For me the greatest revelation comes early on when Giger picks out a record to play while he’s working. The disc he chooses is just identifiable as Universal Consciousness by Alice Coltrane, an album which had been released the year before. (This isn’t the music heard on the soundtrack, however.) Alice Coltrane’s brand of ecstatic, pan-religious jazz would seem remote from Giger’s own universe but the choice isn’t so surprising if you know that he’d been a jazz enthusiast since the 1950s; in The Book of Alien (1979) his list of influences includes HP Lovecraft, John Coltrane and Miles Davis.

As is evident from the screen grabs, the film is hard-coded throughout with Japanese subtitles. Unlike Giger’s Necronomicon there’s no English overdub either, the soundtrack is in German throughout. I can’t complain when I’ve been waiting so long to be able to see this at all. For those who watched the later film divided into four YouTube clips there’s now a complete version (also Japanese but with English overdub) here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Heimkiller and High
The Man Who Paints Monsters In The Night
Hans by Sibylle
HR Giger album covers
Giger’s Necronomicon
Dan O’Bannon, 1946–2009
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune
The monstrous tome

Weekend links 399

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• “In the mid-Seventies the influential stop-motion animators, Stephen and Timothy Quay, embarked on a series of dark graphite drawings, conceived as imaginary film posters. They kept their first autonomous art project hidden for decades, allowing only a few glimpses to transpire in some of their animation classics such as Noctura Artificialia and Street of Crocodiles. In hindsight, the Black Drawings can be considered as a blueprint for their future work. This book offers a first in-depth exploration of this important graphic series that reveals many of the themes and techniques that would come to life in their celebrated animation films.” Quay Brothers: The Black Drawings 1974—1977 is a book by Edwin Carels and Tommy Simoens.

• The first of the BFI’s forthcoming blu-ray boxes of Derek Jarman films is now available for preorder. In addition to what I presume will be an uncensored presentation of Sebastiane (1976) the set also includes the digital premiere of In the Shadow of the Sun (1980) an “alchemical” blending/transmutation of Jarman’s early Super-8 films with a score by Throbbing Gristle. Related: Adam Scovell on another of the films in the set, Jubilee (1978), and one that Jarman disliked even though it incorporates many of his obsessions, especially in the punk-baiting sequences derived from Shakespeare and Elizabethan metaphysics.

• Mixes of the week: FACT mix 638: Circuit des Yeux, XLR8R Podcast 528 by Huxley Anne, Secret Thirteen Mix 246 by Hiro Kone, and drone works from Abby Drohne. And since the untimely death of composer Jóhann Jóhannsson was announced a few hours ago, a return to his sombre mix for FACT from 2015.

Nabokov’s ambitions weren’t interpretive. He “held nothing but contempt for Freud’s crude oneirology,” Barabtarlo explains, and in tracking his dreams he wasn’t turning his gaze inward. For him, the mystery was outside—far outside. Nabokov had been reading deeply into serialism, a philosophy positing that time is reversible. The theory came from JW Dunne, a British engineer and armchair philosopher who, in 1927, published An Experiment with Time, arguing, in part, that our dreams afforded us rare access to a higher order of time. Was it possible that we were glimpsing snatches of the future in our dreams—that what we wrote off as déjà vu was actually a leap into the metaphysical ether? Dunne himself claimed to have had no fewer than eight precognitive dreams, including one in which he foresaw a headline about a volcanic eruption.

Daniel Piepenbring reviewing Insomniac Dreams by Gennady Barabtarlo

• Gavin Stamp 1948—2017: a eulogy to the late architectural writer by Jonathan Meades. One of Stamp’s more offbeat assignments was providing illustrations for the George Hay Necronomicon in 1978.

Embassy of the Free Mind is the name of the new online library whose digitisation of rare occult volumes was financed by author Dan Brown.

• At Dangerous Minds: Meet Princess Tinymeat, the obscure genderbending trashglam post-punk goth offshoot of Virgin Prunes.

• “Why are film-makers obsessed with the story of doomed British sailor Donald Crowhurst?” asks Jonathan Coe.

• “Asian music influenced Debussy who influenced me—it’s all a huge circle,” says Ryuichi Sakamoto.

• At Spoon & Tamago: The birds of Tokyo beautifully illustrated by Ryo Takemasa.

Mark Pilkington is In Wild Air

Professor Yaffle

The Sun’s Gone Dim And The Sky’s Turned Black (2006) by Jóhann Jóhannsson | The Great God Pan is Dead (2008) by Jóhann Jóhannsson | A Pile of Dust (2016) by Jóhann Jóhannsson