Resurrecting R’lyeh

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Then, driven ahead by curiosity in their captured yacht under Johansen’s command, the men sight a great stone pillar sticking out of the sea, and in S. Latitude 47°9′, W. Longitude 126°43′, come upon a coastline of mingled mud, ooze, and weedy Cyclopean masonry which can be nothing less than the tangible substance of earth’s supreme terror—the nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh, that was built in measureless aeons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars. There lay great Cthulhu and his hordes, hidden in green slimy vaults and sending out at last, after cycles incalculable, the thoughts that spread fear to the dreams of the sensitive and called imperiously to the faithful to come on a pilgrimage of liberation and restoration.

HP Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu (1928)

Behold the fruits of a more benevolent pilgrimage of liberation and restoration. It was just over a year ago that I decided to draw an exact replica of the R’lyeh triple-spread from my comic-strip adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu, the intention being to make the picture available as a poster-sized print once I had a print-ordering system in place. The picture may now be purchased here as a giclée print on Hahnemüle Pearl art paper. This is a big picture (870.46 x 401.15 mm or 34.27 x 15.793 ins), and unlike my other Etsy prints I’m afraid there won’t be a half-size version which means the price will remain relatively high. I’m also keeping it as a black-and-white piece despite the temptation to create a tinted version.

And so to the obvious question: why did I want to redraw a large and very detailed piece of art in the first place? Pull up a weed-festooned Cyclopean bollard and I’ll explain…

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Creation Books, 1994. Cover art by Peter Smith.

I spent 17 months drawing The Call of Cthulhu, from January 1987 to May 1988, using my preferred media of the time, a 0.2 mm Rotring Variant pen on A3 sheets of Daler cartridge paper. The story took its time getting into print but it was eventually published in 1994 by Creation Books as part of The Starry Wisdom, a collection of Lovecraftian fiction edited by DM Mitchell. I was very pleased to be represented in the book but the pleasure turned to dismay when it transpired that all the artwork had vanished after the printing was done. Or almost all the artwork… To this day I don’t know whether the drawings by other artists suffered the same fate, but my Cthulhu pages disappeared along with the anatomical cross-section and the Yuggoth collage that I created specially for the collection. I still don’t know what really happened either, whether the drawings were stolen (possible), thrown away deliberately (unlikely), or thrown away accidentally (also possible). The lack of resolution to the whole business is partly my fault. Losing all that art was a painful thing to consider, and I couldn’t accuse the printer of anything when nobody could say what had happened (I was in the Creation office during one of the phone conversations between publisher and printer). The printer was also located in the middle of a rural county somewhere so journeying there would have been difficult for this non-driver, as well as being pointless if they could only tell me what I knew already. Time passed and I did my best to put the whole episode behind me.

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Drawing technology then and now: the Variant pen I used throughout the 1980s and the Wacom stylus I use today. That Variant nib is so fine that I have a faint ink dot tattooed on one of my knuckles from where I accidentally stabbed it into my hand. The Wacom pen looks stubby in comparison but is capable of drawing equally fine lines and much more besides.

On the plus side (there was one), the printer had done a good job of half-toning the artwork, so even though the Starry Wisdom pages are rather small the detail in the drawings is still evident. And I also had a complete set of photocopies of the A3-sized originals. I’d been working for Savoy Books since 1989 during which time making photocopies of new drawings had become second nature. Since 1994 this set of copies has become the original art for the Call of Cthulhu strip, rather like the surviving prints of Murnau’s Nosferatu which are all that anyone can see of his film today. The analogy is an apt one since it also extends to picture quality. Just as silent films always look their best when they’ve been restored from the camera negative, my Rotring drawings really need to be reproduced from the originals. The 0.2 mm pen that I insisted on using throughout the 1980s was too fine for the photocopy machines of the time, especially when my shading was so densely rendered that I might as well have been using a pencil. This isn’t so much of a problem if the pages are being reduced in size but it became one last year when I had the idea of making a print of the R’lyeh panorama that would be the same size as the original drawings. Giclée printing is an ink-jet process that reproduces fine detail with great accuracy, so while I could make full-size prints of the Cthulhu pages they’d never look better than what they were, photocopies that hadn’t fully captured the fine lines of the drawings. This wasn’t the only problem.

Continue reading “Resurrecting R’lyeh”

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.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Thing on the Doorstep
Leather Cthulhu unleashed
Leather Cthulhu
The Gods of HP Lovecraft
Lovecraftiana calendar
Providential
NecronomiCon Providence 2015
Yuggoth details
A Mountain Walked
Lovecraft’s Monsters unleashed
Lovecraft’s Monsters
JK Potter and HP Lovecraft
Cthulhu Labyrinth
Tentacles #4: Cthulhu in Poland
Cthulhu Calendar
S. Latitude 47°9, W. Longitude 126°43
Resurgam variations
De Profundis
H.P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction
Heavy Metal, October 1979: the Lovecraft special
Cthulhoid and Artflakes
Cthulhu for sale
Cthulhu God
Cthulhu under glass
CthulhuPress
The monstrous tome
Cubist Cthulhu

Weekend links 369

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Untitled painting by Serbian Surrealist Ljuba Popovic (1934–2016). I missed the announcement of Popovic’s death last year.

Bryan Washington on the radical grace of Gengoroh Tagame: My Brother’s Husband and the tradition of gay manga. Where bara artists are concerned, I favour the work of Mentaiko Itto. Bruno Gmünder recently published a collection in English.

• At madrotter-treasure-hunt: Post punk from old tapes; “Some live recordings from concerts in Holland from Charles Hayward and from This Heat, Metabolist, Pere Ubu, Holger Hiller…”

Dennis Cooper‘s favourite fiction, poetry, non-fiction, film, music, art & internet of 2017 so far. (Thanks again for the nod to this blog!)

The Weird and the Eerie is an evocative and carefully-written short study in cultural aesthetics. Far from the familiar line-up of vampires, zombies, and demons, Fisher’s eclectic examples speak directly to one of the central themes of the horror genre: the limits of human knowledge, the metamorphic shapes of fear, and the blurriness of boundaries of all types. His simple conceptual distinction quickly gives way to reversals, permutations, and complications, ultimately refusing any notion of a monstrous or alien unhumanness “out there”; with Fisher, the unhuman is more likely to reside within the human itself (or as Lovecraft might write it, “the unhuman is discovered to reside within the human itself”).

Many books on the horror genre are concerned with providing answers, using varieties of taxonomy and psychology to provide a therapeutic application to “our” lives, helping us to cathartically purge collective anxieties and fears. For Fisher, the emphasis is more on questions, questions that target the vanity and presumptuousness of human culture, questions regarding human consciousness elevating itself above all else, questions concerning the presumed sovereignty of the species at whatever cost – perhaps questions it’s better not to pose, at the risk of undermining the entire endeavour to begin with.

Eugene Thacker reviewing The Weird and the Eerie by Mark Fisher. I’ve not read Fisher’s book yet (I’m intending to) but I was pleased to see one of my illustrations of R’lyeh accompanying the piece.

• At Dirge Magazine: Gwendolyn Nix on Twisted Labyrinths, Dark Mazes, and Ancient Methods of Reflection.

• Mixes of the week: XLR8R podcast 498 by Nicola Kazimir, and Secret Thirteen Mix 227 by Sculpture.

AO Scott reviews Endless Poetry, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s surreal self-portrait.

Maze Of Love (1968) by The Dave Clark Five | Audiomaze (2000) by Tabla Beat Science | Into The Maze (2012) by Pye Corner Audio

Leather Cthulhu unleashed

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The beautiful leatherbound Complete Cthulhu Mythos Tales is officially published this Friday but the books are in Barnes & Noble stores already, and my complimentary copies arrived this week. Photos don’t do justice to the volumes in this series of classic reprints, you really need to hold one to see how well made they are. The leather is smooth and flawlessly printed—I was worried that I might have pushed the limits with some of the details in my cover design but every line and edge is where it should be. The pages of this particular volume are edged with gold, an effect applied to some of the books I’ve designed for Savoy but an uncommon thing in today’s book world.

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As I mentioned earlier, this edition also features endpapers showing details of my R’lyeh spread from The Call of Cthulhu, plus a poster of my Cthulhu Rising piece from 2004. Which leads to an important note for purchasers: the temporary glue that fixes the poster to the back endpapers, and the ad sheet (see below) to the back cover was stronger than intended so care needs to be taken when detaching these items from the book. I’ve been told that a warning about this will be added to the next batch of books, and the glue (which is that clear stuff used to fix things to magazine covers) will also be changed.

A couple more photos and a list of contents follow below. I’ve worked on a lot of books over the years but this one is up there with the very best; Lovecraft’s finest fiction in a single gorgeous volume, and all for $20.

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Continue reading “Leather Cthulhu unleashed”

Leather Cthulhu

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A couple of the projects I’ve been working on for the past few months have yet to be made public but this one from last September has finally shambled into the light of day. The Complete Cthulhu Mythos Tales is a collection of 23 weird tales by HP Lovecraft (some of which are his collaborations with other writers) published by Barnes & Noble in their leatherbound Collectible Editions series. Anyone who’s held one of these volumes will know that they deserve to be called tomes rather than mere books; they’re heavy and lavishly produced, with detailed designs embossed on the front and back boards in a variety of metallic inks.

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One of my drawings was used a few years ago inside the big B&N edition of Lovecraft’s collected fiction; more recently I also designed a cover for a B&N paperback edition of the Cthulhu Mythos tales but the brief on that occasion was for something quick using pre-existing artwork. Given that the Mythos stories are my favourites in Lovecraft’s oeuvre I would have preferred to have done something more elaborate so I was very pleased when asked last year to create a new design for this hardback edition. The design on the front panel presented some challenges as I didn’t want to have an isolated head with wings but I also didn’t want to reduce the Cthulhu figure to such an extent that detail would be compromised. (This type of embossed printing imposes a limit on the amount of detail you can put into the design.) The compromise was a frontal view of what I consider to be another Cthulhu Sphinx, after the more elaborate sculpted design in my adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu. I find myself wondering now how this creature might look from the side.

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The photos of the boards are courtesy of Betsy Beier at Barnes & Noble, and they show how much more effective the printed design is when you have the light reflecting on it. I’m now eagerly awaiting the arrival of a physical copy. The book will be out at the end of the month, and among the extra features there’s an introduction by Lovecraft scholar ST Joshi, my drawing of R’lyeh on the endpapers, and (if that wasn’t enough) a poster reproduction of my Cthulhu Rising picture.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
The Gods of HP Lovecraft
Lovecraftiana calendar
Providential
NecronomiCon Providence 2015
Yuggoth details
A Mountain Walked
Lovecraft’s Monsters unleashed
Lovecraft’s Monsters
JK Potter and HP Lovecraft
Cthulhu Labyrinth
Tentacles #4: Cthulhu in Poland
Cthulhu Calendar
S. Latitude 47°9, W. Longitude 126°43
Resurgam variations
De Profundis
H.P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction
Heavy Metal, October 1979: the Lovecraft special
Cthulhoid and Artflakes
Cthulhu for sale
Cthulhu God
Cthulhu under glass
CthulhuPress
The monstrous tome
Cubist Cthulhu