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.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Leather Cthulhu unleashed
A Mountain Walked
H.P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction
Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown DVD

Two albums

mu1.jpg

A pair of albums by friends of mine are released this month: the first, Journey to the West (1979–2017) by Watch Repair presents The Mystic Umbrellas, has been gestating for several years; the second, Dreaming Dangerous Rainbows by Albatross Project, came together very quickly earlier this year after song sketches led to an album that none of the participants had originally planned. I designed both releases so I have more than a passing interest.

mu3.jpg

The Mystic Umbrellas project will probably be of most interest to regular readers since it evolved from a couple of very minimal organ recordings made in 1979 by Mark Valentine. Mark is well-known today as a writer of weird fiction, and also an editor and publisher of the same, but in the early 1980s he was involved briefly with the British wing of the independent cassette scene, a micro-budget offshoot of the post-punk DIY ethos which spurred many amateur (or non-) musicians to create and release their own musical works on limited-edition cassettes. The UK manifestation of this scene tended either to imitate higher profile post-punk artists (some of the better examples may be heard on the recent Cherry Red compilation, Close To The Noise Floor) or indulge in a very British form of what might be called Low Surrealism, although “absurdity” is probably a more accurate definition. (A UK label of the time was even named Absurd Records.)

mu4.jpg

Photocard by Deborah Judd.

Mark’s Mystic Umbrellas pieces—Journey To The West, Radio Dromedary (a short-wave radio capture) and Rainsborough’s Grave 1 & 2—were released on separate cassette compilations, Deleted Funtime (1980) and National Grid (1981). My friend in Watch Repair (who is happy to remain otherwise anonymous) bought both cassettes, and marked out the Mystic Umbrellas pieces as favourites for their qualities of melancholy and restraint; the organ recordings were very different from the post-punk fumblings or the absurdity in evidence elsewhere. The cassettes sat in a box for years until the same friend decided to try using them as source material for some of his sound processing experiments; these experiments eventually yielded a suite of marvellously atmospheric extensions/transmutations which mutate the recordings beyond recognition but which remain faithful to the haunting qualities of the originals. The precedence for this kind of repurposing would include Jon Hassell’s Magic Realism (1983) and some of the recent works of Thomas Köner, but Mystic Umbrellas and Watch Repair are in a territory of their own.

mu5.jpg

Photocard by Deborah Judd.

While working on the design for this release I kept ruminating on the curious net of connection and coincidence around these recordings. After buying the Deleted Funtime cassette my Watch Repair friend contacted one of the other artists, “Stabmental”, to ask about similar recordings. Stabmental was a name used by Geoff Rushton for his post-Throbbing Gristle musical experiments and an Industrial music fanzine; a couple of years later he joined Psychic TV and changed his name to John Balance. Geoff/John was later in Coil, of course, and a decade after this was in correspondence with me having been greatly impressed with my Lovecraft art in The Starry Wisdom anthology. My earlier Lovecraft story, The Haunter of the Dark, had been published in a large-format edition in 1988 by Caermaen Books, an imprint run by a pair of Arthur Machen enthusiasts, Roger Dobson and Mark Valentine. It was shortly after my first meeting with Mark and Roger that my Watch Repair friend realised that Mark must be the Mystic Umbrellas person so the Lovecraft artwork helped remind us of the Deleted Funtime cassette. The same cassette surfaced again a few years ago when it was sold to an obsessive Coil collector who wanted it for the Stabmental piece. That sale led to the cassette being digitised before it was let go, and the digitisation process led to these recordings.

mu6.jpg

Photocard by Deborah Judd.

Things got even more tangled earlier this year when I was working on the final layout while also reading the expanded edition of England’s Hidden Reverse, David Keenan’s fascinating history of Coil, Current 93 and Nurse With Wound. Keenan discusses the independent cassette scene (and mentions Stabmental) so all the above was circling in my head once more; but I really wasn’t expecting the instance when Keenan goes into David Tibet’s enthusiasm for Arthur Machen by including a page of explanation from a Machen expert…Mark Valentine. In Mark’s notes for the Watch Repair release he describes the origin of the Mystic Umbrellas name which came about during a rainy day-trip to Glastonbury. Somerset’s most mystical town includes Chalice Well among its complement of New Age tourist traps; shortly after finishing England’s Hidden Reverse I was re-reading a typically wild interview with Alejandro Jodorowsky in which he proposes that the humble umbrella is in fact a black chalice, and that the knights of the Round Table are searching for a Holy Grail that’s actually an umbrella. A mystic umbrella, in other words. Elsewhere in the same interview he expounds on the symbolism of the Black Sun, a favourite symbol of Coil’s. (And Coil for a short while had a Chalice record label…) By this point I’d ceased to be surprised, the endless chain of connections seemed inevitable.

albatross1.jpg

After all the above the album by Albatross Project risks seeming a little mundane, although grounded (one meaning of “mundane”) would be better. The origin this time was a series of poems written by Roger (that’s him on the cover) from 1972 to 1986. These were set to music by Dan of Warper’s Moss and Watch Repair. (Nobody in this group is offering their surnames so you’ll have to accept the circumspection.) Everyone involved was surprised by the quality of the resulting songs, not least Roger who wrote the words sporadically while travelling the world in his youth. Dan and friends have been writing songs and playing in bands since the 1980s which is why they were able to produce such an accomplished album in a matter of months. Musically, this is quite straightforward: well-crafted songs in a rock idiom which had me thinking at times of Pink Floyd circa 1972 (fitting since several of the musicians are from the Floyd-worshipping environs of Merseyside). But it also owes something to the Elektra years of the early 70s (as does my design), and the period flavour harks back to the time and experiences that Roger was writing about.

albatross2.jpg

Both albums are available via Bandcamp. The hard format of Dreaming Dangerous Rainbows is a CD-R in a jewel case while the Mystic Umbrellas hard format is a lavish hand-crafted package that includes copious notes and four art cards, three of which feature Deborah Judd’s evocative photo montages. The latter package will be strictly limited. Original copies of the Deleted Funtime cassette command high prices among Coil collectors but the curious (or foolhardy) may download a copy at Die or DIY?

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Polarities by Watch Repair
Seven Harps by Warper’s Moss
The Tidal Path by Watch Repair
Watch Repair

The Gable Window

gable.jpg

The Gable Window (1984) by John Coulthart.

Presenting some of my first Lovecraftian illustrations, neither of which have been made public before. This drawing, and the one below, are as much Derlethian as they are Lovecraftian, depicting scenes from a short story and a short novel written by August Derleth from fragments and notes found in Lovecraft’s papers. The Gable Window was collected in The Survivor and Others (1957) which happens to be the only Lovecraft-related title I own in its original Arkham House printing. Derleth’s posthumous collaborations are often more Derleth than Lovecraft but I liked the central idea of The Gable Window which, like The Music of Erich Zann, concerns a window that also serves as a portal to other dimensions.

lurker.jpg

The Lurker at the Threshold (1982) by John Coulthart.

Before I began adapting The Haunter of the Dark in 1986 I hadn’t made much of an attempt to illustrate Lovecraft seriously. These drawings and a handful of other pieces were more like experimental sketches, although The Gable Window is obviously a very polished piece of work. Rather than depict anything overtly monstrous, each piece began as an arrangement of ink splotches and washes applied to cartridge paper soaked with water. The Lurker at the Threshold is one of several small pictures made with this technique in 1982, none of which are very successful. This one doesn’t look too bad but the best one, depicting the climax of The Dunwich Horror, I sent to the late Roger Dobson for possible use in an issue of Aklo, and haven’t seen it since. The Gable Window refined the technique by using fewer splotches and a more detailed drawing applied afterwards. I’ve never been happy with the figure, and the books on the left are lazily done, but it’s one of the better things I was doing in 1984. The biggest surprise looking at the drawing again was noticing the crest over the window which features a triangle/crescent motif that’s very similar to the one I designed a year later for Hawkwind’s Chronicle of the Black Sword album. This wasnt intentional.

gable-detail.jpg

Today The Gable Window seems like an indicator of where my head was at during this time. I was tired of doing Hawkwind-related things, and eager to immerse myself in something different; a series of Ballard illustrations was one potential way forward, Lovecraft was another. A year later I’d made a decision and, as it were, stepped through the window.

Previously on { feuilleton }
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 266

dune.jpg

Spine and cover art by John Schoenherr for the first American edition of Dune, 1965.

• “[Herbert] had also taken peyote and read Jung. In 1960, a sailing buddy introduced him to the Zen thinker Alan Watts, who was living on a houseboat in Sausalito. Long conversations with Watts, the main conduit by which Zen was permeating the west-coast counterculture, helped turn Herbert’s pacy adventure story into an exploration of temporality, the limits of personal identity and the mind’s relationship to the body.” Hari Kunzru on Frank Herbert and Dune, 50 years on. Related: “To save California, read Dune,” says Andrew Leonard. There’s a lot more Dune cover art at ISFDB.

• “Embedded in Adam’s footage were several dark forms, human-ish in outline, unidentifiable but unmistakable, visible within the leaves or the shadows.” Holloway is a short film by Adam Scovell based on the book by Robert Macfarlane, Dan Richards and Stanley Donwood.

The Library of the Lost: In Search of Forgotten Authors by Roger Dobson; edited and with an introduction by Mark Valentine. Roger and Mark were my first publishers in 1988 when their Caermaen Books imprint produced the large-format edition of The Haunter of the Dark.

• “…over the years he created a series of ‘Pharmacies’: rows of glass bottles filled not with medicines to cure the body…but objects to stimulate the mind.” Clare Walters reviews Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust, an exhibition at the Royal Academy, London.

• “The sound machines we build today are invariably one-offs, made from salvaged parts, with all the precariousness of a prototype.” Sarah Angliss on the art of making music machines.

Mission Desire is a new single by Jane Weaver whose video is “set to scenes from Marie Mathématique – the French 1960s mini-series about Barbarella’s younger sister”.

• Ghost signs, ginnels and hidden details: an alternative guide to Manchester by Hayley Flynn aka Skyliner.

• “I want to be despised,” says John Waters who has a new art exhibition at Sprüth Magers, London.

Sonic Praise, an album of “Krautprogbikermetal” by Ecstatic Vision.

• The Evolution of the Great Gay Novel: an overview by Rebecca Brill.

* At Bibliothèque Gay: more homoerotic drawings by Jean Cocteau.

Wyrd Daze Lvl2 Issue 3 is a free download.

Nicolas Winding Refn: vinyl collector.

Art With Naked Guys In It

Caladan (2011) by Roly Porter | Giedi Prime (2011) by Roly Porter | Arrakis (2011) by Roly Porter

The White People by Arthur Machen

aklo.jpg

Aklo: A Journal of the Fantastic, Spring 1988 edition, edited by Mark Valentine & Roger Dobson. Illustration by Alan Hunter.

1: The White People

The White People by Arthur Machen was written in 1899 but not published until it appeared in Horlick’s Magazine, January 1904. The magazine, which ran for just over a year, was edited by Machen’s Golden Dawn colleague AE Waite which no doubt explains the unlikely venue. HP Lovecraft enthused about the story in Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927):

Less famous and less complex in plot than The Great God Pan, but definitely finer in atmosphere and general artistic value, is the curious and dimly disquieting chronicle called The White People, whose central portion purports to be the diary or notes of a little girl whose nurse has introduced her to some of the forbidden magic and soul-blasting traditions of the noxious witch-cult — the cult whose whispered lore was handed down long lines of peasantry throughout Western Europe, and whose members sometimes stole forth at night, one by one, to meet in black woods and lonely places for the revolting orgies of the Witches’ Sabbath. Mr. Machen’s narrative, a triumph of skilful selectiveness and restraint, accumulates enormous power as it flows on in a stream of innocent childish prattle, introducing allusions to strange “nymphs,” “Dols,” “voolas,” “white, green, and scarlet ceremonies,” “Aklo letters,” “Chian language,” “Mao games,” and the like. The rites learned by the nurse from her witch grandmother are taught to the child by the time she is three years old, and her artless accounts of the dangerous secret revelations possess a lurking terror generously mixed with pathos. Evil charms well known to anthropologists are described with juvenile naiveté, and finally there comes a winter afternoon journey into the old Welsh hills, performed under an imaginative spell which lends to the wild scenery an added weirdness, strangeness, and suggestion of grotesque sentience. The details of this journey are given with marvellous vividness, and form to the keen critic a masterpiece of fantastic writing, with almost unlimited power in the intimation of potent hideousness and cosmic aberration.

Lovecraft borrowed Machen’s naive narrator a year later for The Dunwich Horror: Wilbur Whateley’s diary is written “by a child of three-and-a-half who looked like a lad of twelve or thirteen”, and makes reference to “Aklo”, “the Dho formula” and “the Voorish sign”. (The journal in The White People refers to “a wicked voorish dome”.)

Lovecraft wasn’t alone in being impressed by the story, it’s long been regarded as Machen’s greatest piece of short fiction with good reason:

…it remains the purest and most powerful expression of what Jack Sullivan has called the “transcendental” or “visionary” supernatural tradition. Most other tales in that tradition, Blackwood’s The Wendigo, EF Benson’s The Man Who Went Too Far, and Machen’s own The Great God Pan, merely describe encounters with the dark primeval forces that reign beyond the edge of civilisation; The White People seems an actual product of such an encounter, an authentic pagan artefact…

TED Klein, The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986)

Continue reading “The White People by Arthur Machen”