Weekend links 170

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Owl portrait by Iain Macarthur.

• “Ghost Box is a glance through a window seeing something running alongside our version of reality. Like, what if Paul McCartney had made records with the Radiophonic Workshop?” Ghost Box designer and Mr Focus Group, Julian House is interviewed.

• “…that book with the girl with the hatchet in her head…” Dave Tompkins remembers Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies (1973), a formative influence of mine, and that of many other people, it seems.

Salvador Dalí’s 1946 illustrated edition of Macbeth. Related: From Macbeth to the Wizard of Oz: New exhibition explores the erotic side of witchcraft.

I do not want to live in a world where the government and a select few conservative feminists get to decide what we may and may not masturbate to, and use the bodies of murdered women or children as emotional pawns in that debate. It is supremely difficult to achieve radical ends by conservative means. Feminists and everyone who seeks to end sexual violence should be very cautious when their immediate goals seem to line up neatly with those of social conservatives and state censors.

Laurie Penny on the recent Tory policy of attempting to limit online pornography.

The Facebook page for The Wicker Man has details of the pursuit for a complete print of the film. A Blu-ray edition will be released in October.

Anne Billson visited the Hotel Thermae Palace in Ostend, the columnated location of Daughters of Darkness.

Kenneth Anger on how he made Lucifer Rising. The ICA in London is screening his films this weekend.

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Roy Krenkel illustrates Tales of Three Planets by Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1964.

The Electric Banana Blows Your Mind: The soundtrack library alter ego of The Pretty Things.

• Mix of the week: an ambient (in the 90s’ sense of the word) DJ set by Surgeon.

Bernie Krause shares the happiest sounds he’s heard in nature.

• RIP Walter De Maria, sculptor and musician.

Sexodrome by Asia Argento with Morgan.

• Metabolist: Identify (1980) | Curly Wall (1980) | Ymuzgo/Pigface (1981)

Frank Frazetta, 1928–2010

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Conan the Adventurer aka The Barbarian (1965).

How to appraise Frank Frazetta? In November last year I wrote about this Conan portrait for an SF Signal Mind Meld feature on favourite book covers:

The covers that launched a thousand imitators. Lancer’s series of Conan books in the 1960s were the first appearance of Howard’s barbarian in paperback and came sporting cover art by Frank Frazetta. A great example of artist and subject being perfectly matched, these are the standard by which all subsequent barbarian art must be judged. Frazetta’s painting of a brooding warrior lord (which he reworked slightly for its poster edition) is for me the definitive portrait of Howard’s hero, battle scarred and proudly malevolent, with a chauvinistic blur of trophy female clinging at his feet. Other artists can do the muscles and monsters but none capture the physical presence and brute animality of Howard’s characters the way Frazetta does.

I found Frazetta’s work through the great series of fantasy art books which Pan/Ballantine published in the 1970s. I hadn’t read any Robert E Howard at the time, I only knew the diluted version of the Conan character in the Marvel comics series but Frazetta’s work was so powerful it was a spur to search out Howard, especially when I read that the writer had been a pen-pal of HP Lovecraft. I was never as interested in Frazetta’s other staple inspiration, Edgar Rice Burroughs, probably because Tarzan was too familiar from films and TV.

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The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta (1975).

Both Howard and Frazetta defined a milieu which combined an intensity of vision with a projection of their own personalities into the worlds they created. (Many of Frazetta’s protagonists resemble their creator.) Both suffered from having that intensity of vision watered-down by ham-fisted imitators or the vulgarisations of films and comics. Howard’s Conan stories at their best are a blend of heavyweight adventure story with supernatural horror; many of them were first published in Weird Tales magazine alongside other masters of the weird like Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. What impressed me about Frazetta’s paintings was the way he managed to capture a sense of eldritch weirdness as well as the more obvious barbaric adventure in a manner which eluded so many of the sword and sorcery illustrators who followed. What’s even more remarkable when you read interviews is that he seemed to do all this instinctively. He’d learned from looking at earlier artists such as J Allen St John, Howard Pyle, Frank Schoonover and Roy Krenkel, and found the means to apply their painting style to his own internal aesthetics and sense of drama.

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Swords of Mars (1974).

Aesthetics is one of the things I always come back to with Frazetta. I used to pore over these paintings wondering how it was that all the details of weapons and decor seemed absolutely right. Nothing was ever over-worked or too elaborate. Where did this invention come from? The other obvious feature is a raw sexiness which pervades everything. I’ve had people tell me that Frazetta must have been bisexual because of the equal care he lavished on his male and female figures. I’ve always disagreed with this. The point about Frazetta’s world is that everything is sexy: the people, the decor, the architecture, the animals, even the monsters; so naturally the men are going to be as sexy as the women. In addition, he wasn’t afraid of giving his men real balls (so to speak) unlike the endless parade of costumed eunuchs filling the comic books. These figures may be dealing death but they’re filled with vigour and life when they’re doing it.

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Bran Mak Morn (1969).

I said everything is sexy; I’ll make an exception for the extraordinary painting of Bran Mak Morn and his tribal horde, a picture of feral nightmarishness that goes beyond mere illustration and makes you feel the artist has shown you an atavistic glimpse of ages past. Robert E Howard would have been thrilled to see his characters brought to life with this kind of visceral intensity. For years Howard’s fiction was dismissed as pulp, now he’s a Penguin Modern Classic. And it’s as a modern classic that I’ll continue to think of Frank Frazetta.

Unofficial gallery site

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Frazetta: Painting with Fire
The monstrous tome
Men with snakes
My pastiches
Fantastic art from Pan Books

Franklin Booth’s Flying Islands

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I was rather aggrieved a few weeks ago when I found a copy of James Whitcomb Riley’s The Flying Islands of the Night (1913) at the Internet Archive. Nice to find a free copy of a rare book but the grievance came as a result of an intention to write something about its illustrator, Franklin Booth (1874–1948), and post a picture or two. It turns out that the scanned copy available is complete but all the colour plates have been removed, probably stolen during its career as a library volume. Riley’s story is a piece of light fantasy which might well have been forgotten by now if it wasn’t for Booth’s incredible illustrations; as a result it’s the illustrations that make the book worth seeking out.

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Booth’s penmanship from Franklin Booth: American Illustrator.

Happily, and by coincidence, Mr Door Tree at the essential Golden Age Comic Book Stories has uploaded scans of his own in the past few days. Beautiful stuff and easily the equal of Booth’s contemporaries in Britain such as Charles and William Heath Robinson, Edmund Dulac et al. Booth’s colour work resembles similar watercolour book illustration of the period but his black & white work was quite unique, being done in a pen style derived from his boyhood interest in engraved magazine illustrations. His careful use of hatched lines went on to influence later American illustrators including Roy Krenkel, Mike Kaluta, Berni Wrightson and others. Golden Age Comic Book Stories has an earlier posting featuring one of Booth’s pen drawings here and a page of Mucha-esque women here.

Bud Plant’s Franklin Booth page
Franklin Booth: American Illustrator

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Men with snakes

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Laocoön and His Sons attributed to Agesander, Athenodoros
and Polydorus of Rhodes (c. 160–20 BCE).

No jokes about snakes in a frame, please. Bram Dijkstra’s Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin de Siècle Culture (1986) is a wide-ranging study of the “iconography of misogyny” in 19th century painting. Dijkstra examines the numerous ways that women were depicted in late Victorian and Symbolist art, with one chapter, “Connoisseurs and Bestiality and Serpentine Delights”, being devoted to representations of women with animals, especially snakes. The story of Eve and the Serpent prompts many of these latter images, of course, while scenes with other creatures seem intended to demonstrate the Victorian attitude that woman was closer to the brute beasts than man and could often be found conspiring with them to bring down her masculine masters. Continue reading “Men with snakes”