The Stormbringer Sessions by James Cawthorn

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One of the books I was designing last year is published next month. The Stormbringer Sessons is a resurrection by John Davey of a sketchbook created by James Cawthorn in the mid-1980s for an Elric graphic novel that Cawthorn was commissioned to adapt and illustrate for Savoy Books. This is a limited edition that’s unlikely to be reprinted so anyone interested is advised to pre-order. (See below.)

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Slipcase decoration.

The original Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock isn’t a novel as such but a collection of the second series of linked novellas about Elric of Melniboné that Moorcock wrote for Science Fantasy from 1961 to 1964. Over the course of ten stories Moorcock introduced a character and a world that acted as a riposte to the Tolkienite school of heroic fantasy, where the divisions between Good and Evil are clear and fixed. Elric is like one of Sergio Leone’s characters: the difference between Clint Eastwood’s “Good” in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Lee Van Cleef’s “Bad” is merely a matter of degree; both men are killers chasing the same hoard of gold coins. (By coincidence, Leone was preparing to the upset the Western genre with A Fistful of Dollars just as Moorcock was finishing the first Elric stories.)

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James Cawthorn was one of Moorcock’s oldest friends, and a frequent collaborator. He not only illustrated the first Elric stories but also co-wrote the fourth one, Kings in Darkness. Despite having created many Elric illustrations Cawthorn always seemed to want to draw comics based on other characters, notably Moorcock’s Dorian Hawkmoon whose adventures have recently been reprinted in three volumes by Titan Books. The Stormbringer commission was a result of the late David Britton’s obsession with Elric in general and the Stormbringer book in particular. Stormbringer begins with Elric having retired from adventuring; his soul-stealing sword is locked away and he’s settled down to married life. The opening scenes parallel (and prefigure) many Hollywood plots: Elric’s wife is abducted for unknown reasons so Elric has to take up his sword and go after her. What follows is a pursuit into a world growing increasingly dark and chaotic, and with it the realisation that the events taking place are a part of a long-foretold apocalypse that will (and does) destroy that world. The progression from a regular sword & sorcery tale to doom-laden widescreen baroque, with a dragon army flying over a churning Boschian hellscape, is one of the enduring attractions of the book.

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Britton had first persuaded Cawthorn to adapt Stormbringer into comic form in 1976 but the work on that occasion was compromised by lack of time. The sketches in The Stormbringer Sessions are Cawthorn’s roughs which were drawn in preparation for the second attempt, with the entire story worked out in panel form over 250 pages, complete with dialogue and captions. Some of the opening pages are rough indeed, but the drawings for the apocalyptic finale, presented in many double-page spreads, are almost finished pieces. The sketches may lack the finesse of Cawthorn’s other comics work but the power of his drawing and his imagination shines through. Nobody seems to know why he abandoned this project despite having a publisher waiting for it, but he was also adapting the third Hawkmoon book at the time, and had already spent the past decade working on the Hawkmoon trilogy.

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My design for this one is fairly straightforward, mostly a matter of framing and typesetting the opening and closing pages, as well as creating graphics for the cover and the slipcase. As with the Elric-themed Hawkwind album, The Chronicle of the Black Sword, I opted for Celtic-style knotwork for the decoration. Elric’s world isn’t our world but knotwork designs are universal (maybe even multiversal) while being satisfyingly antique and abstract. The publication is a co-production between Jayde Design and Savoy Books, with the book being limited to 100 numbered hardbacks in a decorated slipcase. Each copy also contains a colour print of the cover painting. The book may be ordered here. More page samples follow.

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Continue reading “The Stormbringer Sessions by James Cawthorn”

Weekend links 521

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Au Lion d’or (1965) by Mimi Parent.

• After the recent announcement of Jon Hassell’s health issues it’s good to see he has a new album on the way at the end of July. Seeing Through Sound (Pentimento Volume Two) follows the form of the first volume, Seeing Through Pictures (2018), in reworking elements of earlier recordings into new forms. Not remixes, more reimaginings, and a process that Hassell has been applying to his own work for many years, most notably on his collaboration with Peter Freeman, The Vertical Collection (1997). The latter is an album which is impossible to find today and really ought to be reissued, together with more scarcities from the Hassell catalogue.

• Death of a typeface: John Boardley on Robert Granjon’s Civilité, a type design intended to be the national typeface of France but which fell out of favour. It wasn’t completely forgotten however; I was re-reading Huysmans’ À Rebours a couple of weeks ago, and Civilité is mentioned there as being a type that Des Esseintes chooses for some of his privately-printed books.

• At Plutonium Shores: Kurosawa versus Leone in A Fistful of Yojimbo. Christopher Frayling makes a similar analysis in his landmark study, Spaghetti Westerns (1981), but I didn’t realise that Leone had based so many of his shots on Kurosawa’s film.

• More lockdown art: Seen from Here: Writing in the Lockdown is a collection of new writing edited by Tim Etchells and Vlatka Horvat. A PDF book whose sales will go to support the Trussell Trust, a UK food bank charity.

• The week’s culture guides: Ben Cardew on where to start with the back catalogue of Miles Davis, and Hayley Scanlon on where to begin with the films of Yasujiro Ozu.

• “We can no longer ignore the potential of psychedelic drugs to treat depression,” says Robin Carhart-Harris.

• At Dangerous Minds: Laraaji returns with a new album, Sun Piano, and a preview of the same, This Too Shall Pass.

• Mixes of the week: The Ivy-Strangled Path Vol. XXI by David Colohan, and XLR8R Podcast 647 by The Orb.

Penelope Rosemont on the humorous Surrealism of Mimi Parent.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Jeff Jackson presents Free Jazz Day.

The Golden Lion (1967) by Lomax Alliance | Dread Lion (1976) by The Upsetters | Gehenna Lion (1982) by Chrome

Howard Pyle’s pirates

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The Buccaneer was a Picturesque Fellow by Howard Pyle (1905).

Seeing as how Johnny Depp and co. are sailing the Spanish Main once more (to mixed reviews, unfortunately), now is perhaps a suitable moment to note the genesis of our popular conception of buccaneers. The famous characters of the Wild West were being mythologised while many of them were still alive and some survived long enough to be consulted by filmmakers such as John Ford when the first of the silent Westerns were being made. Pirates had their exploits recounted in tabloid fashion via books like The Newgate Calendar but our romantic image of the pirate comes primarily from Robert Louis Stevenson and artist/writer Howard Pyle (1853–1911).

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Keith Richards by Paul Karslake (1998).

Pyle’s articles for Harper’s Monthly Magazine in the early 1900s were later collected as the very popular Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates, “Fiction, Fact & Fancy concerning the Buccaneers & Marooners of the Spanish Main”. The considerable gulf between fact and fiction can be see in early pirate portraits, most of which are crude woodcut renderings. Pyle ignored these for the most part, relying on imagination to exaggerate details of worn-out 18th century clothing in much the same way that Sergio Leone and others exaggerated certain qualities of 19th century garb for their Westerns, turning what would have been a rather sorry reality into something more visually thrilling. Hollywood costume designers have used Pyle’s paintings as source material for pirate characters ever since so it’s perhaps fitting that Johnny Depp’s conception of Jack Sparrow’s character also came from a painting, Paul Karslake’s portrait of Keith Richards posing as a pirate. And now Richards is in the latest film playing Sparrow’s father…

Howard Pyle at 100 Years of Illustration
A Pyle pirate gallery

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Coming soon: Sea Monsters and Cannibals!
Seamen in great distress eat one another
Druillet meets Hodgson
Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys
Davy Jones