Weekend links 515

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A pair of Huysmans covers from 1978 designed by Gérard Deshayes.

• Friends of the great composer/musician Jon Hassell set up a GoFundMe account a few days ago to help raise money for Jon’s medical costs. It’s always dispiriting having to link to these fund-generators when they shouldn’t be required at all but until America sorts out its health situation this is how things are. For those who’d prefer to help Jon by buying his music, there’s a Bandcamp page with a handful of releases, and more available at Bleep, the online distributor of Warp Records who helped produce his last release, Listening To Pictures (Pentimento Volume One). Related: Words With The Shaman: Jon Hassell interviewed by Chris May.

• Every time I think I must have heard all the best of the early Kraftwerk concerts another one turns up. This new posting at YouTube is taken from a recent file upload at the concert-swapping site Dimedozen, and is believed to be a radio recording of the group playing in Vancouver, Canada, in 1975. It’s very good quality (some slight bleed from other stations) and features excellent versions of their concert repertoire at that time. The version of Autobahn is especially good.

• in 2009 Dana Mattocks built a machine he called Steampunk Frankenstein, a construction which was attended by a frame containing my first piece of steampunk art. Dana’s latest creation is TILT, the Robot with Rocket Jet-Pack.

• RIP Tony Allen, the drummer about whom Fela Kuti said “without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat”. Allen was interviewed by John Doran in 2012. Related: Tony Allen: the Afrobeat pioneer’s 10 finest recordings.

• “Robert Fripp’s ‘Music for Quiet Moments’ series. We will be releasing an ambient instrumental soundscape online every week for 50 weeks. Something to nourish us, and help us through these Uncertain Times.”

• How to avoid Amazon: the definitive guide to online shopping – without the retail titan; Hilary Osborne & Poppy Noor have some suggestions. I favour eBay for many of my purchases, large or small.

Adam Scovell on A Cinematic Lockdown: Confinement in the films of Alfred Hitchcock.

Liberty Realm, a book of art by Cathy Ward, is coming soon from Strange Attractor.

• One Great Reader: Luc Sante talks to Wes del Val about his favourite books.

• Oscar Wilde and the mystery of the scarab ring by Eleanor Fitzsimons.

Unica Zürn at Musée D’art Et D’histoire De L’hôpital Sainte-Anne.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 302 by Avizohar.

• Another concert: Tuxedomoon live in Rome in 1988.

Rarefilmm | The Cave of Forgotten Films.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Ghosts.

Ghost Song (1978) by Jim Morrison & The Doors | Ghost Song (2000) by Air | Ghost Song (2005) by Patrick Wolf

Of Mice and Minestrone

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I’ve done a lot of cover work this year, and there are still more designs waiting to be announced. Of Mice and Minestrone isn’t my usual line of work but it’s actually the third cover I’ve done for a Joe R. Lansdale book, although the previous titles were horror and steampunk respectively. The latest volume is a collection of crime stories, and an addition to Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard books, a series about a pair of Texan detectives whose popularity now extends to a TV show.

Crime presents many of the same challenges you find in other genres, all of which come with their own set of clichés which you can either choose to engage with or avoid. In the case of crime there’s a tendency for degraded typefaces to proliferate, along with variations on a red/black/white colour scheme. One of the early drafts of this design did use a red/black/white arrangement but I was told that Joe Lansdale was (unsurprisingly) tired of seeing this scheme applied to his own books. The title of the collection comes from the opening story which concerns the young Hap’s involvement with an older woman and her abusive husband; the marital abuse is resolved via a bowl of soup which has been poisoned with a dead rat, hence the title and the cover image. I like using pareidolia when I can, and the slightly unusual imagery pushed the appearance away from generic clichés (if you discount the bullets) towards the marvellously surreal covers that Tom Adams painted for Agatha Christie’s novels.

The background photo is a rare example of my using a stock image. The soup bowl looked fine from the outset but the background lacked a suitably ominous quality, and was at risk of looking too much like a recipe book. (As it happens there are some recipes by Kasey Lansdale following the fiction although I don’t think any require the use of dead rats.) After trying a number of different table surfaces I decided on a lateral approach so went searching for pictures of Texan storm clouds. The image we eventually used—a tornado over farmland near Patricia, Texas by John Finney at Getty Images—was the second one I tried and it worked so well we decided to keep it.

Of Mice and Minestrone will be published by Tachyon in March 2020 but is available for pre-order now.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Gods of HP Lovecraft
Lovecraft’s Monsters
Ten titles and a cover
Steampunk overloaded!
New things for April

The Joe Phenix Detective Series

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After six months of black-and-white drawing it’s been good to return to colour book covers of which this is the first of a new crop of designs. Albert W. Aiken (c.1846–1894) was a prolific American author of pulp fiction, whether writing under his own name or pseudonymously (and sometimes as a woman) for Dime Library, Banner Weekly, Saturday Journal and many other publications. Joe Phenix (also named Phoenix in later stories) was one of his more popular creations, a late-Victorian detective whose investigations ran to over 20 adventures. These tales are in the process of being made available by Mark Williams in ebook form so my task was to provide a single cover design that could function for all the titles.

In keeping with the new format, the style deployed here is mostly a pastiche of the dime novel idiom with a few contemporary touches. Many of the dime publications favoured a large box in the top third of the cover which would contain a typically florid title arrangement. The accompanying illustrations were often comparatively crude but the titles followed the style of the period with engraved drop shadows, gradients and lots of fine decoration. It’s fun to imitate this style although it can also be more time-consuming than contemporary design since everything has to be worked out one piece at a time. Several of the decorative elements on this cover are what printers used to refer to as “combination ornaments”, very small details which can be pieced together in a number of ways to form banners, borders and other motifs. Combination ornaments were a solution to the problem of working elaborate decoration into spaces of variable size and shape; instead of a pre-shaped design you’d shape the decoration to fit the space. They were also lucrative since printers charged for the use of each small element. In a digital composition such as this the joins between the pieces are invisible but in a period design you can often spot the combination pieces (especially in border designs) when the individual elements fail to line up properly. The figure with the gun, incidentally, is Mr Phenix himself, taken from the cover of Beadle’s Dime Library.

The first few Joe Phenix titles are available now at Amazon and other ebook outlets with further titles to follow.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The man who wasn’t Tesla
The George Dower Trilogy by KW Jeter
Steampunk in the Tank
More vapour trails
Steampunk catalogued
Steampunk: The Art of Victorian Futurism
Steampunk Calendar
Words and pictures
Nathanial Krill at the Time Node
Fiendish Schemes
Ghosts in Gaslight, Monsters in Steam
Steampunk Revolution
The Bookman Histories
Aether Cola
Crafting steampunk illustrations
SteamPunk Magazine
Morlocks, airships and curious cabinets
The Steampunk Bible
Steampunk Reloaded
Steampunk overloaded!
More Steampunk and the Crawling Chaos
Steampunk Redux
Steampunk framed
Steampunk Horror Shortcuts

The man who wasn’t Tesla

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Searching through old emails last week reminded me that a couple of years ago I’d supplied some art for use in a steampunk-themed bar in Gran Canaria. I would have mentioned this before now but, as is often the way with freelance commissions, once the negotiations were over I dispatched the art then heard nothing more about the project.

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A search for the bar this week revealed a number of things: the place in question is the Tesla Steampunk Bar in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria; the artwork did indeed get used to prominent effect, with the main elements of my picture being positioned behind the bar itself; and it wasn’t immediately obvious whether the place was still open. Subsequent searching (and some Google translating of the bar’s Facebook page) further revealed that the bar has been closed but is in the process of relaunching itself.

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As to the artwork, this was adapted from the second version of a design I produced for Jeff VanderMeer in 2008 to illustrate a semi-serious steampunk slogan of Jeff’s devising. Ten years ago steampunk was still a very minor subgenre, and one with few visual signifiers. I quickly hacked together a piece using imagery taken from the Dover Pictorial Archive series, a collection of books which are useful but whose engraved illustrations have since been plundered endlessly for this type of work.

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When I’m collaging things today I try and avoid using too much from the Dover books so I’ve been pained that this particular design, especially the goggle-wearing head, has proved so popular. Even when people haven’t asked to use the head itself I’ve been asked to do something similar, as was the case with the Aether Cola can I designed in 2012. The Tesla people used a stripped-down version of the colour design which I scaled to very large size. They also have a picture of the flying man on their wall but I’ve not found any good photos of him.

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The original head, meanwhile, was used again last year in a new design for yet another business. Dr Pieper is a steampunk-themed chip shop (yes, really) in Amsterdam, a place with very nice antique decor by the looks of their Instagram page. My variant designs may be seen in the window and in their advertising graphics.

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The head itself was found in Men, one of several collections of engraved illustrations edited for Dover Publications by Jim Harter. Some of Harter’s other books identify the pictures but not this one, so the identity of the portrait was unknown until, in my attempts to avoid the Dover books, I found a picture of Joseph Edgar Boehm in Hill’s Album of Biography and Art (1882). Boehm was a sculptor of a rather staid and respectable kind, being commissioned for royal portraiture among other things. I can’t imagine he’d be thrilled to find his posthumous image looking down on a drinking house and a chip shop, but sculptors often seem to be more easily forgotten than painters so he’s doing better than many of his contemporaries.

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And while on the subject of steampunk, I ought to note that there’s a steampunk convention taking place in Morecambe at the beginning of June. I won’t be in attendance (they did ask) but I said I’d mention the event here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The George Dower Trilogy by KW Jeter
Steampunk in the Tank
More vapour trails
Steampunk catalogued
Steampunk: The Art of Victorian Futurism
Steampunk Calendar
Words and pictures
Nathanial Krill at the Time Node
Fiendish Schemes
Ghosts in Gaslight, Monsters in Steam
Steampunk Revolution
The Bookman Histories
Aether Cola
Crafting steampunk illustrations
SteamPunk Magazine
Morlocks, airships and curious cabinets
The Steampunk Bible
Steampunk Reloaded
Steampunk overloaded!
More Steampunk and the Crawling Chaos
Steampunk Redux
Steampunk framed
Steampunk Horror Shortcuts

Weekend links 348

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The Masque of the Red Death (1932) by John Buckland Wright.

• Thanks to MeadesShrine I’ve been working my way through Jonathan Meades’ television essays so this is timely: The Plagiarist in the Kitchen, an “anti-cookbook” by the man with forthright opinions.

• “‘Decopunk’ deserves to be bigger than Steampunk,” says Sam Reader. I consider my work on Bruce Sterling’s Pirate Utopia to be more Futurist than Deco but the period is right.

• “Celebrating the cinematically surreal, bizarre, cult, oddball, fantastique, strange, psychedelic, and the just plain WEIRD!”: 366 Weird Movies

But Fascism is also a political and economic system. Why, then, cannot we have a clear and generally accepted definition of it? Alas! we shall not get one—not yet, anyway. To say why would take too long, but basically it is because it is impossible to define Fascism satisfactorily without making admissions which neither the Fascists themselves, nor the Conservatives, nor Socialists of any colour, are willing to make. All one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword.

George Orwell discussing the imprecise application of the “F” word

• At The Psychedelic Museum, a report on this month’s art show, Alice’s Adventures in Underground Culture.

M. John Harrison announces a new story collection which will be published later this year by Comma Press.

• Mixes of the week: Iceland: Foreboding Joy by Abigail Ward, and Secret Thirteen Mix 211 by Fluxion.

Daisy Woodward on how LSD adventures inspired John Waters’ Multiple Maniacs.

• More Moomins: Graeme Miller talks to Patrick Clarke about his soundtrack music.

• Some recent cultural highlights as chosen by Timothy J. Jarvis.

Benge presents a list of his favourite electronic albums.

Is this the underground Everest?

Strange Things Are Happening (1968) by Rings & Things | Strange Magic (1975) by Electric Light Orchestra | Strange (1977) by Wire |