Art of Fencing


Race Imboden.

The Men with swords archive hasn’t received much attention recently, the last addition being in May 2012. Had I been more diligent I might have found a photo or two of American fencer Race Imboden before now, the picture above being one of many such images at a Pinterest page entitled Art of Fencing. Many of the pictures there are sport-related but the concerns are also a little less academic, in fact at least two of them are things I’ve posted myself in the past.

If you spend a lot of time scouring the web for images then Pinterest has become very useful, very quickly with all manner of niches and micro-niches covered. That this has happened just as Flickr has been rendered unusable by idiotic interface changes is especially welcome. So we’ll say farewell, Flickr, if we want more pictures of the pulchritudinous Race Imboden in future we’ll look here.

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John Austen’s Hamlet


The 1922 edition of Hamlet “decorated” by British artist John Austen (1886–1948) is a lot more visible today than it was a few years ago, thanks to a reprint by Dover Publications in their Calla Editions series. The scans here are from an original printing at VTS. Austen’s Hamlet is often rated as his chef d’oeuvre, and with good reason, he manages to lend some visual splendour to a play whose concerns are a lot more introspective than the usual illustration standards of The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Masks, swords and skulls are recurrent symbols. Yes, the drawings owe a great deal to Harry Clarke’s example—all those manga faces, spiny fingers and swathes of black—but that’s no bad thing if you can pull it off. If you’re going to borrow a style then you may as well take from the best.





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Ray Harryhausen, 1920–2013


Concept art for Jason and the Argonauts (1963).

He could also draw, something the obituaries won’t necessarily mention. I wasn’t aware of Ray Harryhausen’s many detailed preliminary drawings until I had the good fortune to see him give a talk at the Preston SF Group in the early 1990s. I recall mention being made of Gustave Doré as an influence, something that wasn’t so surprising given that Harryhausen’s animation career began with Willis O’Brien, animator of the original Kong. The Skull Island sets for King Kong owed much to Doré’s illustrations, and the film also made use of equally detailed preliminary drawings by O’Brien, Byron Crabbe and Mario Larrinaga.

I was going to link to Jason and company’s celebrated fight with the skeletons but the only clips on YouTube at the moment lack Bernard Herrmann’s superb score. The Harryhausen/Schneer films always had low budgets but the producers understood the importance of music, and employed Herrmann on four of their films: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), The Three Worlds of Gulliver (1960), Mysterious Island (1961) and Jason and the Argonauts (1963). Miklós Rózsa provided the score for The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) so here’s a favourite moment from that film with John Philip Law and Martin Shaw tackling Tom Baker’s sword-wielding Kali statue.

Ray Harryhausen’s production drawings can be seen in The Art of Ray Harryhausen (2005).

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Swords against death

Swords against death


Earlier this week Mr BibliOdyssey posted a link on Twitter to a blog entry of his from 2008, a collection of prints by Dutch artist Alexander Ver Huell (1822–1897). If I’d seen his post originally I didn’t recall it so this swordfight gives me an opportunity to draw attention to Ver Huell’s macabre and diabolical work. This unwinnable duel brings to mind the battle with the band of skeletons from Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts (1963), one of my favourite things in the whole world when I was 10. Given how many of the pictures in the Men with swords archive have a quasi-classical theme it’s perhaps appropriate to list Jason and co. among them.


Tamotsu Yato’s men with katanas


Unidentified model from Otoko (1972).

Two photos by Tamotsu Yato (c. 1928–1973), a pioneer of homoerotic photography in Japan who published his work in three collections: Young Samurai: Bodybuilders of Japan (1967), Naked festival: A Photo-Essay (1969), and Otoko: Photo-Studies of the Young Japanese Male (1972). Yukio Mishima introduced the first two volumes, and also appeared in the first posing with a sword. The third book was dedicated to Mishima’s memory. This site has a selection from each of the books while Richard Hawkins’ site has a fascinating overview of the photographer’s life and work. Via Form is Void.


Yukio Mishima from Young Samurai: Bodybuilders of Japan (1967).

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Forbidden Colours
Mishima’s Rite of Love and Death