Hazardous design

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Cover design by Elizabeth Story.

Our present viral moment reminded me that I hadn’t written anything about Peter Watts is an Angry Sentient Tumor, a collection of essays by Canadian science-fiction writer Peter Watts whose interiors I designed for Tachyon last autumn. Watts has a special interest in biology, and several of the pieces in the collection are partly or wholly concerned with pandemics; needless to say, when I was adding a biohazard symbol to one of these pages six months ago I didn’t expect such a situation to be the event that defined the coming year, although for anyone who’s read enough SF (or horror, for that matter), potentialities like this tend to lurk in the back of your mind. Watts’ essays are mostly blog entries—much more substantial ones than the brief things I usually file here—together with a few articles from print sources. The contents range from polemics about police violence and the creeping surveillance state to personal entries covering his late brother, his father’s closeted sexuality, his beloved cats, and a near-fatal experience with a flesh-eating virus. There are also film reviews, scientific speculations and musings/warnings about global calamities, especially the climate variety. His writing is consistently witty, engaging and thought-provoking. The book was a pleasure to read as well as work on.

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As with other interiors I’ve designed for Tachyon, I took the design cues from the cover, which in this case was the work of Elizabeth Story. The internal graphics are a combination of writhing tentacles and hazard/warning signs, the latter being taken unaltered from public information sets or adapted to suit the content of the piece. In a way they’re a sequel to the Tarot symbols I designed in 2006 based on graphics from the international symbols commonly used in public buildings. The bespoke designs were fun to create, and required some ingenuity in places: how do you show global warming in a simple, wordless symbol? My solution was to put a globe in a frying pan. There are 50 essays in all so the examples shown here represent a fifth of the book.

For an idea of Watts’ writing together with his thoughts about the pandemic, his most recent post is here. He’s not the only person who’s been saying we should expect more events like this one in the future.

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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

Weekend links 351

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Herald on Griffin (1516-1518) from The Triumphal Procession of Emperor Maximilian I series by Hans Burgkmair the Elder.

• My design and illustration work for Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling continues to gain favourable comments, a novelty when reviewers often pass over the visual component of the books under their consideration. One of the most recent examples is in the latest edition of Locus Magazine; this can only be read in full by subscribers but the Tachyon Tumblr has an extract.

Paul La Farge on the complicated friendship of HP Lovecraft and Robert Barlow. Related: The Night Ocean, a short story by Barlow & Lovecraft. Meanwhile, Lovecraft enthusiasts are still raising money for a Providence statue (spot my art and design work in the photo of the Lovecraft Art and Sciences Council).

• At The Quietus this week: Children Of Alice talk to Patrick Clarke about audio collage and English Surrealism, Lottie Brazier enters The Strange World of Annette Peacock, and Manuel Göttsching tells Robert Barry how Ash Ra Tempel became the loudest band in Berlin.

• “Mind the doors!” Eight reviewers pick ten films featuring the London Underground. Not a bad list but choosing a Doctor Who film while ignoring the great Quatermass and the Pit (1967) is an error.

• Mixes of the week: Swedenborgian Hobos by acephale, Secret Thirteen Mix 214 by Fabio Perletta, and a mix for NTS by Six Organs Of Admittance.

• More Surrealism: Leonor Fini, Surrealist Sorceress, a lecture by Dr Sabina Stent, will take place at Treadwell’s Bookshop, London, on 19th May.

• “Michael Chapman’s road-weary guitar resonates with a new generation,” says Joel Rose.

A Journey Round my Room (1794), a book by Xavier de Maistre.

Lyrical Nitrate (1991), a film by Peter Delpeut.

The Sorcerer (1967) by Miles Davis | Impressions Of Sorcerer (1977) by Tangerine Dream | Venom Sorcerer (2014) by Cultural Apparati

Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling

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Here at last is the small hardback book I spent most of February and March working on. Pirate Utopia is published this week, and I’m pleased that it’s been very well received, with reviews drawing attention to the illustration and design as well as the text. This is a dieselpunk alternate history which begins in 1920:

WHO are these bold revolutionaries pillaging their confused European neighbours? The Futurists! Utopian outlaws of Italy’s tiny Regency of Carnaro, unlikely scourge of the Adriatic Sea!

It is the end of the Great War, and yet there is unrest in newly formed Carnaro. Carnaro is utterly in thrall to all things new, no matter how impractical or improbable. Futurism unites artists, pirates, propagandists, veterans, scientists, and libertines alike; military innovation and unabashed gratification rule the day. No one will rest until they crush Europe’s communists, capitalists, fascists, and bewildered coastal townsfolk.

But some have theorized that the Soldier-Citizens of Carnaro are not completely sane. At the dawn of mutiny, they are led by on ever-changing, passionate coterie, which may include:

* Lorenzo Secondari, the infamous Pirate Engineer, leader of ferocious Croatian raiders (and theatre enthusiasts)
* Blanka Piffer, staunch patriot and smartly clad Syndicalist manager of a torpedo factory staffed exclusively by women
* The Prophet, charismatic warrior-poet ruthless dictator, and very active proponent of free love
* The Ace of Hearts, dashing aristocrat spy, yogi, drug pusher, and combat pilot
* The Art Witch, the compelling Milanese millionairesse in the inner circle and mysterious, avid occultist

Two infamous Americans have arrived in Carnaro offering a Faustian bargain. Will HP Lovecraft and Houdini betray their own nation, and lead the Futurists to international glory?

No need to emphasis the pertinence of a story of global political turmoil appearing at this point in time. Back in March the traumas of Brexit and the US election were mere possibilities rather than the unavoidable facts they are today. Pirate Utopia doesn’t necessarily reflect the present moment but some of the resonances are, shall we say, suggestive. Bruce Sterling, as noted earlier, is a futurist (as distinct from a Futurist), and had this to say recently about the current state of affairs.

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The chapter spreads and other interior graphics run variations of the works of Fortunato Depero and others. Depero was an ideal choice not only because his work tends to the cartoonish—this is a humorous book about serious matters—but much of it is bold and monochromatic, ideal for deployment as black-and-white graphics. Ordinarily I’d write a little more about the art influences, but since I already did so inside the book itself it seems better to encourage those who want to know more to buy a copy. You can, however, see a few more of the page layouts here. A book about Interesting Times for Interesting Times. Join the Futurist Revolution!

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Futurismo!

Weekend links 314

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Avebury Kite (2006) by David Alderslade.

• “Klaus Mann, son of Thomas Mann, author of Mephisto, was one of the first in Germany to write gay novels and plays.” Walter Holland reviews Cursed Legacy: The Tragic Life of Klaus Mann by Frederic Spotts.

The Pale Brown Thing, a shorter/alternate version of Fritz Leiber’s supernatural masterwork, Our Lady of Darkness, is given a limited reprinting by Swan River Press next month.

• “Not only is metal not directly harmful to adolescent minds, as the thinking goes, it may actually be helpful.” Christine Ro on the reappraisal of a once-suspect musical genre.

Something of that tension between past and future is visible in Beardsley’s work. It is the art of a dying era peering, with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, into the next. For all the prancing and bravado, Beardsley’s art was really about finding something in which to believe—and if Beardsley came to believe in anything it was the deep black line. Shading held little interest for Beardsley, and color fascinated him not at all. The black line and white space were all he needed.

Morgan Meis on Aubrey Beardsley

• More of my art for Bruce Sterling’s forthcoming Dieselpunk novella, Pirate Utopia, has been revealed. Tachyon will be publishing the book in November.

• “Secretly, though, I frequent junk shops because I am wishing for some kind of transcendence,” says Luc Sante.

• Mixes of the week: Gizehcast #28 by Christine Ott, and a mix for The Wire by Asher Levitas.

• “It took centuries, but we now know the size of the Universe.” Chris Baraniuk explains.

Barnbrook Studios creates identity for Kubrick exhibition at Somerset House.

• Watch a haunting video from Subtext Recordings and Eric Holm.

• Folklore Tapes: A Rum Music Special by Joseph Burnett.

Brion Gysin’s Dreamachine is on sale again.

Rhys Chatham’s favourite albums.

A Guide to Occult London

Skulls and Bones

Zero Time (1979) by Chrome | Zero-Gravity (1996) by Sidewinder |  Zero Moment (2016) by Contact