Du Tac au Tac: Druillet, Hogarth and Buscema

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I thought I was done with Druillet for this week but no, there’s more. I hadn’t come across Du Tac au Tac before, a French TV show from the early 70s in which three (sometimes four) different comic artists are given a total of 15 minutes to improvise a drawing on a single board. The list of contributors is a who’s who of comic talent from France, Belgium, America and elsewhere. French TV site Ina.fr (which is pay-to-view) has 130 episodes in their archive, many of which have found their way onto YouTube. Druillet was a regular contributor, as was Moebius.

I’ve singled out this episode from 1972 for the astonishing conjunction of Druillet with Burne Hogarth, two artists with a considerable influence on my own comics work. Without the example of Heavy Metal magazine in general, and Druillet in particular, I might not have bothered trying to adapt Lovecraft’s stories into comics in the 1980s; at one point I was prepared to put together a book of stories-plus-illustrations along the lines of Berni Wrightson’s Frankenstein. Burne Hogarth, meanwhile, casts a Tarzan-shaped shadow over the darker shadows of the Reverbstorm series, his work being quoted throughout, especially in the appropriation of the bizarre and sinister Ononoes from the Tarzan Sunday strips. The third artist present, John Buscema, is notable if only for representing the comics creation that I like the least: the over-muscled, flat-groined, stupidly-costumed, always-fighting, corporate superhero. As it is, Buscema doesn’t fare too well in this exchange, sketching a half-hearted Silver Surfer while Hogarth (who was left-handed; don’t think I knew that) draws a profile of Tarzan in pastels, and Druillet works furiously with markers to create a typical melange of bat-winged demon, alien glyph and screaming head. I’ve not watched any of the other episodes yet but for those interested there are two channels of the things here and here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Sorcerer: Druillet and Friedkin
Ô Sidarta: a film about Philippe Druillet
Lovecraft: Démons et Merveilles
Heavy Metal, October 1979: the Lovecraft special
Philippe Druillet album covers
Druillet’s vampires
Salammbô illustrated
Druillet meets Hodgson

Reverbstorm at Supervert

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Keith Seward’s Horror Panegyric was a concise examination of David Britton’s multimedia Lord Horror project which Savoy Books published in 2007. I designed the book, the cover of which was my Arcimboldo pastiche of Lord Horror’s profile which appeared on the cover of issue 3 of Reverbstorm. The Supervert site which hosts an online copy of Horror Panegyric has this month posted my answers to some questions about Reverbstorm, the series having grown out of the first Lord Horror novel and the earlier comics:

The graphics in Reverbstorm sometimes seem more narrative than the words. How did you and David work out a scenario?

I don’t have objections per se to the usual story structures but in this series we both wanted to create something that wasn’t following familiar adventure narrative lines. The precedents for me were the European comic artists from Métal Hurlant who often favoured art over story; also Burne Hogarth whose work was a great influence on the style I used to draw Lord Horror. Hogarth’s Tarzan strips are adventure narratives but in his later books it’s the art that’s paramount. James Joyce is one of the characters in Reverbstorm, and you can also find a precedent in Ulysses where the story is overwhelmed by the surface detail.

Reverbstorm began with Paul Temple’s lyrics for the Reverbstorm song and a brief Lord Horror film treatment that Dave and Mike had put together for a production company. I don’t recall much about the treatment — I only looked at it once in the office — but it concerned Horror and Jessie Matthews in New York City, opening with a sequence where his Lordship kills some policemen in an alleyway. That vague outline can be seen in the first few pages of Reverbstorm with NYC changed to Torenbürgen. Other elements taken from the film treatment included the name Blue Blaze Laudanum — the actual robotic character came later — and the Souls which likewise became more substantially developed as the comic progressed.

Once we’d introduced all the characters things developed along thematic lines rather than strictly narrative ones. So the second part introduces the Ether Jumpers, the third part has the Apes, the fourth part the Ononoes, the fifth part Picasso and T.S. Eliot, and so on. Musical structure is an obvious parallel, and I consider some of the recurring background material to be visual leifmotifs which can indicate or imply one of the three main characters even if they aren’t present on the page. This musical analogy is an important one for appreciating the series as a whole. The entwined themes and references work in a manner that’s a lot closer to musical works than to the mechanics of an adventure narrative. (more)

Previously on { feuilleton }
Reverbstorm in print
Reverbstorm update
James Joyce in Reverbstorm
A Reverbstorm jukebox
Reverbstorm: Bauhaus Horror
Reverbstorm: an introduction and preview

Reverbstorm on sale

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At long last, the news that many people have been waiting for: the Reverbstorm book is now on sale at Savoy. From the hyperbolic press release:

“Surfin’ bird Bbbbbbbbbbrbrbrbrbrb…awawawawawawawaaaaaah! A-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-ooma-mow-mow Papa-oom-mow-mow!” The Trashmen, Surfin’ Bird

Welcome to the nightmare metropolis of Torenbürgen, where New York’s Art Deco architecture has fused with the termination machinery of Auschwitz. In this urban inferno Jessie Matthews is singing Sondheim, James Joyce is at work on a new novel and Lord Horror, ex-Nazi propaganda broadcaster and Torenbürgen’s model citizen, is stalking the streets in search of fresh victims for his razors. Murderous apes infest the alleyways, Ononoes feast on the living and the dead, while above the rooftops the Soul of the Virgin Mary drifts like a swollen Lovecraftian dirigible, picking at bodies destined for the charnel furnaces.

Lord Horror: Reverbstorm is a unique graphic collaboration between writer David Britton, the author of four Lord Horror novels, and artist John Coulthart, whose book of Lovecraft-derived comic strips and illustrations, The Haunter of the Dark, featured a collaboration with Alan Moore. Reverbstorm was originally published in serial form and is now being presented in a single volume for the very first time. Britton’s debut novel, Lord Horror (1990), was the last work of fiction to be banned in the UK; an earlier Lord Horror comic series, Hard Core Horror, was also banned by a British court in 1995. Coulthart’s death-camp artwork from the final issue in that series appears in Reverbstorm as a prelude to the main narrative.

There’s never been a comic like this surreal collision between Modernist art and pulp aesthetics, a world where Finnegans Wake is drenched in Alligator Wine and Picasso’s Guernica is invaded by Tarzan’s simian hordes. Ambitious, transgressive and meticulously rendered, Reverbstorm is one answer to the eternal question posed by those cultural philosophers, The Cramps: “How far can too far go?”

“Bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronn-
tuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!”
James Joyce, Finnegans Wake

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Reverbstorm in print
Reverbstorm update
James Joyce in Reverbstorm
A Reverbstorm jukebox
Reverbstorm: Bauhaus Horror
Reverbstorm: an introduction and preview

Reverbstorm: an introduction and preview

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Reverbstorm: 1994–2012.

Art, intellectual pursuits, the development of the natural sciences, many branches of scholarship flourished in close spacial, temporal proximity to massacre and the death camps. It is the structure and meaning of that proximity that must be looked at. […] But there is a […] danger. Not only is the relevant material vast and intractable: it exercises a subtle, corrupting fascination. Bending too fixedly over hideousness, one feels queerly drawn. In some strange way the horror flatters attention, it gives to one’s own limited means a spurious resonance. […] I am not sure whether anyone, however scrupulous, who spends time and imaginative resources on these dark places, can, or indeed, ought to leave them personally intact. Yet the dark places are at the centre. Pass them by and there can be no serious discussion of human potential.

George Steiner, In Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes Towards the Re-definition of Culture (1971)

Reverbstorm is an eight-part comic series which I began drawing in 1990. Last week I finished work on the final section, and also completed the layout and design for the collected edition, a 344-page volume which Savoy Books will be publishing later this year. All the artwork has been scanned afresh, re-lettered and, in a few places, improved to fix compromises and print errors present in the published issues. This unfinished project has been hanging over me for so long that I make this announcement with some relief. The book will be published without a foreword so this post can serve as an introduction for the uninitiated. But before I get to the details, some history.

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David Britton was the writer and instigator of Reverbstorm, the series being a continued exploration in the comics medium of his Lord Horror character. Lord Horror is an alternate-history equivalent of the real-life William Joyce, a member of the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s whose propaganda broadcasts to Britain from Nazi Germany during the Second World War led the press to dub him Lord Haw-Haw. The first five-part Lord Horror comic series, Hard Core Horror, showed the evolution of Horace William Joyce, aka Lord Horror, from charismatic politician to Nazi collaborator; the final two issues of the series concerned Horror’s involvement in the Holocaust. In Britton’s mythos James Joyce is the brother of Horace Joyce while Jessie Matthews, a popular British musical star of the 1930s, is Lord Horror’s wife. (Britton’s Lord Horror novels are examined in detail by Keith Seward in his Horror Panegyric essay.) My fellow artist at Savoy, Kris Guidio, drew the first four issues of Hard Core Horror; I drew issue five which was less a comic story, more a portfolio of static scenes of death-camp architecture. The series was well-received by regular Savoy readers but mostly ignored by the British comics world, with some justification: the comics were a glossy production but the narrative was very erratic, even technically inept in places. At Savoy the series was regarded as a failed experiment, Kris’s drawing style and flair for cartooning being more suited to the broad humour of the Meng & Ecker strips. But Dave liked what I’d done with the final issue and felt we could try something new that was also more original than a fictional skate through recent history.

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In addition to producing comics in the late 1980s, Savoy had been recording a number of eccentric cover versions, most of them sung by PJ Proby. A music journalist, Paul Temple, came to interview Proby about the songs and stayed in touch. He subsequently approached the company with a song of his own entitled Reverbstorm, a bombastic number best described as “Wagnerian Northern Soul” which Savoy recorded in 1993. (Temple recounts the origin of the song here.) This gave a title to the new comic series that Dave was planning, the story outline being expanded from a scenario that he and Savoy colleague Michael Butterworth had sketched out when a film company showed some fleeting interest in Lord Horror. Kris Guidio and I worked on the opening pages, the initial idea being that Kris would continue drawing the Lord while I would do everything else. Once I’d convinced Dave that I could draw his Lordship to his satisfaction I took over the series while Kris carried on with the Meng & Ecker comics. I spent most of 1991–1996 drawing the first seven parts of Reverbstorm which were published as separate comics during that period. The first issue came with a CD single of Paul Temple’s song which was sung by Sue Quinn but credited to Jessie Matthews. (It’s now available on iTunes.) The last part of the series was always going to be something that differed from the preceding sections but I didn’t know how this might manifest until 1997 when I painted a series of monochrome double-spreads intended to form backgrounds for Dave’s text. That’s where the series stalled after the paintings had improvised themselves to such a degree of abstraction and incoherence that I didn’t feel able to continue. The breakthrough came a couple of years ago when I started scanning all the artwork into the computer and thinking again about the series. I realised I could complete everything now that my computer graphics skills were adequate enough to complement the earlier issues whilst also adding something new.

Continue reading “Reverbstorm: an introduction and preview”

Virgil Finlay’s Tarzan

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Thanks are due to Ty Reutel for alerting my attention to this one. I’d no idea that the great Virgil Finlay had illustrated Tarzan but here’s the proof, one half of an interior drawing for The Quest of Tarzan in Argosy Weekly for 1941. That’s the first surprise, the second, of course, was that Finlay had copied Frederic Leighton’s Athlete Wrestling with a Python (1877) ( below), a sculpture which has been a subject of discussion here recently. I’ve mentioned before my including Leighton’s work in one of my Lovecraft adaptations; I referred to many other artworks in those stories but never made any direct reference to Virgil Finlay even though he was the original illustrator of Lovecraft’s The Haunter of the Dark when it was first published in Weird Tales in 1936. Finlay’s illustrations for that story later appeared with some of my own in the enormous Centipede Press collection of Lovecraft art so it’s strange to find that we were also led to the same Leighton sculpture.

Tarzan illustration has been in my thoughts for the past few weeks while I’ve been at work (again!) on the collected Reverbstorm, many pages of which played variations on Burne Hogarth’s comic adaptations of the Tarzan stories. Reverbstorm is at long last very close to being finally, absolutely finished, and ready for printing in a single definitive volume. No production schedule just yet but any news will be announced here.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Frederic Leighton’s sculptures
Virgil Finlay’s Salomé
Die Farbe and The Colour Out of Space
Lovecraft’s favourite artists revisited
Angelo Colarossi and son
The monstrous tome
Men with snakes