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

Frank Frazetta, 1928–2010

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Conan the Adventurer aka The Barbarian (1965).

How to appraise Frank Frazetta? In November last year I wrote about this Conan portrait for an SF Signal Mind Meld feature on favourite book covers:

The covers that launched a thousand imitators. Lancer’s series of Conan books in the 1960s were the first appearance of Howard’s barbarian in paperback and came sporting cover art by Frank Frazetta. A great example of artist and subject being perfectly matched, these are the standard by which all subsequent barbarian art must be judged. Frazetta’s painting of a brooding warrior lord (which he reworked slightly for its poster edition) is for me the definitive portrait of Howard’s hero, battle scarred and proudly malevolent, with a chauvinistic blur of trophy female clinging at his feet. Other artists can do the muscles and monsters but none capture the physical presence and brute animality of Howard’s characters the way Frazetta does.

I found Frazetta’s work through the great series of fantasy art books which Pan/Ballantine published in the 1970s. I hadn’t read any Robert E Howard at the time, I only knew the diluted version of the Conan character in the Marvel comics series but Frazetta’s work was so powerful it was a spur to search out Howard, especially when I read that the writer had been a pen-pal of HP Lovecraft. I was never as interested in Frazetta’s other staple inspiration, Edgar Rice Burroughs, probably because Tarzan was too familiar from films and TV.

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The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta (1975).

Both Howard and Frazetta defined a milieu which combined an intensity of vision with a projection of their own personalities into the worlds they created. (Many of Frazetta’s protagonists resemble their creator.) Both suffered from having that intensity of vision watered-down by ham-fisted imitators or the vulgarisations of films and comics. Howard’s Conan stories at their best are a blend of heavyweight adventure story with supernatural horror; many of them were first published in Weird Tales magazine alongside other masters of the weird like Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. What impressed me about Frazetta’s paintings was the way he managed to capture a sense of eldritch weirdness as well as the more obvious barbaric adventure in a manner which eluded so many of the sword and sorcery illustrators who followed. What’s even more remarkable when you read interviews is that he seemed to do all this instinctively. He’d learned from looking at earlier artists such as J Allen St John, Howard Pyle, Frank Schoonover and Roy Krenkel, and found the means to apply their painting style to his own internal aesthetics and sense of drama.

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Swords of Mars (1974).

Aesthetics is one of the things I always come back to with Frazetta. I used to pore over these paintings wondering how it was that all the details of weapons and decor seemed absolutely right. Nothing was ever over-worked or too elaborate. Where did this invention come from? The other obvious feature is a raw sexiness which pervades everything. I’ve had people tell me that Frazetta must have been bisexual because of the equal care he lavished on his male and female figures. I’ve always disagreed with this. The point about Frazetta’s world is that everything is sexy: the people, the decor, the architecture, the animals, even the monsters; so naturally the men are going to be as sexy as the women. In addition, he wasn’t afraid of giving his men real balls (so to speak) unlike the endless parade of costumed eunuchs filling the comic books. These figures may be dealing death but they’re filled with vigour and life when they’re doing it.

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Bran Mak Morn (1969).

I said everything is sexy; I’ll make an exception for the extraordinary painting of Bran Mak Morn and his tribal horde, a picture of feral nightmarishness that goes beyond mere illustration and makes you feel the artist has shown you an atavistic glimpse of ages past. Robert E Howard would have been thrilled to see his characters brought to life with this kind of visceral intensity. For years Howard’s fiction was dismissed as pulp, now he’s a Penguin Modern Classic. And it’s as a modern classic that I’ll continue to think of Frank Frazetta.

Unofficial gallery site

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Frazetta: Painting with Fire
The monstrous tome
Men with snakes
My pastiches
Fantastic art from Pan Books

Design as virus 11: Burne Hogarth

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Mighty Baby (1969). Illustration by Martin Sharp.

Yet another album cover prompts this post, part of an occasional series. Mighty Baby were a British rock band who formed out of psychedelic group The Action in the late Sixties, and their music is fairly typical of the period, being “heavy” without any of the psych trappings which—for me—often make everything from that time a lot more interesting. This was a journey undertaken by many groups at the end of that lurid decade, a junking of the playful and evocative side of what was now called rock music in favour of a denim-clad earnestness. This album isn’t one I like very much—I’d rather listen to their earlier incarnation—but the cover painting by psych artist Martin Sharp is certainly a startling piece, being a violent mutation of one of the most famous Tarzan drawings by comic artist Burne Hogarth.

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Tarzan by Burne Hogarth (194?).

Hogarth was drawing Tarzan for much of the 1940s and this particular panel showing the Ape-Man attacking Numa the lion dates from the latter part of his run on the series. I wish I could pin this to an actual year but I don’t have a complete set of the comics and that detail eluded me. If anyone knows the date, please leave a comment.

Continue reading “Design as virus 11: Burne Hogarth”

Picasso-esque

picasso1.jpgJessica Helfand at Design Observer draws attention to Mr Picassohead, a site which allows you to create your own Picasso-style portraits. The interface doesn’t have as much choice of elements as the Simpsonizer did but messing around with it this afternoon yielded a passable rendering of David Britton’s Lord Horror.

This idling reminded me that I’ve yet to finish reworking the Lord Horror series Reverbstorm which I’ve been engaged with on and off for the past year. The handful of people actually waiting for this magnum opus should know that other work and new Savoy projects keep intervening at the moment. Anyone who saw the original comics will be aware that pastiching Picasso was a consistent theme from issue five onwards. For those who haven’t seen the comics (and few people have…) I’ve posted a couple of the original Picasso-esque Horrors below, beginning with a more representational view of his Lordship for those unfamiliar with the appearance of the man.

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A 1997 portrait which owes much to the style of Burne Hogarth‘s later Tarzan illustrations.

Continue reading “Picasso-esque”

Czanara: The Art & Photographs of Raymond Carrance

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Untitled photo print.

A fantastic exhibition of photographs, drawings and engravings by Raymond Carrance, aka Czanara, opens today at Wessel + O’Connor Fine Art, New York, running until June 21, 2008. For those of us who can’t get to see it there’s a selection of the works on show at their site which immediately increases the web visibility of this artist by several orders of magnitude.

Carrance was a photographer and book illustrator who, working mostly in the 1950’s and 60’s, created a private body of homoerotic dreamscape’s under the pseudonym ‘Czanara’. The exhibit shines new light on Carrance’s art, which is certainly courageous and innovative, especially for its time.

One of the last great unknown erotic artists of the 20th century, his work is somewhat reminiscent of the magic realism style of the painters Paul Cadmus and Jared French, yet done in a photographic medium. Using overlays of abstract graphics over dreamy images of languid young men at play, his work is a meditative pondering of the artist’s psyche. The work is reverential, distinctly European, yet never exploitative.

Carrance, who lived from 1921–1998, was also responsible for illustrating with elaborate etchings and lithographs the works of Jules Renard and Cyrano de Bergerac, as well as an edition of Henry de Montherlant’s 1951 gay classic La Ville dont Le Prince est un Enfant (The Land Whose King is a Child). There will be examples of this riveting work, as well as his compelling drawings, on view as well. Having died with no heirs, his work was sold at auction by the French state, but luckily fell into the hands of a bookseller who we have to thank for it finally seeing the light of day.

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Untitled engraving (c. 1950s).

Among the items worthy of note is the above engraving which is another version of the hermaphrodite angel picture I posted in March last year. The other engravings are equally fascinating, looking at times like gay equivalents of Hans Bellmer.

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May 4, 1953.

There’s also the drawing above which raises a curious artistic conundrum by being very reminiscent of the work of comic artist Burne Hogarth. A couple of weeks after posting the Czanara angel picture I pointed out the similarity between the film poster for Premonition and one of Hogarth’s panels from Jungle Tales of Tarzan, both of which use the trick of making faces out of tree branches. (I also noted that Dalí was doing similar things before almost everyone else.) Czanara’s 1953 drawing not only contains very Hogarthesque figures but does the same thing with the branches to make a skull face. The curious thing here is that Czanara’s picture predates Hogarth’s Tarzan book by more than twenty years. It’s very unlikely that Hogarth would have seen Czanara’s work; given that Hogarth was made world famous by his Tarzan strips of the 1940s it’s more likely that Czanara knew Hogarth’s work although none of his Sunday strips contained these kind of pictorial tricks and I’ve not seen any example of Hogarth doing this in the 1950s. I also haven’t yet seen the recent book about Czanara so can’t say what light has been shed on his artistic influences. If anyone can solve this mystery (which may simply be coincidence, of course), please leave a note in the comments.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The gay artists archive
The etching and engraving archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The skull beneath the skin
A premonition of Premonition
Czanara’s Hermaphrodite Angel
The art of Paul Cadmus, 1904–1999