Illustrating Zothique

zothique00.jpg

Cover art by George Barr, 1970.

A few years ago I wrote a short piece about Virgil Finlay’s illustrations for a Zothique story by Clark Ashton Smith, The Garden of Adompha, so this post may be regarded as a more substantial sequel. If Smith remains something of a cult author then Zothique is the pre-eminent cult creation from his career as a writer of weird fiction. Most of Smith’s stories can be grouped together according to their location: Atlantis, Hyperborea, Averoigne in medieval France, the planet Mars, and so on. Zothique was a more original conception than his other worlds, being the last continent on Earth in the final years of the planet, an idea which had precedents in earlier novels such as William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land but which hadn’t been used before as a setting for a cycle of stories. The distant future suggests science fiction but, as with the Zothique-influenced Dying Earth of Jack Vance, science and technology is long-forgotten and sorcery rules the day. The poetry that Smith wrote before he took to writing short stories had a distinctly Decadent quality—”like a verbal Gustave Moreau painting“—and Zothique is a richly Decadent world, with the entire planet in a state of decay along with its barbarous, demon-worshipping peoples.

zothique01.jpg

Weird Tales, September 1932. Art by T. Wyatt Nelson.

All the Zothique stories had their first printings in Weird Tales, a magazine that ran illustrations with most contributions, but unless you’re a pulp collector many of the illustrations have been difficult to see until very recently. One of the pleasures of looking through fiction magazines is seeing how their stories might have been illustrated when they were first published. Popular tales eventually find their way into book collections but their illustrations tend to be marooned in the titles where they first appeared unless the artist is of sufficient merit to warrant a collection of their own.

zothique02.jpg

Weird Tales, March 1933. Art by Jayem Wilcox.

The examples here are all from recent uploads at the Internet Archive which now has a complete run of Weird Tales from 1923 to 1954. The illustrations also run in order of publication with links to the relevant issues, although I agree with Lin Carter’s ordering of the stories. Smith never organised them himself, and the later reprints from Arkham House and others tend to scatter them through separate volumes. When Lin Carter edited the Zothique collection in 1970 he put the stories into an order that follows the very loose chronology running through the cycle.

zothique06.jpg

Weird Tales, January 1934. Art by Clark Ashton Smith.

One surprise of this search was discovering that Smith himself had provided illustrations for several of the stories. Some Smith enthusiasts like his drawings and paintings but I’m afraid I’m not among them, his sculpture work is better. It’s doubtful that these would have been printed at all if they weren’t the work of the author.

Continue reading “Illustrating Zothique”

Picturing Vermilion Sands

knight2.jpg

First UK edition, 1971. Art by Brian Knight.

Vermilion Sands (1971) is a story collection by JG Ballard which maintains a cult reputation even while being overshadowed by its author’s more popular (and notorious) novels. Most of the stories were written in the 1960s, and a couple of the pieces are among Ballard’s earliest works, but where many of his other short stories can read like the work of a writer with bills to pay, the tales of Vermilion Sands are much closer to Ballard’s core interests, filled with symbolic resonance and literary allusion.

Vermilion Sands, the place, is a near-future resort with a desert climate and an unspecified location, where the Côte d’Azur meets Southern California but the ocean is a sea of sand. The inhabitants are the idle midde-class types who populate all of Ballard’s work, and each story has a different artistic or cultural theme. Ballard was more receptive to visual art, especially painting, than many authors, particularly the SF writers of his generation for whom art was less interesting than science and technology. There is science and technology in these stories (some of the latter is now inevitably dated) but it doesn’t dominate the proceedings. The stories derive less from scientific speculation than from Ballard’s desire to create a future he would have been happy to inhabit himself, an alternative to the grim dystopias which proliferate in science fiction. The background furnishings also reflect the author’s ideal, owing much to the Surrealist landscapes of Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst, a pair of artists whose works are often referenced in Ballard’s fiction. Given all of this you’d expect that cover artists might have risen to the challenge more than they have. What follows is a look at the more notable attempts to depict Vermilion Sands or its population, only a few of which are covers for the book itself.

Continue reading “Picturing Vermilion Sands”

Illustrating Lovecraft again

dunwich.jpg

The Dunwich Horror (1972). Art by Victor Valla.

El horror de Dunwich y otros relatos is the last of the books I was working on earlier this year for Spanish publisher Editorial Alma. This was a more stimulating Lovecraft collection to work on than the previous two-story volume since three of the stories were ones I hadn’t dealt with before. The fourth story, The Dunwich Horror, I partly illustrated back in 1988/89, and I took the liberty of reusing the best of that set of pages showing Wilbur Whateley’s messy demise. This picture has been reprinted a few times elsewhere so I was reluctant to recycle it again, but the collision of deadlines earlier this year meant that once again I was pressed for time on this book, and having an illustration already done was a great help. It’s taken me 30 years to finally get round to depicting Wilbur’s monstrous brother.

hpl11.jpg

The Dunwich Horror 1.

hpl12.jpg

The Dunwich Horror 2.

hpl13.jpg

The Dunwich Horror 3.

hpl14.jpg

The Dunwich Horror 4.

Continue reading “Illustrating Lovecraft again”

Crystal balls

crystal04.jpg

The Crystal Ball (c. 1900) by Robert Anning Bell.

Crystal balls in art, film and the pulp magazines.

crystal05.jpg

The Crystal Ball (1902) by John William Waterhouse.

crystal02.jpg

Alexander, Crystal Seer (1910).

Continue reading “Crystal balls”

Weekend links 200

fukaya.jpg

Untitled etching by Etsuko Fukaya, 2005.

• “By the time Scorsese met Powell, in 1975, the British director had fallen on hard times and was largely ignored by the UK film establishment.” A London office used by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is given the Blue Plaque treatment.

• Ambient reminiscences at The Quietus: Wyndham Wallace on the genesis of Free-D (Original Soundtrack) by Ecstasy Of St Theresa, and Ned Raggett on Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works II.

• “Even Queen Victoria was prescribed tincture of cannabis,” writes Richard J. Miller in Drugged: the Science and Culture Behind Psychotropic Drugs. Steven Poole reviewed the book.

I don’t relate to standard psychologizing in novels. I don’t really believe that the backstory is the story you need. And I don’t believe it’s more like life to get it—the buildup of “character” through psychological and family history, the whole idea of “knowing what the character wants.” People in real life so often do not know what they want. People trick themselves, lie to themselves, fool themselves. It’s called survival, and self-mythology.

Rachel Kushner talking to Jonathan Lee

Sound Houses by Walls is a posthumous collaboration based on a collection of “weird sonic doodles” by electronic composer Daphne Oram. FACT has a preview.

The skeletal trees of Borth forest, last alive 4,500 years ago, were uncovered in Cardigan Bay after the recent storms stripped the sand from the beach.

Stephen O’Malley talks to Jamie Ludwig about Terrestrials, the new album by Sunn O))) and Ulver. There’s another interview here.

• At BibliOdyssey: Takushoku Graphic Arts—graphic design posters by contemporary Japanese artists.

• The Unbearable Heaviness of Being: Dave Segal on the rumbling splendour of Earth 2.

So Much Pileup: “Graphic design artifacts and inspiration from the 1960s – 1980s.”

• Lots of illustrations by Virgil Finlay being posted at The Golden Age just now.

• Mix of the week: Episode #114 by Lustmord at Electric Deluxe.

Lucinda Grange’s daredevil photography. There’s more here.

Experimental music on Children’s TV

Kazumasa Nagai at Pinterest.

• Teeth Of Lions Rule The Divine (1993) by Earth | He Who Accepts All That Is Offered (Feel Bad Hit Of The Winter) (2002) by Teeth Of Lions Rule The Divine | Big Church (megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért) (2009) by Sunn O)))