Weekend links 520

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Cover art by Ethel le Rossignol for To Kiss Earth Goodbye by Teleplasmiste.

• I’ve been listening to London Zoo by The Bug this week so two new releases by The Bug’s beatmaster, Kevin Martin, seem well-timed. Martin’s music isn’t all pummelling rhythms and abrasive noise, he also favours doomy ambience, as demonstrated on his landmark compilation album, Isolationism (1994). The new releases, Frequencies For Leaving Earth, Vols 1 & 2, are isolationist in multiple senses of the word, being further products of lockdown life, with the second volume described as reflecting Martin’s “ongoing obsession with scarce sci-fi scores”.

• “It was designed to run counter to formalist & Hollywood Structuralist definitions & expectations.” M. John Harrison in a discussion about his cycle of Viriconium novels and stories. Harrison’s new novel, The Sunken Land Begins To Rise Again, will be published at the end of this month.

• Mix of the week: 31st May 2020 (Lovecraft 2) by French Rock Sampler, a recording of Warren Hatter’s radio show devoted to French underground, synth and progressive music of the 1970s. The current season may be heard each Sunday at 3pm (London time) on Resonance FM.

This is a very important book. It may even be a historic book, one with which gay history can arm itself with more sufficient factual veracity as to start vanquishing at last the devil known as queer studies. Queer studies is that stuff that is taught in place of gay history and which elevates theory over facts because its practitioners, having been unsuccessful in uncovering enough of the hard stuff, are haughtily trying to make do. […] It is not only breathtaking to read this all in a work the likes of which so many Americans long to have written about our own gay history, but when one finishes reading it, one utters an audible huge sigh of relief. Of course this is how it was! Why did we all not know and accept this instinctively without having to create and/or buy into the Foucaultian and Butlerian (to name but two) nightmares with the obtuse vocabularies they invented and demanded be utilized to pierce their dark inchoate spectacles of a world of their own imaginings. Homosexuality did not exist because there was no word for it, say they. What bushwa.

The late Larry Kramer in 2009 reviewing Before Wilde: Sex between Men in Britain’s Age of Reform by Charles Upchurch

• I mentioned in April that I’d designed the CD and vinyl packaging for Roly Porter’s latest album, Kistvaen. It’s another monumental release, and it’s out now. Hear it for yourself at The Quietus.

To Kiss Earth Goodbye, the new album from Teleplasmiste, features cover artwork by Ethel le Rossignol, and a previously unheard trance recording of occultist Alex Sanders.

• “It’s impossible to completely quantify the effect of I Feel Love on dance music.” John Doran on Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder’s finest moment.

• More film lists: 10 great Japanese film noirs selected by Matthew Thrift, and the 15 best Czech horror films selected by Jason Pirodsky.

Mark Blacklock selects a top ten of four-dimensional novels (one of which isn’t a novel at all but a short story by Ian McEwan).

• At Dennis Cooper’s: BDSM.

Angry (2008) by The Bug feat. Tippa Irie | Insane (2008) by The Bug feat. Warrior Queen | Fuckaz (2008) by The Bug feat. Spaceape

Old Weird and New Weird

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Savoy Books, 1984.

A couple more recent arrivals that feature my work. These are of minority interest but worth noting since academic articles don’t always travel beyond a small audience of subscribers.

A recent issue of Foundation (The International Review of Science Fiction), Volume 45.1, number 123, contains an article by Mark P. Williams, Underground Assemblages: Savoy Dreams and The Starry Wisdom. This examines the legacy of New Worlds magazine under the editorship of Michael Moorcock (from 1964 to 1974) via two writing collections, Savoy Dreams (Savoy Books, 1984) and The Starry Wisdom (Creation Books, 1994). The two collections are very different: Savoy Dreams, edited by David Britton and Michael Butterworth, was an eclectic overview of Savoy’s publishing endeavours up to that point. Among the original writing there’s fiction by Butterworth, M. John Harrison (the first publication of the Viriconium story, Lords of Misrule) and others, plus a reaction by Michael Moorcock to William Burroughs’ Cities of the Red Night, a book that Savoy had contracted to publish before police harassment forced the company’s bankruptcy. The rest of the book is taken up with press reviews of Savoy books.

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Creation Books, 1994. Cover art by Peter Smith.

The Starry Wisdom should require less of an introduction since the book has been in print since 1994, and has a small, possibly notorious, reputation among HP Lovecraft enthusiasts. Editor DM Mitchell felt that the assembling of post-Lovecraftian fiction up to that point had been too cosy and insular: too many story collections were being edited and written by groups of friends in the genre fiction “community”, with the result that the stories were often stale and complacent. The startling newness of Lovecraft’s imagination in comparison to many of his contemporaries in Weird Tales seemed to have been bled away into pastiche, a process that began soon after Lovecraft’s death. Mitchell’s solution was to commission original pieces of Lovecraft-inspired work from writers outside the genre world, notably Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and newcomer David Conway; he also reprinted pieces that would never appear elsewhere as Lovecraftian fiction, including Wind Die. You Die. We Die. by William Burroughs, and Prisoner of the Coral Deep by JG Ballard. Burroughs and Ballard connect directly to New Worlds, of course (Ballard wrote about Burroughs for the magazine), while the pair cast a shadow over many of Savoy’s book productions. Both Savoy Dreams and The Starry Wisdom featured comic strips; Tales of the Cramps by Kris Guidio appeared in Savoy Dreams, while The Starry Wisdom contained strips by Mike Philbin & James Havoc, Rick Grimes, and the first publication of my own adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu.

I was surprised—and pleased—that my comic strip receives a fair amount of scrutiny in Williams’ piece. My Lovecraft strips have received almost no attention from the comics world, a consequence of having been printed by book publishers and distributed to book shops. (A rare exception was this recent piece by Matt Maxwell.) When you’ve been overlooked in this manner it’s a surprise to find your work receiving serious evaluation from an entirely different quarter. Mark P. Williams’ essay examines the contents of both collections, my strip included, as “assemblages”. This is a valid critique in the case of the Cthulhu strip since Lovecraft’s story is itself an assemblage of what seems at first to be unrelated data. The comic adaptation assembles a range of cultural references—some genuine, others invented—to parallel the narrator’s investigation, and even uses genuine documents in places, including columns from The New York Times. I don’t know if Williams has seen the blog post I made that points out many of the cultural references but he notes some of the more overt ones, such as Joseph Conrad appearing as the doomed Professor Angell, Arnold Böcklin’s The Isle of the Dead, and so on. While I was drawing the strip I was trying to imagine the story as an RKO production, a hybrid of two island films—The Most Dangerous Game and King Kong—and Orson Welles’ unmade Heart of Darkness. These references, many of which aren’t very obvious, were largely for my own amusement. The series I created with David Britton that followed the Lovecraft strips, Reverbstorm, puts assemblage and cultural reference at the forefront.

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Cover art is my illustration for Remnants from Lovecraft’s Monsters, edited by Ellen Datlow.

The Cthulhu strip and the Reverbstorm series—now collected as Lord Horror: Reverbstorm—are the subject of a very perceptive piece by Benjamin Noys in the latest edition of Genre, an academic journal published by Duke University Press. This number of the journal is a kind of Weird special edited by Benjamin Noys and Timothy S. Murphy. Noys’ Full Spectrum Offence: Savoy’s Reverbstorm and the Weirding of Modernity is the final article in a publication that examines aspects of the “Old Weird” (ie: the Lovecraft-era Weird Tales) and contrasts it with the more recent “New Weird”. The latter was a short-lived label coined by M. John Harrison in 2003 for a range of fiction that was ignoring genre boundaries, and consciously developing the Weird as a project. China Miéville was one of the most visible proponents of the New Weird, and Harrison’s term emerged in part as a response to Miéville’s fiction. Miéville is interviewed in this issue of Genre where, as usual, he has some very worthwhile things to say. He prefers the term “haute Weird” for the original manifestation, possibly because it avoids the negative connotations of the word “old”.

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A spread from part 7 of Reverbstorm.

Benjamin Noys’ article is lengthy and resists easy summary, but it begins by investigating the way my work on the Lovecraft strips permeated the Lord Horror comics and dictated some of the imagery, in particular the architectural forms and eruptions of monstrosity. Later discussion concerns the way that Reverbstorm forces the Weird and Modernism together, a collision that I believe is still unique anywhere, never mind in the comics medium. Noys’ piece has given me a lot to think about, not least for its being the first substantial critical appraisal of Reverbstorm. The series is a difficult one, being deliberately excessive and avant-garde, and presenting the reader with a torrent of interrelating cultural references. Many of these are itemised in the appendix but the success (or not) of their working together, and the potential sparking of connections, depends very much on the prior knowledge of the individual reader. Noys is not only knowledgeable but adept at forging his own connections while situating the series in the larger context of the Weird, old (or haute) and new. Even without the inclusion of my work inside the journal and on the cover, I’d recommend this issue of Genre to anyone with an interest in the subject. One of the reasons I favour the Weird as a chosen work label is the way it evades (or ignores) generic boundaries. Years ago I realised that many of the things I liked the best in the arts were the chimeras, those works that transgress boundaries and created new hybrids. No surprise then that I enjoy a genre that refuses easy definition. There aren’t many masts I pin my colours to but the Weird is one of them.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Weird

Weekend links 300

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Observatoire IX from the Observatoires series by Noemie Goudal.

• “Before Lady Raglan’s intervention, this figure had been anonymous. She gave him a name: the Green Man.” Josephine Livingstone on the persistence of a supposed figure from pagan folklore.

Ben Wheatley: “Financing a film as crazy as [High-Rise] takes good casting”. Related (in a Ballardian sense): the abandoned hotels of the Sinai Desert.

• “We were in danger of becoming full-time, paid up musicians…” Drew Daniel and Martin “MC” Schmidt of Matmos look back over their career.

Fahey didn’t make many new friends with his scything dismissal of the folk revival. He distrusted the way that folkies regarded music as a carrier for the correct political messages of the moment. As Lowenthal puts it: “To him, the student idealists had naïve worldviews and dreamed of unrealistic political utopias,” whereas Fahey “attempted to channel darkness and dread through his music.” For Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger devotees, the ideological message came first, with musical tone or trickery a distant second. As Fahey saw it, the dizzyingly strange source music they borrowed from and then built their careers on emerged as little more than a scrubbed-up ventriloquist’s doll, all the coarse grain and troubling metaphysic of its original voices jettisoned. He also detected high condescension and low reverse racism in how the folk-revival people preferred their old blues guys barefoot and wearing dungarees—even if they now usually dressed in sharp suits and often preferred to play amplified, electric urban blues.

Ian Penman on John Fahey

• “It’s amazing how quickly a sound can lose its moorings and float off into this kind of unchartered territory,” says Robin The Fog.

• Mixes of the week: FACT Mix 540 by Via App, and Secret Thirteen Mix 178 by BlackBlackGold.

Oliver Wainwright on Edward Johnston, designer of the typeface for the London Underground.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: DC’s: Spotlight on…The Free-Lance Pallbearers (1967) by Ishmael Reed.

Each drop of Hennessy X.O is an Odyssey: Nicolas Winding Refn makes an alcohol ad.

Wayne Shorter & Herbie Hancock pen an open letter to the next generation of artists.

Japan’s scariest manga artist (Junji Ito) loves Japan’s creepiest cosplayer (Ikura).

• “He was a sexual outlaw.” Jack Fritscher‘s love affair with Robert Mapplethorpe.

Peter De Rome: the RAF pilot who became “the grandfather of gay porn”.

The Strange Case of Mr William T. Horton

• RIP Big George Martin and Ken Adam.

Shortwave Radio World

Viriconium FAQ

Nine Feet Underground (1971) by Caravan | Green Bubble Raincoated Man (1972) by Amon Düül II | Betyárnóta (Outlaw Song, 1989) by Muzsikás

Albert Goodwin’s fantasies

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Viriconium (Millennium/Gollancz, 2000). Painting: The Gates of the Inferno (no date).

The web continues to be an incomparable treat for anyone interested in art history. One of the great advantages of the BBC’s Your Paintings site is having the opportunity to see pictures by artists whose output would rarely be deemed important enough to appear in a book. Albert Goodwin (1845–1932) is one such artist, a painter of landscapes and seascapes with a sideline in fantastic scenes, some of which may have been inspired by the apocalyptic canvases of John Martin. The cover of the Viriconium anthology was my first sighting of anything by Goodwin. That particular painting appears to be in private hands so to date this is the only copy I’ve seen. The combination of minatory architecture and a nebulous atmosphere is just the kind of thing I enjoy so it’s disappointing to not find him producing anything similar.

The paintings below show some of Goodwin’s other forays into the fantastic, mostly illustration of one sort or another. The two final pictures wouldn’t be out-of-place on a collection of William Hope Hodgson sea stories; the devastated Armada isn’t fantastical per se but it reminds me of Hodgson’s descriptions of the Sargasso Sea.

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Apocalypse (1903).

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Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1901).

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Sinbad Entering the Cavern (1879).

Continue reading “Albert Goodwin’s fantasies”

The Eighth Court

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Mid-January and here’s the first book cover design of the year, and another title for Angry Robot. This is the fourth book in Mike Shevdon‘s Courts of the Feyre series; since I’d already provided the three earlier books with a uniform design it didn’t take long to create this one. I’ve been very pleased with the reception of these covers, the positive response shows that it’s possible to design something for a fantasy series that isn’t the customary generic illustration plus florid typography. I wrote about the problems of designing fantasy covers last year with a lengthy examination of M. John Harrison’s Viriconium books.

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Two recent Angry Robot covers: Joey HiFi‘s cover for Chuck Wendig and Amazing15‘s Pelican-styled design for Chris F. Holm.

Credit should be given to Angry Robot’s Marc Gascoigne for encouraging this direction, the company has been producing a range of very smart covers which don’t pander to the clichés of the marketplace. There’s more of an incentive for smaller publishers to do this when small press imprints and self-publishers often have terrible cover designs (sad but true) while the multinationals play safe for fear of losing readers. If you want to stand out from the crowd then it helps to look good.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The book covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Courts of the Feyre