Illustrating Zothique

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Weekend links 498

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The Sentinel 280, a car design by Syd Mead from 1964.

• “Boris Dolgov did not exist. The man who bore that name may have existed, but there never was a man in the United States with that name until 1956, too late for Weird Tales.” Teller of Weird Tales on the mysterious identity of a magazine artist.

• Saying goodbye to 2019 also meant saying farewell to Vaughan Oliver, Neil Innes and Syd Mead. Related: Vaughan Oliver at Discogs; I’m The Urban Spaceman; a look back at Syd Mead’s vehicle designs.

Lanre Bakare on how ambient music became cool. (Again. This begs the question of when it became uncool, especially when a ten-year-old Brian Eno piece about “the death of uncool” is being quoted.)

Westerners interpreted the peyote experience very differently from the practitioners of the peyote religion, where the focus was “ritual, song and prayer, and to dissect one’s private sensations was to miss the point”. Writers such as Havelock Ellis, who published an essay on his peyote experiences in the Lancet in 1897 (it’s likely that he also administered the substance to his friends W.B. Yeats and Arthur Symons), instead tended to focus on its visual effects. Ellis described “the brilliance, delicacy and variety of the colours” and “their lovely and various textures”. Peyote reached Europe in tandem with the X-ray, cinema and electric lights, Jay notes, and “nothing delighted the eye of the mescal eater so much as the new electrical sublime”.

Emily Witt reviewing Mescaline: A Global History of the First Psychedelic by Mike Jay

Peter Bradshaw takes on the thankless task of ranking Federico Fellini’s feature films.

Geoff Manaugh on when Russia and America coöperated to avert a Y2K apocalypse.

• “Music is an ideal medium for interstellar communication,” says Daniel Oberhaus.

Keith Allison on Karel Zeman, a creator of remarkable cinematic fantasies.

•  Japanese Designer New Year’s Cards of 2020.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Vera Chytilová Day.

2020 in public domain.

Sentinel (1992) by Mike Oldfield | Sentinels (2001) by Cyclobe | Sentinel (2004) by Transglobal Underground

Weekend links 431

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Postcard collage by Alex Eckman-Lawn.

• “He deserves to be a major figure not only in the history of Japanese music, but in popular music writ large.” Geeta Dayal on Haruomi Hosono, a musician whose solo albums from the 1970s are reissued this month by Light In The Attic.

Erica X Eisen reviews Black Light: Secret Traditions in Art since the 1950s, an exhibition of occult art at the Barcelona Contemporary Culture Centre. Related: Gary Lachman‘s talk from the same exhibition.

• Mixes of the week: Jesús Bacalão’s Light Entertainment Programme 2, Secret Thirteen Mix 265 by Alexander Tucker, and FACT Mix 672 by Rian Treanor.

Whenever horror is criticised, it is criticised for staging a dark carnival of physicality. Perhaps the only sort of media we moralise more than we do horror is that other mainliner of bodily response, pornography.

Horror’s historical ghettoisation has meant that weightier, smarter horror reliably gets labelled as something else. The finest films of our current golden age have been dubbed “elevated horror” and “post-horror”. In literary circles, works of horror seen as sufficiently cerebral get relabelled “Gothic”. It’s certainly true that great horror is always about more than gore. But we should be careful not to gentrify the genre by cleansing it of everything but the philosophy.

MM Owen on the perennial attractions of a perennially despised genre

• “Netflix is a woeful service,” says Jeremy Allen who prefers DVD/Blu-ray to streaming video (as do I). Related: The problem with film aspect ratio on Netflix.

• The Thought Gang album, a Twin Peaks-related collaboration between David Lynch & Angelo Badalamenti from 1993, will be released next month.

Tangerine Dream: Sound From Another World: a TV documentary from 2016. In German but with auto-translated subtitles.

The Thing’s Incredible! The Secret Origins of Weird Tales by John Locke.

Haute Macabre Staff Favorites: Tarot Decks

First Light (1980) by Harold Budd & Brian Eno | Blue Light (1993) by Mazzy Star | Black Light (1994) by Material

An unseasonable bloom

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It’s a strange thing to compare the covers of Der Orchideengarten in Franz Rottensteiner’s The Fantasy Book (1978) with the facsimile of the first issue which has just been published by Zagava. For years the two covers and Rottensteiner’s laudatory description were all I knew of a magazine that nobody else seemed to write about. As with all such enigmas, this made the magazine all the more intriguing. Der Orchideengarten was short-lived, running from 1919 to 1921, and German, which no doubt did little to aid its post-war reputation. Whatever reputation it may have had was quickly eclipsed by Weird Tales and a host of other Anglophone publications some of whose creations still dominate the fantasy landscape today. One of the many services Rottensteiner’s study provided was to treat fantasy as a genre with manifestations all over the world, not only in Britain and America.

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The visibility of Der Orchideengarten began to change in 2009 when Will at the now-defunct A Journey Round My Skull, having also had his curiosity piqued by Rottensteiner’s book, acquired a few copies of the magazine. I ran some of the interior illustrations here, the sight of which was genuinely revelatory since these weird and macabre drawings had been buried for 90 years. The situation changed again late last year when the entire run of the magazine was made available at the University of Heidelberg’s remarkable online archive.

What struck me in 2009—and what continues to strike me today—is the difference in tone between the illustrations, covers included, of Der Orchideengarten with its later Anglophone counterparts, especially Weird Tales. The latter presented itself very much in the pulp tradition, and many of the illustrators of the early issues were just as happy working with adventure or detective titles as they were with fantasy or horror. The German artists are less illustrational and much more grotesque, closer at times to Expressionist painting than anything you’d find in an American magazine. I continue to wonder how fantasy as a genre might have developed if it had owed less to Britain’s ghost stories and America’s adventure idioms.

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Any speculation is easier now we have this facsimile of the first issue which (as I mentioned in a weekend post) contains a translation into English by Helen Grant of the complete contents of the magazine. This has been cleverly achieved by interleaving narrower pages of translated text with the originals so the integrity of the magazine is maintained. The facsimile is a quality production with superb printing of all the illustrations and graphics. One of the ironies of our connected world is that contemporary magazines continue to be killed off while the easier accessibility of so much culture from the past makes resurrections like this one more likely.

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Whether we see more facsimile issues will no doubt depend on the success of this first number which may be ordered here. A few more page samples follow.

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Covers for Der Orchideengarten

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I was going to finish the year with a post showing some of the handful of product designs I’ve done recently but since some the products in question still need to be photographed that’ll have to wait. After a peculiarly dark and grotesque year it seems more fitting to end with a post of dark and grotesque artwork from an earlier epoch. Der Orchideengarten has been the subject of several posts here in the past but it’s only this week that I’ve had the opportunity to see an entire run of the world’s first magazine devoted solely to fantastic art and literature. Der Orchideengarten ran for 51 issues from 1919 to 1921; the editors were Hans Strobl and Alfons von Czibulka, and the contents comprised original fiction, book reviews and reprints in German of notable works of weird literature.

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The interior graphics (previously) are in a style similar to those found in Jugend and other German magazines of the period (plus reprints of Beardsley, Doré, and the like), while the covers follow the Jugend template of being different in style and format for every issue. All of these covers are from the wonderful resource at the University of Heidelberg where every issue of Der Orchideengarten is available for download. Even if you can’t read German the magazine is worth browsing for its very European view of the fantastic, a view which tends to be darker and more adult than the American magazines that would soon overshadow it. Some of the covers are strange in a manner that Weird Tales seldom achieved, and many of them feature an orchid somewhere in the design.

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