Ghost Box and The Infinity Box

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It’s less of a surprise than it may seem to go searching for the source of a quote only to find yourself immediately faced with one of your own artworks. The posts here go back almost 15 years, and when so many of them cover niche interests any attempt to further explore a particular niche can circle back to something I’ve already posted. The latest example is an unusual one, however. The picture above is the Haeckel collage I created for the Starry Wisdom collection of Lovecraftian fiction in 1994, a piece that was later digitally refashioned for The Haunter of the Dark book. The quote I was pursuing is as follows:

“Inside the infernal box are impossible spaces, dark screens and mirrors, terrible traces of light, calcified thought forms and endless idiot mutterings. The switch is thrown and the magnetic coils begin to generate their obscene flickering images. This contraption might have been conceived by the Old Ones long before it was assembled by human hands.”
—The Infinity Box, Alan Causley & MB Devot

The description appears together with a dialogue extract from Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape on the fourth Ghost Box release, Ouroborindra (2005) by Eric Zann, a one-off album of spooky sample soundscapes created by a pseudonymous Jim Jupp in between his Belbury Poly albums. All the Ghost Box releases feature significant quotes, most of which are genuine extracts from stories, novels, non-fiction works, etc. The description of the Infinity Box raised my suspicion about its authenticity when the only references to either it or Causley and Devot are in listings for the Eric Zann album. My Yuggoth collage appears on this page which further compounds the confusion by making it seem that my art is somehow connected to Causley and Devot and their mysterious box. This isn’t a complaint but it doesn’t help clarify the situation. Alan Causley has no credits anywhere outside the quote but there is another Causley, the celebrated poet, Charles, whose poems are sampled on later Ghost Box releases by The Focus Group, aka Ghost Box co-founder Julian House. Scrutiny of the other Ghost Box albums reminded me that quotes from MB Devot’s writings appear elsewhere on the early releases but I hadn’t bothered to look up the name until now.

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It’s often the case with posts such as this that mild curiosity turns into deeper intrigue. The web of connections becomes more tangled on the first Ghost Box release, Sketches And Spells by The Focus Group, which has a Devot quote from a text with the apt title The Tangled Beams, and a final track with the title Starry Wisdom. Devot is described by reviewers as either a fictional writer or an authentic scholar, the latter designation being supported by a Wikipedia page. Wikipedia may be prone to errors but it isn’t known for fake entries so this was a surprising discovery; Devot is also referenced on the page for parapsychologist TC Lethbridge who happens to be another source of Ghost Box quotes. Suspicion returns when you try to search for any of Devot’s listed publications, none of which turn up in WorldCat or similar catalogues. One of the Wikipedia print sources is an issue of Fortean Times from 1989 but there’s nothing about Devot listed in the contents of that issue. Issue 53 was a crop circle special, however, so it certainly fits the Ghost Box interest in the paranormal as it manifests in the British countryside. We now know that crop circles were man-made, not the product of flying saucers or other phenomena, so this may be fitting as well.

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I would have left the search there but I did find one further Devot connection that I might otherwise have missed. Folklore and Mathematics is the title of a one-off Ghost Box periodical published in 2007 for people subscribed to the label’s mail order service. It’s a typically fine Julian House artefact that complements the Sketches And Spells album in both its title and its graphics. Inside we find “From the archives of MB Devot”, and discover another reference to the Infinity Box. Apparently the black-and-white graphics that cover all the early Ghost Box discs are vibration patterns—”verberations”—created by Devot’s occult apparatus.

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I wrote above that “any attempt to further explore a particular niche can circle back to something I’ve already posted” so I wasn’t too surprised to have all these explorations finding their way back here. In 2009 Julian House exhibited three invented books as part of The New Spirit Happening, an exhibition of Ghost Box-related work at the Architect’s Gallery in Teddington. I posted two of the covers after the exhibition but couldn’t recall who the books were credited to. The authors are—inevitably—”A. Causley” and “MB Devot”, and the volumes feature by-now familiar phrases: “The Tangled Beams”, “The Infinity Box”. Also more Lovecraftian verberations: “Heavens Other Colour”, “The Eye at the Threshold”. So Causley and Devot have been lurking here for the past decade, in which case having my artwork attached to their names no longer seems like an arbitrary association. “Inside the infernal box are impossible spaces, dark screens and mirrors…”. Indeed there are.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Unearthly tones
Owls and flowers
The White People by Arthur Machen
Stone Tapes and Quatermasses
The Ghost Box Study Series
A playlist for Halloween: Hauntology
Forbidden volumes
The Séance at Hobs Lane
Ghost Box

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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A view over Yuggoth

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I mentioned in the post about the Sherlock Holmes illustrations that the next book from Editorial Alma featuring my work would be another Lovecraft collection. One of the illustrations in the new volume was of the planet Yuggoth, a world known to human beings as Pluto. In Lovecraft’s mythos Yuggoth has long been an outpost of advanced alien civilisations, particularly the fungoid crustaceans of The Whisperer in Darkness and the splendidly-titled sonnet sequence Fungi from Yuggoth. I’d broached this subject a couple of times in the past, first with a panel in my Haunter of the Dark comic strip (the Shining Trapezohedron is described as being brought to Earth from Yuggoth) then with a photocopy collage of Haeckel organisms for the first Starry Wisdom collection.

Yuggoth is one of several alien outposts in Lovecraft’s fiction, allied in its remoteness from humans with the underwater city of R’lyeh and the Antarctic city in At the Mountains of Madness. All these locations suggest exotic architecture so they’ve long been some of my favourite features in Lovecraft’s work, hence this new piece which I couldn’t resist doing after completing work on the Alma book. Since I acquired a Wacom tablet four years ago I’ve become so used to using it for line drawing that working with it now feels as natural as working with pens and inks. But digital painting was something I still didn’t feel happy with. This is mainly because the brush options in Photoshop are limitless, and one thing I’ve never liked with art materials is too much choice. When I was working with physical media I used to use a minimum of pens and brushes so what I really wanted from Photoshop was a single brush that would do what I wanted without having to swap tools all the time when working. This view of Yuggoth is the result of having finally settled (by chance, as it happened) on a brush that does everything I want without getting in the way. The drawing was completely improvised so as a composition it has some flaws; it could also have been developed a lot more to bring out highlights and details. But as an experimental piece it worked out well and also didn’t take too very long to do. When I have the time I’ll be doing more with this new brush.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Thing on the Doorstep
Leather Cthulhu unleashed
Leather Cthulhu
The Gods of HP Lovecraft
Lovecraftiana calendar
Providential
NecronomiCon Providence 2015
Yuggoth details
A Mountain Walked
Lovecraft’s Monsters unleashed
Lovecraft’s Monsters
JK Potter and HP Lovecraft
Cthulhu Labyrinth
Tentacles #4: Cthulhu in Poland
Cthulhu Calendar
S. Latitude 47°9, W. Longitude 126°43
Resurgam variations
De Profundis
H.P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction
Heavy Metal, October 1979: the Lovecraft special
Cthulhoid and Artflakes
Cthulhu for sale
Cthulhu God
Cthulhu under glass
CthulhuPress
The monstrous tome
Cubist Cthulhu

The Gods of HP Lovecraft

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Yig for Rattled by Douglas Wynne.

Presenting one of this summer’s bigger projects, these are my drawings for The Gods of HP Lovecraft, a collection of 12 all-new stories edited by Aaron French for JournalStone. After I’d begun work I was asked whether I could illustrate all 12 stories but since I was already busy with The Monstrous it wasn’t possible. My drawings occupy the second half of the book, with the first half being filled out with suitable illustrations by Paul Carrick and Steve Santiago. The contents are as follows:

Call the Name by Adam LG Nevill (Cthulhu)
The Dark Gates by Martha Wells (Yog-Sothoth)
We Smoke the Northern Lights by Laird Barron (Azathoth)
Petohtalrayn by Bentley Little (Nyarlathotep)
The Doors that Never Close and the Doors that Are Always Open by David Liss (Shub-Niggurath)
The Apotheosis of a Rodeo Clown by Brett J. Talley (Tsathoggua)
Rattled by Douglas Wynne (Yig)
In Their Presence by Christopher Golden & James A. Moore (The Mi-Go)
Dream a Little Dream of Me by Jonathan Maberry (Nightgaunts)
In the Mad Mountains by Joe R. Lansdale (Elder Things)
A Dying of the Light by Rachel Caine (Great Race of Yith)
Down, Deep Down, Below the Waves by Seanan McGuire (The Deep Ones)

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Mi-Go for In Their Presence by Christopher Golden & James A. Moore.

Despite having produced a fair amount of Lovecraft-related illlustration there’s still some areas of his work that I haven’t touched, especially where creature portraits are concerned. So this collection features my first attempts at rendering one of the Mi-Go and one of the Yithians from The Shadow Out of Time. The latter are often represented as fearsome monsters which always strikes me as erroneous when so much description in the story is devoted to their book reading and archive building. Aliens, yes, but monsters they are not. There was some concern when I delivered the artwork that the fine lines and detail might not print so well on paperback stock but the printing is excellent throughout. I recommend this collection for anyone in the mood for some new Lovecraftian fiction.

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Night-Gaunt for Dream a Little Dream of Me by Jonathan Maberry.

Continue reading “The Gods of HP Lovecraft”