More vapour trails


Those covers everyone likes. My designs for KW Jeter’s steampunk novels from Angry Robot and Tor Books.

When I wrote a brief history of steampunk for Eye magazine last year I ended by somewhat provocatively declaring that until something better appeared this was the defining aesthetic of the moment. A year later, the movement (if we can use that term) continues to evolve despite the steady drip of complaints that it’s all reactionary, historically illiterate, and so on. Much of the ire remains nonsensical, and often seems to boil down to a common disdain for people enjoying themselves in some unorthodox manner.


Design by Galen Smith after the Hetzel editions of Jules Verne’s novels.

If I hadn’t got involved on the art side I would have found it difficult to avoid being attracted by steampunk in one form or another since so much of it originates in areas I was already interested in, not least HG Wells and Victorian science fiction. The rapid evolution of the past few years means we’re currently seeing an aesthetic leaving behind its origins to become an international subculture. What’s striking about this activity—and this is something that doesn’t seem to have been discussed very much—is the way the whole thing has been birthed by genre fiction rather than by pop music, as was the case for the second half of the 20th century. This piece is meant to be a news post, however, not another cultural critique, but if I happen to write any more on the subject there’s something there that’s worth exploring.


As to the news: this month finds my steampunk artwork manifesting in three very different locations in one of those odd coincidences of timing that occur now and then. First up there’s the Steampunk User’s Manual edited by Jeff VanderMeer & Desirina Boskovich, a follow-up to 2011’s Steampunk Bible. For the new volume I designed spreads for three entries by Jess Nevins from The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana: Alternative History Edition.

Continue reading “More vapour trails”

The Steampunk Bible


Cover and interior designs by Galen Smith.

Arriving in your book emporia this week is The Steampunk Bible by Jeff VanderMeer & SJ Chambers, a comprehensive guide to the sub-genre which is now a thriving sub-culture. I contributed some bits of graphic design as well as a bespoke dirigible illustration (see below). The book also features a few other steampunk-related pieces of mine among its wealth of photos and illustrations. This is a typically lavish production from Abrams, beautifully designed by Galen Smith with a cover based on the celebrated Hetzel editions of Jules Verne’s novels. Inside there are essay contributions from Bruce Sterling, Catherynne M Valente, Jess Nevins and others. If you’re a steampunk enthusiast (or know one) this is an essential purchase. Some links and page samples follow below.

The official Steampunk Bible site
The Steampunk Bible: Mecha-Elephants, Raygun Rocketships, and Great Stories, a feature by Jeff V.
Amazon US | Amazon UK | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound



My cover for KW Jeter’s Morlock Night which has just been republished by Angry Robot.



My brief was to create a cannon-bedecked piscine dirigible so this is what I came up with. See it in all its belligerent glory here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Steampunk Reloaded
Steampunk overloaded!
Vickers Airship Catalogue
The Air Ship
More Steampunk and the Crawling Chaos
The art of François Schuiten
Steampunk Redux
Steampunk framed
Steampunk Horror Shortcuts
The Airship Destroyer
Zeppelin vs. Pterodactyls
The Hetzel editions of Jules Verne

Weekend links 36


Mervyn Peake’s Caterpillar from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland finds itself used to promote High Society, an exhibition at the Wellcome Collection devoted to the long history of human drug-taking. There’s more about the exhibition here and also an accompanying book by Mike Jay from Thames & Hudson. Related: The Most Dangerous Drug:

A group of British drug experts gathered by the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD) rated alcohol higher than most or all of the other drugs for health damage, mortality, impairment of mental functioning, accidental injury, economic cost, loss of relationships, and negative impact on community.

• Unless the magazine Man, Myth & Magic was advertised on TV in 1970 (and I suspect it would have been) Austin Osman Spare’s work has never been seen on British television, certainly not in any detail or with a credit to the artist. This week the BBC finally paid him some attention with a brief spot on The Culture Show as a result of the Fallen Visionary exhibition which is still running (until November 14) in London. Alan Moore, Fulgur‘s Robert Ansell and others attempt to summarise Spare’s career in seven minutes.


Neil Fujita designs: Mingus Ah Um (1959) and The Godfather (1969).

• RIP graphic designer Neil Fujita. Related:

“By taking the “G” and extending it to the “D,” I created a house for “God.” The way the word was designed was part of the logo and so was the type design. So when Paramount Pictures does a film version or Random House, which bought out the book from Putnam, does another Godfather book, I still get a design credit. In fact, before the first Godfather film opened in New York I saw a huge billboard going up in Times Square with my design on it. I actually got them to stop work on it until we were able to come to an agreement.” Waxing Chromatic: An Interview with S. Neil Fujita

French SF illustration. Related: Where did science fiction come from? A primer on the pulps, a feature by Jess Nevins with some of the craziest covers you’ll see this month.

• Gay-bashers in 1970s San Francisco had to beware the wrath of the Lavender Panthers.

• More Marian Bantjes as she discusses her work in an audio interview.

Music from Saharan cellphones.

Origami Beauty Shots.

Better Git It In Your Soul (1959) by Charles Mingus.

Judex, from Feuillade to Franju


Monsieur Wiley in yesterday’s comments reminded me of George Franju’s seldom seen Judex, a 1963 film based on the Feuillade serials of the same name. Louis Feuillade (1873–1925), as you really ought to know by now, was the director of the original Fantômas serials (1913–14) and also Les Vampires (1915–16), obvious forerunners of Diabolik with all their black-clad nocturnal prowling. Feuillade’s criminals were clebrated by the Surrealists, Blaise Cendrars, Jean Cocteau and others but the director received stern reviews from less liberal critics for apparently promoting immorality:

“That a man of talent, an artist, as the director of most of the great films which have been the success and glory of Gaumont, starts again to deal with this unhealthy genre (the crime film), obsolete and condemned by all people of taste, remains for me a real problem.”

Hence the arrival in 1917 of Judex (The Judge), possibly the first costumed avenger in cinema, with his broad-brimmed hat and cloak, secret lair and network of helpful circus performers. Fictional immorality is less of a concern these days which perhaps explains why Fantômas and Les Vampires were resurrected on DVD first while Judex only appeared recently. I must admit that it’s Feuillade’s criminals which have always interested me for the most part, even if (as with many silent films) the romance of the concept is often more attractive than the actual work. (There are exceptions, of course; the Lon Cheney Phantom of the Opera is far better than the book.) Feuillade and his writer, Arthur Bernède, produced a series of spin-off novels while the films were being made (you thought novelizations were a recent thing?) and this page has some nice reproductions of the covers.


Judex turned up again in 1934, in a film directed by Maurice Champreux before Franju gave his own twist to the character. Franju is most famous for his exceptional horror film, Les Yeux sans Visage (1960) which still packs a punch today; I saw it at a cinema several years ago and one notorious scene drew gasps from an unprepared audience. Nearly everything else of his, Judex included, appears to be out of circulation. Franju began his career as a maker of documentary shorts whose approach to the medium was inspired by the juxtapositions of the Surrealists. In the celebrated Le Sang des bêtes (1949), he contrasted scenes of day-to-day life in Paris with film of animals being killed in the city’s slaughterhouses. This attitude was carried over into his dramas—Les Yeux manages to be lyrical as well as horrifying—and was impressive enough for Jean Cocteau to declare he’d happily entrust his work to Franju. This perhaps explains why Franju’s work has been so overlooked since his death in 1987, both he and Cocteau were mavericks who don’t easily fit the usual narrative of French cinema history.


left: Une Semaine de Bonté (1934) by Max Ernst; right Channing Pollock as Judex.

Franju’s Judex was portrayed by an American stage magician, Channing Pollock, whose act with doves was put to use in the film. There’s a great scene of a masked ball (the only part of the film I’ve yet seen) with all the characters wearing bird masks that looks like a page from Max Ernst’s collage novel, Une Semaine de Bonté, brought to life. Senses of Cinema compares the remake with the original:

Franju sought in particular to recapture Feuillade’s sense of documentary and his playfulness. He reproduced with as much exactitude as possible the costumes and settings which Feuillade filmed in scrupulous detail. Feuillade’s street-scapes are now an invaluable documentary record, but Franju also paid particular attention to reproducing the elaborate interior designs and furnishings of the day, resulting in settings of quite extraordinary detail and clutter. Franju also sought, despite the playfulness, to avoid any camp satire of these elements by over-emphasis or any special attention being paid to them.

In the title role, Franju pulled off his most brilliant coup by casting the master prestidigitator of his day, near godlike in his handsomeness, Channing Pollock. Pollock’s skills as a magician were employed to produce a dazzling array of apparent magical occurrences involving, most particularly, disappearing doves, a plot device that Feuillade uses to enable the regular rescue of the heroine and others by Judex. Franju’s Judex is a far livelier, less sombre, more inventive and more mysterious character than that of Feuillade.


Francine Bergé as the villainous Diana Monti in Franju’s Judex (1963).

Edith Scob (the faceless girl in Les Yeux) played Jacqueline, the imperilled heroine, while Francine Bergé incarnates yet another cat-suited Feuilladesque villain. The cat-suits returned, along with the masks, in a further Feuillade homage, Nuits Rouges (1974), a feature film cobbled together from a French TV series. This page has stills from all of these and this site concerning French pulp characters (from which much of the information above was swiped) goes into more detail about the creation of Judex. There you can also read about other fascinating personages such as Belphegor, Phantom of the Louvre (another creation of Arthur Bernède), Ferocias and the Mysterious Doctor Cornelius.

And so to the inevitable question: how long do we have to wait for a Judex DVD?

See also:
Fantastic, Mysterious, and Adventurous Victoriana by Jess Nevins
Les Vampires at the Internet Archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Danger Diabolik
Boys Own Books
Alla Nazimova’s Salomé
Meshes of the Afternoon by Maya Deren
La Villa Santo Sospir by Jean Cocteau

Zeppelin vs. Pterodactyls


An unmade high-concept from Hammer Films’ early Seventies dalliance with pulp adventure, if you must know. Via Boing Boing via Jess Nevins via Airminded where we learn:

The story was along the lines of THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, with a German Zeppelin being blown off-course during a bombing raid on London and winding up at a “lost continent”-type place.

Rather like the Civil War balloon that’s blown off-course in Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island then, which ends up on Captain Nemo’s volcanic island of giant birds and insects. Of course, the mere fact that a film was never made is no obstacle for YouTube’s army of diligent mash-up artists and you can see Zeppelin v. Pterodactyls re-imagined as a 1936 Republic Serial here. (And on a pedantic professional note, an older font should have been used for the titles since Hermann Zapf didn’t design Palatino until the 1940s.)


It was another horror company, Amicus Productions, that produced The Land that Time Forgot (1975) (and its ER Burroughs-derived sequels, At the Earth’s Core [1976] and People that Time Forgot [1977]) so this Hammer concept may have been an attempt to follow Amicus’s lead and exploit the momentary flush of enthusiasm for ERB and co. Or perhaps they thought that Zeppelin movies were the next big thing after Michael York’s First World War adventure, Zeppelin, in 1971. No one in Hollywood these days would dare finance a film with a title like this. The same dumbing-down imperative that gave us Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone (because Americans can’t be trusted to know what the Philosopher’s Stone is) would no doubt want “pterodactyls” replaced by “dinosaurs” or the wording of the whole thing reduced to ZvP.


U-boat vs. dinosaurs! Illustration by Frank R Paul for a 1927 reprint of The Land that Time Forgot.

The Land that Time Forgot was scripted by Michael Moorcock and New Worlds‘ (and Savoy Books) illustrator James Cawthorn. The pair did a decent job with the story although the film as a whole is let-down by silly monster effects, the pterodactyl (or is it a pteranodon?) in this instance being a lifeless thing swinging from a crane. Moorcock and Cawthorn worked together on Tarzan Adventures which Moorcock was editing as a teenager so they appreciated the material at least. This wasn’t the only connection New Worlds had with pulp cinema, more surprisingly JG Ballard had provided a story for Hammer in 1970 with When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. Hammer missed an opportunity in not hiring Moorcock for something seeing as he’d just written one of the first retro-dirigible (and pre-Steampunk) novels, The Warlord of the Air, in 1971. UK film producers had some of the best writers in the world under their noses yet could only offer them trash to work on. No wonder the British film industry went down the tubes in the Seventies after the American funding dried up.

My favourite pulp adaptation from Hammer is The Lost Continent based on Uncharted Seas by Dennis Wheatley. A typical Hammer product in the way the story is frequently preposterous yet the whole thing is made with the utmost seriousness. Amazon summarises the plot, such as it is:

This film starts out like The Love Boat on acid, as a cast of unpleasant characters, all with horrible secrets, take a chartered cargo ship to escape their troubles. Unfortunately, the leaky ship is carrying an explosive that can be set off by sea water and it sinks, stranding many characters in a Sargasso Sea populated by man-eating seaweed, giant monster crabs and turtles, and some Spanish conquistadors who think the Inquisition is still on.

Eric Porter is the ship’s captain, a very good actor who was superbly sinister and convincing as Professor Moriarty in Granada TV’s Sherlock Holmes adaptations. The Lost Continent was Wheatley’s shameless plundering of William Hope Hodgson’s Sargasso Sea tales, the book being originally written in 1938 when Hodgson was less well-known than he is today. Until the Pirates of the Caribbean films this was about the closest thing on screen to Hodgson’s world of drifting weed, lost galleons and man-eating monsters, so there you have its cult value. Just be ready with the fast forward button if you try and watch it.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Moorcock on Ballard
Coming soon: Sea Monsters and Cannibals!
Revenant volumes: Bob Haberfield, New Worlds and others
Druillet meets Hodgson
Davy Jones
The Absolute Elsewhere