Sunday, March 16, 2014

Thinking of HPL Seventy-seven Years Later

The words above were penned by NecronomiCon's own brilliant The Joey Zone after he visited Lovecraft's grave this year, seventy-seven years after The Old Gent from Providence passed on into the Beyond. He graciously allowed me to draw a few panels to his words, making it a shared experience not only for me, but for any who reads this. If we can't join him at Swan Point Cemetary this year, we stand with him in kinship.

This isn't only a reflection upon the past, The Joey Zone explains; it embraces the present and reaches towards the future, for Providence's Brown University is currently celebrating its 250 anniversary, and next year is H.P. Lovecraft's 125th birthday, which will be duly celebrated at the recently announced NecronomiCon Providence 2015, which will feature Ramsey Campbell along with other honored guests of distinction. Below, catch a sneak peek at the event's poster in development by The Joey Zone himself.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Unnameable Horrors in Art- the NecronomiCon Panel.

On Saturday morning, August 24, 2013, several of Lovecraftian fandom's most respected artists gathered for a panel at NecronomiCon-Providence to discuss how they effectively portray aspects of horror in illustration and film. The panel consisted of illustrators Robert Knox, Bob Eggleton, Allen Koszowski, and Jason Eckhardt, and filmmakers Stuart Gordon, Andrew Leman, and Sean Branney. The first part of the conversation was transcribed from existing audio, while the conversation that follows was captured by a method of shorthand. 

Knox: "We can all agree that there are many different ways to depict the indescribable. My approach leans towards absurdity and surrealism. Eyewitness accounts in Lovecraft’s fiction barely describe the horrors seen, which lets your imagination run wild. Most depictions of Cthulhu are based on the statue Lovecraft described in detail, with batlike wings and cephapod head. My take is that the statue is religious art- for the cult is a religion, as blasphemous as it is- and religious art is only an interpretation, it can’t be God. Just as we see in Michaelangelo’s paintings of God and know that can’t be Him, the statue can’t be Cthulhu. Remember what George Burns said in the movie Oh, God! 'If I showed you my real form, you couldn’t handle it.'"

Leman: "Michaelangelo’s depiction of God is flattering to humans. If the eidolon in “The Call of Cthulhu” is religious art, does it flatter us or Cthulhu?"

Eckhardt: "The representation is an effort to make Cthulhu understandable. You need something to focus on while you’re sacrificing humans in the swamps!"

Gordon: "Lovecraft found everything disturbing, which lends itself to weird sex scenes, fish, and a sense of otherness."

Eggleton: "I don’t set out to disturb; I draw monsters just as I liked to as a kid… and sometimes it disturbs people."

Knox: "We’re jaded as artists and are probably tough to disturb. But surefire elements are things people don’t like: creepy and slimy things all over them, like bugs, slugs and worms."

Leman: "People like penguins because they’re anthropomorphic, but this familiarity can also make things weird- something’s that familiar but not quite right…"

Eckhardt: "Like fish people- what’s stranger than them? I’ve seen people with the touch of the Innsmouth look... But as for strangeness, there’s Machen’s idea of taking Heaven by storm, that fish talking and stones singing would drive you mad."

Knox: "Growing up in New England, you know there’s certain towns you don’t go to, and you never admit knowing someone from there, from the town one does not mention in polite company. That idea found in Lovecraft is quintessentially New England. But in depicting horror in art, is there a such thing as going too far?"

Gordon: "No!"

Eckhardt: "Well, if it’s too absurd, you risk the danger of it becoming ludicrous."

Branney: "As artists, we want to create a suspension of disbelief, so it’s got to be a believable absurdity."

Leman: "We just did The Color Out of Space, and in that story- with it’s otherworldly color- you run up against the limits of human perception- you can’t depict a color that can’t be perceived."

Knox: "What is the single most important factor of portraying the unnameable?"

Leman: "Leaving something up to the human imagination."

Eggleton: "That can be hard, because as an artist I want to be in your face with the monster!"

Koszowski: (To Eggleton) "Lumley told me that you made him, your covers made those books of his."

Gordon: "In movies, the thing left to the imagination is most disturbing. For instance, in the movie Seven, they show you pieces to the puzzle when portraying ‘lust,’ not the whole picture. You’re left to construct the scene yourself and it becomes more terrible than it ever could’ve been on the screen."
Norman Rockwell's "Murder in Mississippi"

Branney: "There’s a balance between the implicit and the explicit, and between the two is the sweet spot. The blank spots will linger in your imagination as your mind chews on it for a long time."

Eckhardt: "The use of shadows can be particularly effective. In the Norman Rockwell Museum, there’s an enormous canvas of three workers in headlights and the shadows of the men that murdered them. The violence is suggested, and it’s all the more powerful and terrifying."

Knox: "In my own work, I want to capture a sense of absurdity. If the viewer can’t ask, 'what the hell is this?' it’s a failure. Trying to depict the incomprehensible isn’t easy; I’ve spent my career on that. For my painting 'The King in Yellow,' I originally wanted it all yellow, but I had to darken it to become disturbing. What about the ways sight and sound are used in film?"

"The King in Yellow" by Robert Knox
Gordon: "Sound effects very much get your imagination going. Have you seen the film Seconds by John Frankenheimer? The scene where they drill into a guy’s head is all sound effects; as you can imagine it, your head becomes the one being drilled! The film becomes dreamlike as the guy’s mind is destroyed."

Branney: "We did 'The Call of Cthulhu' as both a silent film and a radio adaptation, which makes for an interesting contrast. Image is powerful and sound is powerful, but when they’re divorced from each other, the audience needs to imagine what’s missing."

Leman: "Even the city’s name in that story is meant to be unpronounceable!"

Knox: "My thought should’ve been that every character pronounces the city and monster differently."

Gordon: "From Beyond had been rejected due to a brain being sucked through eye sockets, but it was the sound that provoked that response, because you don’t actually see it happen. We had to take it out to get an R rating, then we got to put it back in for the bluray release. The most famous and effective use of sound and image is Psycho- you never see the knife and body at the same time- you make the connection by sound, which was actually made by stabbing a melon… and the blood was chocolate syrup. I believe Psycho was intentionally filmed in black and white to leave more to the imagination."

Branney: "In our The Whisperer in Darkness, we used a chicken leg being ripped apart every time Akeley moved- you can hear the skin and tendons pop. Organic sounds, like breaking melons and tearing meat, seem to push buttons."

Leman: "Also part of sound is the film’s soundtrack, which is absolutely indispensible- music has the ability to appeal directly to the emotion, bypassing the rational part of the brain."

Gordon: "Going back to Psycho, Bernard Hermann’s score could even make peanut butter and jelly scary! I can’t imagine the bathroom scene without the soundtrack."

Branney: "You can only accomplish so much with visuals; the emotional life of any movie is being laid down by the music, particularly in our genre."

Gordon: "Do you artists listen to music while painting?"

Koszowski: "I listen to soundtracks."

Eckhardt: "I do, but the music doesn’t necessarily have to coincide with the feeling of the work."

Knox: "Lately I’ve been listening to Red Sox games while drawing. As for music, it could be punk one day, a soundtrack the next. But silence doesn’t work at all."

Koszowski: "I do my drawings dot by dot, and without music, I couldn’t do it."

Knox: "This idea of an unnnameable horror- it could be an inanimate object. Lovecraft gives us non-Euclidean geometry- geometry that follows no logical patterned rows of blocks; however accurately drawn, they cannot or should not exist. I get a sense of this distortion in Medieval paintings. M.C. Escher is a great example, too, but most of us would go, “I can’t do that!” Lee Brown Coye had the habit of including tied bundles of sticks in his paintings. When he’d made a trip to upstate New York, he saw these bundles of sticks thrust in the ground and wondered who’d put them there and for what purpose… He found them disturbing and so he put them in his paintings."

"The Picture of Dorian Gray"
Leman: "They implied some motivation he couldn’t comprehend, which made it frightening."

Knox: "What about inspiration? Who are your favorite artists?"

Koszowski: "Virgil Finlay."

Knox: "For me, it’s Hans Bok, Coye, E.C. Comics, and Surrealism."

Gordon: "Do you know Ivan Albright, who painted 'The Picture of Dorian Gray?' Everything is moldering, decomposing, including inanimate objects. Another favorite of his was 'That Which I Should Have Done I did Not Do.'"

Eggleton: "Arnold Bocklin’s 'The Isle of the Dead' is a disquieting and disturbing painting of a dark figure that brings souls to the island. Bocklin painted several versions and even the daylight version is creepy. There’s one in the Met in New York City. He was a major influence on my work. Also, Tom Wright’s paintings in Night Gallery are a favorite."
Arnold Bocklin's "The Isle of the Dead," third version, 1883

Knox: "Those paintings remind me of Roger Corman’s Poe films."

Leman: "Hieronymus Bosch and his hideous creatures, half human, half fish. My first exposure to Lovecraft was through those Michael Whelan paperbacks with their black and white and red color scheme."

Branney: "I’m a fan of Berni Wrightson’s pen and ink work. His use of light and shadow evokes different time periods, which we try to do in film, too."

Eckhardt: "I’m more a traditionalist, liking Howard Pyle. With his demand for accuracy, you know how that pirate’s coat felt just by looking at his painting. Are you familiar with Barry Moser? He did a staggering rendition of Frankenstein."

Knox: "Wrightson’s style owes a great debt to Graham Ingles. We see artists hundreds of years ago doing works of horror; how did they get away with it?"

Branney: "They were seen as cautionary works- they depicted what would happen to you if you don’t go to church!"

Gordon: "Eh, they seemed to show you’d have more fun in Hell than in Heaven!"

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Describing the Indescribable: Depicting Lovecraft's Unnameable Horrors in Art

Whether it's haunting paperback covers or the latest horror film on screen, fans of weird fiction love to see their favorite stories brought to life, but for the artists responsible, there is always the question of how much to show and how far to go. One of the panels during Necronomicon-Providence 2013  wrestled with the problems of depicting the unnameable and unspeakable horrors encountered in Lovecraft's fiction, discussed by a panel of some of fandom's favorite image-makers: book cover artist Bob Eggleton; Stuart Gordon, director of Dagon and Reanimator; Andrew Leman and Sean Branney from the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society; and three beloved illustrators from Necronomicon Press, Allen Koszowski, Jason Eckhardt, and Robert Knox, who also graciously moderated the discussion.

Below is a small audio clip of the panel's opening points recorded on Saturday, August 24, 2013, followed by some statements and observations made by the participants after the batteries in my digital recorder failed.

Robert Knox, Bob Eggleton, Allen Koszowski, and Stuart Gordon

Bob Eggleton: “What I find interesting about a lot of Lovecraft’s monsters is in what he would not describe- it was so up to interpretation. Cthulhu, for instance- in most images, he’s got two eyes, but in the actual description, I find he’s got six eyes. When you read the stories, it’s all described in terms of shock and terror, so your mind is really filling in the worst details.”

Stuart Gordon: “Lovecraft always has his characters fainting at key moments, then he’d say it’s too horrible to describe, or something like that, but when you make a movie, you’ve got to show something. The question is, how much do you show? You don’t want to show everything- the moment you show the monster, the movie’s over, because as Lovecraft said, “the greatest fear is the fear of the unknown,” and as soon as the unknown becomes known, you can deal with it. You want to show glimpses, sort of like what Lovecraft does in his stories to get your imagination going.”

Andrew Leman: “The common wisdom is that all the monsters in Lovecraft are indescribable, yet we all know what they look like, so somehow they managed to get described. Lovecraft has this great trick of describing something and then saying it’s indescribable; he works both sides of that equation, so you both get the description and you get told it can’t be described. That frees you up to go ahead and fill in the rest of the scary details yourself, and the ones you put in are always going to be more scary to you than anything Lovecraft or any other author could possibly provide for you.”

Sean Branney: “In addition to being indescribable, Lovecraft uses strings of metaphors of things that are describable. Doing At The Mountains of Madness last night, we got “it’s a subway train,” and “it’s a pile of bubbles.” It is a lot of things you know, but they’re not things that typically belong together… like the thing that’s part ant, part decomposed human being, and once you string nine things together, you’ve got a very complicated picture of something that is being described, which is helpful as an artist- you’ve got something to sink your teeth into and then combine them in a manner that scares you."

Allen Koszowski: “What I like about Lovecraft is that when he describes his blasphemous creatures, he leaves just enough description there so I can draw a thing that people will know what I’m drawing, but I can interpret it my own way. I must’ve drawn Cthulhu fifty times, at first, and each time was a little different… but each time the viewer knows that I’m drawing Cthulhu.”

Jason Eckhardt: “I tend to take the more subtle approach with horror- not showing as many of the details, trying to suggest things. I think that’s often more effective- if you can give the right clues and hints to the viewer, they can often fill in things that are far more horrible than I could draw.”

Sunday, March 9, 2014

HBO's True Detectives and the Mythos

A hybrid between my recent Medieval studies and The King in Yellow

For the past two months, HBO's new series True Detectives had fans of weird fiction excited and abuzz about references to Robert W. Chambers' The King in Yellow stories, and while I doubt The King will emerge from Carcosa as the serial murderer in tonight's final episode, there are two things of certainty: this show has piqued viewers interest in reading source material (and provoking people to read is always a good thing) and it has moved artists and writers in the Lovecraftian community to create new works based on The King in Yellow.

Illustrator Mike Bukowski told me that Google searches for "The King in Yellow" have become the second popular avenue to his site Yog-Blogsoth as people look for visual representations, and Cryptocurium's recent offering was the largest artifact they've produced to date.

April's issue of The Lovecraft eZine will be a King in Yellow special issue appropriately guest-edited by Joe Pulver.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

HPL Film Festival Micro Fiction Contest

Only two days left to submit entries to the HPL Film Festival Micro Fiction contest! 

According to the official info: "The top ten stories will be published in a chapbook. The winning authors will receive two complimentary copies of the chapbook. The overall winner will be read aloud at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival & CthulhuCon by one of our celebrity guest authors (TBD) and also have their story published in the Daily Lurker, our 1930s-style newspaper program that also contains interesting articles, comics, film summaries, guest bios, and fiction. The top winner will also receive their very own copy of the Daily Lurker."  

Entries must be received by March 1st, 2014. Submit here.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Inactivity interrupted

Clawing its way from the cold rest of inactivity, Cthulhu Commune emerges into a new night...

My initial step into involvement with the Lovecraftian community carried me into a number of engagements that have, until now, kept me from following through with some of my original aims.

I still have material from Necronomicon-Providence 2013 to unearth and edit that is worth preserving, and new art and commentary to unleash upon the unsuspecting.

For now, let brevity be my strength, so that while I may post little, let it be with greater frequency.