Blown Away For A Spell

 Two Geisha and Porter in Wind and Rain at Night, from Vol. 2 of the book Ehon shiki no hana (Flowers of the Four Seasons); Artist Kitagawa Utamaro I (Japanese, early 1750s–1806)


Two Geisha and Porter in Wind and Rain at Night, from Vol. 2 of the book Ehon shiki no hana (Flowers of the Four Seasons); Artist Kitagawa Utamaro I (Japanese, early 1750s–1806)

I am writing this as the rains lash against the windows and the winds brazenly, violently, gust about our home; a hurricane is nearly upon us, the lights are starting to flicker, and soon, no doubt, the power will have gone out!

Who knows what will happen? Not I! This space may be quiet and empty for the next few days, or weeks. Please don’t forget about me, friends! I will be back soon

Monster as Metaphor: John Allison, Webcomics Genius

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(originally published on the Coilhouse blog, November 23, 2010)

Devoted and cultish readers extol John Allison as “a rare gem in the often hard-to-navigate web comic underbelly.” Though you may not presently be reading John Allison’s current endeavor, Bad Machinerychances are that you are perhaps already familiar with him through his older works, Scary Go Round (2002-2009) or Bobbins (1998-2002), or as an artist/chum linked to through one or more of his contemporaries.

Fans of Jeffrey Rowland’s Overcompensating for example, will recognize Allison as “The Englishman” , a British gentleman of dubious distinction who  occasionally happens upon the scene to politely antagonize the regulars. Or, through Dumbrella Collective alum, R. Stevens, mastermind behind Diesel Sweeties and 8-bit illustrator of our charming editrixes here at Coilhouse. Maybe  even through one of the dynamic guest strips he has provided over the years to one of your long-time favourite web comic artists.

Marked by clever, peculiar dialogue, absurdist humor, dotty characters (and delightful ladies fashion!), mysterious happenings and hi-jinks, and a dense mythology (though compelling and completely addictive, to which  anyone who has begun to peek  through his archives can attest)  –  John Allison’s story-telling genius is unmistakable.  And  in a medium where visuals are the reason most viewers show up in the first place, the exquisitely charming, highly stylized art is “as big a draw as the comedy”.

Scary Go Round, “Bulgaria”

Scary Go Round, “Bulgaria”

Described as “postmodern Brit horror”,  Allison’s previous comic, Scary Go Round followed the hapless denizens of Tackleford, a fictional British town beset by all manner of supernatural activity including, but not limited to: zombies, space owls, the devil, and portals to other dimensions.  Though Scary Go Round ended in 2009 [EDIT: though it periodically picks back up again!] a few of his beloved characters have moved on to Bad Machinery, which picks up in Tackleford 3 years later.  The focus is on an entirely new cast of sleuthing schoolchildren attending Griswald’s Grammar School, whose well-intentioned energies may be causing more problems than the mysteries they solve  – but they throw themselves into it all with much vigor and aplomb.

Bad Machinery Flyer Art for Thought Bubble

Bad Machinery Flyer Art for Thought Bubble

I recently caught up with John Allison about his new endeavor; see below the cut for our Q&A in which John talks about the transition between old stories and new, the state of web comics today, and the meaning behind the monsters.

The artist

The artist

UNQUIET THINGS: Right now the “Big Push”, as it were, is your current series, Bad Machinery.  When you made the change to become a full time comic-ing man in 2003-ish, was Bad Machinery even a twinkle in your eye at that time, or was it something that evolved over the years from the characters that you developed in Scary Go Round? Has it been almost a year now since Scary Go Round ended? How has the jump from Scary Go Round to Bad Machinery gone? What were your expectations regarding your fans reactions? Were they met, or exceeded? (or neither?)

JOHN ALLISON:I certainly had no notion of creating Bad Machinery when I went full-time back in 2003. That was 7 years ago! It seems like a lifetime. At that point, Scary Go Round was just starting to get on its feet, audience-wise. It had only been running for about 12 months. Last summer I was frustrated with how sprawling Scary Go Round had become, and (not for the first time) I tried to work out what would make a good spin-off. I wanted something with a tight concept, so I couldn’t drift too far off my initial idea. And I wanted something that I could sell to a publisher in good conscience – something that wasn’t a mess!

I had some vague thoughts in my mind, a kind of Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys setup in the Tintin format (having read almost none of the former and admiring rather than loving the latter). I was probably very tired at the time!

The reaction wasn’t great, people loved the Scary Go Round characters. My last year of work on the series had been really spotty and I thought that readers would breathe a huge sigh of relief. And they did – as they stopped reading. Over the first month, half of the old SGR audience went south. It was a very frightening time. It wasn’t helped by what may have been the slowest introduction to a comic ever. Some readers were angry about “having to read about children”. They strongly identified with the old cast and were horrified by the new.

In that first month, while I was trying to find the mood and the tone of the piece, some long and pretty scathing reviews appeared on prominent blogs, the general theme being “by the end Scary Go Round had lost its way, and this is more of the same – but WORSE!” They tended to cite Berke Breathed’s Outland, his follow-up to Bloom County, where all the old characters slowly re-appeared. But for me, bringing back all the fan favourites that, to be honest, I never wanted to see again, made me feel ill. It was a miserable time, I went from believing in this new thing, to quickly doubting everything I did. I was fortunate that many of my friends in comics really supported what I was doing.

After a year, the comic has started to find new readers alongside the ones who stuck around, and it’s extremely gratifying when people write and say that they never read Scary Go Round, but they love Bad Machinery.

Bad Machinery, “The Case of the Good Boy”

Bad Machinery, “The Case of the Good Boy”

While Scary Go Round focused a on group of young adults in their early to mid twenties…and then later in the series you added several high school characters, this new batch for Bad Machinery are little folks, rather young – in grammar school, I believe. What prompted you to go in this direction?

I wanted to write all-ages books, kids’ literature that stands up when you read it today. I loved the Just William books, and I can still read them now, the writing is sophisticated and hilarious. It may be that this is not what the market wants, but as an exercise it was what I wanted to do. It also stops you leaning on lazy attention-getting devices – sudden death, sudden sexy times. You have to be a lot more resourceful as you write.

Scary Go Round, “Time Teapot”

Scary Go Round, “Time Teapot”

Both your comics are /were quite character driven, but the plots usually revolve around the general strange goings-on in town or the odd beastie du jour. .. previously we’ve seen zombies, vampires, dimensional portals etc., but I imagine writing about children presents the opportunity to introduce all kind of imaginative monsters and new bits of wonderful weirdness into the story. Your thoughts?

The idea of Bad Machinery is that the supernatural mysteries are a distraction from the real dangers, which are personal. All through “The Case Of The Good Boy”, the actual manifest danger is how Jack is being victimised through no fault of his own, and he can’t really ask for help. He’s the good boy! No one has spotted this. I’m probably not doing my job very well, am I? I like drawing monsters and beasts, but they’re not real so they lack a certain weight for me.20100513

With regard to “ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night” – I am keenly interested in hearing about your influences as such things go. From some of the references culled from within the Scary Go Round archive, one might be inclined to think that you’ve had some personal dealings with the Old Deceiver himself, ha! Or perhaps some passing familiarity with esoteric studies of some sort. Or at the very least a subscription to the Fortean Times. Can you tell us from where you draw your inspiration?

I’m an arriviste in this field, a dilletante. I don’t like horror movies and I’m scared of books about ghosts. There was a Dennis Wheatley book in the house when I was a child, with a picture of Satan on the back, I was scared of that too. All my work is a metaphor for actual real life problems. I did a story where a character’s girlfriend is blown up in a caravan and thereafter exists, and is seen sporadically, in the afterlife. That was about long distance relationships. When I tried to do actual mystical stuff, and I say this with no fear of contradiction, it wasn’t all that good. The problem is, when you’re generating a lot of material, it’s easy to lose sight of what you’re doing.

Scary Go Round, “Where the Dumb Things Are”

Scary Go Round, “Where the Dumb Things Are”

Scary Go Round, “Meddling”

Scary Go Round, “Meddling”

You’ve been doing this for quite a while now, practically when there were dinosaurs on the internet (as opposed to in space) – what are some changes – for the better or the worse – that you’ve seen in that time?  Can you tell us briefly about your progression from when you got started to where you are now?

People’s attention spans are knackered. The internet has become a Las Vegas casino, a comfortable, noisy area designed to keep you disorientated and keep you spending money. Good luck trying to find attention with longform work. But I think there’s a sense now that we have to push back in the opposite direction, that people don’t want to read articles surrounded by video ads and animation.

I started in webcomics when almost no one was doing them and occupied a privileged position at the forefront of almost every movement – Keenspot, merchandising, bigger web presence at conventions, when there was less competition. Based on that, I have probably underperformed to an extent! But when people who went on to huge success cite me as an influence, I am enormously proud. I just wish they would put a huge link to my work on their website, next to a giant animated arrow.

Now that we have caught up to present day…can we expect to stick with these characters for awhile, to see them grow and mature as they continue to battle monsters and solve mysteries? Can you give us a peek into what might be in store for our young friends?  Or…do you already have something else – something entirely new – brewing?

I’m going to take a month off Bad Machinery to do a mini-series about one of the Scary Go Round characters. It’s kind of a pilot for a series, though if it became a full series I doubt I would have time to draw it myself. I’ve spent months working on the character designs and getting the look and feel of the thing. It gives me a chance to draw adults again, something i do miss. I love drawing fashion and of late have started to feel out of it – there’s only so much of that kind of design work that you can do with 12 year old characters.  But I have a thirdBad Machinery story worked out, it’s kind of ludicrous and sad at the same time. Even though it’s been an uphill struggle, post Scary Go Round, I love writing the new comic. If people get that from it, then the difficulties are by and large worth it.

The idea is to do a “case” for each of the three terms of seven years of grammar school. If I get that far, we’ll have been places together. I hope that I get the chance.

sneaks-copy

*For extra art not seen in the main comic, be sure to check John’s blog, as well as his Flickrstream for doodles and magnificent sketch fiestas, such as this Beardsley-esque Gaga.

gaga

Links Of The Dead {August 2017}

Michael Zavros, White Peacock

Michael Zavros, White Peacock

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about in or related to the Death Industry recently.

More reading: Links of the Dead {August 2016}

💀 Why Your Dog’s Death May Be The Most Difficult Event Of Your Life
💀 Japan Unveils a Buddhist Funeral Robot
💀 Everything Dies! A Coloring Book About Life!
💀 Friends honor artist’s last wishes with kiddie pool water ballet
💀 The Joys of Soul Midwifery
💀 Meet the “Death Positive” Women Changing the Funeral Industry
💀 With a Glimpse of Mortality, Losing Sight of the Wild
💀 The Ecology Of Death

Friday Fripperies, Resistance Edition: The Watchful Eye Amulet From Chase And Scout

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Going forward, and for the foreseeable future, for our Friday Fripperies feature here at Unquiet Things, we will be spotlighting creators who give a damn. Today the focus is on Elle Green of Chase & Scout (previously interviewed here) and her Watchful Eye Amulets–proceeds from which will be donated to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Southern Poverty Law Center actively works at many levels to promote equality, continue the fight for civil rights, reduce prejudice and to expose hate groups and domestic extremists working in America.

Garnet

Of these Watchful Eye amulets, Elle poignantly writes that:

“Sometimes the simple act of direct acknowledgement can help to diminish the power of hidden malevolence. We turn on lights to dispel shadows and symbolically banish ghosts, to drive back the things that hide in the dark.”

These pendants are made of sterling silver and natural gemstones, each is handmade and they hearken back to the ancient tradition of wearing a talisman in the shape of a watchful eye to deflect darkness directed by others.

Moonstone

I asked Elle to share with us the impetus of this passion project, and she expressed that personally, “the climate this year has felt like one outrage after another, just so much to process every day. Who ever thought we’d see Nazis marching in the streets literally trying to kill our friends and neighbors? When Charlottesville happened, like everyone, I was stunned and shocked, but then I was angry. I felt frustrated and angry that seemingly nothing I could do on my own would make an impact.

“…like most people, I spend a significant amount of time working and I can’t always lend a voice in person to the causes that mean a lot to me, so I’ve decided to donate proceeds from a small batch of handmade evil eye pendants to the Southern Poverty Law Center, ” Elle concludes.

Turquoise

25% of the profit from each amulet will be donated to the Southern Poverty Law Center to help keep a watchful eye on hate groups and their actions in our communities.

Each amulet is made of sterling silver and is hung on a 20″ dark stainless steel chain, eye measures 1.25″x 1″. You can choose your own stone–amethyst, green agate, garnet, moonstone, onyx, and turquoise–and each is handmade, no two are identical. And, as Elle, notes, these are very specially priced, as this is a passion project and not profit driven.

The Watchful Eye Amulets from Chase and Scout can be purchased here.

How might one style this watchful talisman? I have some suggestions for you, below!
As always, click here, or directly on the image for a full listing of the items used in the ensemble.

watchful eye

Find Chase and Scout: website / instagram / facebook

Are you a creator who gives a damn? Are you aware of artisans or indie businesses speaking up, reaching out, and creating art or goods to express outrage with injustice, promote anti-hatred, or which encourage safe spaces in their communities? Please let me know about them for future Friday Fripperies!

…And The Winner Is…!

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The cauldron has spoken and Vanessa Irena is the winner of a postcard set from Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos. Congratulations, Vanessa! You will be receiving a set of postcards from the artist featuring the image below. Please email me at mlleghoul AT gmail dot com with your address!

Thanks to everyone who read the interview and left a comment, and be sure to peek back here in the upcoming months for more Q&As with fantastical artists and art giveaways!

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Flowers From A Darker Path: The Art of Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos {Interview + Giveaway}

HEKA

I remember a piece of art hanging on our dining room wall, just above the record shelf that I hated dusting because it was cluttered with those wine colored Avon Cape Cod candle holders and piles of incense ash and various new age ephemera that I had to actually pick up and wipe under instead of working around–for I knew my mother would not fail to inspect my work. Ugh. At any rate, I used to zone out entirely while gazing at the various framed posters and prints that hung over this overstuffed record cabinet, taking in all of my mother’s wonderful art, which I don’t think I even realized had a lasting influence on me until this very second.

The poster in question, surrounded by Erté prints, and oversized posters of the major arcana from the Thoth deck (with a occasional B. Kliban thrown into the mix) was…well, I don’t exactly remember. The was a lady. There might have been a goblet, or a cat, or a long, winding strand of pearls. What I do distinctly remember was a scrawling signature at the bottom, utterly illegible except for a swooping “J”. Maybe a crooked “C” that trailed off to a distorted “W”. In my head, I began to refer to the creator of this fantastical art, as “JAW CRAZER” and I was astounded when, earlier today, I sent a text to my sister asking if the name meant anything to her…and she knew exactly which painting I was talking about. And I swear –I never, ever said that name aloud. Crazy. Or CRAZER, as the case may be.

What does this have to do with anything? I suppose I was thinking of this earlier today when I was mentally visiting the nostalgic walls of my past and the imagery that continues to influence me, even today. And when I discovered the art of Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos several years back, I was immediately taken back to the mystery and secrets of my mother’s collection, which, though small, was brimming with striking visions and potent symbolism and it quickly found a place in the dark corners of my heart, even when I am too pained or proud to acknowledge it.

Currently residing in the mountain town of Teresopolis, Brazil, Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos (b.1982) is a Brazilian artist whose work explores the realms of the mythical, mystical and occult. With a Bachelor’s degree in Visual Arts, and a Master’s in Visual Culture, Lupe worked as a graphic designer, tattoo artist and children’s book illustrator before start pursuing her own artistic voice.

See below for my interview with this visionary artist and leave a comment to be eligible to win a set of postcards from Lupe!  A winner will be chosen at random one week from today, on August 22, 2017. Today’s interview and giveaway is part of an ongoing series I will be running indefinitely here at Unquiet Things. A few months ago I wrote about the life-saving effect that the beautiful, profound art which speaks to one’s heart can have on one’s troubled soul, and I don’t believe this is a need that will ever become obsolete, especially in times like these.

Babalon_Tratado

Unquiet Things: In your bio you note that you’ve worked as both a children’s illustrator, as well as a tattoo artist! I love this juxtaposition of art created for young humans, as opposed to art for the 18+ crowd. Did you enjoy (or not) both experiences, and was there anything special that you learned from them, that you incorporate into your art today?

Looking at my trajectory now, I realize I did come a very long way until feeling confident enough to call myself an “artist”… I went to graphic design school (instead of art school) thinking it would be a good way of making a living as a creative, but I became very dissatisfied with the nature of the work and ended up experimenting with other things until I finally realized art was my calling. While still working as a graphic designer, I started an apprenticeship at a famous tattoo studio in my hometown. Then I opened a tattoo shop with a friend, but after a while I realized, again, that it wasn’t for me. So an illustration job came up at a local newspaper, and I decided to give it a go. It was mostly illustrations for children, and from that I started to get book commissions and work from home. It was a period of much learning, and I did my best to compensate my lack of classical education in art by studying and attending courses and workshops. I was an avid reader as a kid, and book illustrations were my first contact with art, so I was really happy to be working doing exactly that! What happened was that doing book illustrations made me eager to go deeper into the realm of fantasy for inspiration, which lead me to start doing my own thing. Pop surrealism was all the rage at the time, and seeing many children’s book illustrators making the leap and becoming fine artists made me realize I wanted to try that too. My first pieces were much inspired by pop surrealism, but as I progressed I distanced myself from that style and plunged into darker influences. The experience with children’s book illustration helped me unlock my creative potential, and as I felt more and more confident, it allowed me to fly higher.

Oraculo

How does this evocative phrase (which I first noted on your website? facebook? I forget now): “From my rotting body, flowers shall grow, and I am in them, and that is eternity” figure in to the art that you create?

I like that quote so much! To me is very connected to how I perceive the work of art in relation to authorship: my work will outlive my earthly body, and to me that’s the true meaning of “living forever”…

ANoiteeumaVacaPreta

Your work explores the mythical, the mystical and the occult–I’m curious, did you have an interest in these themes before you began to illustrate them, or did the interest grow, somehow, from the practice of your craft? And I’d love to hear about some of your specific inspirations, whether they were occult artists, like Austin Osman Spare or Rosaleen Norton, or perhaps the writings of Kenneth Grant, or Dion Fortune? But don’t let me put words in your mouth! Those were just some examples from the top of my head.

I’ve always been very into fantasy and fairytales, since I can remember. I was a child who would talk to animals and plants, who collected stones and set little altars of things I found and who daydreamed all the time about parallel universes were magical things happened as a normal thing… in my teens I had a wiccan phase – it was the post “The Craft” years after all! Those things were always part of my life in a way or another, although it was in the last 5 years that I took the studying of occult literature more seriously. This coincided with the development of my own style, and the two things went hand by hand. I was exposed at first to the works of Austin Osman Spare and Marjorie Cameron, which blew my mind! At first I got to know the artists with occult-related works, and from there I started to read Crowley, Grant, Fortune, Grey… also books on tarot, symbology, mythology and alchemy. I’m also a huge fan of Jodorowsky’s books on tarot and psychomagic. I use his method for tarot reading, it’s a great tool for self-knowledge and to help others. He’s a truly visionary genius. William Blake, and W. B. Yeats are also two visionary artists with a very inspiring body of work. They have written a lot about the experience of the visionary artist, and I look up to them a lot too. Lately I’ve been reading a lot about surrealism, particularly about the women associated with the movement, and I’ve been pretty much obsessed with the subject. There was an exhibition of women artists linked with Frida Kahlo and surrealism in Mexico here in Brazil a couple of years ago, and it was a hugely impacting experience for me. The works of Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington in particular struck me like lightning! I already knew their respective works, but seeing them live was life changing. I’m also a huge sucker for Leonor Fini’s work, I absolutely love her!

VANITASITempusFugit

ODAINDEOS

Are you a practitioner of the arcane arts, or would you consider yourself more of a scholar, perhaps as it relates to research for your own art? Or maybe a bit of both?

I’ve been an irregular practitioner of the arcane arts for the most part. I think I can call myself a scholar, yes. My occult practices are much blended with art producing, but in an instinctive kind of way, not following any path in particular. I’ve flirted with chaos magick, thelema and other paths, but I found very hard to compromise entirely with one thing, and I definitely don’t like belonging to anything in particular. In that sense I’d say I’m an eclectic; I like to do my own stuff, in my own therms. But I feel very connected with entities like Lilith, and the goddess Babalon, who turn up frequently in my work.

TheCupofSuspicion_300

One of my favorite pieces of yours is “The Cup of Suspicion”. Can you tell us a little bit about this work?

It’s interesting that you mention this particular piece! It’s one of the few that has a particular, personal meaning. At the time I had a health scare that proved to be very hard on my nerves. I felt an intense sense of impending doom, hence the hanging sword thing above the figure’s head. Luckily it was just that: a scare.

Lupe Studio

Lupe Studio1

I always love to get a peek at an artist’s studio, could you give us a virtual tour of the creative space, where you bring to life these mythical illustrations and paintings?

My working space is actually divided in two. I share a room with my husband in which I have my computer and a drawing table, and I also have a small painting studio in another room –that’s a good arrangement to me, as I need more concentration to paint on the easel.

Thelema_O

I’m also very nosy when it comes to what is currently inspiring my favorite artists! Is there anything you’ve listened to, read, watched, or become aware of recently that’s sparking your creative flow?

Well, lately I’ve been re-visiting the work and life of spanish-mexican artist Remedios Varo in an almost obsessive manner. From my main “pantheon” of favorite artists (which includes Leonora Carrington, Leonor Fini and Cameron), she is the one which I relate in a more personal level: she was also the daughter of an engineer and spent her childhood moving from town to town; she was shy; she worked as a commercial artist before developing her own style, among other details. I’ve been very inspired by her lately, and I’m reading her biography by Janet Kaplan for the second time. Also inspiring me lately is the book Surrealist Women – An International Anthology, which is full of inspiring prose and poetry by the women associated with the movement. Another book that is pretty much in my had these days too and that I just finished reading is W.B. Yeats – Twentieth Century Magus. It’s full of great insight into the magical thinking he applied to his life and work. On the subject of music (which I love, of course!), I’ve been listening a lot to a singer introduced to me by a dear friend, called Lhasa de Sela. Her music is great, I listen to it constantly while working.
LeChasseur Noturna Tame

I would love to see a tarot deck incorporating your imagery….or perhaps an illustrated codex or grimoire. Do you have any plans for things like that, or am I just full of wishful thinking?

I do have plans for a tarot deck, but it’ll probably take a while. It’s something I want to be meaningful, not just pretty figures on a deck… so, there’s a lot to plan still. There’s other projects in the works, but I rather keep the mystery for now… I’m also a bit superstitious in regards to talking about those things too early.

Find Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos: website // facebook // instagram // twitter

Thank you, Lupe, for sharing your art and visions with us today and for the giveaway opportunity for Unquiet Things readers! Please leave a comment to be eligible for the postcard set, and a winner will be chosen at random on Tuesday, August 22, 2017.

How to wear the paranormal activity that lurks in your drain

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I don’t know about you, but every time my hair clogs up a household drain, I blame it on the vague presence of “paranormal activity”.  Curious as to how one might ooze the dark, casual style of a haute, haunted hairball? No? I don’t believe you! See below for an summary of the items used in the ensemble above, and as always, click on the images to see more details about where to buy.

Featured image: Coming For You by Feebrile

paranormal deets

Stimulating Juxtapostions: The Art of John Coulthart

Yog-Sothoth, from The Haunter of the Dark

Yog-Sothoth, from The Haunter of the Dark

Originally published in on the Coilhouse blog on October 12th, 2010.

Discerning seekers of rare or obscure artists will eventually stumble upon John Coulthart’s Feuilleton at some point in their virtual journeys. An artist himself, and a blogger “of some repute”, his site is a veritable Holy Grail treasure collection of luminous paintings, ornate illustrations & woodcuts, and salty vintage photographs that run the gamut from fin de siecle European art magazines to antique occult bookplates to queer themed eye candy from a bygone era for which to titillate our salacious modern sensibilities. One with an interest in such things could literally lose hours perusing his archives. It is with the striking of a dazed and dreamy midnight hour, head filled with inspiration and amazing discoveries, that one realizes where the time has gone.

John is perhaps best known for his own striking and complex “genre-defying” artistry; working with various styles and media in his singular, chimeric aesthetic, he is a successful graphic designer for a variety of mediums including album covers, book covers comic books and graphic novels.

“As a comic artist John produced the Lord Horror series Reverbstorm with David Britton for Savoy Books, and received the dubious accolade of having an earlier Savoy title, Hard Core Horror 5, declared obscene in a British court of law. … His collection of HP Lovecraft adaptations and illustrations, The Haunter of the Dark and Other Grotesque Visions, was republished in 2006 by Creation Oneiros.

As a book designer and illustrator John continues to work for Savoy Books, and in 2003 designed the acclaimed Thackery T Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases edited by Jeff VanderMeer and Mark Roberts.

John’s work has been showcased via Rapid Eye, Critical Vision, Clive Barker’s A-Z of Horror, EsoTerra, CNN.com and the Channel 4 television series Banned in the UK.”

See below for our Q&A in which John discusses fleeting fascinations, enduring enthusiasms, how the mystical and macabre manifests itself in his projects, and the mercurial nature of design.

The Thackery T Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases

The Thackery T Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases

Both the mention in your website bio, and the description in your personal blog, Feuilleton, refers to your cataloging of “interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.” What might those encompass right now?

JOHN COULTHART : I watched Visconti’s film Ludwig (about King Ludwig II of Bavaria) recently and was following up that viewing with some web research into his eccentric life. I usually disapprove of monarchs, especially our own dismal royals, but Ludwig is a fascinating and ultimately tragic character. A few months ago I ordered a lot of out-of-print books by the French writer and illustrator Philippe Jullian who wrote one of my absolute cult books, Dreamers of Decadence, a major study of Symbolist painting first published in English in 1971. Jullian was also something of an eccentric who wrote a number of biographies and art books, produced many Ronald Searle-like illustrations and also penned a few novels. Both Ludwig II and Jullian were homosexual and queer culture is an abiding fascination, not least because much of it prior to the 1960s remains little-known or discussed.

I find I spend a lot of time at the moment trawling library sites for interesting pictures. Many of the world’s important libraries now have browsable archives which give access to rare books and magazines. The best of the discoveries recently was the magazine archive at Heidelberg University which has scans of the early issues of Jugend and the entire run of Pan, two German periodicals which did much to promulgate the Art Nouveau style.

Blogging has turned out to be useful for the way it makes you realise you were more interested in something than you previously suspected. When that happens it can provide an element which may feed back into your work. An example of this occurred when I started collecting pictures from different sources and eras; I hadn’t noticed before that the peacock as a symbol connects three areas of interest: medieval alchemy (where its feathers represent a process of iridescence), fin de siècle art, and poster art of the psychedelic era which recycled many 19th century motifs. That’s probably a good example of a passing enthusiasm turning into an obsession.

Dodgem Logic #4

Dodgem Logic #4

Psychedelic Wonderland

Psychedelic Wonderland

How often do these themes will their way into the projects that you are working on? Or do you try to “live in a bubble” while you are working on a piece? For example both your artwork for Alan Moore’s Dodgem Logic Issue #4 and 2010 Psychedelic Wonderland Calendar (which, by the way, I would love to see somehow expanded into a tarot deck) are possessed of a trippy, hallucinogenic brilliance – was that due in part to a “passing enthusiasm”, or just well, part of the specs for the project?

Well the peacocks were a good example of the enthusiasm affecting the work as I put a lot of peacocks on the Dodgem Logic cover. But generally it depends on the work at hand how much of your own interests feed it. As well as illustrative commissions I’m also employed a lot as a graphic designer and very often the brief for design projects is a strict one with no room required for deviation. In that case you just concentrate on working within the limits.

The calendar came about after I’d spent a summer listening to the British end of the psychedelic music produced in the late 60s. Everyone knows Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit is based on the Alice books but so too were a large number of obscure UK songs from around the same time. There’s an enormous amount of Alice-derived illustration out there but I hadn’t seen anyone take quite this approach visually. When a story has been worked over so many times it becomes a challenge to do something distinctive with it, in illustration terms it’s like adapting Shakespeare for the stage. So in this case it was an enthusiasm for the music which became the key to doing something visually. I’m still intending on making the calendar pages into a poster series when I find the time.

The Dodgem Logic cover came along when Alan Moore asked me to do something psychedelic in style for their summer issue. Aside from that vague description I had free reign. Butterflies were the other theme there. If I’d have had more time I maybe would have put some peacock butterflies into the design as well.

There is undoubtedly a vein of the weird and fantastical that runs throughout all of your projects. I am thinking of the Lovecraftian inspired The Haunter of the Dark book in particular, but it seems that great deal of your book cover art falls into the fantasy/horror genre…and then, there is of course, the work that you have done with Alan Moore. Did you start out looking for these types of projects? Or did they just somehow find you? Where does this attraction to the bizarre and lurid stem from? Have you always felt an affinity to the outré and uncanny? Or have your preferences and your style evolved to keep up with what’s required from your art?

I’ve always been interested in the fantastical and grotesque so it’s inevitable this will manifest in the work I produce. It’s never been an indiscriminate interest, however, I always seem to have been very choosy and opinionated. This goes back to an early age. When I was 10 I was reading a lot of Victorian ghost stories in Puffin Books reprints and I quickly became used to a 19th century prose style. A year later I was reading through HG Wells collected short stories and The War of the Worlds. When I started picking up later science fiction novels many of them I found impossible to read on account of what I snootily perceived as poor writing. Arthur C Clarke was fine but many of his “classic” contemporaries I found shockingly bad. It was a relief to find the so-called New Wave sf writers who were trying to do something more with the medium than create futuristic engineering manuals. More than anything I seem to like hybrid works, anything that mixes genres or styles in an interesting or surprising manner. Borders are where new styles emerge and the most stimulating juxtapositions take place. Where these core interests come from I couldn’t possibly say; they’re obviously innate but not something shared by anyone else in my family.

My work often seems to evolve to a certain point then I switch course in a new direction, mostly when I feel I’ve explored one area thoroughly. I spent most of the 1990s doing a lot of very dense, very dark black-and-white line drawing, a lot of which is so extreme in terms of content it became very difficult to push any further. The recent psychedelic-oriented work goes in an opposite direction and it’s one I’m liable to continue for a while since I feel there’s more to be explored in that area. It’s not a case of rejecting one style for another, it’s more that these are equal poles of interest that just happen to be diametrically opposed. This mercurial approach is probably a bad idea when you’re trying to cultivate an audience, people tend to prefer that you do the same thing indefinitely.

The Haunter of the Dark

The Haunter of the Dark

Illustration and graphic arts appears to be your primary medium, although I understand you do some writing as well. Are there any areas of artistic expression in which you wish to dabble or to dive?

On the writing front, I have thirty or so films reviews and a couple of essays in ‘Horror!: 333 Films to Scare you to Death’ which Carlton Books are publishing this September. I’ve been writing stories and the beginnings of novels since I was a teenager, and much of that early work was done with greater seriousness than any of the drawing or painting I was doing at the time. The drawing and painting came to the fore when I started to get my work in print but if I didn’t have that additional creative outlet I would have concentrated fully on writing. I’ve gone back to writing fiction as a means of mapping out a new area of personal work which can evolve in several directions, including art and design.

This goes back ten years to when The Haunter of the Dark was published and I felt a line had been drawn (so to speak) under that phase of horror illustration. At the same time I’d finished the Lord Horror comic series I was creating with David Britton and wanted to start something original that was also completely my own. That intention has evolved into a long-term project which now comprises one-and-a-half novels and also an idea for a third book which will combine writing, graphic design and illustration in a manner that I’ve barely begun to consider for the moment. One of the inspirations for this was the Obscure Cities created by artist François Schuiten and writer Benoît Peeters, a multi-media creation which ranges across many books and comic strips (and which, I should note, remains criminally underrated in the English-speaking world). I’ve been crafting an imaginary world of my own where I can do anything I wanted in any medium. For the moment the written fiction is charting the territory, and I don’t want to illustrate this too much–the words are the illustration–but it’s a very open project into which anything I do in the future could easily be integrated. Few people are aware that all the blogging I’ve been doing for the past four years is (among other things) the R&D area of this project, the place where I can follow areas of interest and bookmark things which may feed into something later.

Filmmaking used to be an attraction and I have done a couple of things in that direction, mostly abstract stuff like a 45-minute accompaniment for one of Alan Moore’s readings in 2001. I have a friend who’s directed a feature-length documentary and a number of shorts and I’ve seen how difficult he finds it chasing finance all the time. One of the things I like about creating books is that they’re relatively cheap to produce and you consequently have far more control over the end result.

What are your ideal/dream/pie-in-the sky collaborations? What are some future projects coming up on the horizon that you are excited to be a part of?

One of the reasons I forced myself to address my own work again was because I’d grown tired of collaborations! I’ve been very fortunate to work with the people I have, and collaborations have the value of creating that synergy that William Burroughs and Brion Gysin called “the Third Mind”, something that’s beyond the work either of you might create on your own. But I felt I’d done rather a lot of that and needed to concentrate more fully on my own ideas. Just now I’ll be happy if I can finish the long and ambitious novel I’m writing which has been in progress for the past four years. I have an agent touting the first novel at the moment so I’m obviously keen to see that published.

Coming up there’s a lot of steampunk-related things due to appear. I’ve contributed to The Steampunk Bible, a big glossy guide which Selena Chambers and Jeff VanderMeer have put together for Abrams; I’m currently finishing the design for Steampunk Reloaded, a fiction anthology from Tachyon edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, and I also have some steampunk cover designs on the go. Further down the line there’s another VanderMeer project, The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, which I’ll be helping illustrate. I’m still on board for the guide to the occult arts which Alan Moore and Steve Moore (no relation) have been writing. And in the next month or so I’ll be doing another Alice calendar, based on Through the Looking-Glass this time. This last one I’m looking forward to a great deal.

John Coulthart

John Coulthart

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