Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday diversions: fun is for assholes

You'll see what that means in a minute. It's actually a good thing.

I am mentioned...
--First, my book Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page was mentioned in very kind post at the Brain Pickings blog of Maria Popova. She also writes for Wired UK, The Atlantic and Design Observer among others. My book made the list of 5 Art and Design Projects Inspired by Literary Classics. I am at number two, and the rest of that list is filled with some incredible work by other artists. I believe this piece also ran on The Atlantic's web site, which is quite cool.

--Next, my art is mentioned in this awesome post at the blog Fun Is For Assholes, written by someone named flameboy. I really REALLY liked this post because it goes beyond my Moby-Dick art and covers bits and pieces of everything else I've done too. That meant a lot to me because while I am still immensely proud of the Moby-Dick art and that is a big part of why nearly all of you visit this blog, I've made so much more art than that and to me they are all important pieces of a greater whole.

--Next, my book gets an intriguing and positive review at the web site of the Commack Public Library in Commack, New York. Being a librarian myself, you can see why this excites me. The review was very straightforward as well, which I respect a lot, indicating that "This is an art book, and it really comes down to whether you enjoy Kish’s artwork or not." Very true, and very fair.

--Finally, a brief mention of my book down near the bottom of this piece, at the web site of The Herald in Everett, Washington. It's an interesting post which jumping off from a mention of the gray whales of Puget Sound and transitioning to a survey of whale and Moby-Dick related book offerings from the last year or so. My book is mentioned as having won "the prize for greatest whale-related obsession" and for having art that is "quirkily low-tech" which made me smile.

European comics rule
--This is old news by now, but last May Fantagraphics announced that they had acquired the rights to reprinting Belgian artist Guy Peellaert's stunning graphic novels The Adventures of Jodelle and Pravda the Overdriver. Both works are essential parts of the societal upheaval that led to the cultural revolution of 1968 in France. Fantagraphics has a much more thorough blog post announcing the publications here. I am giddy with excitement about this, and these books look absolutely gorgeous. Sadly, it looks like they are running a bit behind schedule as The Adventures of Jodelle was originally slotted for a May release but has now been pushed back to August or later. The wait will be frustrating, yes, but these books will be well worth it once they finally arrive. Take a look at the art and you'll see what I mean. First, here is what I think was the first cover to the English edition of The Adventures of Jodelle...


Here is the cover to Fantagraphics' new edition...


Here is a page of Peellaert's art from the original, in French. Which I, sadly, cannot read but still love to look at, and eagerly await in English...


Also here is a selection of pages from what I am fairly certain is Pravda the Overdriver and not The Adventures of Jodelle (in spite of being labeled as such). Oddly, these appear to be in Italian rather than French. In any case, they are amazing...









I truly hope and dream that these books will kick off a wave of beautiful English language reprints of European comic classics. That's probably a fool's hope, but little would make me happier. Here in the States, there is a dearth of anything other than American superhero comics and manga, and while there are some gems in both of those, they were never easier to find and are becoming rarer still. One book I'd almost kill to see translated and reprinted is Kris Kool by French artist Caza. I am fortunate enough to own one art book, Kronozone, by Caza...


...but as you can tell from the cover, it focuses primarily on his later, science fiction work. Kris Kool on the other hand is from 1970 and, well, why don't you just take a look for yourself...








All of that art was taken from this post on the amazing 50 Watts web site and there is even more at the link so take a look. Also, you should probably visit 50 Watts daily because it is a seemingly inexhaustible source of incredible art, design, and book-related ephemera. One of the best things on the internet, easily.

And please, someone, anyone, please reprint Kris Kool!

About them Hunger Games
--Did you read The Hunger Games? I have not, nor have I seen the movie. Neither appeals much to me, and I am trying to figure out just why.


The same is true of the Twilight series and the Harry Potter books as well, although I have seen most of the Potter movies. The Hunger Games seems to be a polarizing title though, as is evidenced by "Adults Should Read Adult Books" by Joel Stein at The New York Times and the long and passionate thread of comments that follows. There is a lot of backing and forthing, from Stein and from the commenters, but I would be dishonest if I did not admit that I find the breathless level of hype and adoration for these books, particularly when this comes from adults, a bit mystifying. Then again, I just went on at length about French science fiction comics full of bare breasts for several paragraphs, so I am certainly not the best judge. But I'm curious...what do you think of Hunger Games, Twilight, Potter and so on?

Calling Australia
--Finally, is anyone reading this from Australia?


I have a rather silly yet desperate request for a book that seems to only be available in Australia, from an Australian publisher, that can only be sold to Australians (or maybe New Zealanders too? I don't know) so if you can help, please email me at mattkish87 [at] gmail. I'd be more than happy to pay in full, or to trade art, or both.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Books: Covers We Like by Ione

[Post edited to credit the Grendel cover to artist Brad Holland whose work, available to see at his web site, is absolutely astounding. Special thanks to another incredible artist Jeffrey Meyer for pointing this out in the comments.]

Welcome to the very first guest-curated Books: Covers We Like post! This is very exciting, and I hope to run many more of these from anyone who is interested in sharing their thoughts and favorites. If you'd like to contribute a post (and I'd be delighted if you did), read this right here and email me.

This first guest post was submitted by my wonderful and keen-eyed wife Ione. We've been together for almost 16 years and married for nearly 11, yet in many ways we have a very different aesthetic when it comes to art. Which always makes conversations about the visual world interesting. Without further delay, here is Ione's post and her covers...

5. The Fat Duck Cookbook by Heston Blumenthal, cover and illustrations by Dave McKean


If you don’t know anything about Heston Blumenthal, all you need to know is that the man is a culinary mad genius. I couldn’t afford the limited, slipcased, hardcover edition of the book (also lovely, but minimal in design), but the hardcover trade edition is gorgeous in a very different way. Dave McKean’s unconventional and otherworldly drawings capture the kind of frenetic eccentricity that Blumenthal is known for. Cookbooks usually have photographs of food on the cover, which can be appealing (food porn anyone?), but I was really drawn to this cover because it was so unexpected. And I have always loved Dave McKean’s work, so it was really exciting to see him illustrate and design a book in a genre that was unexpected.

4. The Darkangel by Meredith Ann Pierce, cover by Kinuko Y. Craft


I vividly remember picking up this mass market edition at a school book sale when I was in junior high. I was drawn to how delicate the image appeared, and how finely the painting was rendered on this little, cheap paperback. Compared to lots of other fantasy paperbacks I was used to picking up, which usually had poorly rendered, completely forgettable covers, this one had a haunting quality that I couldn’t ignore. It almost looked like a pre-Raphaelite painting (not that I knew what pre-Raphaelite meant when I was 11). Thankfully, the story was also really well done. No sparkly vampires in this one, thank goodness, although I do wish the title was a little less goth-sounding. The sequel, A Gathering of Gargoyles, also has a Craft cover, which is also very lovely. I never did find the last book in the trilogy, The Pearl of the Soul of the World, in a version with a Craft cover, sadly. But I’ve managed to hold on to the copy of the first book I picked up 25 years ago.

3. Grendel by John Gardner, cover by Brad Holland


I wasn’t a big fan of Beowulf when we read it in high school, but the cover of this paperback edition of Grendel was compelling enough for me to take a chance on reading a modern, somewhat existentialist take on the story. And I wasn’t disappointed. I think the cover is really amazing. It manages to be earthy and dreamlike all at once, and I love the ambiguity of Grendel’s emotional state. Is he howling with hunger? Anger? Loneliness? And the font choice is good, too—clean and simple, so it doesn’t compete with the figure. I know there are other editions that also have great covers, but this is the one that got me to read it.

2. Pyramid Car written and drawn by Scott C. (Scott Campbell)


This might seem like an odd choice, but this is truly one of the most brilliant little mini-comics I have ever seen. It’s probably hard to tell from the picture, but this tiny, stapled, photocopied book has a wonderful dark green velveteen cover, with the image in white paint. It’s wonderfully textured and makes you want to pick it up. And it’s such a silly tale of mummies and a couple of ancient Egyptians joyriding in a literal pyramid car that you can’t help but laugh when you read it. The best couple of bucks I have ever spent.

1. The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington, cover by Pablo Weisz-Carrington


Not only is this one of my favorite covers, but this is one of my favorite books of all time. Carrington was a Surrealist who created fantastic and bizarre images with both her paintings and her words. This book is about the misadventures of Marian Leatherby, an elderly woman who uses a hearing trumpet to hear what’s going on around her. Carrington’s son, Pablo, provided the illustrations for this book, which look much like the cover scratchy, spidery, simple black ink drawings. Although they are somewhat crude, I think they really capture the na├»ve spirit of the book. I love how Marian looks almost like a weird priestess on the cover, or like some strange nun from an alternate future. Oddly enough, there is an edition of the book that uses one of Leonora’s paintings for the cover, entitled “Baby Giantess,” which is a fantastic painting but I feel utterly wrong as the iconic image for the book.

ADDITIONAL DIVERSIONS

A fake cover for Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, painted by Sean Lewis


I can’t remember how I stumbled across this image. But I have been repeatedly frustrated by the poor covers I have seen for multiple editions of Blood Meridian, which is one of my all-time favorite books. This fake cover was created by an artist named Sean Lewis, and I love how it’s visceral, which is how the book feels. I also like the fact that it’s an extreme close-up of an impending act of violence, and violence permeates the book. In my mind, this image really captures the spirit of the book, as bloody and horrifying as it is.

Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page by Matt Kish, book, cover and interior design by Janet Parker, Diane Chonette and Alexandra Boyd




Minor caveat: I’m married to the guy that made this book. Personal bias aside, this really is a beautiful book, inside and out. The slipcase is well-designed and eye-catching, unlike a lot of slipcases that I have seen which are usually very plain. I particularly like the spine, which is a fantastic study in the use of font and negative space, excerpted from an image within the book. And when you slip the book out of the case, the impact of the wordless cover, front and back, is simply stunning. Intensely bold and bright, featuring an eye on one side whose gaze burns into your brain, and the iconic Queequeg on the other side, the book cover design is a unique work of art all on its own. And the best part is that all of the imagery is drawn from Matt’s work, which is unlike anything else I have ever seen. Sadly, the hardcover slipcased edition is pretty much sold out, but the paperback version is still lovely.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Baatezu: What do you think?

This post is aimed primarily at the only people I know who might have an inkling of how to begin approaching this - Scrap Princess, Mordicai and Richard of the Dystopian Pokeverse - although thoughts and comments from anyone are most welcome.

I will be spending the majority of this year working on creating 100 illustrations for Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, but that project will be demanding and at times bleak due to the nature of the text. In order to prevent myself from being consumed by a sense of stasis, futility and fatalism, I will also be working on the Gygax's Inferno Devil illustrations I mentioned some time ago that so many of you were kind enough to assist me with in terms of background material. As I've been thinking about both projects, I've started to conceptualize how I want to approach each one. Oddly enough, it is the Devil project that is most challenging right now. Let me explain.

When I first mentioned this project I said that, as one who played D & D only very briefly in the earliest days of the game, I favored the term "Devil" over the newer term "Baatezu." However, as I've started thinking about these illustrations, I've come to agree with a comment that Scrap Princess made which was that Baatezu is actually a better term since it removes the human, Christian-based conceptual framework from them. So consider me converted to Baatezu.

(As an aside, how, exactly, is Baatezu pronounced? I have a friend who is familiar in passing with some of the TSR PC games and he calls them what sounds like "BAY - tuh -zoo" and it sounds kind of funny if that's it. Like it should be spelled beta-zoo or something.)

As I think about these Baatezu, please keep in mind that my thoughts are oriented toward a visual aesthetic only. I've spent a bit of time poking around on some of the RPG blogs and I am astounded as to just how much of that kind of game and playability oriented thinking is completely foreign to me. It's just been much too long since I played AD & D for me to even begin grasping some of those concepts. What I'm working on with this art is not so much an attempt to create illustrations for playable monsters as it is an attempt to make powerful, unique and iconic art. Hopefully they will have some kind of playability, but that's not the goal. So let's focus on what the Baatezu look like, and how to represent them.

First, a brief survey of what the Baatezu / Devils used to look like. I first encountered them in the original Monster Manual when I was young. Here are a few of those original illustrations of the Archfiends of Hell from the late 1970s, starting with Asmodeus...


Here is Dispater...


Here is Baalzebul...


And here is Geryon...


I liked these pieces quite a bit as a child, and while they have a great deal of nostalgic appeal for me, they're not quite as dazzling as they once were. However, to my mind at least, things would get a whole lot worse with later editions of AD & D books. The new depictions were positively atrocious. Dull, unimaginative, saddled with a relentlessly boring "house style." Here is Asmodeus...


Here is Dispater...


Here is Baalzebul, a mild improvement at least over Asmodeus and Dispater but still nothing to get too thrilled about...


And finally, the new and horribly not improved Geryon...


Starting from my dissatisfaction with these earlier images, and the opportunity to create something new and very different, I began thinking about how so often in visual narratives, a being's form is a mirror of its nature. That may seem oversimplified and too reductive, but it's a good starting point. The Baatezu are denizens of the Nine Hells, although not native to that plane. They are evil, or more specifically, lawful evil. What does lawful evil think like? Look like? What is the ultimate endgame for a bloc of immensely powerful extraplanar lawful evil beings?

I've been reading Scrap Princess' excellent "Scrawling Over the Classics" posts and she is doing some brilliantly creative writing re-imagining and re-contextualizing the different planes in completely unexpected but still marvelously logical and consistent ways. I'm trying to apply some of her thinking here (and I keep hoping she'll do a "Scrawling Over the Classics" for the Nine Hells) but I worry that my lack of familiarity with RPGs and current AD & D rules and content are getting in the way.

See, as I continue to work over these ideas for Baatezu in my mind, I find myself looking further afield at what some other artists have done in exploring their own visions of the infernal realms. Wayne Barlowe has been pursuing this for some time in his various paintings of Hell, all of which are remarkable. Here are a few below, copyright to Wayne Barlowe. First, the demon Sargatanas...


Second, another demon...


Finally, Barlowe gives us Moloch...


I am amazed by Barlowe's art. It is terrifying, brilliant, and deeply personal. And I am nowhere near the artist Wayne Barlowe is, so I won't even be comparing my works to his. Interestingly enough, even though, as far as I know, Barlowe's paintings are completely unconnected to AD & D or any RPG, he has done quite a bit of worldbuilding behind the scenes. There is a story to every painting, and a variety of rules and systems which organize Barlowe's Hell and its history. It's fascinating.

What leaves me a bit cold about his Hell though is that it just doesn't seem like a place governed by a code of law to me. It is random, messy, crude, and chaotic. If anything, it edges closer to what I imagine the 666 Layers of the Abyss might resemble much more so than the Nine Hells. In that image of Sargatanas above, for example, the shifting and morphing nature of his head hints at chaos, transformation, endless mutability and lawlessness. Not the rigid society depicted by the world of AD & D. So, as much as I love Barlowe's vision, in terms of this project it is not quite what I am reaching for.

Instead, what came to mind immediately for me were the visionary paintings of the artist Ernst Fuchs, particularly his bizarre, rigid images of Cherubs seen here. First, Cherub With an Amethyst...


Next, Cherub of the Shin...


Finally, Cherub with Orange-colored Horns of Flame...


These, to me, seem much more like what I would imagine the lawful evil Baatezu, especially the Dukes of Hell, to resemble. There is almost a kind of sacred geometry about them. An abstraction that seems to hint at a higher awareness, a rigid kind of order, a lawfulness that is a direct retort to the howling chaos of the lower universe that is so inelegant. I imagine that these Archfiends and Dukes of Hell, with their strict adherence to a code of conduct and their incredibly byzantine vendettas and campaigns against one another and the higher planes, would be so sophisticated, so brilliantly intelligent, that even their forms would approach a sort of physical perfection and abstraction. A symmetry of form governed by strict patterns, lines, shapes, and layers.

Some of French comic artist Philippe Druillet's work came to mind to, like the following...





Those images, and Fuchs', seem like the Archfiends of the Nine Hells to me. Colossal beings whose true forms would be vast, abstract, unfettered by any limiting connection to physics or reality, and living symbols of pure organization, law and malice. I imagine there to be a mechanical element to them as well, since the precision and functionality of machines and computers seems to hew very close to what I perceive a lawful alignment to embody. Gone is that messy, human (or independent sentient being, I suppose) element of free will and choice. Even slaves can rebel, but machine hybrids cannot.

So what are your thoughts? How is a lawful alignment reflected in the form a being? What are the ultimate aims of the Baatezu? How would their "victory" be defined? What do you think of that blending of sentient being and machine? I'm very curious as to what you gamers might thing.