Monday, April 30, 2012


Title: Marlow sat cross-legged right aft, leaning against the mizzen-mast. He had sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, a straight back, an ascetic aspect, and, with his arms dropped, the palms of hands outwards, resembled an idol.

9 inches by 12 inches
acrylic paint and ink on watercolor paper
April 26, 2012

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Me on the radio

Yesterday I drove to Yellow Springs, Ohio to spend some time at WYSO, a public radio station based there. I would be having a long conversation with Dick Gordon of The Story, another public radio station operating out of the University of North Carolina. We spent quite a bit of time talking about Moby-Dick, our first experiences with the story, what led me to my project and so on. I believe the entire thing will be edited together and broadcast in North Carolina, but perhaps also made available online. I'll post something if that happens.

The folks at WYSO treated me very well even though they were in the middle of moving the entire radio station to a completely new facility. Everything around me had that half-finished feel, and the whole place was delightfully chaotic. I've been trying to get into the habit of taking small scale, personal photos of these experiences to record my impressions and hopefully preserve the memories a bit. And I like the idea of offering these on the blog without commentary. So here are a few of my images of WYSO in transition.

After the interview, my wife and I stopped in at Yellow Springs' own Dark Star Books. I had been there years ago, but was anxious to browse their dusty stacks of comics and science fiction paperbacks again. Not surprisingly, I came away with a stack of gems which I was thrilled to find.

This one, Chamiel by Edward Pearson, brought back very powerful and visceral memories for me. I remember seeing and holding this book many many times in the 1980s when I would regularly haunt the stacks of Booksellers, a used bookstore in Elyria, Ohio. I hadn't seen this cover in decades, so I had to snatch it up. Now I wonder if the book will be any good...

Not my favorite cover (how are those bears attached to the sled anyway?) but a good one by Frazetta. And I've always liked the haunted, icy, desperate and desolate tone of this book...

A quartet of Corum novels by Michael Moorcock, with gorgeous covers by David McCall Johnston. I've been looking for these for a long time...

A surreal, day-glo Elric collection, also from Moorcock...

This seemed to be a David McCall Johnston-themed day as I also found this one, by author Richard Monaco, which contains black and white spot illustrations by Johnston as well as a beautiful cover. I haven't read it so I don't know if it is any good, but the cover alone intrigued me, plus...knights!

A trio of early, and treasured by me, Marvel graphic novels from the 1980s...

And finally, I can never ever pass up on cheap Jack Kirby comics. I already have this issue in my Eternals Omnibus and I have it again in my Jack Kirby's Eternals two volume trade paperback, but this was the original! And only $3!

Pure bliss!

Free art

I am absolutely, and sometimes ridiculously, single-minded and obsessive. I seem to only be able to concentrate on one thing at a time, but that concentration borders on the terrifying. Because of that, since I now know exactly how I want these Heart of Darkness illustrations to look, I simply can't have the alternate versions laying around. They clutter my studio, and worse, they clutter my mind. So they are yours. If anyone wants either one of these and is willing to pay me $5 for shipping (via PayPal, I reckon) send me an email at mattkish87 [at] gmail to let me know and I will send them your way. Oh, and if you live outside of the U.S., I'll have to ask for a little more for shipping but it will be fair.

If I don't get any takers, I will probably just burn these in a week or so. Like I said, can't have them gumming up the works here. These are the pieces...

Heart of Darkness page 001, first alternate version: CLAIMED

Heart of Darkness page 001, second alternate version: CLAIMED

Photos from S.P.A.C.E. day two

Well, I took hardly any photos at all on day two of S.P.A.C.E.. I don't know why. I'll just share a few impressions, post the photos, and leave it at that.

Oddly enough, this was my most successful S.P.A.C.E. ever. Saturday started out incredibly slow but picked up to an almost frantic pace by the second half of the day. Sunday was very very slow all day, but at the end of the show, when I counted up what I had made, I did much better than I initially thought.

I completely sold out of both hardcover and paperback versions of my book Moby-Dick in Pictures, sold out of the small all-ages comic I did with good friend Dara Naraghi titled All in a Knight's Work, and almost sold out of my art zines Taproot and The Solar Brothers, Volume III. I sold some original art and traded one of last year's Heart of Darkness drawings for some cash and this absolutely remarkable (and enormous) Mark Beyer silkscreen. Sorry for the small image, it's all I could find online.

It was genuinely thrilled to see longtime art friends Ivana and Adina there, as well as to share table space with friends Gigantic Joe Kuth and Luscious Leighton Connor. I also got a really sweet drawing of a female knight (complete with bared breast) from Tom Williams. I'll post an image of that soon. Okay, here are the few photos I took...

A sketch I did in Dara Naraghi's con sketchbook. This is a study for Marlow, from Heart of Darkness...

Half of the sketch and Dara's hairy chin...

A better photo of Dara, who seemed very pleased with the sketch I did...

And finally, Tom Williams, stunned at how awesome my sketch was...

And that's all. See you next April at the next S.P.A.C.E.!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Books: Covers We Like by Joe Kuth

This guest post is brought to us by my good friend Gigantic Joe Kuth. I first got to know Joe via a post he made on the old Comics Journal message board. He was putting together his excellent book Emberley Galaxy: A Tribute to Ed Emberley. He was offering beautiful little promo postcards to anyone who wanted one. I emailed him asking for a postcard and somehow he tracked down my art online and invited me to be a part of the project. I was able to design the endpapers for the book (a galaxy made up of Emberley's trademark fingerprints, triangles, circles and other ships) and to contribute my own Emberley-inspired drawing King Circle. So Joe was actually the very first person to publish my art in a real book, something which I have never forgotten. We became friends after that and share quite a few similar passions, from old Ballantine Adult Fantasy paperback book cover art through Krautrock and Roger Dean. Joe is a good guy, a gifted artist, and a great friend. Here is his contribution to "Books: Covers We Like."

Reading is a visual experience for me, so my interests in art and books have always been thoroughly intertwined. The artists I tend to admire the most are picture book artists, cartoonists, comic book artists, book designers, pulp magazine illustrators, and so on. Many of my favorite writers were also visual artists, like Mervyn Peake, William Steig, Russell Hoban, Tove Jansson, and Clark Ashton Smith. There are plenty of exceptions to these generalizations, but a definite pattern has gradually emerged.

So of course book covers have always been important to me, enough so that it has now led me to actively study graphic design with my aims particularly set on designing books (and records). I wasn't surprised when Matt asked me to discuss some of my favorite covers for this feature; Matt and I often get carried away talking about book covers and artists whenever we meet up, and compiling this list felt like a natural extension of some of our conversations. I did decide to make it easier on myself by restricting my picks to books that I like a lot in editions that I own, and unlike Matt's wider-ranging choices, with one exception I shied away from categories that could easily have overtaken my list (comics, kid's books). They aren't in any kind of order because I really can't rank them.

A couple of these covers I now know would not survive the scrutiny of graphic design experts unscathed, particularly in the type department. But my passion for covers was first stoked by viewing them from an illustrator's perspective (which I do maintain), and these picks certainly tend to lean in that direction.

They do also lean heavily in the direction of fantasy and science fiction, but these are generally where I find the bizarre and colorful covers that catch my eye, although I like other categories of books equally. I enjoy plenty of old crime and mystery novels, but the editions I have are usually cheap, unattractive reprints from more recent decades, so I couldn't turn up a even a single title that survived my cuts.

Well anyhow, on to those covers:

--Odd John by Olaf Stapledon, cover by Richard Powers

Richard Powers is one of the essential artists of sf/fantasy/horror, and his unmistakeable covers are ubiquitous in paperbacks from the 1950s-70s. Nearly all of them are memorable, so it's hard to pick just one favorite, but this cover for Olaf Stapledon's great early SF novel of super-intelligence is one I've always liked staring at. I love those great shapes, the stippled white lines, and the overloaded brush strokes in the background. Powers served as the unofficial art director for Ballantine Books for a while so could do as he pleased, which usually meant designing the entire layout of his books, and often even hand-lettering the titles (which I assume is the case here).

--Peace by Gene Wolfe, cover by Gahan Wilson

Gahan Wilson on Gene Wolfe is not a pairing I would expect. Wilson's work is fantastic but extremely cartoonish, which would seem inappropriate for Wolfe's uncompromisingly subtle books. But this low key cover with packed-in ghosts and goblins outlining the title works perfectly, and the visual closure happening here compliments the circumscribed storytelling of Peace, one of Wolfe's best and strangest books. The current edition of Peace actually uses the same design, just updated slightly, and I really think most reprints would look much better if publishers would simply do that instead of using Photoshop to slap mirror shades on a dog or something.

--The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner, cover by Jack Gaughan

Jack Gaughan is another cover artist whose work is (fortunately!) inescapable when you go digging through old genre paperbacks, so I could pick any number of his books, but this scorched pink cover for Alan Garner's classic YA fantasy is irresistible to me. Gaughan's art usually has that enviable look of effortlessness, those looming figures (the Mara, if I remember right) look like they were executed with just a few supremely confident brush strokes.

--Henry's Special Delivery by M.C. Delaney, cover by Lisa McCue

There's a two-man cult for this book that consists only of myself and my twin brother. We were lucky enough as kids to stumble upon this otherwise now-forgotten but hilarious young adult novel. Henry sends for a mail-order panda through a magazine ad, intending to impress a panda-crazy girl from his class. But he and Homer, the (talking) panda, become fast friends and get into a heap of trouble trying to cross town to visit Henry's crush, downing scooter pies all the while. This is a book I like to keep propped up in my room, because the cover makes me laugh almost every time I see it, and the interior illustrations are really funny too.

--Blood Sport by Robert F. Jones, cover by Roger Hane

Blood Sport is a strange book: a lurid, macho, American magical-realist hunting tale set along a transcontinental river, and Roger Hane's painted cover is appropriately weird. What pushes this one over the edge for me are the unnamed father and son wielding their tools of survival down front (the father casts a poisoned fishing fly), and especially the savage SOB Ratnose cooling out among the waterfalls (because he's a part of the wilderness).

--The Boats of the Glen Carrig by William Hope Hodgson, cover by Robert LoGrippo

Before researching him for this list, I don't think I'd seen Robert LoGrippo's work outside of the paintings he did for Ballantine's Adult Fantasy paperbacks of William Hope Hodgson and Arthur Machen books. But those few distinctive covers are all among my favorites from that lavish line of fantasy classics. This wraparound cover for Hodgson's sea-faring horror tale The Boats of the Glen Carrig is great, like a pulp spin on Bosch, and the cracked-varnish look gives it a fitting aura of decay (the story is presented as a long-lost manuscript in tortured faux-medieval prose).

--City by Clifford D. Simak, cover by Davis Meltzer

This nearly psychedelic image caught my eye in a reference book long before I ever read Simak's classic centuries-spanning collection of an Earth taken over by intelligent dogs (and eventually, ants). I don't know what to say about this one, except that it has me under a spell such that I have to pull my copy off the shelf all the time for further scrutiny.

--We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, cover by W. Teason

This is one of my favorite books, and there have been several editions with great, creepy covers (like the first edition, and the recent one by T. Ott), but I've always found this image particularly memorable. It's more lurid than the book itself, which achieves its potent black magic by constantly skirting along the supernatural without ever quite crossing over. But I like that Teason's cover gives just a kiss of surrealism to the story that wouldn't sit well within the book, but fits perfectly on a cheap paperback you can slip in your back pocket.

--A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes, cover by Ilonka Karasz

There was a line of classics by Time-Life Books in the 60s that all have painted wraparound covers, most of which are really exotic and beautiful, and some of them surprisingly weird. I'm always looking out for these, so it's fortunate that they're so distinctive you can spot them from across a room (although some of the covers are printed on a sadly brittle, waxy material). Despite being a rambunctious book about a group of kids left in the care of pirates, A High Wind In Jamaica has one of the quieter covers, but I've always found the shapes, colors, and motion of this landscape very appealing. Ilonka Karasz also illustrated dozens of beautiful covers for the New Yorker over several decades.

The New Yorker covers by Karasz are here and there are many more Time-Life Books covers in this Flickr set.

--Who Fears the Devil? by Manly Wade Wellman, cover by unknown

Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John is a wandering hillbilly troubadour who encounters ghosts and other horrible things in the North Carolina mountains, sort of like Bound For Glory but with ancient evils awakening at every rest stop. This folk-art looking cover for the first Silver John collection really captures the rustic but sinister tall-tale character of the stories. I couldn't find the artist behind this one, although it does have that great bleeding-ink look that Bob Pepper uses sometimes, so that's a tentative guess (although I could, like Matt, just be overeager to believe that every awesome book cover is by Pepper!). The first edition hardcover from Arkham House has a killer cover too, by Lee Brown Coye.

If you would like to contribute a "Covers We Like" post, I would be honored. Send me an email and we'll sort it out.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


If you're impatient, the illustration for page 001 of Heart of Darkness is the third one in this post, down near the bottom. If you'd like to know more, read on.

I'm often a slow starter but a brutal finisher. Heart of Darkness was at times agonizing to conceptualize because this is the first time I've created something specifically for publication and profit. That kind of thing can sometimes mess with my head, and part of the struggle is fighting back against worries about expectations and finding ways to once again follow that inner voice. Finishing this first illustration, for page 001, took me over a week and three tries before I finally felt like I got it right. And even then, what I thought was "right" turned out to be wrong at the last minute. I'm following my gut instinct instead, as I always have.

First, some details. This is how it's going to work. I'm going to create 100 completely new illustrations to accompany Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. These illustrations will be collected and published, with Conrad's complete text of the novel, in a beautiful new edition of the book in late in 2013 by my publisher, the esteemed Tin House Books. Once again, I will be creating these illustrations in a linear manner, starting with the first page and ending with the last. This time, however, I will not be creating one illustration each day. That almost cost me my sanity and my life with the Moby-Dick project and I will never walk down that road again. I'll finish the last piece for Heart of Darkness some time this year, but I anticipate taking most of 2012 to finish these so you won't see a new piece of art posted on this blog every single day. Additionally, these illustrations will be far more focused, unified and consistent, unlike my Moby-Dick illustrations where I allowed myself to explore a wide variety of styles and media. Finally, while I will be using a variety of media again, these illustrations will all be on thick white watercolor paper, not found paper.

I will be posting the first 50 to 60 illustrations on this blog and on my web site Spudd 64, but I will keep the remaining 40 or 50 under wraps until a few months after the book is out. So I suppose you'll have to acquire the illustrated version to see how I deal with "The horror! The horror!" I do hope you will though. I've been obsessing, pleasantly, about that piece for quite some time now.

On to the art. As I mentioned, I created three versions of the illustration for the first page, trying very hard to pin down just how I wanted this visual journey to proceed. Ultimately, like with my Moby-Dick illustrations, this is how I, Matt Kish, see the novel. This is what it means to me. This is my version, and is as much about me as it is about Conrad and Marlow and Kurtz. I had a remarkably clear vision of this immediately, but I doubted myself. I forced myself to explore other avenues. I second-guessed my intentions and I worried, as embarrassing as that is to admit, what people would think. Up until the very last minute, seconds before typing this post, I was in flux. Finally, I decided it had to be mine and I knew which way to go.

So this was my first attempt. I am happy with some elements of this piece, but it is far too subtle and does not reproduce well digitally at all. I knew this would be more of a study than a final illustration the moment I completed it.

Title: A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless...

8.75 inches by 10 inches
acrylic paint and ink on watercolor paper
April 15, 2012

I completed what would become the final version next, so I'll share that at the end. After a few days of doubt and corrosive worry, I pushed myself into trying something vastly different. Heart of Darkness is a tremendously atmospheric and psychological novel and I began to worry that any overly precise drawings would rob the work of its subtlety. I was concerned they would anchor it too greatly in some kind of specific reality that would in the end do the book a disservice. Thinking about how to represent this darkness and horror viscerally and visually, but in some kind of less direct and specific way, I created this piece last night.

Title: A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless...

9 inches by 12 inches
acrylic paint and ink on watercolor paper
April 23, 2012

And I liked it a great deal. I still do. But it really is not true to my own vision. It's a grudging concession. It's what I worried I was SUPPOSED to do. I agonized over this, especially since I like working loose like this. Finally, I had to admit to myself that the 10 illustrations I created last summer for the book, and the second version of page 001 I had created, were simply much closer to how I see this story in my head. And that, whether viewers liked it or not, I had to be true to that or this project would take more from me than it would ever give. So here, fully of very sharp and precise shapes and lines, is the official illustration for page 001 of Heart of Darkness...

Title: A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless...

8.75 inches by 12 inches
acrylic paint and ink on watercolor paper
April 19, 2012

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Photos from S.P.A.C.E. day one

Here are some of my impressions of the first day of S.P.A.C.E. here in Columbus where I have an exhibitor's table.

One gentleman who stopped by my table showed me his impressive Gustave Dore tattoo...

Tom Williams was in a daze...

Dara Naraghi was sick as a dog the whole time...

Brent Bowman spent most of the day drawing while Craig Bogart chewed the fat...

Brent's warrior on horseback...

My wonderful wife and Leighton Connor looking at...something...

A portion of my table, with books, zines and original art for sale...

Leighton's new book, Laser Brigade...

...and his original art on display...

Impressions from the show...

Finally my sketch in a friend's sketchbook, from last year's S.P.A.C.E....

More from day two tomorrow.