Saturday, June 30, 2012

Emergency hiatus

Severe weather has caused extensive damage in central Ohio and hurled a tree branch through the wall of my house. There is no electricity and it is not supposed to be back until next Saturday, July 7 at midnight. I will have no access to the studio, a scanner, or a computer until then and extremely limited access to email. Signing off for now, hopefully back in a week.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Friday diversions: Severian

So, it appears that my good friend Gigantic Joe Kuth and I were scouring the internet looking for New Sun and Severian-related art at the same time. I found a few pieces ranging from odd to quite good and Joe passed along some really amazing finds as well. I'm going to post them here, with full artist attribution and links back to the artist's web sites. As far as I can tell, with a few obvious exceptions, none of these have been published and they were all created for personal reasons. Off we go.

First, let's take a look at the evolution of Severian's appearance as he first appeared on the American editions of the books with covers by Don Maitz. I know RF was not fond of the initial cover for The Shadow of the Torturer but, perhaps due to nostalgia, I always quite liked it and felt that it was an excellent introduction to the strange world of Urth and the tale of Severian's rise to the throne.

The young, masked journeyman torturer Severian appears fairly similar on the cover to book two, The Claw of the Conciliator, another cover I liked although I was always a little put off by the histrionic man-apes.

I felt that things started to go downhill with the cover to volume three, The Sword of the Lictor. Severian looks acceptable, although I'm not too sure about the spiky hair, but this Baldanders simply looks dreadful. Far too brutish, lumbering, and ape-like. And in some way, far too mundane. This was Severian's competition as the bringer of the New Sun?

But it's the cover of the fourth volume that really derails the whole affair. I understand that by this point, Severian has journeyed hundreds of miles through the wilderness, he has been lamed and scarred and starving, and he is older. But how does that teenage journeyman from the cover of the first book become a massive, muscular, cross-eyed, blue-skinned barbarian?

Stranger still, I found this preliminary cover treatment by Maitz showing a very different scene. Severian, with appropriately colored skin, in battle against the Ascians' bizarre unit of dwarves riding giants. An eerie and memorable scene, definitely, although Severian does look entirely too static in the midst of what was battlefield chaos.

As an aside, I wanted to include this cover, from what I believe was the British edition of the second omnibus Sword and Citadel by Jim Burns. Although decidedly more realistic and somewhat subdued, I feel it captures some of the heaviness of Severian's sombre nature as well as the grim necessities of warfare.

Centipede Press recently published exclusive limited editions of each of the four books. Actually, I am not certain if they have completed Citadel yet but I know they planned to. At first, these really appealed to me because they were large, lovely, and illustrated. But they were priced around $200 each and while I am certain they were worth that due to the amount of care and labor poured into each title, I simply couldn't justify to myself spending nearly a thousand dollars for a series I already owned in multiple formats. Additionally, once I saw the illustrations, by German artist Alexander Preuss, I wasn't as enthusiastic. To me, they were far too slick, cold, impersonal, and digital. They just didn't seem to fit a series of books that, to me, always looked backward as much as they looked forward. Here are a few of Preuss' illustrations. First, Severian leaving Nessus.

Severian wandering.

Finally, Severian confronting the dying sun. I love the solar and divine imagery here.

Another fact which has only recently come to my attention is that at one point there was an attempt to turn New Sun into a comic. I believe it was going to be a series of mini-series, like Pacific and First did with the Moorcock Eternal Champion books back in the 1980s. Innovation was the publisher, and only one or two issues were put out though. Ted Naifeh handled the art, and there are a few images floating around online. I straight up stole these from this fascinating post by Mordicai (who is quickly becoming one of my go-to people for all things fantasy book related), and, like he said, these seem to be "surprisingly un-terrible." Heavy echoes of the early Vertigo Sandman comics here, which is not necessarily an awful thing, although the cover is astoundingly wrong.

Now, on to the unpublished art. I'm not comfortable with the term "fan art" because that seems faintly derogatory and dismissive. I'm not sure what to call these though, so I'll stick with unpublished. First, a drawing of the crest that Severian visits in his tomb, from very early in Shadow, by artist and cartoonist Joel Priddy. I liked this because the crest was always hard for me to really see in my mind, although I do think Priddy was a bit literal.

Priddy has done four other drawings exploring New Sun which you can see here. Most of them feature a very young Severian, and I'm not sure how I feel about them. I really like Priddy's work, and his graphic novel Pulpatoon Pilgrimage is exquisite, but I really think his Severian is just too cute to work well.

Ordinarily, I am diligent about bookmarking sites and crediting artists, but even with the assistance of a Google image search, I cannot for the life of me find where I first saw this piece. I am sincerely sorry that I can't credit the artist, and if anyone knows where this is from, let me know and I will immediately edit the post. This is an odd piece but its almost Medieval crudeness and heavy religious imagery appealed to me immediately and seemed somehow strangely appropriate for Severian.

Too cartoony for my tastes, but I did like seeing the avern in this piece by Rebecca Dart and she seems to have the details down very nicely.

A bit of a Gothic / steampunk vibe to this Severian by Paul Chung. Mostly good, but the boots aren't doing much for me.

And now we start to kick some ass. Yeah, this one is cartoony and rude and in your face, but I like it. It seems to fit, somehow. This is a portrait of Severian by artist Jimmy Giegerich. Definitely metal, but I am always a sucker for that.

On his Tumblr The Ayatollah of Rock 'n Rollah Jimmy mentioned fellow artist Andrea Kalfas and her Tumblr where she posted this remarkable illustration of Severian being confronted by one of the undines. A very memorable scene, incredibly imagined by Andrea.

Which Jimmy then responded to with his own phenomenal drawing of the conclusion of that scene with the undine. This is fucking mindblowing.

It's really hard to top that so I'll close with some oddities. First, a strange illustration of Severian's temporary traveling companion, the little Severian, getting blasted on the gold ring of Typhon. This one is by Thomas Herpich and it is so strange because it takes a truly shocking and almost heartbreaking scene and makes it kind of, well, alarmingly amusing.

What post would be complete without a Playmobil Severian? No post, that's the answer! This gem is from this intriguing post on the blog of Don Doggett. And I LOVE it.

And finally, I will close with this incredibly bizarre cover, again from the UK, for a paperback edition of Citadel which, for some reason, features one of the Autarch's flying semi-nude female harpy soldiers (I can't remember what they were called. Can anyone help?)

Many many thanks to all the artists who have created art based on these magnificent books. I have an idea for a drawing of the Hierodules Ossipago, Barbatus and Famulimus that I may contribute to this growing body of work. All I need is the time. Also, many many thanks to my compadre Gigantic Joe Kuth for his help unearthing some of this art and to Mordicai for posting about the comic. Have a good weekend, everyone.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Title: "A slight clinking behind me made me turn my head. Six black men advanced in a file, toiling up the path. They walked erect and slow, balancing small baskets full of earth on their heads, and the clink kept time with their footsteps. Black rags were wound round their loins, and the short ends behind waggled to and fro like tails. I could see every rib, the joints of their limbs were like knots in a rope; each had an iron collar on his neck, and all were connected together with a chain whose bights swung between them, rhythmically clinking."

7.75 inches by 11 inches
acrylic paint on watercolor paper
June 24, 2012

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Covers: Fred Saberhagen's "Berserkers"

As a birthday gift to myself, I recently purchased two original drawings from artist Ian Miller titled Berserker Machine 1 and Berserker Machine 2.

These are really fantastic. Now, I am not absolutely certain, but I strongly suspect that these drawings were created for some sort of publication of Fred Saberhagen's Berserker stories, either as book covers or magazine illustrations. I've only read a handful of these Berserker stories, and it has been many years, but the concept is kind of fascinating in its simplicity and brutality.

The Berserkers first appeared in a series of science fiction stories Saberhagen wrote in the early 1960s and published in various magazines. As initially conceived, Berserkers were self-replicating robotic doomsday weapons that had been created by a race of beings known as the Builders in order to eradicate their rivals, the Red Race. Berserkers could be as massive as an asteroid or as small as a human being. The Builders were victorious against the Red Race, completely wiping them out, but shortly after this the Berserkers turned against the Builders and exterminated them as well. The Berserkers now roam the galaxy, replicating and repairing themselves, on a mission to seek out all organic life and destroy it. Quite a concept, huh?

This morning, my wife and I were discussing the possibilities of extraterrestrial life and the recent theory that more advanced forms of life may actually be machine based, Ian's drawings and the Berserkers came to mind again. I did some searching, curious to see how these doomsday machines had been depicted on the covers of the various anthologies they appeared in. As always, the results were a mixed bag, and the earlier covers are by far the best.

Here is one of the earliest examples I could find, a wonderful Penguin paperback edition from 1970 by Franco Grignani...

Ballantine put out a really nice edition as well, and I'm fairly certain this is a painting by Richard M. Powers...

I couldn't find any specific information about a currently in-print anthology with the title Berserker's Planet but one obviously existed at some point, and one of the editions had this exceptionally beautiful cover by, I think, Jeffrey Catherine Jones.

EDIT: This cover is actually by Peter Alan Jones. Many thanks to Jerry Boucher, also a talented artist, for pointing out my error.

This one though may be the best of them all, other than Miller's drawings. This cover by Jack Gaughan is phenomenal. So wrong, and still so very right...

Brother Assassin was a short novel by Saberhagen about the Berserkers and I quite like this threatening cover with its crazed, hooded evil robot and that incredibly florid blurb under the title...

I thought that cover looked very familiar though and was a bit surprised to see that it had been recycled almost wholesale as the cover to Roger Zelazny's Trumps of Doom in the 1980s. Odd.

Here's where we start getting into the more modern covers, and they are usually either off-puttingly strange or simply bad. This British paperback edition of Berserker Base is just bizarre, and looks more like a fantasy novel than a science fiction...

However it is still significantly better than this dull and predictable effort from none other than Boris Vallejo...

I can't believe I used to like that guy when I was a kid.

Someone at that British publishing house must have really liked that artist, because this is what they unleashed for The Ultimate Enemy. I am kind of smitten with this one for just being so balls-out insane...

I don't want to use these posts to complain too frequently and consistently about modern book covers, so I will close with this. It's a more recent piece that despite being yet another example of fairly predicatable, "house-style" science fiction, is still a very evocative piece. I'm strangely fond of this, in spite of its almost brutally simple symbolism...

I like these Berserker machines. I'd like to see a giant art book collecting Miller's drawings, some of these covers, and all sorts of other visual interpretations of these doomsday weapons. Man, that would be fun to put together. Perhaps another project for the mythical publishing house Gigantic Joe Kuth and I dream of creating some day.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Title: "I had my passage on a little sea-going steamer. Her captain was a Swede, and knowing me for a seaman, invited me on the bridge. He was a young man, lean, fair, and morose, with lanky hair and a shuffling gait."

7.75 inches by 11 inches
acrylic paint, ink and pencil on watercolor paper
June 19, 2012

Book Junkie #001: "101" by Taiyo Matsumoto

Title: 101 (Big Spirits Comic Special)
Author / Artist: Taiyo Matsumoto
Publisher: Shogakukan (Japan)
Hardcover: approximately 100 pages
Language: Japanese
ISBN: 4091997228
Dimensions: 8.5 inches by 12 inches
Year of Publication: 1999
Price: unknown
Status: uncertain - probably out of print, definitely import only

As I've gone on and on about at some length, Taiyo Matsumoto is one of my favorite artists. I came to his work through his manga Tekkonkinkreet and GOGO Monster but was very pleasantly surprised to learn that two different collections of his art, illustration, and short comics had been released as oversized hardcovers in Japan. I tracked them down through ebay for around $75 each and was thrilled to discover that they were worth the risk. Each is a gorgeous, full color collection of all sorts of odds and ends that add up to an amazing visual feast.

The first to arrive at my doorstep was 101 (Big Spirits Comics Special). I am guessing that Big Spirits must be Matsumoto's manga publisher, or at least they were the publisher he was working with at the time these books were published. Since 101 is from 1999, it does show Matsumoto's work in it's earlier stages. There is far more ligne claire-style pen and ink work and his expressive, brushy style has yet to appear. Still, the book is a delight. Below are the front and back covers, with the typical Japanese obi band, with a dust jacket printed on a very nice thick paper stock with a matte finish.

At only around 100 pages, with about 85 of those pages being filled with art, it is not a very thick book.

You can also see a bit of shelf wear in that image. Since the book is 13 years old, it seems likely that almost all available copies are used. The condition of the one I received was quite good actually, with just some minor wear on the dust jacket.

Removing the dust jacket shows a beautiful design on the boards, a subtle contrast of dark gold ink layered on the pale gold cover, mirroring the cover illustration.

There is really very little text in the book (all of it Japanese) and nearly every page is devoted to big, colorful reproductions of Matsumoto's art, again on a beautiful, thick, matte-finish paper stock. The work appears to have been gathered from Matsumoto's entire career since the pieces collected run the gamut from illustrations to comics to personal work to sketches.

I'm really incredibly happy with this book and it is a fantastic addition to Matsumoto's manga. It is well worth the price and the trouble to track down and I highly recommend it.