Tuesday, July 31, 2012

SKETCHBOOKS: early sketches

For many years my sketching was very sporadic, which is something I regret. I've culled these images from whatever I have left from those early sketchbooks, which is really not much. Still, I do quite like some of these, and it's strange to revisit them again after so many years. I can see some ideas taking root here. These all date from 1998 to 2005.














About that Tumblr...

In May, at the urging of several friends and contacts in the publishing industry, I expanded my online presence by creating a separate Tumblr, which you can find here. I also set up a Twitter account, although I have yet to make any use of that.

Unsure of how to best use this blog, the new Tumblr, Twitter, my public Facebook page and my own personal and many-years-old personal web site Spudd64.com, I solicited advice from a few friends whose point of view I trusted and whose experience in the online world far exceeded my own. Surprisingly, their opinions were more varied than I would have guessed, and ultimately I had to make my own decisions based on a wide variety of ideas and input.

Initially, the plan was to continue to use this blog to post all my new art, book illustrations, and comics and to continue to post longer, more thoughtful written pieces such as my notes on Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, the marginally obsessive book junkie posts, ruminations and posts from guest bloggers on book covers, travel stories and photographs and so on. The Tumblr would be a home for my sketchbooks and occasional illustrations from others that I found interesting and inspirational. The Facebook page would primarily be a way for me to publicize any book events, occasionally share art, and link out to posts on either this blog or the Tumblr. That all worked well, but only for a while.

I've come to realize that really, those who are kind enough to visit me at any of those sites are, by and large, completely different groups of people. I know there are a handful of you, most of whom I have shared some contact with through either emails or phone calls, who do visit all of the sites. But in general, through responding to comments and watching re-posts and re-blogs, it is really very clear that the person that visits my Tumblr is very often not going to find me on Facebook or to ever read this blog. That gave me some pause, and I reconsidered my plans.

Rather than prematurely shut anything down, I've decided to keep this all going. The exchanges have more often than not been wonderful, and the chance to share my art with so many other people has been one of the best experiences in my life. And yes, I have a vested personal interest in continuing that, hopefully with more and more people. So for now, realizing that these are indeed three different ways to reach different people, there will be some overlap and some repeated content. Here's what I have in mind.

This blog will remain unchanged. All of my art, illustrations, sketches, photographs, comics, thoughts on books and book covers and art and artists and the world and everything will be posted here. This blog, out of every other presence I have online, will always be the most personal, the most intimate, and the most fully developed.

The Tumblr will also be used as a place for me to post my art, illustrations, sketches, photographs and comics, but nothing else. It will be entirely visual with no real commentary or writing from me, and the hope is that the presence of my art and my published illustrations on the Tumblr will facilitate wider re-blogging, linking, and general sharing.

Finally, my public Facebook page will be used to share organized albums of my art and illustrations as well as to link out to posts on this blog, mostly about book events I might be doing or interviews I have given. Facebook seems especially well suited for publicity, so that's mostly what I'll be using it for.

So, if you only have a very limited amount of time (and who doesn't) but still want to find time in your day to see what I have been up to (something which I truly and sincerely appreciate very much) then I suppose this blog is where you'll want to head. If you regularly check in on Facebook, or you have a Tumblr of your own and like to share what you find, or even both, then I truly do hope you will "like" me on Facebook and "follow" me on Tumblr. I promise there will always be something a little different and new from me on both of those sites.

So for the next day or two, I'll be adding the contents of some of my sketchbooks to this blog. There's some good stuff in there, and I think you'll like seeing how these ideas start. Now, if I could just figure out what to do with Twitter...

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Book of the New Sun: Notes #03

The Miracle of Apu-Punchau
In The Book of the New Sun, no mystery is more baffling to me than what occurs in the stone town in the final chapter of the second book The Claw of the Conciliator. After their experiences at the House Absolute and the subsequent parting of ways with Baldanders and Dr. Talos, Severian, traveling again with Dorcas and the rapidly fading Jolenta, traverse miles of pampas heading ever northward toward the city of Thrax. Stopping to rest one evening, and to nurse Jolenta who, in the absence of Dr. Talos' treatments and ministrations is losing her glamour and apparently her life force, the trio enters a stone town. In his excellent Lexicon Urthus, Michael Andre-Driussi has this to say about the stone town:

[A]n ancient ruin located in the arid lands between the House Absolute and Thrax. It is a magical area which seems to draw travelers in, stepping into (or "bending") their path if they try to go around. This is the town that Apu-Punchau visited and made his capital in the Age of Myth. His house is located here and his spirit is the vivimancer that draws people.

Wolfe's description of the stone town shows it to be quite beautiful in its desolation. What we found instead was scarcely the remnant of a town. Coarse grass grew between the enduring stones that had been its pavements, so that from a distance it seemed hardly different from the surrounding pampa. Fallen columns lay among this grass like the trunks of trees in a forest devastated by some frenzied storm; a few others still stood, broken and achingly white beneath the sun. Lizards with bright, black eyes and serrated backs lay frozen in the light. The buildings were mere hillocks from which more grass sprouted in soil caught from the wind.

(That description reminds me so powerfully of the excellent PlayStation 2 videogame The Shadow of the Colossus that it is almost eerie. I would not be at all surprised if the designers of that game had, among other things, been deeply influenced by some of Wolfe's writing.)

Making camp for the night, Severian and Dorcas fear, rightly so, that Jolenta will be dead soon. As they settle in, they see what appears at first to be a meteor but realize that what they are truly seeing are sparks from a campfire on a nearby rooftop. As they make their way to that stone hut and climb to the roof, they discover an old woman, the Cumaean, a young woman, her acolyte Merryn, and a third man, Hildegrin the Badger (who Severian has encountered twice before, in the necropolis in Nessus and in the Botanical Gardens). The three are there to summon Apu-Punchau at the behest of Vodalus, who wishes to return the stagnating race of Man to its former glory by destroying the Autarch and the Commonwealth. When asked about Apu-Punchau and this summoning, Hildegrin answers:

"Bringin' back the past," Hildegrin told her grandly, "Divin' back into the time of old Urth's greatness. There was somebody who used to live in this here place we're sittin' on that knew things that could make a difference. I intend to have him up. It'll be the high point, if I may say it, of a career that's already considered pretty spectacular in knowin' circles."

Later, Dorcas asks the Cumaean who Apu-Punchau was, and the Cumaean is silent, leaving Merryn to answer:

"Less than a legend, for not even the scholars now remember his story. The Mother has told us that his name means the Head of Day. In the earliest eons he appeared among the people here and taught them many wonderful secrets. Often he vanished, but always he returned. At last he did not return, and invaders laid waste to his cities. Now he shall return for the last time."

Just a few lines later, Merryn offers some subtle but very crucial information about the nature and structure of time. Gradually, the reader should be learning more and more about Severian's role in all of this as well as his ability to walk the corridors of time himself.

"All time exists. That is the truth beyond the legends the epopts tell. If the future did not exist now, how could we journey toward it? If the past does not exist still, how could we leave it behind us? In sleep the mind is encircled by its time, which is why we so often hear the voices of the dead there, and receive intelligence of things to come."

A strange ceremony begins in which the group joins hands, men to one side and women to the other, and the Cumaean, who is really a cacogen and not at all human, swallows a strange rod-like device. Severian feels his thoughts "surrounded by hers, as a fish in a bowl floats in a bubble of invisible water" and then his thoughts are hurled off among the ruins. When he comes to his senses, he is on the roof still, his mouth filled with blood from biting his tongue. At first he thinks he is alone, but he sees the vaporous and insubstantial shapes of his companions nearby. Hildegrin is a "phantom" while Jolenta is the "the dimmest of all, hardly present. More had been done to her than Merryn had guessed; I saw wires and bands of metal beneath her flesh, though even they were dim." Dorcas, while dim, is for some reason I have not yet figured out, "more solid in appearance than Hildegrin" while Merryn is a "black-clad doll" and the non-human Cumaean resembles "Something sleekly reptilian coiled about the glowing rod. I looked for the head but found none, though each of the patternings on the reptile's back was a face, and the eyes of each face seemed lost in rapture." How like a biblical angel does that description sound? Severian wisely surmises that they all "are seeing ourselves from a perspective longer than a single instant's." Which explains the phantom nature of their bodies.

After watching the dust swirl like a swarm of insects, beasts of burden appear and gradually before their eyes the stone town is rebuilt until it is once again complete. People appear, "a bandylegged race who walked like sailors and rolled cyclopean stones with the might of their wide shoulders" and soon a painted shaman dancing wildly enters the scene. There is the sound of drums, and by the echoes Severian can tell he is listening to them from a time when the stone town was surrounded by a great jungle. It is clear, at this point, the far past has connected with the present. Dancers follow this shaman in a snaking procession all the way to the blocked door of the house upon which Severian and his companions watch this all from. There is a crash, the stone slab of the door falls away, and then an odor like myrrh and roses wafts up. Again, the church!

The man that comes forth is amazing, and should be very familiar to readers. He has a face Severian has known since childhood (of course!), the face on the funeral bronze inside the mausoleum Severian played in as a child and which, by now, all readers should realize is Severian's own face. Severian is seeing Apu-Punchau, yet Apu-Punchau is, in every way, Severian. The Head of Day. The New Sun.

Apu-Punchau walks to the center of the crowd of dancers and raises his arms, staring directly at Severian and truly seeing him. At this moment, on his mission from Vodalus, the ghostly form of Hildegrin darts into the crowd and grabs Apu-Punchau. And here, a bizarre struggle ensues.

Apu-Punchau, I felt certain, did see him, just as he had seen us on the rooftop and as Isangoma had seen Agia and me. Yet I do not believe he saw Hildegrin as I saw him, and it may be that what he saw seemed as strange to him as the Cumaean had to me. Hildegrin held him, but he could not subdue him. Apu-Punchau struggled, but he could not break free. Hildegrin looked up to me and shouted for help.

I do not know why I responded. Certainly I no longer consciously desired to serve Vodalus and his purposes. Perhaps it was the lingering effect of the alzabo, or only the memory of Hildegrin's rowing Dorcas and me across the Lake of Birds.

I tried to push the bandylegged men away, but one of their random blows caught the side of my head and knocked me to my knees. When I rose again, I seemed to have lost sight of Apu-Punchau among the leaping, shrieking dancers. Instead there were two Hildegrins, one who grappled with me, one who fought something invisible. Wildly I threw off the first and tried to come to the aid of the second.


And then the passage ends. When the narrative begins again, Severian is returning to consciousness on the rooftop, in a driving rain, alone save for Dorcas and the corpse of Jolenta. And the book ends.

So...what? Two Hildegrins? Some struggle that ends with...what again? What the hell just happened and how is this some kind of climax? I've tried for decades to suss this out, and only now do I think I am finally making some kind of headway.

Readers of the books will know that Severian and Apu-Punchau are one and the same, although I believe this is explored much more in the later two books as well as the fifth, The Urth of the New Sun. That explains some things but why two Hildegrins? And why the sudden, mysterious non-ending to the entire struggle? For once, I believe Robert Borski has it absolutely right. From his collection of essays, The Solar Labyrinth.

To reprise, if perhaps confusedly so, these events: at the behest of Hildegrin the Badger, the Cumaean and Merryn conjure up a living Stone Town, which is reigned over by Apu-Punchau, an earlier iteration of Severian. Hildegrin, it seems, seeks knowledge, explaining, "There was somebody who used to live in this here place we're sittin' on that knew things that could make a difference." But when he attempts to seize Apu-Punchau, the timeline fractures. Severian, while remaining yet himself, also becomes Apu-Punchau - hence sees two Hildegrins, one from his own perspective, the other from Apu-Punchau's. Severian - as Apu-Punchau - subsequently attempts to free himself from Hildegrin #1, while ur-Severian attempts to aid Hildegrin #2, who appears to be wrestling with somebody invisible - Apu-Punchau. But when the two Hildegrins approach each other too closely, they wind up obliterating one another, and the timeline reneals itself.

That is, I think, the best explanation I have yet come across and while it does not fully explain the complexities of Severian's existence in multiple parts of his timeline at once, it goes a long way toward rectifying some of what could at first be mistaken for inconsistencies. I am more eager than ever to reach the fifth book and hopefully finally understand how there are multiple Severians, and how they are all yet the same.

I've puzzled over why Wolfe chose to end Claw this way and I think it is more to lay down story threads than for anything else. The Apu-Punchau connection doesn't pay off for the reader for another three books, but Wolfe is doing his best to show, without telling, that Severian exists outside of and all throughout time. The subtlety with which Wolfe conveys this information is almost maddening. I know I missed it entirely on my first and my second readings. It's all there but, as with nearly everything Wolfe writes, looking at what isn't written is as important, if not moreso, as reading what is written.

Book Junkie #003: "Codex Seraphinianus" by Luigi Serafini



Title: Codex Seraphinianus
Author / Artist: Luigi Serafini
Publisher: Rizzoli (for this, a later edition)
Hardcover: approximately 350 pages
Language: an invented language with an invented alphabet, generally undecipherable
ISBN: 8817013897
Dimensions: 14 inches by 9 inches, about 2 inches thick
Year of Publication: first edition 1981, this edition 2006
Price: variable
Status: out of print although there are copies of multiple editions available online

One of the very first things I did when I began earning some money from my own book Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page and the sales of the art from the book was to begin hunting down the out of print and hard to find books I had always wanted to own but never had the means to. Codex Seraphinianus was first on that list.

Originally published in Italy in 1981, Codex Seraphinianus is a lushly illustrated encyclopedia of a bizarre imaginary world. The entire thing was conceived of and created by the Italian artist and designer Luigi Serafini over a period of about 30 months in the late 1970s.

One of the many many fascinating things about the book is that it is written by hand in a bizarre and completely made-up language and alphabet. To the best of my knowledge, the text has never been deciphered, leading many to believe that the book is actually a false writing system and the "words" are essentially nonsense. Serafini himself has added some credibility to this argument by stating that he wanted this alphabet of his to convey to readers the same sense of disorientation and wonder that children feel when they see text that they cannot read or understand yet know that it contains meaning and sense.

From this well written Wikipedia article about the book, here is a rough breakdown of its arrangement and contents.

1. The first chapter describes many types of flora: strange flowers, trees that uproot themselves and migrate, etc.

2. The second chapter is devoted to the fauna of this world, depicting many animals that are surreal variations of the horse, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, birds, etc.

3. The third chapter deals with what seems to be a separate kingdom of odd bipedal creatures.

4. The fourth chapter deals with something that seems to be physics and chemistry, and is by far the most abstract and enigmatic.

5. The fifth chapter deals with bizarre machines and vehicles.

6. The sixth chapter explores the general humanities: biology, sexuality, various aboriginal peoples, and even shows examples of plant life and tools (such as pens and wrenches) grafted directly into the human body.

7. The seventh chapter is historical. It shows many people (some only vaguely human) of unknown significance, giving their times of birth and death. It also depicts many scenes of historical (and possibly religious) significance. Also included are examples of burial and funereal customs.

8. The eighth chapter depicts the history of the Codex's alien writing system.

9. The ninth chapter deals with food, dining practices, and clothing.

10. The tenth chapter describes bizarre games (including playing cards and board games) and athletic sports.

11. The eleventh chapter is devoted entirely to architecture.

But enough of that. What you really want is to actually SEE some of this book. As I mentioned above, there have been several editions of the book. The first, from 1981, is the most expensive and looks to have been two hardcover volumes in a slipcase, like this.


The edition I own, pictured at the top of this post, is a much later single volume edition. Still, it is an absolutely lovely and bizarre book. The cover is a wonderfully creamy, smooth thing, almost like some kind of thin vinyl. Stamped slightly into that vinyl is a reflective gold ink and examples of the book's imaginary alphabet.


The metallic ink detailing is repeated on the title, really the only readable words in the book.


And, the back cover. I'm not too thrilled with the plastered on back cover blurb, but it's pretty firmly adhesed and I'd rather not risk trying to peel it off. Also, since the book is five years old, I ended up having to purchase a slightly less expensive used copy from a European dealer, so you see some slight wear. Still, the book is in remarkably good shape and a beautiful object.


The art inside is especially effective because it combines elements of the familiar with something subtly alien, off-putting and surreal. The colors are often bright and brilliant like this, resembling colored pencil drawings more than anything. Here is one of many many examples of the wonderful weirdness of this compendium, some sort of catalogue of creatures having something to do with three dimensional rainbows full of holes. Serafini's made-up alphabet is on full display as well.


A close-up of that page, to give you a better idea of Serafini's art and his use of color.


More strange fauna from Serafini's world, and what I really love about the way this page and many like it are designed and laid out is that there really is the sense that there is some kind of organized system behind this all. That these entries (drawings and text) really are part of some kind of encyclopedia delineating the inhabitants of some alien world. It's all marvelously well done.


This edition is printed on absolutely wonderful paper. Thick, soft, and creamy with a lovely ribbed texture to it. You can see the quality of the paper in this close-up.


A few of the images are drawn in a landscape style, which nicely takes advantage of the height of the book.



I am rather foolishly sentimental about such touches, but when a book has a placemarker ribbon I am generally smitten. Yes, the Codex does.


In so many ways, Codex Serafinianus reminds me of Rene Laloux's phenomenal 1973 animated science fiction film Fantastic Planet, which I feel certain some of you reading this have seen. If not, here is the trailer, which should hopefully interest you enough to track it down.



A few stills from that film, which I think demonstrate some solid aesthetic and conceptual parallels between the two works.






Fantastic Planet is well worth the time and the money. Check it out. Back to Codex Serafinianus though. My edition has, in a small mylar sleeve adhesed to the inside of the back cover, a small, orange, stapled pamphlet titled Decodex. You can imagine my great joy when I saw this and hurriedly slid it out of the sleeve, hoping to have the mysteries of Serafini's bizarre writing system revealed to me...


...only to discover that the entire thing is written in Italian.


It is on lovely paper though. And in spite of the fact that Serafini's Codex Seraphinianus will probably forever remain a mystery to me, this book is still a treasure. It is not at all hard for me to take it down from the bookshelf and open it up imagining that it is some kind of alien artifact that has come to me from millions of years away. A strange kind of encyclopedia, displaced in time and space, creating more questions than it answers. I'm really pleased I was finally able to find a copy of this.

EDIT: Although in general, I deeply discourage any kind of digital piracy, in this case since the book is out of print, rare, and expensive, I will allude to the fact that for the curious, multiple blogs provide download links for a full PDF version of the entire book. Again, pursue at your own discretion but if you are curious about the contents of this amazing book, and you really should be, but simply cannot spend three figures for it this may be a satisfactory solution.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

HEART OF DARKNESS, page 023

Title: "Can't say I saw any road or any upkeep, unless the body of a middle-aged negro, with a bullet-hole in the forehead, upon which I absolutely stumbled three miles farther on, may be considered as a permanent improvement."

7.75 inches by 11 inches
acrylic paint and ink on watercolor paper
July 2, 2012

Saturday, July 28, 2012

HEART OF DARKNESS, page 022

Title: "In the steady buzz of flies the homeward-bound agent was lying finished and insensible; the other, bent over his books, was making correct entries of perfectly correct transactions…"

7.75 inches by 11 inches
acrylic paint and ink on watercolor paper
July 16, 2012

Friday, July 27, 2012

HEART OF DARKNESS, page 021

Title: "It was hot there, too; big flies buzzed fiendishly, and did not sting, but stabbed."

7.75 inches by 11 inches
ink and marker on watercolor paper
July 11, 2012

Thursday, July 26, 2012

HEART OF DARKNESS, page 020

Title: "When near the buildings I met a white man, in such an unexpected elegance of get-up that in the first moment I took him for a sort of vision. I saw a high starched collar, white cuffs, a light alpaca jacket, snowy trousers, a clean necktie, and varnished boots. No hat. Hair parted, brushed, oiled, under a green-lined parasol held in a big white hand. He was amazing, and had a penholder behind his ear."

7.75 inches by 11 inches
acrylic paint and ink on watercolor paper
July 3, 2012

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

HEART OF DARKNESS, page 019

Title: "They were dying slowly -- it was very clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now -- nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom."

7.75 inches by 11 inches
ink and marker on watercolor paper
July 3, 2012

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

HEART OF DARKNESS, page 018

Title: "Behind this raw matter one of the reclaimed, the product of the new forces at work, strolled despondently, carrying a rifle by its middle. He had a uniform jacket with one button off, and seeing a white man on the path, hoisted his weapon to his shoulder with alacrity. This was simple prudence, white men being so much alike at a distance that he could not tell who I might be. He was speedily reassured, and with a large, white, rascally grin, and a glance at his charge, seemed to take me into partnership in his exalted trust. After all, I also was a part of the great cause of these high and just proceedings."

7.75 inches by 11 inches
acrylic paint and ink on watercolor paper
July 2, 2012

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Covers: Creepy Magazine

Reading Eerie Presents: Hunter...


...and eagerly, almost breathlessly, anticipating Creepy Presents Richard Corben, which may indeed be the most exciting book of the year for me...


...has gotten me thinking about all of the Warren Magazines I read as a kid in the 1970s. Although I grew up in a household where science fiction and fantasy paperbacks, comics, and the occasional issue of Heavy Metal were the norm, my father never really paid much attention to Creepy, Eerie or Vampirella. Given his appreciation for Heavy Metal I'm certain that this wasn't really a question of any kind of puritanism. Knowing what I do about my father's sense of aesthetics, I can only assume that his aversion to these magazines was due to the fact that he considered their contents rather cheap, trashy and poorly executed. While that may be true, it's not an entirely fair characterization of these fine old magazines and I do think that time has proven that there was quite an embarrassment of riches, at least in a visual sense, between those covers.

Oddly enough, the lack of Creepy and Eerie made these magazines into a kind of forbidden fruit for me, so it was always with trembling hands and an air of transgression that I occasionally smuggled home a friend's copy to read in the privacy of my room. I remember next to nothing about any of the stories, but I do remember some of the art and I definitely remember the covers. With Dark Horse and Dynamite now fully engaged in an exhaustive archival reprint project for seemingly every Warren Magazine, as well as the cherry-picked collections I mentioned above, the time seems ripe for a healthy appreciation of the fabulous art that graced the covers of so many of these pulp masterpieces. I would love to some day see most of these collected in a beautiful, massive art book, with or without the logos. Such gems.

After the first cover, these are in no particular order because honestly it is just too hard for me to choose which I like more than others. They are all wonderful. But this first one absolutely terrified me as a child and to this day it gives me a strange and sickly feeling of indefinable fear when I see it. Enjoy the rest, my (more or less) favorite eleven Creepy covers.










(This one still weirds me out. Even as a child I could sense the bizarre yet heavyhanded symbolism. It always seemed so powerful, so epic to me. Good and evil, you know?)


(Finally, the fittingly titled "Gorilla Warfare" issue. All ape stories, if I am remembering it accurately.)