Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Wanderer's Return: Virgil Finlay

"Where have they gone, those proudest of dreamers?"
~Ian Read

Lately I've been feeling discouraged by all of the shining souls we've lost to time and dust. It's enough to make even the most stoic among us feel downright gloomy. So today we celebrate the birth of one of the greatest (dead) American horror/fantasy illustrators, Virgil Finlay. Finlay was a master of the macabre whose wonderfully detailed stippling and immaculately rendered scratch board illustrations were a high-water mark in mid 20th century fantasy illustration. Born in Rochester, New York in 1914 Finlay soared to fame like a phallic space ship at the young age of 21 when he boldly submitted several drawings to Farnsworth Wright, editor of the seminal sci-fi pulp magazine Weird Tales. He would go on to become one of the most widely respected artists of the genre and his influence can be detected in the precision line work of comic artists such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Johnny Craig as well as the raunchier nightmare visions of later underground mavericks such as Rory Hayes, Pushead and Mad Marc Rude. In fact, Rory Hayes' trademark Bogeyman character bears more than a passing resemblance to Finlay's 1948 illustration for The House of Rising Winds by Frank Belknap Long (see below). In his own lifetime Finlay earned the colorful praise of H.P. Lovecraft himself (pictured in the odd portrait below) who wrote in a letter to Finlay: "'Holy Yuggoth!', I cried to myself, 'Is it possible that Satrap Pharnabazus [Farnworth Wright] has dug up somebody who has a genuinely fantastic imagination & can really draw?'...Weird Tales at last had an illustrator worthy to rank among the Olympians of its writing staff..." Despite his meticulous time-intensive style, Finlay created more than 2,600 works of art in his abbreviated career. He survived active combat in Okinawa after being drafted during World War II and would've turned 95 today if he had not been taken down prematurely by cancer at the age of 56. To commemorate his fortuitous birth and prodigious influence, I suggest you all eat a handful of mushrooms and stare at the sun until your retinas melt down your face in kaleidoscopic rivulets. Happy Birthday, Virgil! I feel better already.

Detail from Finlay's 1948 illustration for The House of Rising Winds.

Detail from R. Hayes' Bogeyman character probably drawn around 1970.

Finlay's 1949 illustration for Between Worlds.

Detail from Steve Ditko's story in Creepy #10 showing a clear Finlay homage.

Virgil Finlay
July 23, 1914–January 18, 1971

Friday, July 17, 2009

Ellie Frazetta (R.I.P.)

Ellie was one of Frank Frazetta's most beloved subjects and she frequently posed for his paintings throughout their 54 years of marriage.

I regret to announce the passing today of Eleanor Frazetta, loving wife of American artist Frank Frazetta. I met "Ellie" one memorable afternoon in 2004 at the Frazetta Museum in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania when I took a lone pilgrimage to pay my respects to this hero of my childhood. Like so many young artists, Frank Frazetta's seemingly effortless renderings of primordial conflict deeply impacted my pre-adolescent imagination and his museum was everything I had hoped for and more. His compact iconic works have been part of my visual pantheon ever since I convinced my mom to buy my very first Frazetta book when I was eight years old so it was dizzying and almost overwhelming to finally view these paintings up close. It's a small museum but I had to pace myself and exit occasionally for fresh air and a stroll around the property lake. I spent several hours leaning in close at odd angles trying to peak behind the mysterious curtain of pigment that seemed to conceal the essence of his brush strokes. They looked very much like the reproductions I had grown up with except the colors were even more intense. The museum was nearly empty that day but still some fucking asshole's cell phone kept going off at random intervals. Curse the modern world! This went on for much of the afternoon and I was imagining myself decapitating the inconsiderate douchebag like one of Frank's battle-scarred berserkers when suddenly I felt a soft hand gently touch my shoulder. I spun around on my heels and it was Ellie staring back at me, her head slightly tilted to the side and a sympathetic twinkle in her eyes. "Honey," she said warmly, "You're leaning too close to the paintings. It's making the security alarms go off." I looked around the gallery and we were alone. That was no cell phone after all.

"Artist?," Ellie quickly inquired and with that she took my arm and began leading me around the museum for a personal tour. She shared hilarious stories about Frank's paintings and paused in front of his Creepy covers long enough to fulfill my lifelong dream of viewing these monstrosities up close. I told her I was something of a "horror artist" and she went to a back room and returned with a mint copy of Creepy #1! She even called an old family friend from the house next door to snap a photo of me in full bliss despite the rules that clearly forbid photography. As we walked along the rows of paintings she teased Frank's "relaxed" work ethic like only a devoted lifelong partner can do and said if only he wasn't so damn lazy he would've been more prolific! I quickly realized that the twinkle in her eyes was more mischievous than sympathetic. She was a wonderfully funny and charming woman, still beautiful and vibrant despite her age. She walked me through the Conan paintings- an entire wall- and pointed out how Frank would often return to "fix" paintings long after they were completed. She produced an old yellowing Lancer paperback and pointed out how Conan's expression on the cover no longer matched the original painting. After the book went to press Frank had painted over the face and completely re-worked it until it met his approval (the book is 'Conan The Buccaneer' for those keeping score). Many people have applauded Ellie's fierce business savvy and from what I could tell she commanded her husband's collection with all the passion of an artist herself. I left the souvenir shop that day with a pair of women's panties emblazoned with a glittering iron-on of a barbarian maiden (the painting is titled 'The Huntress' for those keeping score). What can I say? Ellie was a smooth persuader. My girl cherishes those panties to this day. Thanks for not throwing me out of the museum, Ellie.  You will be missed by many but the world will always remember you as the spirited muse to one of the greatest talents of the 20th Century. My deepest condolences to the entire Frazetta Family during this difficult time.

See those little contraptions on the wall near my head? Those are motion detectors that trigger the subtle ring tone-like security alarm if you lean too close to the paintings.

Monday, July 13, 2009


UK metal magazine Terrorizer has honored me with an artist profile in the August 2009 issue! It's #186 with Municipal Waste on the cover. And the "Christian Metal Scene Report". Of course.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

GROSS ANATOMY (part 777)

Welcome back! As promised, this seventh installment of Gross Anatomy will examine my collaboration with Bobby BeauSoleil for The Lucifer Rising Suite. This spectacular collection of music spans several decades and much of it was recorded at Tracy Prison from 1976-1979 between violent inmate uprisings and lockdowns using sparse equipment and handmade synthesizers. It doesn't get much more D.I.Y. than that. Working with Bobby has been a remarkable experience in many ways and this project just might be my proudest accomplishment to date. Take a look...

I started this sketch knowing that I wanted to meld certain Eastern and Western influences. There is a Crowleyian undercurrent running through Kenneth Anger's film and Bobby's score that I consciously tapped when developing this design. In fact, Bobby's art direction could be summarized in one simple maxim: "Do what thou wilt."

I worked for hours on these subtle hues of grey. The process is not entirely unlike watching moss form on a rock. Again, I was fascinated with the symbol of the hood and the nature of things revealed and concealed.

Long Way Home. This is Bobby's drawing for the cover. He's developed an interesting technique over the years by covering illustration board with cooking oil and rubbing colored pencils until it becomes a fluid tactile medium. He uses pencils almost like finger paint to very dramatic effect. The lighting in this drawing is beautiful!

The result of our combined effort is a sort of gnostic reflection on “Darkness” and “Light” that says more about the complexities of Bobby’s life than we could’ve ever hoped to express in words or music alone. But this wasn't the end of the journey...

One of these hippies needs a head shave.

Once the design was complete I printed a small copy and hand delivered it to Oregon State Prison for Bobby's final approval. This was perhaps the most humbling and harrowing undertaking I've experienced in a long time. OSP allows visitors to bring color photos and prints into the visiting area so, with a very low resolution copy in my nervous hands, I once again walked down the Hallways of Always to meet the man. It wasn't easy to sit across from Bobby and watch his furrowed brow as he reviewed the final art for the very first time. I imagine even harsh art school "critiques" are painless in comparison. But after only a few moments of very careful scrutiny he looked up at me over his reading glasses and said, "It's beautiful, man! Perfect!" Mission complete.

The Lucifer Rising Suite is available NOW from The Ajna Offensive!