It was written I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice.
Joseph Conrad, Heart Of Darkness
This is my 2014 drawing, mocked up as a cover. I’ve tried it before, but this updated version abandons all the last vestiges of subtlety and restraint. It looks like something from the Waterstones ‘Cult Fiction’ section in the 1990’s, which is very much accident rather than intention.
Guys like us got nothing to look ahead to.
John Steinbeck, Of Mice And Men
Over thirty years since I had to deal with Of Mice And Men as part of my English Literature O-level studies (I got a ‘U’, which is quite an achievement), this novel is still on the curriculum. Though I had always been a reader since I was in my playpen, the input was almost exclusively comics and I did not develop a love for literature until I was on the dole and spent day after day in the local library. So my first exposure to Steinbeck made no impression whatsoever and it wasn’t until many years later that I understood why he is so revered, having fallen headlong into the world he created in the pages of East Of Eden. After that, going back to Of Mice And Man, I saw what it is that makes it such a key text for introducing young readers to literature, which dredged up a long-suppressed memory from one of our mid-1980’s English lessons when we were asked to compare the novel with one of its many filmed versions. A friend observed: “In the book Crooks has a hunch back but in the film he has a hunch leg.”
I can’t explain it. And you wouldn’t believe it.
Rey, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
See my earlier post about Finn from The Force Awakens. It’s my favourite Star Wars film, and that’s mainly because of Rey. She’s introduced so brilliantly, scavenging in the ruins of a Star Destroyer, sledging down a dune, and then returning to her makeshift home inside the wreckage of an AT-AT, where she marks the passing of each day with a line scratched on the wall. Not a word is said, and yet you already know so much about this young woman, but the essential mystery of who she is and where she’s going is maintained throughout the rest of the film and on into Episode VIII and beyond. I’ll be almost 50 when that film comes out, and I’ll probably be more “hyped” than I was in 1977 when the first film blew a hole in our collective dreamscape. It was Joseph Campbell who really convinced me of what Star Wars really signifies, when he said: “Myths are public dreams.” Star Wars is the most relevant myth of our times, and you have to get beyond the merchandising and the gonks to see and accept that, but once you do its multitude of resonances and isomorphisms become evident and endlessly fascinating. Campbell also said, “Myth is much more important and true than history. History is just journalism and you know how reliable that is”, a sentiment I totally agree with. While “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (to paraphrase George Santayana) my default romanticism leads me to prefer the deeper truths that are less reliant on facts and empirical evidence, but come from a more intuitive sense of what’s important to the human condition. Just don’t mention the Ewoks.
I realized that I would die, and that just before I would die, two things would happen. Number one, I would regret my entire life, and number two, I would want to live my life over again. And then I would die, and that terrified me. To think that I would live my entire life, look at it, and say oh..I blew it. was such a terrifying thought that I bought a typewriter. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, but I bought a typewriter. but that is what got me to start writing, was… I did not want to waste my life. I wanted to, and I HAD to, do something with my life.
Hubert Selby Jr.
I’ve used my 2015 drawing ‘The Night’ as a mock-up cover for Hubert Selby Jr’s Last Exit To Brooklyn. Selby was a unique presence in American literature, born and raised in poverty, and stricken with near-fatal tuberculosis in his late teens, he had a deathbed epiphany that could be summed up as “write, or die.” Ignoring traditional rules of grammar and narrative structure, Selby had the same impact in his chosen medium as John Coltrane and Jackson Pollock had in theirs, and like Coltrane and Pollock, Selby succumbed to addiction in the 1960’s, but defied all predictions to live a long life and leave behind a legacy and an example to many others who now know what it takes if you want to make something that matters.
Here’s my 2010 sketch of Hubert Selby Jr:
I’ve added some Star Wars art to my Tumblr. Tuning into the Star Wars Celebration livestream this weekend, it’s been quite a phenomenon to observe. This must be how the old religions got started. For years I used to think it was all a load of old bollocks, but reading Joseph Campbell made me look at it again and now here I am, pushing 50, getting into it more than I ever did when I was a kid. I would have loved to do some of the art design behind any of these films, but that’s never ever going to happen, so you really do end up coming full circle in your life and after school/work you find yourself sitting in your bedroom/studio, drawing Jedi’s and alien bounty hunters and wishing you could pilot the Millennium Falcon. “Grow up”, says a voice and, as usual, I don’t listen to it.
Regular readers will know that one of my favourite artists is George Shaw. When I first saw his work in late 2008 I was born again as an artist, born again with a burning conviction to abandon all my old working methods and try to become a painter with something personal to say. I’ve followed his work very closely ever since, and especially enjoy the few interviews he’s done. The latest one has just been posted by Saints Of Somewhere, offering an hour of George discussing some of the most significant influences on his life, his art and his view of the world.
Those influences include Joy Division’s Closer, Francis Bacon, ‘Chad the Mod’ from The Who’s Quadrophenia album, James Joyce and Kenneth Williams.
What’s clear is that George thinks quite differently to a lot of artists – in fact, he thinks quite differently to a lot of people these days. He’s evolved his own weltanschauung, heavily informed by his British working class upbringing during the 1970’s-80’s and revels in the apparent contradiction of melding ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture (John Donne and Carry On films) as a way of making sense of his moment in history. Fascinating stuff and well worth an hour of your time.