A new mock-up. This EP is my favourite record from Boards Of Canada, where they restrain the BPM and dial up the eerieness.
A year ago, I collaborated with my old comix partner Noel K. Hannan to publish a 25th Anniversary Edition of our 1990’s comix series Streetmeat. Throughout the 1990’s I was fully committed to “making it” as a comix artist, and went at it with the kind of demonic fervour and commitment that I can now only look back and marvel at. Over a hundred fully pencilled and inked comix pages, plus covers, short stories and a whole slew of illustrations, all completed in about two years, and all on top of a full-time job. Achieved without the aid of amphetamines or any other artificial stimulants, because I didn’t need them. I was high on my own supply. As I prepared this new new edition, I rescanned all the original artwork and digitally remastered it, cleaning up all the inks that had now faded, and adding a few new panels to improve on mistakes made back in the day. During that laborious process I was looking back at what I’d drawn and despite my frustrations at the time that it was never as good as what I wanted it to be, I was now seeing it through older and wiser (“that’s what you think,” says a voice and, as usual, I don’t listen to it) eyes and could see all the energy and passion I’d pored into it. After completing Streetmeat and it’s spin-off title Solo in 1997, “reality” intruded and life changed radically. I moved south, we both had kids, and Noel and I slowly drifted apart. But this book as a definitive edition of everything we had done always felt like unfinished business to me, so when in 2014 Noel first proposed a 20th Anniversary Edition I surprised him by saying “yes.” Ok, it took another 5 years to get the book done, but that allowed me the time to really do the book justice. I added 20 pages of entirely new material, detailing how the sequels we’d always proposed could have turned out, and drew a brand new 4-page strip especially for this edition. I handled all the graphics and book design, and the end result was something that felt justified and long overdue. Here’s some sample pages:
Rear cover. It’s weird that Nigel Dobbyn, whose generous quote graces the back cover, died just as I was finishing the book
Sample page from the Sequels section. This is a character from MeatEater, the first sequel, set in Moscow in 2022. It would have been wild, I promise.
Another page from the Sequels section. This is from Meat Grinder, the follow-up to MeatEater. This would have been even crazier.
This is the first page of the new strip I wrote & drew especially for the Special Edition.
This is an illustration I made last year when the book was featured in Comics Scene magazine. The original drawing was offered as a freebie to readers. So far, no takers.
It’s been an interesting experience to go back to something you’d long thought you were done with. It makes you re-evaluate a lot of things. I’m a better artist now than I was back then, but what’s been lost along the way is the intense burning drive to create and the time in which to do it. I think it’s that burn I miss most of all.
Anyway, you can acquire the book in two formats:
Free e-book edition (300 MB)
Hard copy printed edition (£8 & shipping)
When common objects in this way be come charged with the suggestion of horror, they stimulate the imagination far more than things of unusual appearance.
Algernon Blackwood, The Willows
This mock-up is an oddity, composed from part of a 2017 drawing and, buried deeply, a remnant of a really old painting that was made probably twenty years ago and long lost to me now. The aim was to give it the feel of those great paperback covers of the 1960’s, but with a contemporary twist. I’ll leave others to decide whether or not it was successful.
It’s a madhouse, of course. A complete, utter madhouse. I only hope to God it remains one.
Paul Bowles, Let It Come Down
My lifelong disquiet about the fantasy of the jaded Western world aesthete using exotic locales as a mirror through which to measure the degradation of his own soul – before its too late – had to be forcibly set aside in order for me to tackle Bowles. An interesting bloke, the outrider who opened up Tangier (and the possible delights therein) to the likes of the American literary set and, in their wake, the Beats. Capote, Vidal, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Gysin – they all came, got high, got laid, and buggered off. but Bowles lived there for the rest of his life, or at least in the summer months. Winters he went to his own island off the coast of Sri Lanka. How many writers these days own their own island? Anyway, I found this long-lost drawing in my archives, drawn over ten years ago, and it seemed perfectly suited to this subject.
If an artist is really doing their job properly (and we can all think of examples of whose who aren’t), then for all the work they’re known for, there’s just as large of a body of work behind them that never sees light of day. For one reason or another, projects never get finished, derailed by circumstances often beyond the control of those involved. I’ve got a vast cemetery of dead projects in my wake, some of which I killed myself, and some of which lie in a state of suspended animation, waiting for the day when they might get realised. Volgo is one of those projects. I came up with the idea several years ago. I follow the Stephen King example of not writing my ideas down and in that way, the ones you don’t forget are the ones you are probably going to have to do something about. Volgo is one of those ideas. It’s a WWII horror story that collides a boyhood spent reading Warlord, Victor and Battle, my teenage years as an avid horror fiction reader, and my adult exposure to films like Come And See. I won’t say much about the story, except that it’s set during the siege of Stalingrad and includes vampirism and other variations on the ‘undead’. Absolutely non-stop mayhem and madness. About 18 months ago I worked up some character studies and concept images, with a view to one day turning it into a graphic novel, with a script written by my old collaborator Noel K. Hannan.
Here’s a few examples, and have fun recognising the reference sources used:
It’s not gone any further because I simply do not have the time to draw it. Trying to do a 100-page comic strip on top of a day job is a monumental task. I did it more than once during my twenties but at my age you just can’t pull all-nighters and then go to work the next day. So it will probably never happen, but I can easily see it adapted into a film/TV series and in the right hands (and to me that means peak-era Walter Hill or John Carpenter) it would be, as they say, a “blast.”
Like many an internet “phenomenon”, the ‘watchalong’ is the kind of thing I hear about, shake my head at, and then move on to something else, but in the case of Withnail & I – my all-time favourite film – I’ll make an exception. Earlier this month the film’s writer and director – Bruce Robinson – did a ‘watchalong’ for the film he wrote and directed in the mid-1980’s. A film that quickly earnt its cult status (back when there was still such a thing as a ‘cult film’) and justifies it’s reputation to this day. I’ve talked about the film a lot over the years, so I won’t repeat myself, but will say that if you’ve not seen it yet, you may be missing out on something important.
Here’s portraits of the four main characters from the film, original drawings I sold as a set a while back:
One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.
Once again, an old drawing for new mock-up. Kerouac’s an interesting character, and clearly an important presence in late 20th century art, but I bet that (and this goes for a lot of the other ‘Beats’) he was a pain in the arse to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Fame didn’t do him many favours either, contributing to the debilitating alcoholism and his early death. I’ve found that On The Road is a book you really have to read when you’re young, when you’re perhaps more forgiving and will let the author get away with passages like this:
the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”
It’s easy to satirise this (as Alan Moore did to great effect in his Black Dossier, pastiching the Kerouac style as ‘Sal Paradise’) but elsewhere in the book there are other moments where he dials it down a touch and achieves the same effect:
I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till i drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.
It’s important to note that just as vital to the writing of the book was Kerouac’s co-pilot on the road trip he documented – the unique creature that was Neal Cassady. To some a womanising con man, petty thief and drug addict, to others the living embodiment of what On The Road was all about, and the source from which would blow the whole ‘Beat’ movement, which flowed into the Hippies, and the rest is history.
My 2016 drawing ‘Damsels of the Night’, used as a mock-up cover for a Raymond Carver book. ‘Damsels of the Night’ is a long Charles Bukowski poem, so here we are with Ray and Buk, stuck in the dive bar of eternity, sinking one beer after another to drown the pain. To this day there remains a lingering romanticism around the lonely hard-drinking writer who mines gold from the gutters, but I’ve known too many desperate alcoholics in my life to feel comfortable with that (though to be fair to Carver himself, he did say he never fell for that myth and admitted that he just really liked the taste of booze), and yet in their depictions of the daily struggles of working class people I could see the lives of those I grew up with, told with a frank honesty and bruised tenderness, and I recognised the truth in what both writers had to say.
I can’t remember the first time I saw Andrew Wyeth’s paintings but they made a deep impression. The colours, the intensity of focus and the very particular atmosphere they suggested to me were all important influences on my decision at age 40 to learn how to paint. All these years later I’m still learning, and still looking at Wyeth. Whenever I lose focus or get disheartened by it all, I take down my copy of his Autobiography and my sense of purpose is renewed. Of late, I’ve felt myself adrift again, but this film by Jesse Brass and Bo Bartlett has brought me safely back to shore. Everyone who’s familiar with the Wyeth story knows that in the Autumn of his days he had a relationship with his young muse Helga Testorf, a secret chapter in his life that produced an incredible body of work that he kept hidden for years. In this film Helga opens up about her experiences with Wyeth, and every utterance is worth quoting, many of which I recorded in my notebook:
We were orphans in the storm
To talk about magic, you have to have silence
He called it a curse but, by painting it, it doesn’t hurt so much
The music’s great as well. It’s well worth 24 minutes of your time.
My 2016 drawing of Nick Cave, mocked-up for the cover of his 2009 novel The Death of Bunny Munro. I read it at the time it was first published, and didn’t not really like it. I could see that Bunny Munro was intended to be a homage of sorts to John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom, but he’s Rabbit with the volume turned up to 11 and, as a result, the relentless sexual insanity on display was like standing in front of the speaker at a pub rock gig. You just get pummelled into exhaustion by it, and make excuses to go home before the last bus. I suspect the Nick Cave of 2020, judging by the tenor of his writing in the Red Hand Files, would not dream of writing a book like this now, so I accept that this was just something he had to get out of his system.