M Wayne Miller: An Artist Speaks

Weird art today, longdogs in the mid-week(ish) and horror fiction by Saturday. We’re careening all over the place at the moment, which means that we’re both ‘moving swiftly and erratically’ and ‘being hauled over for repairs’. Lots of background and menu bits to freshen up, basically. We did think about going wild and becoming the Internet’s premiere ‘Nice Pussycat Photos and Enid Blyton Tribute’ blog, but then we felt slightly ill. So we won’t do that. Lurchers and creepy stuff must prevail.

The Horror out of Toytown has its appeal though….

in the garden of the queen (2013)
in the garden of the queen (2013)

As promised, we now have our interview with that most excellent artist friend of ours, M Wayne Miller. Instead of some made-up introduction, we quote from his bio at Dark Renaissance Books, for whom he has done many covers and illustrations:

M. Wayne Miller made his mark in the 90’s as a consummate b/w illustrator for numerous book and magazine publishers as well as several role-playing game publishers. While the b/w market was a fine place to cut one’s freelance illustrator’s teeth, and he did well, it was a stepping-stone to the more competitive and lucrative color illustration market. After an artistic conversion to color work, Wayne re-emerged as a cover illustrator for specialty press and mass-market book publishers, as well as for role playing games, online publications, and private commissions.”

wayne

For us, Wayne’s work is particularly fun because he captures the ‘full-on’ action style which represents weird adventure at its best, and what they used to call a rollicking good story. Let’s hear from The Man (the art below should be clickable for larger versions – possibly):

greydog: Welcome to greydogtales, Wayne. We’ve been looking forward to having you here, as many of our listeners will know you from your cover art for so many weird and horror books. Was working in that genre a personal choice or one driven by the market?

mwm: Horror has always been a genre I enjoyed in both narrative and visual format. As a kid I loved old b/w movies late at night such as The Creature From the Black Lagoon, The Giant Claw, and The Black Scorpion. Of course there was Godzilla, and all the giant monster movies, as well as the creepy sci-fi stuff like Forbidden Planet and The War of the Worlds (the original, of course). My reading followed in this vein, though it was middle school and high school before I really got into much actual horror. I blame Stephen King for making me an avid horror reader. In the years since, I have continued to read and watch horror fare, so one would be safe in saying that I was seasoned and simmered in the genre through my formative years, which I have no doubt led to my enjoyment in creating such artwork.

arvis winfield's fate, deathrealm magazine (1995)
arvis winfield’s fate, deathrealm magazine (1995)

With regard to my illustration career, I would say the market provided the opportunity. My first published illustration appeared in Deathrealm magazine in 1995. From there I went on to have work appear in lots of other horror genre periodicals and story collections. Like stepping stones, one led to another, and momentum was achieved. Once my cover illustrations began to appear on Dark Regions Press publications, cover opportunities came my way. I won’t go as far as to say I am typecast as a horror illustrator, but for many years, that is exclusively where I worked. As with most things, times change, so much of the horror work has fallen away, replaced by fantasy and sci-fi.

the grey boats, dark renaissance books (2015)
the grey boats, from willie meikle’s carnacki – heaven & hell, dark renaissance books (2015)

greydog: We interviewed Willie Meikle here last month, and of course you’ve illustrated many of his stories, particularly his Carnacki pieces. Are you a fan of William Hope Hodgson?

mwm: Yes indeed. Willie and I have worked together on countless projects. He is hands down the writer I have worked with the most in my career. We often joke that we are a tag team, and unbeatable as such. One of the things I love about Willie’s work is that he takes characters like Carnacki, Sherlock Holmes, and Professor Challenger, and writes new fiction that is every bit as authentic as the original works featuring these characters, with the added spice of lots of supernatural happenings and creepy monsters. And yes, I am a fan of William Hope Hodgson, as well as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so doing artwork based on these writer’s legacy is a special treat for me.

the island of terror by willie meikle, dark renaissance books (2013)
the island of terror by willie meikle, dark renaissance books (2013)

greydog: We’ve seen a wide range of sketches, monochrome pictures and glorious technicolour pieces from you. What’s your own favourite medium?

mwm: If by favourite medium, you mean the one I use most often, digital is my thing. All of my published work for hire, outside of a very few in the beginning, is digital. That meaning that I do my sketching, concepting, and refined drawing with pencil and paper, and all finished painting whether monochrome or colour, in the computer. While I do all my painting digitally, I honestly can’t say it is my favourite medium. I still miss the smell of oil paints and linseed oil, which digital does not provide. In the past I loved pen and ink illustration, but nowadays, charcoal pencil on mid toned paper would be my favourite.

bedlam in yellow, dark renaissance books (2015)
bedlam in yellow, dark renaissance books (2015)

greydog: How competitive is the world of weird art? We know that a number of illustrators collaborate, but for those who are just entering it, is it a dog-eat-dog sort of market?

mwm: Honestly, I find the fantastic illustration market to be a very welcoming and nurturing environment. There are many artists I know personally who go out of their way to provide advice and tutelage to aspiring artists entering the field. The internet has opened an entire vista of learning, tutorials, and avenues for showing work. Certainly a good thing in itself. However, making one’s work stand out in this maelstrom is now more important than ever. Getting work is far from a simple affair, as one still needs dedication to improve one’s craft, as well as perseverance in the face of rejection and stiff competition.

the turtle, dark regions press (2014)
the turtle, dark regions press (2014)

greydog: That last bit’s painfully true for many of us. Now, we never ask where people get their ideas or inspiration if we can help it – it’s a bit of a stock question. What we would like to know is how much you can get your own vision across. Do you have much creative freedom on a book commission?

mwm: Having the freedom to pursue one’s own artistic vision is not the goal of an illustrator. That is not to say an illustration is not the artistic vision of an artist, but only that the aim is to support the narrative or concept for which the work was commissioned. I never go into a job hoping to fulfil my own artistic agenda. Rather, I aim to capture the subject matter, whether idea or text, and make it a visual reality. This process is very much my own vision, and often I have full freedom to do as I wish in this endeavour, but ultimately it is the subject that dictates the result.

apocrypha, thunderstorm books (2014)
apocrypha, thunderstorm books (2014)

greydog: And what sort of time-scale do you allow to produce a full colour book cover from scratch?

mwm: Most of my commissions take one to two weeks. This does not include reading time for a manuscript. The concepting process is the variable, as that is the part of the job where an idea is settled upon through working with the publisher and author to clarify the rough drawing. Sometimes this process is quick and painless. Other times it is a real effort to clarify the agreed upon rough. Once painting begins, a week will suffice for most covers in an ideal world where that is the only project on my plate. The reality is that I work on more than one concurrently, with each one at different stages. This allows me to maintain an efficient workflow, and also to “get a break” from one project when I work on another.

for the bible tells me so, orson scott card's intergalactic medicine show (2015)
for the bible tells me so, orson scott card’s intergalactic medicine show (2015)

greydog: On the subject of workflow, your style would obviously be perfect for graphic novels. Have you ever considered, or been approached about, taking on that sort of work?

mwm: It has been offered, and while I would love to do such work, honestly, I don’t have the patience for sequential art. Drawing the same characters interacting is not something I am well suited for. I do enjoy inking existing sequential art, but that happens rarely. I would, however, take all the cover work for comics and graphic novels that I can get. That way I get to draw the characters in one really big detailed scene, and then I am on to something else.

the time mechanic, orson scott card's intergalactic medicine show (2014)
the time mechanic, orson scott card’s intergalactic medicine show (2014)

greydog: Our last shot – when the work’s over, and he wants to chill out, what does M Wayne Miller really do? Sketch, read, get the DVDs out or head for the bar like most of the greydogtales team?

mwm: Is work ever over? Ha! What down time I get usually involves reading, movies, TV, or video games, but even unrelated past times are still feeding my artistic well, so it could realistically be said I am always “on the job”. All that being said, I am not averse to having a pint at all!

greydog: Good man! And thank you very much, Wayne.

story emporium, purveyors of steam punk & weird western adventures (2015)
story emporium, purveyors of steam punk & weird western adventures (2015)

And we’re out of here, as you can see from Wayne’s illo above. I think Wayne’s the one driving. He has a website, with more illos, and links to where you can buy his prints, that you can visit here:

mwaynemiller.com

And for completists, Dark Renaissance Books can be found here:

dark renaissance books

Don’t forget, if you subscribe to greydogtales or follow me on facebook, you’ll never miss a post. If you don’t subscribe, I’ll just whine outside your bedroom door all night, so you might as well do it…

 

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The Hell Horse and the Autumn Boy

The First Reading

His hands are old, his fingers older.

They reach into other years, with their walnut joints and yellow nails, and draw out the Deck of Seasons. As steady as they have always been, they remove the deck from its box of polished yew, and cut the cards, just once.

He lays the initial card upon the kitchen table, between the ashtray and the butter. A single shred of marmalade clings to the edge of the butter, burnt gold on a pale field.

The Hive. Many minds, a single thought. The card is not a threat, not in itself.

The second card, placed carefully next to the tomato ketchup, is the Bright Spear. Merciless intent. He is not surprised. It is one of the cards most coveted by the Children of Angles and Corners.

His blue-tinged lips tighten, and he glances at the sleeping dog, who snores and kicks, lost in dreams of small things which she will never catch. The joy of the chase, and the approval of others. His face relaxes, and he places the third card.

The Stone. Unwelcoming, resistant to change. It is the nature of those who are coming, after all.

He rolls a cigarette, because he still can, and places it neatly on top of the three he has already rolled this morning. The ritual matters, even though he no longer smokes. And there is a thought crouching between ragged eyebrows.

Might the card mean his own kind as well?

This is the moment of hesitation, the completion of the initial spread. The fourth card will be a charm, and show what is to come. His fingers reach into the deck without conscious thought. The card is found, turned, and placed next to the congealed egg of yesterday’s breakfast…

The Autumn Boy.

He sighs, sits back and nods his head. The weakest of the ruling cards in the Deck of Seasons. Unless you really understand the world.

Which he does.

####

We’re feeling into the northern folk-horror world today (which happens surprisingly often). Hence the extract above from The Children of Angles and Corners, which may be coming from greydog next year if he writes faster. It’s a project based on the re-emergence of the huldrefolk and other things of the past, once thought extinguished by the new religions, as the land grows cold…

As a writer (I love saying that. It’s like saying ‘as a man with a beard’, or ‘as an enthusiast of pork pies’) I have trouble with the fact that more than half of my stories do not fit anyone’s submission requirements. Or the other way round. As a man with no money, I tend to follow the requirements when I can. The huldrefolk stories are not on anyone’s buying list, but I might just hack my way through anyway. What’s three or four months of my life with no paying contracts, hey? I like ‘past-its-use-by-date’ value corned beef, really I do. Those bacteria are full of protein, aren’t they?

Hang on, I think we were blogging. Yes, so after our tripod-based last episode, we got rather carried away and wanted to write all about the Chinese Three-legged Crow, the lucky Three-legged Toad, and why the Isle of Man is such an odd place. But we haven’t (we’ll save them for another time). Art is cool with greydogtales at the moment, and so we settled for an illustration of the Helhest, the three-legged hell horse of Scandinavian lore.

8195e071cc-Bech_Helhesten_troldfolk
by bech

The helhest is said to be associated with death and sickness. Some say that if its presence signifies death, then it appears as a black beast; if it signifies disease, then it appears white. A haunter of graveyards, the helhest legend may be based on the old custom of burying a horse in a new graveyard, the helhest being the manifestation of the sacrificed horse.

This horse’s ghost is called the ‘Helhest’. If anyone meets it, it is a sign to him of an early death. It is a tradition of the cathedral at Aarhus, that such a horse is occasionally seen there…

A Danish Parsonage, J F Vicary, 1884

helhest_and_crow_by_piasdatter-d4b3e13
by piasdatter

The helhest is also associated, naturally, with Hel or Hela, the Norse Goddess of the Underworld, and in some stories is the beast she rides. Why it is three-legged we have no idea. Hel herself is one of Loki‘s children, along with the wolf Fenrir and the world-serpent Jormungandr. She is usually referred to as appearing discoloured on one side of her face and body, tinged with the blacks and blues of death and decay, and quite normal on the other.

This tends be portrayed rather less ickily by illustrators, who either miss out the rotting bits or depict her as skeletal on the decayed side. My own first introduction to Hel was through Marvel Comics and her appearances in Thor, where she was a mysterious figure clad in green and black.

helanewmutants
new mutants #29

And rather cool with it. It’s quite tragic what a teenage boy can find exciting. But here’s a more recent version:

by sfhd
by sfhd

Back to the hell horse. The first painting of the helhest at the start of the article comes from the site of the talented Jørgen Bech Pedersen, a self-taught Danish artist who produces wonderful renditions of figures from Nordic folk-lore. We shall try to get him on greydogtales if we can.

237a90a521-Bech_mermaid_troldfolk
by bech

His site Troldfolk is an illustrated bestiary of such beings, and we recommend a visit. The text is in Danish, but the pictures aren’t:

troldfolk

The second helhest is by piasdattir on deviantart, to be found here:

piasdattir

All art copyright belongs to their creators, as usual.

You know that we at greydogtales like to add the odd soundwave to our posts wherever possible. So, if you’re into pagan power metal, then you really should check out Fimbulvet, a European group who slam out some heavy pagan tunes. Rather conveniently, they have recorded a track called, yes, Helhest:

Given that in some legends the barghest (see Game of Groans & Clanking Chains) is also a denizen of cemeteries and a beast of ill omen, it makes us wonder if there is any common root that connects helhest and barghest.

####

fhr1a

You may remember that we mentioned Andy Paciorek’s excellent illustrations a couple of weeks ago, as part of our weird art celebration. It’s worth adding that he has now finished compiling the book Folk-Horror Revival: Field Studies, and it’s available to buy. We quote:

500 pages. Illustrated throughout including artwork by Alan Lee, Paul Rumsey, Julia Jeffrey, Morgaine Art, GB. Jones and Andy Paciorek. Featuring essays and interviews by many great cinematic, musical, artistic and literary talents, Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies is the most comprehensive and engaging exploration to date of the sub genre of Folk Horror and associated fields in cinema, television, music, art, culture and folklore. Includes contributions by Kim Newman, Robin Hardy, Thomas Ligotti, Philip Pullman, Gary Lachman, Jim Moon, English Heretic, The Hare and the Moon and many many more.

100% of all profits from sales of the book will be charitably donated to environmental, wildlife and community projects undertaken by The Wildlife Trusts.

It’s available now from lulu.com

We’re grimmed out. We have some glorious longdog pictures to come next time. Also, our interview with artist and illustrator M Wayne Miller is back from the cleaners, and should be ready soon, along with many other fine pieces.  Do join us, dear listeners, in a few days…

 

 

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Longdogs and Other Tripods We Have Known

For your mid-week pictorial pleasure, dear listeners, we have a beautiful three-legged longdog, John Christopher‘s The Tripods trilogy, H G Wells and an Edwardian artist from Brazil. All good things come in threes, except possibly ravening metal war-machines from Mars. They can be annoying.

Last week we were talking about rescue centres and Lurcher SOS, which reminded me of my plan for a gallery to show off these magnificent beasts. I was pottering on the Lurcher Link forum a while ago, and a member there, Michaela, kindly sent us some marvellous pictures of her three-legged Nicky, a saluki x greyhound and thus a true longdog. Proof that you don’t need four legs to be a wild rover. Here’s just a few shots of Nicky…

DSC00813 1_zpsprljcpql DSC04557 photos1051

Three-legged lurchers and longdogs surprise some people with their ability to match any four-legs, and you’d be amazed at their speed and agility. Thanks again for those, Michaela.

####

Tripods don’t end there. It seemed wasteful to show off Nicky and not to use the opportunity to go weird. We needed two other, far stranger (and less licky) examples of tripods to complete the article. As we’re generally being arty at the moment, our second focus is on the artist Henrique Alvim Correa.

Henrique-Alvim-CorrêaCorrea was born in Brazil in 1876, but his family moved to France when he was a teenager, and he eventually settled in Belgium. His relevance to greydogtales, apart from being a neat artist, is that he illustrated the 1906 Belgian edition of H G WellsWar of the Worlds. Despite the various re-imaginings of Wells’ tripods, and the filmed versions, Correa’s pictures should be the iconic ones, capturing the feel of the age so well just nine years after the book’s publication.

(On a personal note, I found some of the acting in the 2005 Spielberg film too annoying to enjoy the images and special effects fully. I had to re-watch the 1953 version with Gene Barry to cheer myself up again.)

Apparently Correa himself initiated the idea after reading War of the Worlds, and came to the UK with his drawings to show to H G Wells. Wells loved them and Correa was asked to illustrate the special illustrated edition being planned by Vandamme, the Belgian publishers, which he did. Sadly Correa had tuberculosis and died only four years later, in 1910.

Here are a few of the brilliant Correa illustrations to enjoy:

Correa-Martians_vs._Thunder_Child 1906War-of-the-worlds-tripodcorreacorreaposter martiandrunks

As soon as I’d written the above, as usually happens, I discovered the monsterbrains site which has loads more Correa art on display. Aeron Alfrey of monsterbrains also creates his own unique imagery inspired by the macabre, grotesque and monstrous. It’s well worth a visit to browse the other weird art there:

correa at monsterbrains

I was going to resist, but it proved impossible not to mention Jeff Wayne‘s War of the Worlds musical/narrative version after looking at the Correa drawing of the Thunderchild. That song always sends shivers up my spine (and I prefer this to Spielberg’s, as well. Sorry, Steve).

The third piece today had to be a mention of the late John Christopher and The Tripods. And it’s a trilogy. Three time three times three. That’s practically nine, the number of worlds in Norse mythology, and a lucky number in Chinese associated with the dragon. Where am I? This isn’t my arm…

Johnchristopher

John Christopher. Or Samuel Youd, actually, and he only died three years ago. Author of The Death of Grass (1956) and The World in Winter (1962), two excellent early post-apocalyptic novels from when the Brits did that kind of thing rather well. We’re not here for the writing today, though, but a brief mention of the artistic interpretations.

I loved The Tripods when I was young. The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, and The Pool of Fire. My editions are, predictably, the 1967 Knight publications from the UK, not any of these modern fancy ones. Not quite sure what the artist was on.

7660985018_b3a48bfa20_b

The most notable graphic adaptation of The Tripods is in Boys’ Life magazine, which serialized all three books in the eighties. The artist was Frank Bolle, an American who drew decades worth of comic strips for young people, did book covers and a whole lot more.

TAGy8

And thanks to the wonders of the Internet, you can find a large graphic resource of Bolle’s Tripods work by following the link below to The Haunted Closet blog:

the haunted closet: boys life

In 1985, just before the Bolle version of the three novels for Boy’s Life finished, the BBC produced comic strip versions of their own. These were not direct adaptations, though, and had the protagonists veering off on other adventures which were not in the original books. The artists this time was John Burns, but there was no resolution because in the end the BBC dropped the Junior Television Magazine in which they were appearing.

tripodmasterscomic

Hmm, doughboy Masters? Anyway, for many older listeners, their thought will be of the televised Tripods from the BBC and the Australian Seven Network. They only managed to adapt the first two books, in 1984 and 1985, but it was a good try – and they did have proper tripods, the Masters, rather than men in rubber suits.

John Christopher's trilogy about the Tripods became a popular TV series in the mid-1980s

If you check out this video link, you can skip to about minute 6 to see the tripods themselves.

And there you have it – three tripods. Lots more could be said, but  we’re out of time again.

More longdogs and lurchers, weird art and artist interviews coming up, and we’ll be joined by a couple of great authors in December. Plus the nice people at the M R James Appreciation Group have suggested some excellent ideas for neglected supernatural/strange authors to cover over the next couple of months – E Nesbit, A N L Munby, Fitz-James O’Brien, H Russell Wakefield… oh dear. Work to do, then.

 

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Not Exactly Ghosts

Today we’re back in supernatural fiction mode, so we’re focusing on Javanese theatre and the Foreign Office. Obviously. Our feature piece is on the rather neglected author Sir Andrew Caldecott. This happened a bit by accident, as usual. Not long ago we interviewed Mansfield Dark, and we mentioned shadow puppetry. Imagine my surprise therefore (as they used to say) when I was flicking through Caldecott and came across a scary story of his about, yes, shadow puppetry. I love these serendipitous discoveries, except when I have to clean them up afterwards.

(I learned the word serendipity from Dr Who on the TV, of all places. Jon Pertwee used it, I think, to the lovely Katy Manning.)

by Bassano, half-plate film negative, 7 October 1947
by Bassano, half-plate film negative, 7 October 1947

Sir Arthur Caldecott (1884 – 1951) was a British colonial administrator in the early part of last century. He seems to have been a decent chap and a popular man locally wherever he served, known for an unusual ability to negotiate settlements between different ethnic groups. His History of Jelebu (in Malaysia) is crammed with folklore, genealogies, inter-tribal relationships and numerous references to previous British administrators misunderstanding local terms and customs. Much of his knowledge came from time spent directly with the local tribes:

“The Dato’ Penghulus of Jelebu liaye continued in unbroken line from the rule of Moyang Salleli to the present day. The law of succession is that the office should rotate among the three loaris berundang in the following order: Ulu Jelebu, Sarin and Kemin. The inclusion of the last two communities must have been the outcome of a pakat, as Ulu Jelebu provided the first four penghulus in succession.”

It’s not exactly known when he wrote his creepy stories. There are suggestions that at least some were written while he was posted out East in the 20s and 30s, but his first collection Not Exactly Ghosts didn’t see print until 1947. The second, Fires Burn Blue, came out in 1948. Unfortunately he died three years later.

He is often described as ‘Jamesian’ in style, but we feel that only a few of his stories fit that description. He does reference parsons, old texts and historical events in a Jamesian manner, certainly, and shares a distanced quality. David Stuart Davies cites both M R James and Algernon Blackwood as influences.

caldecott1

Caldecott brings his own quiet humour to the table, however, and an approach which is almost tongue-in-cheek sometimes. The title of the first collection, Not Exactly Ghosts, is a very accurate one. He deals in possibilities and suppositions, even in the consideration of an entirely parallel world, rather than proven manifestations or creeping hairy things. In some of the stories, you cannot be sure if you have witnessed a supernatural occurrence or not. It may have been madness, a mistake, or the susceptible mind.  A Victim of Medusa is a short story which illustrates this perfectly.

We suspect that their relative lack of popularity is down to that evasive nature – he doesn’t necessarily define his chills with the immediacy of other ghost story writers. Sometimes the only true monstrosity is human behaviour, above and beyond any supernatural element (though there are scary moments).

The stories are intelligent fictions with interesting characters. An added bonus is that Caldecott’s endings are often surprisingly low key, something which he uses very effectively. He is a master of wry asides and observations. This, for example, from Quintet, where a man’s trousers stand up and walk to the door:

“Markson used to say that his first feeling of intense uneasiness, almost of fear, suddenly gave way to the sharp realisation that they were the only trousers he had with him; and that, if they eloped, he would be a semi-nudist.”

Let’s deal with the Jamesian aspect first, and cite the two obvious stories, A Room in a Rectory and Christmas Reunion.

A Room in a Rectory could easily be mistaken for a piece by old M R himself. It delves into church and clerical history, with remnants of dark practices, and introduces the Bishop of Kongea, a fictional country based on Caldecott’s experiences of Malaya and Ceylon (see later). It should work for any lover of James’ style.

Christmas Reunion is more famous than Caldecott’s other stories due to the fact that it is specifically based on a note by James in his ‘Stories I have tried to write‘ essay (1929).

“There were possibilities, too, in the Christmas cracker, if the right people pull it, and if the motto which they find inside has the right message on it. They will probably leave the party early, pleading indisposition; but very likely a previous engagement of long standing would be the more truthful excuse.”

Caldecott takes this on directly and writes such a story. The fun is that he mentions M R James in the story itself and one of his characters supplies the above passage as part of it. It’s quite nicely done.

Of the non-Jamesian stories, three or four stand out. Branch Line to Benceston is an unusual tale about one worried man and two lives which we can’t discuss further without spoiling it. It is well worth reading, though. Sonata in D Minor is an essentially a study of two married people punishing each other unpleasantly, and is interesting for its twists. And the music is a crucial element.

There is, as far as we know, no such thing as Siedel’s Sonata in D Minor, or the disturbing recording of it named in the story, but in another one of those strange moments, we came across a Sonata in D Minor performed by Siedel. Heinrich Biber was a post-Baroque composer who wrote his Mystery or Rosary Sonatas in the 1670s, and Annegret Siedel is a contemporary performer. We were mildly spooked.

In Due Course is the story which introduces shadow puppetry. We had to have it in because of its details on Javanese shadow plays.

“They had been cut in thick buffalo hide and elaborately painted in gold, silver, crimson, saffron, brown and indigo; but on one side alone, the being left polished but bare: for a shadow drama is watched from both sides of a stretched sheet – one one side, spectators see the painted surfaces of the figures against the white cloth and in the full glare of footlights; on the other, the clear-cut shadows of them projected against the cloth.”

There is no doubt that Caldecott must have seen wayang kulit (shadow puppets) out east, and yet as far as we’re aware, modern wayang work is only viewed through the screen, as outlines, rendering the painting on the figures purely ornamental. But then we’re into longdogs, not complex Far East performance arts, so what do we know?

javanese

Anyway, if you like shadow shows, praying mantises and strange poetry, then give the story a go.

Poetry seems to have been a particular interest of Caldecott’s, because it crops up in a number of his tales. Much is dark and story-related, but it is, we feel, important to share this one-off with you:

To a Jelly-fish

Out of proper respect for you, Sir,

I shall call you Mr Medusa

(A name that I took

From our animal book);

Gentlemen in Debrett or Kelly

Don’t have names like Fish, A. Jelly –

The other aspect of Caldecott worth mentioning is this matter of Kongea. Six of the stories are set in Kongea, and while they have an inevitable colonial air about them, some are very effective. They reflect something of Caldecott’s understanding that ‘things are different there’. One of the more horrible of these stories is Grey Brothers, especially because it is either a study of insanity or something far more worrying.  Kongea, drawn from Malaya and Ceylon, is treated throughout both collections as entirely real, with numerous mentions of it.

neghosts

So there. A neglected author, well worth a look. We would love to link to the many editions of his works in print, but we can’t because they don’t exist, so you’ll have to settle for second hand. You can still get used copies of the Wordsworth double collection fairly cheaply.

And next time, we try to find an unknown Czech horror poet who hasn’t been translated and a breed of sighthound that no-one’s heard of and no-one likes. Total obscurity beckons…

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