Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Gallery of SF Art

A Gallery of SF Art
from Infinite Worlds by Vincent Di Fate, Penguin Studio / The Wonderland Press, 1997

 untitled, C. A. M. Thole

untitled, Manuel Sanjulian

Don Maitz, The Electric Forest, 1979

Joe Mugnaini, The War of the Worlds, 1964

Kevin Murphy, untitled

James Warhola, Callahan's Touch, 1994

Barclay Shaw, Dr. Adder, 1984

Doug Rosa, The Land of Terror, 1965

Michael Whelan, Armenia, 1990

Darrell K. Sweet, David Starr, Space Ranger, late 70s - early 80s

David B. Mattingly, How to Save the World, 1995

Don Ivan Punchatz, untitled (Star Trek aliens)

Tom Kidd, Sherlock Holmes Through Time and Space, 1984

Fred Pfeiffer, The Mystery on the Snow, 1972

Paul Lehr, untitled, 1988

Friday, March 28, 2014

Tales of Shiva: Shiva the Fisherman

Tales of Shiva: Shiva the Fisherman
by Subba Rao (script) and C. M. Vitankar (art)
Amar Chitra Katha, 1978 (reprinted Oct. 2001)

In a mood to try some comics from non-US publishers, I decided to examine some Indian / Hindu religious comics, released under the imprint of 'Amar Chitra Katha' ('good reading') from publisher India Book House in Mumbai.

The Amar Chitra Katha comic books were started in1967, and by 2013 included over 470 titles, over 90 million of which have been sold. These comics are aimed at children, and are designed to provide an education in Hindu culture as well as imparting a moral message.

Below I've posted one of the three short comics appearing in 'Tales of Shiva': an episode titled 'Shiva the Fisherman'. If you are used to Western religious comics - such as, for example, the Jack Chick publications - then 'Shiva' will be quite a change of pace.....

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

In Sight of Heaven, In Reach of Hell

'In Sight of Heaven, In Reach of Hell' by Bob Morallo (story and art) and Budd Lewis
 from Eerie No. 123 (August 1981)

This is the second episode of the three-part series that started with 'Born of Ancient Wisdom' in Eerie No. 121 (June 1981). (The first episode can be viewed here.)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Book Review: Zorachus

Book Review: 'Zorachus' by Mark E. Rogers

5 / 5 Stars

‘Zorachus’ (298 pp) was published in December 1986 by Ace Books; the cover illustration is by the author. 

I first learned about this book at a Retrospace website ‘Vintage Reads’ post devoted to cover artwork from vintage sf and fantasy paperbacks. The Retrospace post featured cover art to  ‘The Nightmare of God’, the sequel to 'Zorachus'.

The Retrospace caption to ‘Nightmare’ stated: “Rumor has it that this was too dark and twisted to stay in print, so Ace let it go under....” which piqued my interest.

[Mark E. Rogers died on February 2, while hiking in Death Valley. He was 61 years old, and a resident of Newark, Delaware.]

Rogers was multi-talented, being both an artist and a writer. 'Nothing But A Smile: The Pinup Art of Mark Rogers'  (2001), and 'The Art of Fantasy' (2005), collect his girlie / pinup art. 

Rogers's fiction work included his first novel, a zombie apocalypse story titled 'The Dead' (1989). The six 'Samurai Cat' illustrated novels (1984 - 1998) which parodied sf and fantasy themes, fetch high prices on the used-book market.

Rogers's sword and sorcery fiction works included, besides the two volumes of the Zorachus series, the 'Blood of the Lamb' trilogy (1991- 1992), published by Ace Books. 

His subsequent titles all were self-published, featured his own illustrations, and included the 'Zancharthus' trilogy (1999 - 2002), a sequel to the Zorachus series. Also associated with the 'Zancharthus' trilogy is 'Lilitu' (2010). 'Yark' (2010) is a satire of epic fantasy novels.     

As ‘Zorachus’ opens, our hero, still an infant, is spirited away from the city-state of Khymir, his father the target of a palace coup. Zorachus is reared to adulthood in the southern land of Qanar-Sharaj by the warrior monks of the Sharajnaghi Order.

Under the tutelage of the monks, Zorachus grows to manhood, steeped in the pantheism and morally upstanding religious values of the Order. He attains the level of Master, adept at both spellcasting and combat, at an unprecedentedly young age. 

Just as he is celebrating his achievement, a delegation from Khymir arrives at the Order. They have a request from Kletus, the mage now ruling Khymir: will Zorachus return to the land of his birth, and assume a position as a loyal nobleman and supporter of Kletus ?

Zorachus is reluctant to entertain a return to Khymir, for the city-state is notorious throughout the land for the violence and depravity exhibited by its people. But Ghaznavi, head of the Sharajnaghi order, pleads with Zorachus to undertake a return to Khymir….not to support Kletus, but rather, to ally with his enemies in the Traders Guild. For Kletus secretly has plans to raise an army and invade the lands surrounding Khymir for victims for the sacrificial altars that sustain his power and the favor of the God of Khymir, Tchernobog.

If Zorachus and the Khymir Traders Guild cannot find a way to overthrow Kletus, the northern lands will be drenched in the blood of countless innocents…..with Qanar-Sharaj inevitably next in line to fall.

The gist of ‘Zorachus’ can be summed up in a scene taking place about midway through the novel:

Our hero, having taken up residence in his ancestral home in the city-state of Khymir, has stunned the populace with his acts of generosity, kindness, and self-restraint. A crowd of thousands of diseased, starving beggars assembles outside the front gate of his estate, pleading for him to bless them and provide them with alms.

Zorachus agrees to address the crowd, and mounts the balcony overlooking the front gate. He promises to provide the beggars with a daily meal, paid for with the riches from his inheritance. The beggars weep for joy and cheer with approval. And then….

“What else do you want ?” Zorachus asked. “Medicine, lodging….”

“Entertainment !” the beggar answered. “Open the whorehouses ! Give us children with pretty backsides and fresh faces to slice ! Let the arenas swim with blood !”

The others roared with enthusiasm, and at once the pity Zorachus had felt for the crowd deserted him. Until then he had seen the beggars as fellow human beings, wretches trapped and decaying in the Great Mother’s mazy, incubating womb. Now he saw only twisted monstrosities, filth-caked demons, beings delighting in evil….he had a chilling thought:
This is what it’s like to be God, to see men as they really are.

Zorachus uses a fast-moving plot, and splatterpunk-friendly depictions of violence and depravity, to answer the question: what happens to an idealistic, morally upright, but naïve young man, who finds himself Kingmaker in a society that makes Mordor look like Disneyland ? How many times can he turn his cheek, show mercy to the defeated, when such actions indirectly lead to yet more atrocities ?

At what point will Zorachus lose his self control and belief in humanism….and open up a can of whoop-ass that Khymir has never before seen ? !

'Zorachus' succeeds first and foremost as an entertaining, action-filled sword and sorcery novel.

The novel provides vivid descriptions of duels between Zorachus and evil mages that are the prose equivalent of the spellcasting battles that take place in Dr Strange comics: bolts of azure energy streaking from fingertips to sear the flesh of screaming victims, or conjured demons that shred their victim's flesh with crimson talons, while the bleeding victim frantically tries to recall the appropriate counter-spell.......
But along with the action sequences, ‘Zorachus’ adeptly uses a traditional sword and sorcery action narrative to address some complex philosophical and moral issues, and does so in a way that makes most other entries in the sword-and-sorcery genre - and indeed, the heroic fantasy genre as a whole - seem superficial and shallow. Indeed, I think 'Zorachus' deserves to stand alongside Ian Graham's 2004 novel 'Monument' as an example of a fantasy novel that brings something new and imaginative to a genre that has been, in many ways, over-exposed by shallow commercialism in the last few decades.

All this make 'Zorachus'  well worth getting.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Book of Conquests

'The Book of Conquests' by Jim Fitzpatrick

The English artist Barry Smith (he later adopted the surname Windsor-Smith) began working for Marvel comics in 1969, providing artwork for issue 53 of 'X-Men'. In October 1970, the first issue of 'Conan the Barbarian' was released, with Smith as the artist. 

Within a matter of month's, Smith's artwork for 'Conan' had adopted an ornate, intricate tenor that mingled Pre-Raphaelite art, and Art Deco, with the styles of the great illustrators of children's books from the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Arthur Rackham, Harry Clarke, and Walter Crane. 

There was nothing else like it in any comic book from any publisher, and there was nothing like it in the world of commercial illustration, which at that time was mired in Modern Art approaches, as exemplified by work of illustrators like LeRoy Neiman (the pseudonym of Leroy Leslie Runquist) and Murray Tinkelman.  

Smith's artwork for 'Conan'  revolutionized illustration, and laid the commercial groundwork for a new generation of young illustrators, like Jeff Jones, William Michael Kaluta, and Berni Wrightson, who modeled their craft on that of 19th century British and American artists and illustrators.

One of the artists who belongs in the category of the above-named artists, is the self-taught Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick did album covers for a number of bands in the 70s and 80s; among his most memorable works are the album covers for the band Thin Lizzy, including  'Jailbreak' (1976) and 'Johnny the Fox' (1976).

Fitzpatrick's most famous piece of artwork is his two-tone silkscreen image of Alberto Korda's photograph of the Argentinian revolutionary, Che Guevara, whom Fitzpatrick met while working as a hotel barman in Killkee, County Clare, in 1962. [I was surprised to learn that Guevara's mother was Irish ?!]

In 1978 UK publisher Paper Tiger published 'The Book of Conquests', Fitzpatrick's illustrated re-telling of old Celtic myths: The Story of Tuan; The Coming of the Tuatha de Danann; and The First Battle of Moy Tura. 

These ancient tales circulated in oral form for centuries before first being recorded on paper  ca. 1100. They relate the conflict between two tribes - the Fir Bolg, and the Tuatha de Danann - over Ireland.

Negotiating  the Gaelic proper nouns is not easy, and the narrative has the stilted syntax that frequently marks translations of ancient writings. However, Fitzpatrick's artwork is what 'The Book of Conquests' is really all about.

Every page is embroidered with intricate illustrations of Celtic knotwork and calligraphy. Then there are the depictions of various events, involving heroes and battles, recorded in the sagas; these feature a style reminiscent of the artwork of Barry Smith.

There is genuine craftsmanship and artistry in every page of 'Conquests', and Fitzpatrick's work is all the more impressive when you realize it was done back in the late 70s, when there was no such thing as computer graphics. It must have taken Fitzpatrick weeks (months ?) to do a single page. 

The intricacies of composing, drawing, and coloring the knotwork and glyphs on every page of 'Conquests'  must have driven Fitzpatrick close to the edge of a semi-psychotic state of existence.....

Sadly, 'The Book of Conquests' has long been out of print; however, you can still find used copies for reasonable prices at your usual online retailers (although copies in mint condition have starting price of $139). And it's certainly worth picking up if you happen to find it on the shelves of a used book store.