Tuesday 30 November 2010

'pon My Word Holmes!

My first introduction to the art of detection was those wonderful Basil Rathbone films, where the sleuth of Baker Street inhabited this dreamlike world which seemed to jarringly lurch from Edwardian London to 1940's America with an almost disingenuous detachment from all considerations of plausibility.

But Rathbone, eagle of eye, hawk like of profile seemed unperturbed by the rapidly changing morays in fashion and decorum and Nigel Bruce as Watson seemed so totally gaga, that he wouldn't have noticed if it was a hansom cab or a yellow taxi that they were pursuing the fiendish Moriarty in.

But as I grew more absorbed by history I must confess I did begin to become less enamoured of the Rathbone Holmes, who in the later films actually contrived a hairstyle more akin to the era of Wellington then the early 1900's at just the stage when Universal had abandoned any pretext at historical accuracy and souped up the drama to reflect the fact that the U.S. had just entered the Second World War. Rathbone thereby widening the continuity gap by nearly another century, whilst Universal pushed it another half century in the opposite direction.

No, I'd tired of Holmes, OK for a bit, but too much of Nigel Bruce (who was actually Rathbone's junior) looking forever befuddled, in contrast to Rathbone's adrenalised Holmes made the whole thing farcical. Something that wasn't lost on that errant genius Harvey Kurtzman when he served up two supremely funny Mad spoofs; "Shermlock Shomes" and "Shermlock Shomes and the Hound of the Basketballs", drawn by Will Elder who lavished his usual surfeit of manic detail on each story.

It wasn't until a few years later when the BBC made a series of Holmes TV adaptations of Conan Doyle's great detective that I became totally spellbound by the whole Holmes legend. The casting of the two main leads was masterly, with Nigel Stock making an excellent Watson and Douglas Wilmer, who I had never encountered before as a brilliantly plausible Holmes. In fact like Rathbone, Wilmer seemed born to the role. Where the series really scored was in the simple fact that they stuck to the original stories rather than using them as a springboard. It was this series that propelled me towards reading all the Holmes canon and in the end I got so obsessed with the stories that I hunted down the entire run of Strand Magazines which were bound into handsome blue volumes, one for every year as I recall. The beautiful illustrations of Sydney Paget provided the impetus. Sidney Paget who had acquired the commission by mistake as the editors had intended the job should go to his younger brother Walter.

There were two stories in particular which gave rise to a real atavistic shudder as I watched and then read them. The first being "The Speckled Band", which was actually the pilot episode for this BBC series and then the second and really haunting as regards the TV adaptation was, "The Devil's Foot", which was strong stuff indeed and a lot of the power of this broadcast was down to Wilmer's extraordinary performance.

It was a pity that the Beeb didn't do more with Wilmer, or rather that Wilmer didn't agree to a second series. The already insufficient rehearsal time having been further shortened to the extent that Wilmer felt disinclined to continue any further with the project. The series was passed to Peter Cushing who later confided to Wilmer that he'd rather sweep Paddington Station than do another series like that with the Beeb. Miraculously most of the transmissions were filmed rather than merely taped, for export and so they survived and have just been re-released on BBC DVD. It's nice to see Douglas Wilmer who must be around about 90 now, taking Amazon to task for describing this DVD set as featuring Peter Cushing - rather than Douglas Wilmer.

I can't find the Wilmer "Devil's Foot" out there in cyber land but here with an admittedly spartan of set and so-so supporting cast (although Felix Felton as Dr Roylett is indeed excellent) is  "The Speckled Band"  Followed by the excellent and equally superb Jeremy Brett version of this tale, who like Rathbone and Wilmer was borne to the role. The Brett Holmes is in terms of production, acting and authenticity a Holmes devotee's wish dream come true.

But I still prefer the Wilmer version of "The Devil's Foot.

Note to U.S. readers, I believe that all the BBC Wilmer Holmes can be accessed through the fantastic services of Hulu. Unfortunately due to the requirements of the corporate neanderthals who govern our very existence, this stuff is not available beyond the shores of the land of the free. That is unless you are prepared to invoke all kinds of bad ju-ju on your computer and set up a proxy account and downloads various bits of flaky shiteware to aid you in your task.

I think even Dr Roylett and the fiendish Moriarty couldn't be THAT bothered.

Monday 29 November 2010

The Aeronautical Artistry of Kostas Kavvathias

I had a communication a few weeks ago from a
devotee of the incredible Ian Kennedy. Kostas Kavvathias however isn't just a fan, he's also an artist in his own right and is currently providing artwork for a couple of leading kit manufacturers as well as working in an unofficial capacity with the Greek Air Force who have several examples of his artistry hanging on their barrack walls.

Here then is just a smattering of some of Kostas most recent works, the influence of Ian Kennedy is definitely there but there's a lovely feeling of landscape and location which are distinctively his own.

Saturday 27 November 2010

More of the Stuff of Sleepless Nights

I must say a very profound thank you to Johnny Mains, whose dedication to the cult of paperback horror is such that he has a website devoted to the premier UK paperback anthology series,  the Pan Book of Horror. But in addition to all the research he has conducted on it's editors and writers, he has also published his own collection of works by these writers,  many of whom were working under pseudonyms. The book entitled "Back From The Dead" features 16 stories by these authors. many published for the first time and as I'm about halfway through them I can attest that they are all real  chillers, designed to plunge you into uncomfortable dreams and when I've done with that collection it will be back into the new republished Pan Book of Horror Stories, which again is down to Johnny's boundless energy and enthusiasm for these books and comes with a fascinating introduction covering the history of this long running series.

Here from Johnny's vault is the original artwork by William Francis Phillipps for the cover of the third book in this series.

And if that hasn't left you a little breathless just check out "The Signalman" another brilliant BBC adaption from 1976 with Denholm Elliot's masterful portrayal of the man in question. This video has only just been posted to YouTube by the DickensXmas channel so don't forget to give it a big thumbs up rating.


and then:

and finally:

Friday 26 November 2010

More Sleepless Nights

Apropos of Dave Morris's gentle hint, I'm cartwheeling myself back through the mists of time to the age of thirteen when, as is germaine to a lot of adolescents, a burgeoning awareness of the transitory nature of life propelled me into the musty pages of paperback horror.

The first book I acquired that had me absolutely reduced to a state of twitchy apprehension was the recently re-issued Pan Book of Horror Stories (see yesterday's posting), I devoured those tales of things beyond the grave with such rapidity that I was soon looking for more in that vein. Fortunately salvation in the form of a ramshackle second hand bookshop run by an elderly World War 1 veteran with the shrapnel wounds from that conflict still very evident on his face and neck was within easy walking distance. The piles of second hand paperbacks on his shelves had a good selection of titles aimed at devotees of the macabre, of which there was always a good contingent in Hastings. The town had hosted some redoubtable sorcerers and necromancers and in fact was and still is laboring under a curse from Alastair Crowley who passed away there in 1947. Hastings wasn't alone in being the unwilling recipient of one of Crowley's last curses as his doctor was also subject to the same  dark forces for refusing to indulge the old guy's heroin addiction.  A dependency which had resulted from a previous morphine prescription to alleviate the bouts of asthma and bronchitis which had become the bane of Crowley's latter years. Crowley's unfortunate doctor only outlived his patient by one day and Hastings has never recovered from the curse either.

A trip to the gloomy confines of Bookman's Halt offered up another paperback with a truly arresting title and cover. Titled "Not at Night" and edited by Christine Campbell Thomson, it was in fact a paperback reprint from a series of books which she had edited as well as contributed to under the alias's of Flavia Richardson and Christine Hartley (the surname of her second husband) from the mid nineteen twenties onwards. The contents were every bit as compelling as the cover and to my delight I discovered that there were at least two more in the series, and those covers were so good in a weirdly retro way that I found myself making frequent forays back to the depths of the old bookshop until I had unearthed the other two titles.

Here then are the covers for the three Not at Night books as published by Arrow from 1960-1962 and here is another M.R. James adaptation - a real chiller and again from the superb Ghostwatching's YouTube Channel. Curiously Montague Rhodes James was not a big fan of Christine Campbell Thomson's books and accused the series of being "too American". As a lot of the stories were sourced from "Weird Tales" he might have had a point at least as regards their provenance.



and with a final flourish:

Thursday 25 November 2010

The Season of Ghosts and Things That Go Bump in the Night

As we head into the depth of long nights and wintry landscapes, there is no better time to immerse oneself in the works of the masters of the dark arts of horror and ghost stories.

Here's one of my favorites, one of many spine chillers by Montague Rhodes James, this particular tale "A Warning to the Curious" is one of a generally superb series of adaptations of the great man's work by the BBC.

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

and finally courtsey of Mr. Ghost Watching's excellent YouTube channel we have the denouement:

And while we're on the subject of short, sharp shockers of the literary kind, the redoubtable Johnny Mains has managed to persuade the publishing powers that be to re-release that great paperback classic The First Pan Book of Horror Stories, a book that first appeared in 1959. The stories still hold up remarkably well today and one can only hope that more of this series appear. So if you're stuck for Christmas gift ideas then this book would make a pretty good stocking filler.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Finn and Fish!

One of the many fun things about blogging is the people you come to meet even if only cybernetically, but it just proves that blogging is far from being the stereotypical province of sad loners. Many of the people who visit this blog are also bloggers and many of them are also creative artists in their own right.

One of the artists whose work I have got to know via this creative interchange of ideas and opinions is Leeann Hamilton, whose work I have truly adored since I first checked out her Thingummy Thoughts Blog. She's just completed a three year  Degree including both animation and graphics but despite her relative youth has been refining her skills for a good few years now and it certainly shows in her work, the latest commercially available offering having just appeared under the title "Finn and Fish". This mini epic which is available from Leeann herself or select comic retailers is just enchanting and suffused with a manic but beautiful energy which insinuates itself into her linework, which reveals a real mastery of draftsmanship and has echos of Jamie Hewlett, John Kricfalusi (Leeann is a big JK fan I believe) and the late Trina Schart Hyman.

If you want to see more of Leeann's fabulous artistry treat yourself to a copy of her mad oirish comic aka "Finn and Fish" details here and check out her Thingummy Thoughts blog as well as her Deviant Art Gallery.

All in all lovely, lovely stuff!

Sunday 21 November 2010

Wulf the Briton - Looking Good in Leather!

I'm going to give you Wulf addicts a sneak preview of the epic book which will be winging it's way to publication very shortly.

To say this book has been a labor of love would be something of an understatement, but when Book Palace Books received a gi-normous box of the printer's proofs to this volume the excitement was palpable. The book is costly but the results I think will justify the price, which even for the signed and lettered ultra-deluxe edition is still less expensive than buying a piece of Wulf artwork (if you can find one) or attempting to buy the complete run of Express Weeklys showcasing Ron Embleton's amazing artistry on this strip.

The quality of scanning has been painstaking to the 'nth degree. The problems that normally bedevil projects like this have been addressed and overcome. Light blues which are always an early casualty in this process have been retained and all the subtleties evident in the original printing have been retained. The delicate brushwork which underlies much of Embleton's modeling, particularly with flesh tones has been preserved. All the black line work is as it should be. The final prints on archival matte paper are so close to the original comics that the experience of looking through these pages is a real joy. Particularly as printing artifacts have been removed and ghosting from the reverse side of the original comics pages has been removed without losing the subtleties of Embleton's palette and incredibly - in the few bad cases of off registration - the pages have been re-registered!

At some point in the future I might devote one blog posting to how the scanning and restoration on this book was achieved but in the meantime here are a few photos, plus a short video of the book, plus initial printer's proofs and a couple of low register versions of some of the restored scans, which if you compare them to the earlier versions that appeared on the blog all those months ago will give you an inkling at the careful restoration that has been applied to these pages.

More information can be gathered here at the Book Palace Books website.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Illustration Art Gallery Christmas Show

There is a fascinating opportunity for lovers of illustration to view some of the creme de la creme of  this art form in an upcoming show at:

8 Duke Street
St James's

from the 14th to 19th December 2010.

There are some truly superb artworks by luminaries such as Frank Bellamy, Ron Embleton, Fortunino Matania, Cecil Doughty, Septimus Scott, Jim Holdaway, Frank Hampson, James McConnell and numerous others.

There will be a launch party on Tuesday 14th December from 5pm - 9pm with refreshments and an opportunity to meet and chat with other enthusiasts.

All in all sounds like a great way to get into festive mode.

More details can be garnered from The Book Palace Website.

Monday 15 November 2010

The Magical Giants of Philippe Fix

I can well recall the first time I saw this book. I was in my first year at Brighton Polytechnic as it was then struggling with typography and wondering when the illustration tutelage would kick in. It was supposed to be a three year illustration course after all and we were still on the illustration equivalent of square bashing. Being Brighton, at least you could check out the ample supply of book shops on your lunch break.

Anyway this was precisely what my colleague Peter had done and he returned in a somewhat breathless state, and with a deft flourish and a, "what do you think of THIS then?", produced from his Hatchard's shopping bag a book the like of which I had never seen before. And yet in a way I had, but there was something indefineable about this book with it's evident homage to the golden age of fantasy illustration mixed so adroitly with the here and now which immediately put it into the premier division of illustrated books from 1972.

Or any other year for that matter.

"The Book of Giant Stories" by David L. Harrison is a charming reworking of folk tale themes but the illustrator Philippe Fix very artfully makes the little boy around whom the action revolves a contemporary (for 1972) schoolboy. In fact he takes considerable historical liberties with historical accuracy in the way he throws together costumes and furniture, but the result is totally captivating in a way that a more slavish attempt to be more time specific would not have achieved. In doing so Fix has created illustrations which fully realize the charm of the stories and added an extra level of enjoyment to the text.

Illustration in it's purest sense.