Living Lines: Hervé Scott-Flament

Posted by: on Jan 14, 2013 | 8 Comments

No one loves America quite like France. Hold on! I’m serious. We dither away a lot of time over here complaining about the snootiness of the French, but in some ways they understand and appreciate American culture more than we ever will. Take Michel Houellebecq, one of the most well-respected contemporary French writers. He did an entire book on H.P. Lovecraft. An entire book! How many smarty-pants American writers have even bothered to read Lovecraft, never mind appreciate him? Who’re the real snobs here?

The Path of the Moonflowers, 1996. Art by Hervé Scott-Flament.

Hervé Scott-Flament, Houellebecq’s fellow countryman, is one of my absolute favorite fantasy artists. He’s as obsessed as I am with Clark Ashton Smith, an American writer, a contemporary of Lovecraft. Like Houellebecq, Scott-Flament is the perfect case study of a French person savoring a piece of American culture we Americans have by and large overlooked. How Flament learned about Smith, I’ll never know – Lovecraft has a pretty durable cult following, but Smith is virtually buried in time. I guess we’ll just have to chalk it up to Flament being French. He’s cool like that.

The Flower of the Abyss, 1987. Art by Hervé Scott-Flament.

As far as world-building goes, no one can touch Smith. He doesn’t get into the hyper-obsessive detail of Tolkein, but he doesn’t need to. Painting with broad strokes, implying more than his words state, is what he’s best at. His creations range from Hyperborea, a lush, tropical and ice-doomed Antarctica of the distant past, to Zothique, the Last Continent, withering in the glow of an engorged sun tens of thousands of years in the future.

The Komorch’s Hunt, 1998. Art by Hervé Scott-Flament.

Before seeing Scott-Flament’s paintings I thought it was impossible to depict Smith’s worlds in paint. But by golly, Scott-Flament does it, in droves. His medium of choice is oil on wood, and it gives his images a beguiling, hazy murkiness that perfectly captures the weirdness of Smith. Scott-Flament is interested in all kinds of outlandish organic forms – fungi, jellyfish, female reproductive organs – and all kinds of uncomfortable juxtapositions. But everything comes together seamlessly into wonderfully chaotic, gleefully baroque and utterly majestic depictions of alien worlds that somehow manage to be eerily like our own.

The Encounter, 1994. Art by Hervé Scott-Flament.

Certain paintings of Scott-Flament depict children encountering weird, alien beings and plant life with… well, the innocence of children. It’s as if Scott-Flament is inviting the viewer to engage with his art in the same way, with wonder instead of revulsion. Sometimes it takes a while to find the people in his paintings, and when you do, hoo boy! The scale of the painting is always surprising. Tiny gardens become vast jungles, and vast jungles become tiny gardens.

The Goodbye on the Threshold, 1990. Art by Hervé Scott-Flament.

Scott-Flament keeps alive the glory days of Heavy Metal magazine, when “Adult Fantasy” meant something other than chain mail soap opera or Massively-Multiplayer Online Skinner Boxes (MMOSB). I, for one, am very appreciative. You can check out much more of Scott-Flament’s art on his site.

All the above images are Hervé Scott-Flament’s, of course. I’m posting them with the assumption the artist doesn’t mind me doing so, but if he does, I’ll take ’em right down. Scott-Flament is on facebook; friendship request sent!

Edit 1.15.13: He doesn’t mind! Whatta mensch.

William Hope Hodgson: Magical Unrealism

Posted by: on Nov 5, 2012 | 5 Comments

William Hope Hodgson is still ahead of his time.

It’s hard to attach labels like “horror” or “science fiction” or “fantasy” to his stories because Hodgson wrote before such epithets properly existed – in the early 1900s, the age of jolly, slimy old King Edward.

The Night Land, Hodgson’s longest novel, is literally the most brilliant thing I’ve ever read. It’s the seed of virtually every genre of science fiction, from cyberpunk to space opera. Part medieval romance, part post-apocalyptic epic, part cosmic horror allegory, part utopian fantasy, the story is set in the world of the unimaginably distant future, in which the sun has died and humanity lives in a massive, pyramidal fortress, surrounded by demons but sustained by a mysterious force called the “Earth Current”. Hodgson wrote The Night Land 100 years ago, but it will still be just fresh and strange and wonderful 100 years from now. And beyond.

But the best thing about Hodgson’s writing, for me, is his complete and utter lack of cynicism. Hodgson believed in the power of love and courage above all the cruelty, horror and desolation of modernity. He, like HP Lovecraft, was writing a counterpoint to the materialist, “relativist” world of the emergent 20th Century. But unlike Lovecraft, who saw only madness and self-annihilation, Hodgson saw the triumph of hope and the human spirit. His stories are not only beautiful works of the imagination, they are beautiful works of the spirit.

I freely admit Hodgson’s not the easiest writer to get comfortable with. The overall style of The Night Land is… strange. Virtually every paragraph begins with “And”, for instance. But, for me at least, the strangeness of the style only adds to the story. Hodgson frequently wrote in the first person, in the voice of someone not accustomed to writing but with an intensely passionate need to tell their story. Every sentence of The Night Land drips with that unadulterated passion, which more than makes up for the occasional – and intentional, in my opinion – awkwardness of the prose.

Nor is The Night Land Hodgson’s only masterpiece. The House on the Borderland is the first piece of his that I read. Like The Night Land, it changed my perception of reality, permanently. In some ways The House on the Borderland anticipated Einstein and general relativity. And Hodgson’s Carnacki stories are utterly magnificent – so magnificent, they deserve their own post.

This is my 100th entry on Arvidland, and I can’t of a better way to celebrate than with a post on William Hope Hodgson, the forgotten master. Hodgson died in 1918, in Belgium, in the muck and smoke of The Great War. He never made very much money off of his stories, and he’s been all but forgotten. But his spirit lives on in those few people who read and understand. Amor vincit omnia, William.

Greystoke: The Legend is Real

Posted by: on Oct 11, 2012 | No Comments

I say, Old Chap! Turns out there’s a real-life Greystoke Castle in Northern England.

A fitting home for the Ape-Man

The “History and Heritage” page of the castle’s Web site reveals some interesting – and sad – tidbits, especially how the British Army confiscated the estates during World War II to train tank crews and later to house Polish POWs who fought for zee Germans. Reminds me a little of the fate of Brideshead Castle in Brideshead Revisited.

But what fun! You can hire the estate for “conferences, open days, product launches and other events”. If only I had a conference to throw or some Polish prisoners of war…

Mysteries from Beyond the Other Dominion

Posted by: on Sep 11, 2012 | No Comments

Back in the early ’90s, when Spawn and Youngblood ruled the comic book racks – when comic book racks actually existed – a little startup cable network called The Sci Fi Channel winked into existence. Those were heady days: a whole channel devoted to nothing but Science Fiction? Who cared that they never showed anything but reruns of Buck Rogers and The Bionic Woman!

But there were some original programs too, and the absolute diamond at the center of Sci Fi’s OG lineup was a show called Mysteries from Beyond the Other Dominion. My father, my brothers and I had a special place in our hearts for this show, all because of the host, Dr. Franklin Ruehl. Dr. Ruehl is a true nerd. Not a sanitized, focus-group-approved TV sitcom version of a nerd, but a Nerd-with-a-Capital-“N”-Nerd, a nerd to the core.

You touched me, Dr. Ruehl.

Mysteries from Beyond consisted of brief “news reports” narrated by Dr. Ruehl, on diverse subjects such as the possibility Martian astronauts visited the Ancient Egyptians, and the legendary curse of Rudolph Valentino’s cat’s eye ring. Dr. Ruehl never ceased to astound with his tales of the bizarre and the unexplained. To sample some of The Good Doctor’s forbidden knowledge, you can visit his Blogspot page, and a quick search on Youtube will turn up a treasure trove of Mysterious gems.

I think it’s great that “geek culture” is so prevalent today. It’s not just accepted by the mainstream, it *is* the mainstream. But Mysteries from Beyond the Other Dominion takes me back to a more innocent, less commercialized time, when getting your fix of Fantasy or Sci Fi meant playing Wizardy III on your wheezy, beige-colored IBM PC, or getting together with some fellow nerds for an evening of pencil-and-paper role playing games in your parents’ basement. Thanks, Dr. Ruehl, for keeping it real – one nerd to another. May the power of the cosmos be with you, too.

Megafauna of Mars

Posted by: on Aug 21, 2012 | 4 Comments

Just finished my 27th script for the Warlord of Mars series from Dynamite Comics. Another ten issues, assuming I last that long, and it will officially be The Longest Running Series I Have Ever Written!

Following is a list I compiled of names for groups of all the weird and wonderful animal life on Mars, better known as “Barsoom” to Burroughs aficionados. It’s based on a similar list of fantasy animal groups a friend showed me a year ago. I can’t find it now, but it was great – one of the few examples I remember is “a mystery of chimeras”.