There are many roads to Carcosa. Some are paved with good intentions. Others with yellow brick. Some are familiar shortcuts. Many take a winding, even scenic route. Once you arrive you never really leave. Or perhaps Carcosa never leaves you.
When Lovecraft wrote his stories in the 1920s and 1930s the world still seemed to be full of hidden, unexplored places. Hidden cities and lands forgotten by time seemed possible. Now, in 2017? The world is mapped. Maybe not completely but with enough detail that any current Cthulhu Mythos authors have to work harder to explain how a place manages to stay undetected. “The government is covering it up” might work for something relatively small that exists within the borders of that country but how would “they” cover up the existence of an entire city (much less a range of mountains taller than the Himalayas) on a continent that is owned by no one? That would require a lot of cooperation between governments and a lot of people who are willing to be silent about that cooperation.
Some authors suggest that the Mythos entities hide from us. That seems unlikely. They can travel between the stars. Some of them can travel between the places between the places between the stars. We can’t be a threat. So if they’re hiding, perhaps they’re hiding from each other. Or from something even bigger and scarier.
In At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft a group of antarctic explorers discover the evidence of an ancient, prehuman civilization. While exploring the ruins of a vast and abandoned city the explorers find and interpret a series of carvings and hieroglyphs that seem to tell a history of both the “Elder Things” and, basically, the evolution of life on Earth. I say “seem to tell” because the explorers are only able to spend a few days in the city and are forced to leave it under terrifying and sanity disturbing circumstances. Their understanding of the story told in the carvings shouldn’t be assumed to be perfect. It might be missing important information. It might be completely wrong. Human beings have a hard enough time understanding the languages and art left by extinct human cultures. It’s unlikely that a human could get an accurate reading of non-human culture without being able to interact with representatives of that culture.
That’s one of the things that I enjoy about the Cthulhu Mythos. Humanity and the Earth itself are not central. Sure, most Mythos stories feature human protagonists and deal with human adventures but that’s because human authors are writing the stories for human readers. But the Mythos features beings and species and civilizations that existed long before mankind learned to make fire and who will exist long after mankind’s story ends. Earth is just one of the places these creatures have visited. The Universe is vast and full of strangeness and wonder. (Or terror and madness, if you’re a xenophobic New Englander.)
The Elder Things came from the stars to the Earth, presumably, before fish evolved in the seas. Their civilization here lasted for millions of years. That civilization might continue, somewhere in secret, here on Earth. In all likelihood there are Elder Things civilizations scattered across this and other galaxies. If humans made it out to the stars, would we find the Elder Things welcoming? Threatening? Dismissive? All of the above?
Lovecraft described some of his creations in great detail. Others are described in ways that are give the reader a vague sense of the thing and leave the specifics to his/her imagination. And others are left as vague eldritch monstrosities, barely comprehensible to the human mind. Shub Niggurath is one of those. So she (it) can be depicted however seems most appropriate.
“Words could not adequately convey the repulsiveness of the thing. It was endowed with a trunk and great, uneven ears, and two enormous tusks protruded from the corners of its mouth. But it was not an elephant. Indeed, its resemblance to an actual elephant was, at best, sporadic and superficial, despite certain unmistakable points of similarity. The ears were webbed and tentacled, the trunk terminated in a huge flaring disk at least a foot in diameter, and the tusks, which intertwined and interlocked at the base of the statue, were as translucent as rock crystal.”
One of the reasons that I’m so fond of the so-called Cthulhu Mythos is its breadth and diversity. H.P. Lovecraft may have originated it but it has long since outgrown his writings. Howard Belknap Long was a writer who added to the Mythos during Lovecraft’s lifetime. His most notable creations are the Hounds of Tindalos and the fellow above, Chaugnar Faugn. All of Lovecraft’s work is in the public domain, easily found and therefore easily read. Long’s work is still under copyright and, because Long has not retained a lot of posthumous popularity, requires some effort to track down. As far as I can tell, the Seattle Library has nothing by him in its collections. As such, I haven’t read The Horror from the Hills, the story that first features Chaugnar Faugn.
But what the hell, I have read T.E.D. Klein‘s Black Man with a Horn, featuring a version of Chaugnar Faugn that only vaguely resembles the original, and I felt like drawing an eldritch abomination so … here he is.
Last Sunday I posted my basic sketches for the individual images that I planned to have make up the cover for Tails of Valor. Here’s what I did to turn those images into the final cover illustration.
Using Photoshop I collaged the images in a variety of ways to find a balance that looked good. The version below is number seven.
Once I figured out the basic layout I did a rough sketch that combined all the images in a way that (hopefully) worked together aesthetically.
Next I did detailed pencils of each scene. We (the book’s editor and I) decided to have me do each scene as a separate image and then have book’s cover designer put them all together for the final product. I regularly combined my working images in order to be sure that I was getting a good balance for the final illustration.
Next I “flatted” images for coloring, meaning I separated out specific areas of each image that I wanted to be able to color individually. At this point I wasn’t necessarily choosing the final colors that I planned to use, just something close.
And then I started adding detailed colors, adjusting colors on specific layers, doing gradients and playing with different brushes. I really don’t have much to say from here on. There was trial. There was error. There was “Hey! That looks good!”
I hopped back and forth between all the illustrations but, in the beginning, I spent most of my time on the Egypt and Rome sections.
I made my biggest post-pencil changes here by moving the jumping cat in the Rome section up in space. The change doesn’t look like much but it makes the scene livelier.
And done. Mostly. I’ve made some tiny adjustments to parts of the illustrations since I created the jpeg below but I’m probably the only person who will notice them.
Golden Goblin Press will be kickstarting Tails of Valor in July. I’ll put a post about that when the time comes.
I haven’t had a chance to finish any new illustrations for this site. I’ve been working on a cover for Tails of Valor, a collection of scenarios for the Cathulhu version of the Call of Cthulhu RPG to be published by Golden Goblin Press. There are three scenarios in the book: one set in Ancient Egypt during the time of the Pharaohs, one set in 15th century France during witch hysteria and one set in Rome at the time of Caligula. The editor asked me to create a cover that featured images from all three adventures.
Multiple image covers are tricky. You’ve got to balance the images and colors so that the results are pleasing rather than just chaotic. I started by sketching an image for each scenario by itself. I figured that once I knew which basic image I would illustrate I could then figure out how to combine them in a way that looked good.
The Rome image.
Come back Wednesday for a process post of the cover from pencils to final colors.