Thursday, September 13, 2018

Ike's Chili on the Guna Slopes

RA Lafferty, Old Halloweens on the Guna Slopes

Upon my first reading of the R. A. Lafferty story “Old Halloweens on the Guna Slopes” I missed this; a reference to Ike's Chili Parlour. Ike's Chili has been a Tulsa staple since just about forever. It's the oldest restaurant in Tulsa and it has long held legendary status in my family. This September they celebrate 110 years of business.

It was the custom of my grandfather to take the family to Ike's Chili, gorge themselves, and follow the meal with a spoonful of vinegar taken from a glass bottle off the table. The vinegar, grandfather argued, broke down the grease and helped cleanse the palate. Of course, it's no coincidence that only the men in the family engaged in this sour tradition. And what men they were.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Gray Ghost - A Reminiscence

I rolled a three. Dead man Captain John said that he had a seven. I put a dollar bill in his bony hand when it came up. I shivered when I touched its bones. I was never meant to play games with a dead man.
--  R. A. Lafferty, “Gray Ghost: A Reminiscence”

A personal note about the first part of the story:

Growing up in Tulsa, I lived close enough to the Arkansas river that I was regularly warned from playing on the islands of sand that formed when the water ran low. The river ran low often because it was choked by the Keystone Dam. The islands that appeared were full of air pockets and loose sand and were wholly unstable. The street runs close to the river in several spots and you'd occasionally see someone doing something foolish out there in the middle of the water. I had never heard of anyone digging into the sand as they do in the story, but the threat of the environment was very real as a part of my childhood.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Rod and The Ring

In truth, it is the game that destroys the world every time it is played correctly, and thus it may be played correctly a maximum of one time.
   --R. A. Lafferty, “The Rod and the Ring”

Over the last few years there have been no small number of achievements made by the Lafferty fans who organize and make up the Ktistec Press. One of the most notable of these being the negotiating for and inclusion of the previously unpublished R.A. Lafferty story The Rod and The Ring.
R A Lafferty, RA Lafferty
Feast of Laughter 4 (featuring The Rod & The Ring)

The Rod and The Ring was the first new Lafferty story to be published in nearly 15 years. [Those interested can download a free pdf of the book from the Ktistec website or purchase a physical copy print-on-demand via Amazon.] As a member of the Ktistec team, I had access to the story prior to publication. What kind of fool would I have been to pass up the opportunity to be the first person to illustrate a new Lafferty?

Over the crust of the story is draped clear references to role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. I drew upon this heavily, combining designs from the D&D board games and the iconic red cover from the 1983 starter kit players manual. I'll admit that I took far too much pleasure in replacing the TSR logo with my own signature. For a good 15 minutes I actually thought I was a genius. Not so much after. But I'm still very happy with the idea.

If I had known at the time that our friend Lissanne Lake, a professional artist and longtime Lafferty associate who frequently illustrates his worlds, had been a regular illustrator for Dragon Magazine and other fantasy periodicals and books, I would have begged her for an illustration to accompany this publication. I'm sure it would have been perfect. Unfortunately, I wouldn't discover this until years later.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Pilgrim Felt Dizzy – NTMC

Pilgrim is Dizzy, Not To Mention Camels

He cleaned himself a little in one of the ornamental fountains that were on the edge of the commodity arrival floor. Then he went into the board meeting room.
- R. A. Lafferty, “Not To Mention Camels”

Shortly after LAFFCON2 ended we artists involved (Lissanne Lake, Yakov Varganov, Bill Rogers, and I) thought it would be fun to pick a Lafferty story and each of us complete an illustration in time for next year's conference. We agreed upon the book Not To Mention Camels (NTMC) and inadvertently changed the shape of the event in the process.

When organizers sat down to pick the year's themes and presentations they looked to the artwork for inspiration. Talks on Snuffles and Not To Mention Camels became two of a handful of hours dedicated to R A Lafferty that day.

And it was fun. I loved being part of our own little semi-secret creative pact. Lissanne's artwork is always dynamic and Yakov produced what I though was some of his best work.

For my part, I had barely finished this illustration before hitting print and shutting down my computer only to quickly pack a carryon bag for my flight to New Jersey the next morning.

NTMC is a book full of grotesque action. I had been looking forward to finding a balance between gore and cartoonish humor. There were three moments that stuck out from the first half of the book, and I produced a sketch for each. But as often happens one image persisted beyond the others.

The character Pilgrim, who the book follows, a powerful and cultish figurehead, has just gotten the shit kicked out of him (and a pint or so of blood) and returns disheveled and light-headed to his boardroom meeting. He's both confused and somewhat impressed with his assailant. And as he licks his wounds and contemplates his next move the board members at the table seem completely oblivious to his distress. That isolated moment of complicated and contradictory emotions became my favorite image. And eventually I found a way to put it on paper.

Regarding the illustration I wanted to make the background the true character of the piece. Which looking back was probably a good call, as what is more boring than a corporate board meeting? I tried to play into the cultish aspects of Pilgrim, with clear church elements in the board room, but also a tribal, shamanistic shape in the structure at the center of the frame, it's arms reaching up toward the ceiling and it's legs running down the center of the table. The ceiling is also a portal of sorts, branching off in many directions and giving access to multiple dimension of reality.

The bottled water is just water, a common staple in today's corporate meetings and I felt somehow brings an element of humor to the piece.

Pilgrim Felt Dizzy (NTMC) sketch

Thursday, June 14, 2018


Snuffles   R A Lafferty

The third annual R A Lafferty conference took place June 9, 2018. Once again I had the honor of illustrating the official poster for the event. A little known snippet of trivia is what influence artwork had in shaping this year's focus. It turns out a great deal (more on this in a later post.) Part of that influence was my choice to illustrate the short story Snuffles which then later became the subject of an hour long Podcast during the day.

Posters for the previous years had featured the author, in one fashion or another, and I had the feeling that it was time to move beyond portraits and into wilder content that might appeal to new readers and attendees.

I chose Snuffles because it was one of the most loved Lafferty stories, because I'd just finished another illustration which I knew could make a good back cover for the program booklet, and because Lafferty himself admitted that he was probably Snuffles, if he was any character in his writings. Thus, as a transition away from Lafferty portraits, this subject matter made the most sense.

The initial image from the reading was of two figures walking through a field of strange fruit while a large teddy bear like creature observed from rocks above the horizon.

I struggled with this illustration. And even now I feel uncomfortable looking at it, though I'm thrilled with the compliments people have offered. It's not that I'm displeased with the results, it's just that I can still feel the bruises where I wrestled with it.

Elements of the short story I tried to incorporate include the sense that Snuffles (the bear-like creature) was the center of all things and tied to all things, that the world was mercurial and wavering in a psychedelic fashion. The red flowers among the yellow grass are poppies. And there are blue representations of both barley and cannabis in the lower corners.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Jack Bang's Eyes

R A Lafferty, Jack Bangs Eyes

Flip O’Grady was a chimpanzee of mature years and unusual intelligence. He stood a full four feet tall. He was employed as a penny-flipper at the “Probability Division”; it was under the directorship of Doctor Vonk, and so was Flip.
--R. A. Lafferty, “ Jack Bang's Eyes”

Upon reading Jack Bang's Eyes, I had intended to draw a full characterization of Flip O'Grady, coin in hand, peering at the reader with a hunched back and a knowing smirk. But then while doing some fast and fortuitous research on visual representations of probability I came across this outcome map of a coin toss. To me the map already looked like art. The shift from a full character to just a hand came as a means of adjusting to the pyramidal shape but also to help focus the viewer on the flipping of the penny.

The finished piece was created partly in vector and partly brushed into the computer.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Land of the Great Horses

Land of the Great Horses, R A Lafferty

A Carny in Nebraska lifted his head and smelled the air.
“It’s come back,” he said. “I always knew we’d know. Any other Romanies here?”
--R. A. Lafferty, “Land of the Great Horses”

I managed to grab a hardback copy of Dangerous Visions for almost nothing.  I flipped straight to this story, read the line quoted above, closed the book. It took a few days and a second reading to help understand some of the themes of the story. But for that first night, with a fire behind my eyes, all I knew was that I wasn't putting my head into my pillow until I'd drawn some depiction of a state fair.

Not my best work, but there are elements that I like.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

One At A Time

I have incurred a lot of ill will in my day, and sometimes it boils over. There was one time when a whole shipful of men had had enough of me.”
- R. A. Lafferty, “One at a Time”

Sometimes a single sentence is strong enough to burn an image into the mind's eye. This is especially true of Lafferty's writing, where every sentence seems to land a solid hit (or scratch, or tickle, depending on the author's intent) and every punch seems to come from a different direction.

There have been a few illustrations I've done lately where one might look at the work and think, “Strange, I don't remember that part of the story.” This is one of them.

Note how the sleeves attach and note the hammer at the tip of the belt. McSkee “The Odd One” has been taking it one at a time with many a day between.

This was also another example of me trying to find a faster route toward a finished illustration. The background was all drawn into the computer with a stylus, while the character was clicked into existence via vector graphics.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Royal Licorice

He was decked out in Navajo beadwork and a Sioux war-bonnet when he spoke at the supermarket in Indianapolis. Indianapolis really meant Indian City, didn’t it?
---R. A. Lafferty, “Royal Licorice”

I read Royal Licorice just as the politicking engines were getting stoked for the 2016 presidential race. So perhaps it is no surprise that it was those aspects of the story that caught my attention and fed the illustration.

In the story, Candidate Johnson is a somewhat bumbling and disassociated sort of man. A political game player given renewed time with which to further bubble and dissociate himself.

I drew him with an disingenuous smile (referencing the lipless curl of popular politician) and an even more disingenuous war bonnet; the feathers fanning outward like a peacock (or turkey?), disheveled, and incomplete.

Dressed a mess to impress the masses.

Things must have gone well for young-old Candidate Johnson in Indianapolis. So much so that he insisted they mark and market the occasion with a poster.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Ride a Tin Can

"Come all you little Singing-Pig-Shelni,” a bell man shouts. “Come get your free rides in the tin cans all the way to Earth! Hey, Ben, what other animal jumps onto the slaughter wagon when you only ring a bell?”

---R. A. Lafferty, “Ride a Tin Can”

This illustration came into being solely in the computer. No sketches beforehand, with only a rough idea of the moment in the story I wanted to portray. I'm not certain it works well without the viewers knowledge of Lafferty's heartbreaking tale. I'm fairly confident it jabs at the tender meat in the hearts of those of us who have.

You cannot see the faces of the Shelni (That's deliberate. This illustration has quite a few deliberates), but hopefully the ears are telling enough that these are meant to be the same Shelni that Jack Gaughan illustrated in the April 1970 issue of IF magazine.

So why not create my own vision of the Shelni? I love creating monsters. And the monstrous are often easier to create than animals or people. Here then is why I did not. Because, with Lafferty, I don't want islands. I want to help build up a whole. If we are playing and I'm putting my Lafferty LEGOs together, it's not satisfying enough to make my own little construct. I want my blocks to connect to other's blocks and theirs upon mine and so on, and so on, until a whole world is formed.

When I think of what I want for Lafferty and his legacy, it is an amalgamation of successes fans have had building communal worlds within the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick. Cthulhu is now an established icon because people loved the design and kept building it into their works. Dick's stories are excellent, but needed reinterpreting/rebuilding through cinema to really widen the fan base.

Lafferty will always be a genius. But I fear he won't reach more people than already know him until the rest of us take that genius and built upon it venues which appeal to and draw in new kinds of fans into a greater, grander Lafferty universe.

At least, that's the fantasy -My R. A. Lafferty fantasy.

So, then, I loved drawing those big Gaughan Shelni ears; I loved alluding to Lissanne Lake's illustration for "Days of Grass, Days of Straw" in my illustration for "The Ninety-Ninth Cubicle." It's not much. But it's what I can do.