Thursday, 13 September 2012

Art of Time's Abyss

Concept art for a "Sword & Dinosaur"* universe I've been cooking up, with inspiration ranging from Burroughs, Howard, Conan Doyle, Verne, Gurney and more. No sprawling empires, no shining kingdoms, just tribes of barbarian dinosaurs, roaming an ever-changing and dangerous world...

In keeping with the Caspakian theme, welcome to Art of Time's Abyss! Since I've been concentrating on work off the 'net, I want to keep contributing without spreading myself too thin.  So, to remedy that, I'm starting a new series.

Wait, don't go!




The capture of Arador, grandfather of Aragorn, by hill-trolls

I know I have a serious problem with actually finishing series (just look at the Chronicles of Taranaich listed to the right), but starting a series that doesn't technically have an end seems the ideal way to have my cake and eat it. In short, I'm going to start posting some of my art on the 'net.

 A lone guard watches the wall, inspired by a mysterious unnamed synopsis by Robert E. Howard set in Roman Britain

I'm a lot more reticent to posting my art than I am to posting opinions and writing: possibly because I'm very sensitive when it comes to that. Not in a sensitive-to-criticism manner, but rather a sensitivity to people actually looking at it. Art, like music and song, is a rather personal and intimate thing for me, and I always feel especially nervous sharing it. It tends to feel like I'm letting all and sundry look at a piece of my soul, and normally you should at least take me out to dinner and the pictures a few times before I'm ready to do that.

Pieces from the three-player board game of the "Ronaro" fragment

I feel immense envy of those artists who feel comfortable enough just posting doodles and sketches, or who can regularly draw and write with someone looking over their shoulder. This might be why I'm starting to get into comic art: it's a necessarily collaborative form between writer and artist, and so I don't feel quite as exposed.

Our favourite Cimmerian in a more subdued, introspective moment

There's also a crippling self-consciousness (darn West-Coast-of-Scotland-Catholic-Upbringing!) which leads me to be, sometimes, inordinately hypercritical of my own work. I don't know if it's usual for an artist to be able to judge their own work in a detached, impersonal manner simply because of the very nature of art, but I know I sure can't: all I see are the things I feel I did well, and the things I wish I did, or could do, better. Constant unhelpful, subconscious comparisons to Frazetta, Dali, Caravaggio, Leonardo and legendary artists and how I'm somehow besmirching their memory by daring to trespass on their domain, that sort of thing. I'd like to think I've gotten better at this, but I don't think I'll ever truly overcome it. Perhaps I shouldn't: perhaps it keeps me grounded to a degree.

An old picture of the Battle of Tanasul, "The Hour of the Dragon." Ever the pedant, all I can see are the gaping divergences with the text (where are the Gundermen? Why does the Nemedian Army look like it's on higher ground? Why's Conan got an axe on horseback instead of on foot? Why's Xaltotun in the wrong place? Why do none of the banners have the Aquilonian lion or the Nemedian dragon? For shame, Al, for shame!)

But let's not get all maudlin: why on earth do I draw? Because I enjoy it. Ever since I was a baby Aly, I could be found scribbling madly with coloured pens on sugar paper, drawing anything that fired my growing imagination: dinosaurs, monkeys, parrots, haunted houses, foreboding castles, tall ships, pirates, lost treasure, krakens, shipwrecks on the shore of tropical islands, fantasy lands, dragons of all shapes and sizes, tortoises, fantastical animals. Childhood favourites He-Man, Orko, The Simpsons, Dracula, Robinson Crusoe, Long John Silver, Blackbeard, Santa, Professor Challenger and his expedition, Maple White's map and Stegosaurus sketch, Stuart Little the Starship Enterprise, alien planets and solar systems, alien beings and ships. A common theme was Noah's Ark, all the animals going two-by-two, Noah and his wife and children.  Another was a double-decker bus containing all my family members and loved ones: sometimes people got off the bus, others came on, the passengers changing over the years. My mother collected all of them, bless her, and they're still safely ensconced in a cupboard, many of them dated too.

Written & drawn before Grant Morrison's comic and that Doctor Who episode, and in no way influenced by that Voyager episode (Save that it makes efforts not to be a condescending allegory that tells a parable about scientific truth being obscured by archaic myth in a way that actually obscures scientific truth with archaic myth itself by perpetuating outdated fallacies and distorted history, but let's not get started on bad Voyager episodes...)

My choice of subject hasn't changed much at all. The details change, but that love of adventure, exotic locations, mysterious castles, heroic figures, awesome creatures, lost ages and more permeates and surrounds. I've also been studying the art of comics, reading up on the classics, comic criticism like Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, and just exploring the medium. And then I just go back to illustrations, frequently black-and-white pen ones. Usually, of course, they're of Conan, such as the following scenes from "The Phoenix on the Sword," which I did for 80 Years of Conan:






You may have noticed the preceding art before: on The Cimmerian, on this blog, maybe even elsewhere on the 'net. Well, I'm not going to restrict things to reruns, and will introduce brand new (to the internet, at least) works from the pen of Al Harron. And pencil, charcoal, paintbrush, tablet and anything else that comes to mind, but mostly pen, since that's my favourite.

And now, the debut.


Behind the Scenes

Last year was the great big Tall Ships event, and I was approached to produce a short 2-page comic that involved maritime escapades in some manner. So, I chose hometown** anti-hero Captain Kidd, and one of the more infamous moments of his life, as the subject. The comic proved fairly popular, as far as I'm aware, and free copies can still be found in and around Greenock. The style was largely influenced by horror comics like Creepy and Eerie and some of the more grotesque political cartoons in equal measure, but with a sense of whimsy hand in hand with the gore and violence. The haphazard placement of the text boxes is fully intentional. Future episodes of Historical Voices may feature the thistle that alerted the Scots to the invading Norse army, the spider who inspired Robert the Bruce to persevere, the pen used to sign the treaty between James Balliol and Philip IV of France, and other little bits and pieces of Scottish history.

*Dinosaur & Sorcery? Dinosword & Sorcery? Sword and Dinosaurcery? I don't know, I want to get in on the portmanteaus.
**The actual birthplace of Kidd is generally thought to be Dundee, but the many years linking Kidd to Greenock has rendered a life of its own: if not his actual home, Greenock might be considered a spiritual one.

24 comments:

  1. Al forget critique and scholarship, this is what you should be doing!!!!! you have a gift dude.-mario

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    1. Critique and scholarship is something I've always loved, of course, but art was going to be my bread-and-butter, so to speak, as it's the place I've had most success (not to mention qualifications: Bachelor of Arts degree) and the area where I feel most comfortable. I just don't talk about it that much because I'm pretty private. I suppose maybe it's analogous to magicians never talking about their tricks, perhaps?

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  2. "Sword & Dinosaur" works fine - it plays off of the other "Sword & Sorcery" derivatives, "Sword & Sandal", "Sword & Planet", etc.

    And I think your art looks fine. There's an interesting dreamlike quality to the Triceratops Cavalry one, and the colors make the Tolkien one really pop. Is that something you added, or part of the medium?

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    1. Thanks! The Tolkien one is digital jiggery-pokery of an "ink" drawing made with black paint.

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    2. Actually, I have an outline for a story I told Kurtzhau a few years ago: time-travelling Romans versus dinosaurs and flying saucers.

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  3. Sword & Saurus?

    You have some skill with the pen! I like your THotD drawing. You should do more battle scenes involving armies. You draw them well.

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    1. I have a couple of battle scenes, some based on original ideas, others from Conan/LotR/etc. I really like drawing big pitched battles.

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  4. The spider was actually a German longsword instructor! Not joking, "If at first you don't succeed, try and try again" is almost a translation from a section of Dobringer (AD1389) which went something like "If you don't hit him with the first strike, get him with the second or the third."

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  5. Some great looking art there, Al, and I love the idea of the Sword & Dinosaur genre. Your stuff reminds me some of the late James Cawthorn, the original Elric artist.

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    1. High praise indeed, Charles! Cawthorne's a definite influence (his illustrations for "The Metal Monster", as are Fabian (his Howard illustrations are top-tier) and Finlay ("Ship of Ishtar"). I'd love to be able to draw like them, but I'm starting to get used to the idea of my own style being something to develop rather than "fix."

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  6. Hero of the Federation15 September 2012 at 06:34

    Prepare for warp...

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  7. "...but let's not get started on bad Voyager episodes...)"

    Al, you say that like there's ANY other kind.

    Tex
    (who digs Sword & Saurian tales)

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    1. Oi, I liked Voyager! Well, for a given value of "liked," and a given value of "Voyager," of course...

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  8. As a "Been there, done that" - forget you about trying to work in a realistic style! I like the above samples, but the main reason I like them are their atmosphere, their expression... Think Lynd Ward instead of Wrightson, think Hannes Bok instead of Virgil Finlay (Weird Tales) - and save yourself a world of grief!
    That said, being from the northern wastes of Holland originally, I've also got that puritan streak, and for years I've not valued a work of mine highly if I hadn't put much time in it.
    As for the reluctance in talking about your art - it's indeed because it's closer to your soul. As REH-scholar you should be familiar with that - I believe it's why REH was so happily talking about Conan and the other pulp (and sort of dismissive about them at the same time), but hardly about those works much closer to his heart...

    Remco

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    1. Good grief, Remco, Ward and Bok are just as foreboding! Love Bok's work in particular.

      You certainly have something with the REH talking about Conan more readily than tales closer to his heart. That's a big reason I think "Sword Woman" is so monumentally important.

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  9. PS: In case you're wondering: "Who are you, to ...": I've got my BA in Illustration & Design too, heavily into genre, done the "bread and butter"-thing...

    Basically you, in 10 years time... ;-)

    Remco

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  10. Thoth Amon is awesome especially, but all of your figure work seems to be high quality. I've always had trouble getting people to look correct in my art, so I usually draw other things like animals or abstract stuff. (I have a deep-seated fondness for mazework.) I suppose more practice is the only way. My interest in art sprang directly from my interest in dinosaurs as a little kid, because I wanted to draw my own wild versions of all those already-wild-looking creatures.

    Ever since I acquired an interest in history as a teenager I've wanted to do a huge battle scene myself, as a wall-sized painting.

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    1. If my figure work is of a high quality, it's because they took the longest for me to do! I can draw dinosaurs and beasties no problem, but people take longer. That dream is one I share myself!

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  11. Great art, Al! I always kind of interpreted the bit in TPotS where Ascalante looks in the face of the demon and sees Thoth Amon as an optical illusion, a combination of the angle and the wrinkles in the creature's face. Hint Hint.

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    1. Thanks! And certainly I think that'd be an aspect of the demon, though especially the eyes.

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  12. Hello! I hope you don't mind, but I used your illustration "The Old Serpent" for a post I made to the International Robert E. Howard Fan Association on Facebook. It perfectly expressed what I was thinking ...

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