Sunday 31 December 2017

Art of Time's Abyss: Best of 2017

Just a few of my favourite pieces of artwork which I made this year.

Saturday 25 November 2017

Friday 24 November 2017

PrehiScotInktoberfest Day 24: Westlothiana lizziae

PrehiScotInktoberfest 24 is a very special one for me. Not long ago, my grandfather celebrated his 84th birthday. One of my favourite memories, of which there are many, of him was when he took me & the rest of the family to see the Dinosaurs From China exhibition. While there were plenty of dinosaurs present - Mamenchisaurus, Yangchuanosaurus, Tsintaosaurus (they were nothing if not proudly local of their dinosaurs in China) - there was one fossil that I'll never forget.

Thursday 23 November 2017

Wednesday 22 November 2017

PrehiScotInktoberfest Day 22: Cowiedesmus eroticopodus

PrehiScotInktoberfest 22 takes us to Silurian Stonehaven, some 423 million years ago, to the beginning of life on land.

Tuesday 21 November 2017

PrehiScotInktoberfest Day 21: Cephalaspis

PrehiScotInktoberfest 21 returns to the sea (again, this happens a lot when most of your country's fossils are marine lifeforms).

Monday 20 November 2017

PrehiScotInktoberfest Day 20: Ribbo

Today's beastie is as-yet officially unnamed, but affectionately known as "Ribbo." Ribbo is another tetrapod from the fabled Romer's Gap, that mysterious epoch of prehistory that has an anomalous dearth of tetrapod fossils. 

It's difficult to convey how weird that is. 

Sunday 19 November 2017

PrehiScotInktoberfest Day 19: Ainiktozoon loganens

PrehiScotInktoberfest hops back to Silurian Scotland, where unspeakable, indescribable THINGS once dwelt in the ancient waters of what is now Lesmagahow...

Saturday 18 November 2017

The Lord of the Rings Series: Wild Extrapolations

Three Rings for the Elfin-kings unner the sky,
Seiven for the Droich-lairds in thair haws of stane,
Nine for Mortal Men duimit tae dee,
Ane for the Daurk Laird oan his daurk throne
In the Laund of Mordor whaur the Shadaes lig.
Ane Ring tae rowl thaim aw, Ane Ring tae find thaim,
Ane Ring tae bring thaim aw an' in the mirkness bind thaim
In the Laund of Mordor whaur the Shadaes lie. 
 - The Laird of the Rings (in Scots) - I can dream, eh?

I think I got most of my emotional reaction to any new Tolkien adaptation news out of my system a while ago, especially given how franchises operate nowadays. Rather than being excited or dismayed, I feel a strange sense of confidence - that "ah, I've been here before" sensation. It could be good. Or, it might not. We will see.

What do we know about the series? We know next to nothing.

PrehiScotInktoberfest Day 18: Arthropleura


We've all heard of Nessie; and the weird creatures of Scots folklore - Kelpies, Selkies, Bashees, Bogles, Redcaps, the Blue Men of the Minch. Scotland has long played host to monsters - and great long trackways in the stone shores from Crail in Fife to the Isle of Arran are all that remains of one of Scotland's first giants.

Friday 17 November 2017

PrehiScotInktoberfest Day 17: Eileanchelys waldmani & Friends

Time for PrehiScotInktoberfest 17! Still in the sea, but now on to the familiar Triassic period. While much of the fossilised marine life on Skye is coastal, there is evidence of freshwater-dwellers too: this suggests Scotland, like much of Europe, was archepelagic, thousands of islands and lagoons bordering the ancient Tethys Ocean.

Thursday 16 November 2017

PrehiScotInktoberfest Day 16: Akmonistion zangerli

PrehiScotInktoberfest 16 stays in the sea, but jumps forward a bit in time to the early Carboniferous period, 360 - 298 million years ago. We are in what is now Bearsden - which, like much of Scotland in that period, was underwater. Thus far, only one creature has been discovered from Bearsden, and what a beastie it is!

Wednesday 15 November 2017

PrehiScotInktoberfest Day 15: Jawless Wonders of the Silurian

PrehiScotInktoberfest 15 returns to the sea, back to the late Silurian period, in what is now Lesmahagow. Back then, North Lanarkshire was submerged under the waves, where beasties dreadful & weird darted through the mirk. Our underwater trio are small jawless fish from that period..

Tuesday 14 November 2017

PrehiScotInktoberfest Day 14: Silvanerpeton miripedes & Pulmonoscorpius kirktonensis

PrehiScotInktoberfest 14 returns to the undergrowth, but this time back to the primeval Devonian, and the beasties are quite a bit nastier than the furry critters of the Jurassic!

Monday 13 November 2017

PrehiScotInktoberfest Day 13: Hoots Mon Erra Moose Loose Aboot This Hoose

PrehiScotInktoberfest 13 returns to the Jurassic, but rather than feature immense dinosaurs or grand sea creatures, we delve into the undergrowth - in this case, the forests of what is now the Isle of Skye.

Sunday 12 November 2017

PrehiScotInktoberfest Day 12: Pterichthyodes milleri

The next three days may see a dearth of PrehiScotInktoberfest, for I'll be away deep in the Mountains of Argyll on a quest of self-discovery. (Yes, really. That's what I'm doing this weekend. Every Scottish person does it.)

But before I embark on this journey, here's PrehiScotInktoberfest 12!

Saturday 11 November 2017

PrehiScotInktoberfest Day 11: The Marvelous Creatures of the Rhynie Chert


Beware, there's a beastie in PrehiScotInktoberfest 11! Well, technically not a spider... Let me explain.

Back at the turn of the 20th Century, while mapping near the wee village of Rhynie, incredibly rich and detailed fossil remains from the Devonian period were uncovered: such finds are called Lagerstätte. This Lagerstätte was called the Rhynie Chert for the village, and it's an extraordinary chunk of rock.

Normally, small animals are rarely fossilised on account of their size: microscopic fossils even more so. Yet the Rhynie Chert ensconced a plethora of absolutely tiny creatures, and for decades, was the only such example of such a find in the world.

So what were these beasties?

The Ballad of Asgrimm Thunderbeard

You had me at "rules for dinosaur racing."
I had my first experience of 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons on Thursday whilst visiting my wee cousin in Dundee. A bit anxious since I hadn't played a game since 3rd edition, but I figured it couldn't be that different, and since it utilised the new stuff from Tomb of Annihilation, how could I not?

Friday 10 November 2017

PrehiScotInktoberfest Day 10: Eucritta melanolimnetes

Scotland is one of the most important palaeontological sites in the world for a particular group of animals - the Stem Tetrapods. Just about every land animal with four limbs, from amphibians to reptiles to birds to mammals, derives from this ancient order of beasties, and Scotland is one of the best places to find them in the world.

Thursday 9 November 2017

PrehiScotInktoberfest Day 9: The Dinosaurs of Skye

Jurassic Skye catalogues a rather mysterious period of earth's history - the Middle Jurassic. While the Early & Late Jurassic are well-represented in the fossil records in Britain, Germany, and the Americas, the Middle Jurassic is a bit more mysterious. Even though it isn't the most prolific of dinosaur-bearing stratographic areas, Skye is nonetheless one of the most important for this little-understood period of our world.

Tuesday 7 November 2017

PrehiScotInktoberfest Day 7: Paraproetus girvanensis & Threavia gulosa

When I first started out, I was worried I wouldn't find enough Scottish prehistoric creatures to fill out 31 days: now, I'm finding the opposite, where I'm having to pick and choose which beastie gets a picture! 

Monday 6 November 2017

PrehiScotInktoberfest Day 6: Dearcmhara shawcrossi

A few years ago, you probably came across one of *those* headlines. You know the ones: palaeontology news reported by someone who doesn't know the first thing about palaeontology, & thinks people are too thick to understand more than the absolute basics of prehistoric beasts. Thus, today's beastie was announced to the world as "NESSIE'S SCARIER/CUTER/COOLER RELATIVE/ANCESTOR/PREDATOR/." Which, given how distantly related Ichthyosaurs are to Plesiosaurs, is a bit like calling a snake a relative of a pigeon. 

But I digress.

Saturday 4 November 2017

Thursday 2 November 2017

PrehiscotInktoberfest Day 2: Leptopleuron lacertinum

PrehiscotInktoberfest continues with another cool wee beastie from Elgin's fossil beds - and one with an interesting history of discovery.

Wednesday 1 November 2017

PrehiScotInktoberfest Day 1: Saltopus elginensis

Our first Prehiscotinktobersketch is Saltopus elginensis, a wee beastie once thought to be a dinosaur, but currently considered a "dinosauriform" (i.e. give it a few million years).
You might have heard of Saltopus if you’re my age or older: for the longest time, it was famous as the first dinosaur to be discovered in Scotland. In 1910, William Taylor found a tiny piece of jaw in the Lossiemouth West & East Quarry: the Württembergian palaeontologist Friedrich von Huene named it Saltopus elginensis (“Elgin’s jumping foot”).

Finally, we Scots had a dinosaur to call our own, to stand beside the many dinosaurs discovered, described and adopted by England! Scotland’s previous claim to fame beforehand was ammonites, trilobites, graptolites, stromatolites, fish, shrimps, sharks, sea scorpions, dicynodonts, “Devil’s toenails,”  missing links, googly-eyed eels, elks, and trees – but no dinosaurs to call their own. Every country should have at least one dinosaur. Even the Cetiosaurus bones found on Skye are just a northern branch of a species discovered in England. Alas, it was not to be: Saltopus was demoted to dinosauriform – a very dinosaur-like dinosauriform, but not a dinosaur itself.

Isn’t that just bloody typical? Scotland finds a dinosaur, and it gets reclassified. Still, there’s something poetic in Scotland’s “dinosaur” being a creature that’s nearly there, but not yet.


Tuesday 31 October 2017

Robert E. Howard in Scots: "The Song of the Bats"

Screivit by Rabert E. Howard  

The huim wis oan the muntain
An the starns war grim an frail
Whan the bauchens came fleein, fleein
Frae the river an the laich
Tae wheel agin the gloamin
An cruin thair witchy yairn.

We war kings o’ auld!” thay chaunted,
Rowlers o’ a waurld enchanted;
Ivery nation o’ creation
Awnt oor lairdship owur men.
Diadems o’ pouer crount us,
Than ris Solomon tae confoond us,
Flang his wab o’ magic roon us,
In the form o’ beasts he boond us,
Sae oor rowl wis braken than.

Dirlin, wheelin intae wastwart,
Flew thay in thair phanton flicht;
Wis it but a weeng-bat muisic
Curmurrt throu the starn-gemt nicht?
Or the weengin o’ a ghaist clan
Whisperin o’ forgat micht?

Art by the inimitable* Virgil Finlay, a master in the art of illustrating inimicable horrors, courtesy of Monster Brains. Don't have nightmares this Hallowe'en... 

*Cheers Deuce Richardson!

Thursday 5 October 2017

PrehiScotInktoberfest Day 5: Cluthoceras truemani

PrehiScotInktoberfest Day 5 takes us to Carboniferous Lesmagahow: 359-299 million years ago, South Lanarkshire was under the sea, and populated by all manner of weird beasties. 

Friday 29 September 2017

A Modest Proposal: The Star Trek Multiverse

I watched every new beginning for Star Trek since "Encounter at Farpoint" first aired on BBC2. I was a wee 6-year-old then, but I still remember running across the room, my arms looped in a childish facsimile of the starship Enterprise, in time with the opening theme (must've driven my family mad). Then I watched "Emissary" on Sky One as a somewhat cynical 9-year-old, who initially lamented about a Star Trek that didn't have a spaceship to go off and Explore Strange New Worlds, before being taken in by the station's distinct appeal. I was an 11-year-old bona-fide Trekkie when me & my family got together to watch "Caretaker" when it aired here: Star Trek was arguably at its peak media saturation, with three distinct crews across film and television. Between then and the return of Trek to television in "Broken Bow," I collected the Star Trek Fact Files, amassed a collection of Star Trek games, was fluent in technobabble, fought ruthlessly in The Eternal War, and was in the final four of a quiz at Glasgow's Contagion Star Trek convention one year.

And every single time, for every single new beginning, fellow Trekkies asked: has Star Trek lost its way? First TNG dared to be Star Trek without the original ship & crew; then DS9 dared to eschew the very concept of a Wagon Train to the Stars. At least those were bold new directions, though: for Voyager, the question was whether Trek was succumbing to rehashing TNG, and Enterprise was literally a backwards step in time - both were also criticised for catering to the lowest common denominator. The less said about the new films - and I've said far too much as it is - the better.

So we come to Star Trek Discovery. Much like the new films, it's a reboot that's desperately pretending it isn't a reboot, but a perfectly faithful & compatible continuation of the Prime Timeline. Thing is, there's an incredibly easy way to reconcile Discovery with the Prime Timeline - you just have to change what you mean by that phrase.

Friday 16 June 2017

Narrative Rebellion: Dark Universe - The Mummy

You know, I think Universal are doing this whole Universal Monsters Shared Universe Reboot backwards: we're thinking of the classical Universal monsters (Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman, Gillman), when there are a wealth of characters in classic Universal films that could be introduced too.

My thinking is that everyone is perfectly familiar with the major characters and the original stories, and we've seen them fighting each other all the time. So, rather than build up to something we've already scene dozens of times, why not start with that, and build up to something else? I keep going back to Kong: Skull Island's wonderfully cosmically-horrific quote:
You heard of the U.S.S. Lautmann? Neither did the public. Out of a thousand young men on that ship I was the only survivor. They told my family she was sunk in battle but I know what I saw. It had no conscience. No reasoning. Just destroy. I spent the last 30 year trying to prove the truth of what I learned that day. This planet doesn't belong to us. Ancient species owned this Earth long before mankind, and if we keep our heads buried in the sand they will take it back.
 - Bill Randa, Kong: Skull Island

Howard fans may find that quote tantalisingly familiar:
A Key! Aye, it is a Key, symbol of a forgotten horror. That horror has faded into the limbo from which it crawled, loathsomely, in the black dawn of the earth. But what of the other fiendish possibilities hinted at by Von Junzt--what of the monstrous hand which strangled out his life? Since reading what Selim Bahadur wrote, I can no longer doubt anything in the Black Book. Man was not always master of the earth - and is he now?

And the thought recurs to me - if such a monstrous entity as the Master of the Monolith somehow survived its own unspeakably distant epoch so long - what nameless shapes may even now lurk in the dark places of the world?
 - The Narrator, "The Black Stone," Robert E. Howard
And on the concept of a Universe of Monsters? Well, there's another Howard quote that comes to mind:

“Through the dim corridors of memory those words lurk... For that phrase has come secretly down the grim and bloody eons, since when, uncounted centuries ago, those words were watch-words for the race of men who battled with the grisly beings of the Elder Universe...”
... for an instant he seemed to gaze back through the vastness that spanned life and life; seeing through the vague and ghostly fogs dim shapes reliving dead centuries — men in combat with hideous monsters, vanquishing a planet of frightful terrors. Against a gray, ever-shifting background moved strange nightmare forms, fantasies of lunacy and fear; and man, the jest of the gods, the blind, wisdom-less striver from dust to dust, following the long bloody trail of his destiny, knowing not why, bestial, blundering, like a great murderous child, yet feeling somewhere a spark of divine fire... 
“They are gone,” said Brule, as if scanning his secret mind; “the bird-women, the harpies, the bat-men, the flying fiends, the wolf-people, the demons, the goblins — all save such as this being that lies at our feet, and a few of the wolf-men. Long and terrible was the war, lasting through the bloody centuries, since first the first men, risen from the mire of apedom, turned upon those who then ruled the world.”

“And at last mankind conquered, so long ago that naught but dim legends come to us through the ages. The snake-people were the last to go, yet at last men conquered even them and drove them forth into the waste lands of the world, there to mate with true snakes until some day, say the sages, the horrid breed shall vanish utterly. Yet the Things returned in crafty guise as men grew soft and degenerate, forgetting ancient wars. Ah, that was a grim and secret war! Among the men of the Younger Earth stole the frightful monsters of the Elder Planet, safeguarded by their horrid wisdom and mysticisms, taking all forms and shapes, doing deeds of horror secretly. No man knew who was true man and who false. No man could trust any man. Yet by means of their own craft they formed ways by which the false might be known from the true... So mankind triumphed. Yet again the fiends came after the years of forgetfulness had gone by — for man is still an ape in that he forgets what is not ever before his eyes...

 - Robert E. Howard, "The Shadow Kingdom"

Now, I am by no means an expert on the Universal Monsters canon: I have watched many of them and enjoyed them a great deal, but I hope folk will forgive me for not having the exhaustive knowledge of this wide subject such a project really deserves. Nonetheless, inspired by my fellow Brad Ellison, I knew I had to write something. So, for the purposes of fun, I had some musings over what I would do were I the creative director of a prospective Dark Universe, taking elements from Robert E. Howard, Arthur Conan Doyle, and other classic adventure authors...

Saturday 10 June 2017

Robert E. Howard in Scots: "Adventurer"

With Scotland and its future being predominant in my life at this stage, a great deal of that focus has been on Scottish culture and language. In particular, I've been looking deeper into the Scots language itself. I look at all the fine translations of great works into a multitude of languages, and think: why not Scots?

So while I'm absconded from my friends in Cross Plains and the world of Robert E. Howard, I think there's no better way to keep that connection alive than to continue translating Howard into the mither leid.

So, here's the latest. Hoping all my friends in Cross Plains have a wonderful adventure!