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A Lovecraft Retrospective: Artists Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft
edited by Jerad Walters
Centipede Press, 400 pages

A Lovecraft Retrospective: Artists Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft
Jerad Walters
Jerad Walters is the publisher of Centipede Press. He has been nominated twice for the World Fantasy Award. He lives and works in Denver, Colorado.

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A review by Stephen M. Davis

A Lovecraft Retrospective weighs in, according to the U.S. Postal Service, at 14 pounds. And I am happy to report that at least 13 pounds of that is Lovecraft-inspired madness, running the spectrum from the black-and-white Weird Tales interior illustrations of G. Olinick for "The Horror at Red Hook" to Aeron Alfrey's "Tone of Extreme Phantasy," a digitally manipulated collage created in 2007. This makes a nice 80-year period of art inspired by a man whose fiction influenced such writers as Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, and Harlan Ellison (who provides a preface for this volume), and who has been loathed by at least as many writers of fiction and criticism for all of those years.

It is only fitting, therefore, that both Harlan Ellison and Stefan Dziemianowicz -- provider of contextual prefatory notes to the illustrations in a number of the sections -- are frank about the artwork representing both the best that has been achieved with Lovecraft-inspired art, and the very worst. Fortunately, and perhaps surprisingly, considering the nature of pulp fiction from the 30s and 40s, there is very little here that is just bad.

Let me begin with a note about the book's production. It has a list price of 395 dollars. I paid less than that, but still enough to where production value needed to be quite high for me to feel satisfied with the purchase. I'm happy to say that this tome is absolutely gorgeous, flawless, and an obvious collector's item that will be sought after, years from now. I know something about what it takes to put a work like this together, and I honestly can't imagine how it could ever be reprinted, or even really approached as a project by another publisher at some point in the future.

The book comes with a plain black slip-cover, and is dust-jacketed with a part of Michael Whelan's "Lovecraft Mythos Diptych" from 1980 -- a piece found in whole as a glorious fold-out inside the book. There are a number of fold-outs in the book, allowing for stunning representation of works that otherwise could not receive justice. And justice, in this book, already comes with plenty of room to operate. At roughly 16 inches in length, by 12 inches wide and deep enough for a dropped coin to fall for quite some time before hitting the back cover, this book is nearly as dimensionally monstrous as its subject matter.

There are hundreds of illustrations and serious pieces of art in this book, but let me confine my discussion to a handful of examples, chosen because they had an impact on me as I was growing up. The pieces themselves fall into various sub-collections with the book, some sorted simply by the era they were produced in, or by their genre (comics, for instance), or by artists important enough to warrant their own sections.

My personal favorite collection of book covers are those done by John Holmes for Ballantine's 1971 reprints of Lovecraft's fiction. These are all here, including the cover for "The Shuttered Room," which I had not seen before. Each is given the luxury of an entire page, which allows them to act on the viewer in a way that just isn't possible when they are seen as part of the cover of a book that may be six inches in height, part of which is eaten by type. Raymond Bayless' "The Call of Cthulhu," which many readers (myself included) know because of its use as the jacket art for "Arkham House's 1984 edition of The Dunwich Horror and Others, is my favorite piece of art in the book as a whole, simply because Bayless captures the sheer malignity of Cthulhu in a way that I find utterly convincing. Even the anatomical structure of Cthulhu is rendered as being vaguely humanoid, with leg and arm muscles that are in stark contrast to the tentacled head and the tiny human form falling from a clawed hand.

As I stated at the beginning of this review, this collection is quite expensive, but I still highly recommend it. This isn't something that's going to be coming out in paperback six months from now. There aren't going to be remaindered copies available at your local chain bookstore. You may well be able to find copies for roughly 40 percent off the cover price. There are samples of the artwork available at various sites online. I will not link to any directly from this review, but they are not difficult to find and may give you a better sense as to whether this is an investment you wish to make.

Copyright © 2008 Stephen M. Davis

Steve Davis is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and a long-standing contributor to the SF Site. Currently, when not reviewing, he teaches for Anderson College in South Carolina and for the Kaplan College online program.

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