“La mano de la diosa” (2013) by Fátima Fernández & Paco Zarco

Lovecraftian horror appeals to a blind and sick cosmos where human beings are little more than ants. The abysses of the human soul that the tortured characters of Poe traversed, give way, in Lovecraft, to a struggle of inhuman powers, nightmarish deities that dispute the dominion of the living beings and that have, among us, their brotherhoods, their cults and their devotees.

Since the disappearance of the master, his fictions have gradually increased in popularity until they became, together with The Lord of the Rings, one of the most fascinating literary mythologies of our time. His influence on popular culture is still valid, demonstrating a surprising ability to adapt to the tastes and sensibilities of several generations.

The authors of CTHULHU magazine come together again to pay tribute and emotional tribute to what we can consider the father of modern horror and his pantheon of nightmare creatures and deities. A journey through 15 stories that demonstrate the variety and richness of a privileged imagination.
—Manuel Mota, Lovecraft un homenaje en 15 historietas (2013), back cover copy
Translated from Spanish

Diábolo Ediciones of Madrid has been publishing Cthulhu, a Spanish-language anthology of comics and dark fiction, since 2007. Despite the name, the majority of the stories in any given issue aren’t necessarily explicitly devoted to the Cthulhu Mythos, although most issues have at least some Lovecraftian reference. The focus is on horror and dark fantasy, and the editors are not afraid for the works to be gory or involve nudity, if that’s what the story calls for, but they also contain moments of light-hearted ghoulish fun like the episodes of El Joven Lovecraft by José Oliver and Bart Torress. Special issues have been devoted to William Hope Hodgson and Robert E. Howard.

In 2013, Diábolo Ediciones published Lovecraft en los cómics. Un homenaje en 15 Historietas (Lovecraft in the Comics, An homage in 15 stories). The creators all presented diffrent styles and approaches, from a straight adaptation of “The Transition of Juan Romero” by Juan Aguilera to original works, every mood from ghoulish comedy and satire to visceral body horror, styles ranging from neatly inked black-and-white to digitally colored works. It is probably the first Mythos comic anthology to include former president Barack Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton among its characters—which is to say, the book showcases not just the depth of talent that the editors of Cthulhu can draw upon, but the vast variety of approaches there are to the subject of the Mythos.

“La mano de la diosa” (“The Hand of the Goddess”) by writer Fátima Fernández & artist Paco Zarco is an original Cthulhu Mythos story, set in contemporary Spain, in a rather classical Cthulhu mode: a journalist after a story  finds themselves on the trail of something more than they expected.

No se trataba de seguir la logica, sino las pistas.
It was not about following the logic, but the clues.

The story is based on a real-life series of curious events. The Fuente de Cibeles (Fountain of Cybele) in Madrid includes a statue of the goddess Cybele—the Magna Mater of Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls”—by sculptor Francisco Gutiérrez. In 1994 and 2002, the left hand of the statue was broken off. The events were seemingly unrelated, the statue was repaired…

…pero nunca se recupero la mano robada de la diosa.
…but they never recovered the stolen hand of the goddess.

As setups go, this is a solid premise for a Mythos story. Fernández conveys the minimal amount of information necessary in a few succinct captions, as if the reporter was giving the voice-over on a film, and Zarco captures the mood of the events in an economical and effective manner. The focus of the panels is drawn to the statue of Cybele, to the stump of the hand, to the trenchcoat-wrapped reporter who moves between shadows on cracked pavement. This could almost be a Kolchak story…or, if it had been cast in stark blacks and whites, a noir. Essentially an occult detective tale, with a protagonist that doesn’t yet know it’s an occult detective tale.

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Turn the page, and the dialogue begins. Human players also complicate the simplicity of one person’s narration; readers now have to deal with multiple points of view, conflicting motivations, weigh each word and sentence carefully to look for hidden meaning. Who do you trust now?

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Mi madre era une persona gentil y hermosa en todos los sentidos. Pero ambiciosa.
My mother was a gentle and beautiful woman in every way. But ambitious.

Lovecraft had made a study of the detective stories of Edgar Allan Poe, and many of his Mythos tales follow a similar form of nested narrative. There is the story set in the now (here, the reporter investigating the missing hand of the statue), and there is the story in the past (the story being told to him); the story in the past is the nested narrative, like the manuscript uncovered in “The Mound” or Rose’s diary in “The Man of Stone.” The reader simultaneously is in the present, with the protagonist, but they are also looking over their shoulder and reading what they read. This narrative trick allowed Lovecraft to avoid the simple exposition of the narrator simply telling the reader (through some audience surrogate) what they have discovered, and takes the reader on the journey of discovery along with them. It also allows for a very effective reveal when the two layers of the narrative meet: past foreshadowing future.

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Paco Zarco’s artwork is competent, and he has an eye for panel layouts the emphasizes the repetition of key elements—portraits, eyes, hands—in a way the underlines the relatively sparse script. Considering relatively little is happening, this might seem like padding, but it feels more like pacing. At seven pages, “La mano de la diosa” doesn’t overstay its welcome or drag at all, but the Mythos twist, when it comes, is sudden.

In black and white, it might be much more effective; the digital coloring and shading, especially on the backgrounds, does little service to the linework and tends to emphasize the flatness of the faces rather than give them depth. That is a common issue with digital colorization, trying to achieve effects with the palette instead of the pen tends to catch the eye like a false note catches the ear.

Mi madra siempre me decía que las estatuas disponían de mucho tiempo para pensar y observar…
My mother always told me that the statues had a lot of time to think and observe …

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Zarco knows what he is doing when the actual supernatural element arrives onto the page; the clearly defined boxes of the panels give way to Dutch angles, ragged and uneven panel breaks and gutters. Like Jacen Burrows in Providence, this is visual rhetoric that informs the reader without telling them explicitly that they’ve entered a nightmare; like a horror movie when the killer’s motif begins to play, and the camera shifts from smooth movement to sudden and abrupt close-ups and shifts.

Algo mas fuerte que su ambicion se apoderaba de el.
Something stronger than his ambition took hold of him.

“La mano de la diosa” manages to evoke the Mythos without a single fhtagn, and very few tentacles; a particularly Lovecraftian figure makes an appearance in the final panels in a bit of a well-worn twist, for readers who have read enough Mythos stories to recognize similar endings. At seven pages it is neither too long or too short for the story it has to tell, getting the job done without rushing it or overstaying its welcome, and most of that is told not through the text, but by visual storytelling and unspoken hints. In the context of Lovecraft un homenaje en 15 historietas, it is the most subtle, the most understated of the stories…and one which is set in Spain, and couldn’t really be set anywhere else.

Lovecraft un homenaje en 15 historietas has not yet been translated into English.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“The Song of Sighs” (2013) by Angela Slatter

I am hidden, but lovely, O ye daughters of darkness,
as the dreams of Great Old Ones
as the drowned houses of R’lyeth
—Angela Slatter, “The Song of Sighs” in Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth 169

The pathos of “The Shadow over Innsmouth” is that the nameless narrator does not know who he is. What should be a homecoming, a prodigal son awaiting the proverbial fatted calf, the embrace of heritage and belonging, all goes terribly wrong. The various sequels to the story, written in the years and decades after, usually mark the nameless narrator as a traitor or black sheep for their unknowing betrayal, rather than the pathetic figure that they are. For those who survive in the Innsmouth diaspora, as in “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (1999) by Brian McNaughton & “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys, the loss of community, accumulated knowledge, and shared identity is as important as the actual lives destroyed and people killed.

Memory and identity thus make appropriate themes for Angela Slatter’s “The Song of Sighs.”

Lovecraft painted the Innsmouth identity in broad strokes: clannish, taciturn, inward-looking, forward-looking, religious, conscientious of appearances. The rites of the Esoteric Order of Dagon are not given in any detail, no holidays are named, no community activities described, or peculiarities of dress or cooking. The vast majority of what makes up “Innsmouth culture” or identity was built up by later writers, using what little fragments Lovecraft left in his writing. The result is somewhat stilted; imagine trying to recreate the ancient druid religion from Julius Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico: what you get is largely based on biased, partial accounts by outsiders, filled in with a great deal of extrapolation and wishful thinking. There’s little enough there that writers can do practically whatever they want with the inhabitants of Innsmouth—and have.

So when readers begin the journals of Vivienne Croftmarsh, they look to seize on what they know. To place this story, this fragment of the Innsmouth Cycle, in context with the other fragments. Like scholars piecing together the Dead Sea Scrolls, the “truth” is a bit plastic: here is the evidence we have, where do the pieces fit? Are we even looking at the right puzzle? In this case, the situation is complicated by Croftmarsh’s own faulty memory: like the protagonist of “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” she does not know herself. Which is as clever a way for a writer to get the readers as any other; a clever reader will path themselves on the back as Dr. Croftmarsh scratches at her neck, as she worms her way deeper into the secrets of the school she teaches at. They think they know what’s coming…because they’ve read this story before, or at least variations of it. The wayward Innsmouthian that comes to know themselves, that discovers their heritage.

Of course, if Angela Slatter was just parroting Lovecraft’s story, it wouldn’t be much of a story at all. The point of invoking the same themes is to seize on the reader’s expectations before subverting them; to give, if not a genuine surprise, than at least a bit of a shock that the reader hadn’t thought to ask the right questions before the answers were given to them. Slatter is a deft hand at this sort of writing, and the crumb-trail left for Vivienne Croftmarsh to follow, and for the readers to vicariously pick up as they read along, is just that: a way for someone to find their way back over ground they’ve covered before. It isn’t that the readers’ memories of Innsmouth are wrong, but the trail may be leading them to a different destination than they might expect.

That is the lesson which readers are sometimes long in learning: sometimes you have to forget what you think you know. Don’t anticipate. “The Shadow over Innsmouth” is so familiar to many stalwart regular readers of the Mythos that it is sometimes difficult to forget that there are other ways to read and interpret the events, and that some things are, if not best forgotten, than not the pleasant reconstructions of those who like to think of the Innsmouth folk as purely victims.

“Them things liked human sacrifices. Had had ’em ages afore, but lost track o’ the upper world arter a time. What they done to the victims it ain’t fer me to say, an’ I guess Obed wa’n’t none too sharp abaout askin’. But it was all right with the heathens, because they’d ben havin’ a hard time an’ was desp’rate abaout everything. They give a sarten number o’ young folks to the sea-things twict every year—May-Eve an’ Hallowe’en—reg’lar as cud be. Also give some o’ the carved knick-knacks they made. What the things agreed to give in return was plenty o’ fish—they druv ’em in from all over the sea—an’ a few gold-like things naow an’ then.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Shadow over Innsmouth”

Caesar’s druids were a bloody-handed lot too; human sacrifice was anathema to the Romans, and for those cultures that followed the Romans, it became a familiar polemic (cf. cannibalism and Relatione del Reame di Congo (1591) by Filippo Pigafetta). The “reality” of these practices remains a key part of Innsmouth identity in many stories of the Innsmouth diaspora: Brian McNaughton in “The Doom That Came To Innsmouth” leans one way, Ruthanna Emrys in “The Litany of Earth” and her subsequent novels leans another. Fewer readers sympathize with an Innsmouth diaspora that does practice human sacrifice in some form.

There’s probably a thesis to be written on the finer philosophical details of that point. For the Innsmouth identity to have verisimilitude, there should be unpleasant or alien aspects, things that set it apart from contemporary culture at more than a superficial level. If all of the survivors of Innsmouth were virtuous, ethical, hardworking, and not hurting anybody, then they’d be a culture of Mary Sues. Angela Slatter holds the reader in suspense on that point to the end, and for good reason.

Angela Slatter’s “The Song of Sighs” was first published in Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth (2013), and has been reprinted in New Cthulhu 2 (2015), her collection Winter Children and Other Chilling Tales (2016), and Broad Knowledge: 35 Women Up To No Good (2018).


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

Helen’s Story (2013) by Rosanne Rabinowitz

Helen Vaughan did well to bind the cord about her neck and die, though the death was horrible. The blackened face, the hideous form upon the bed, changing and melting before your eyes from woman to man, from man to beast, and from beast to worse than beast, all the strange horror that you witness, surprises me but little. What you say the doctor whom you sent for saw and shuddered at I noticed long ago; I knew what I had done the moment the child was born, and when it was scarcely five years old I surprised it, not once or twice but several times with a playmate, you may guess of what kind. It was for me a constant, an incarnate horror, and after a few years I felt I could bear it no more, and I sent Helen Vaughan away. You know now what frightened the boy in the wood. The rest of the strange story, and all else that you tell me, as discovered by your friend, I have contrived to learn from time to time, almost to the last chapter. And now Helen is with her companions…
—Arthur Machen, “The Great God Pan” (1890)

There had been an unfounded report of my own death many years ago. However, I continue to survive and thrive. I’ve gone by other names—Herbert, Raymond and Beaumont among them. Now there’s no reason I can’t call myself Helen Vaughan again.
—Rosanne Rabinowitz, Helen’s Story (2013) 11

“The Great God Pan” was first published in The Whirlwind in 1890. This was the beginning of the Yellow Nineties; the Decadent movement was gaining ground in literature and art, and to the Victorians of the day, the serialized story was condemned. Many years later, Arthur Machen would collect some of his favorite unfavorable reviews in a volume title Precious Balms (1924), and some of the critiques will be familiar to fans of Lovecraftian literature:

His art has been hampered by the limitations imposed upon it through his having to leave his ingenious horror “indescribable” and “unutterable” from first to last. (2)

There are nameless horrors hinted at in every other page, which make other people turn green and sick, but it is beyond the power of the most susceptible reader to shudder at the shudders of these fictional people. (3-4)

If we may believe Mr Machen, those doings are of the most horrible character; but as he omits to tell us what they are, and leaves us merely with the impression that she is “a bold, bad woman” of a very ordinary description, we are compelled to take her special horrors upon trust. (5)

But note the sex-mania in it all. It is an incoherent nightmare of sex and the supposed horrible mysteries behind it, such as might conceivably possess a man who was given to a morbid brooding over these matters, but which would soon lead to insanity if unrestrained. (10)

So on and so forth. Time has been kinder to Machen’s weird fiction than to his critics, in no small part because “The Great God Pan” was reprinted and anthologized, and provided inspiration for both H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” and Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Nameless Offspring.” Mary became the archetype for Lavinia Whateley, and all the Lavinias that followed her; Helen Vaughan the model for Wilbur Whateley, and Hester Sawyer of “The Devil’s Hop Yard” (1978).

It took a century and change for Helen Vaughan’s side of the story to be told.

Though she appears on the page in “The Great God Pan” only briefly, Machen’s story is focused on Helen Vaughan, her whole life from conception in sin to taking her own life. Read as a serial, we can only imagine what the turn-of-the-century Victorians took of the many unspoken horrors at play…because the supernatural in the story is very implicit, until the end. It’s not a story to titillate, exactly. Helen’s mother Mary is an orphan with a too-intimate relationship with the scientist who “adopted her.” There are direct parallels to the conception of Christ, with a diabolic turn. As a child her features are “of a somewhat foreign character,” and plays strange games. Then as an adult Helen Vaughan is the femme fatale, the model for the mad artist, the wife that ruins her husband. All in one Helen Vaughan is layer on layer all these Victorian taboos, and is at last realized as a sexual woman who is not fixed in class, who exists outside the control of any male family member or husband.

…then she dies. Which is the probably the weakest part of the plot:

“No. I shall offer a choice, and leave Helen Vaughan alone with this cord in a locked room for fifteen minutes. If when we go in it is not done, I shall call the nearest policeman. That is all.”
—Arthur Machen, “The Great God Pan” (1890)

It is a very weird build-up to the final climax of the novel because throughout the story, Machen has given no indication that Helen Vaughan is bound by conventional Victorian ideas of morality and propriety and reputation. Why should she fear the police? Why would she commit suicide?

Well, in Rosanne Rabinowitz’ Helen’s Story, she doesn’t. While Rabinowitz keeps most of the essential plot details of Machen’s tale, she also doesn’t attempt to copy his prose. Machen was borrowing the style of Robert Louis Stevenson, with Dr. Raymond made in the mold of Dr. Henry Jekyll of “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” (1886). The chain of evidence style works for the atmosphere that Machen was building, the moralities and assumptions that he was building to. Yet Helen Vaughan in Rabinowitz’ depiction is the embodiment of that Victorian horror of the independent, sexually confident woman. It’s her story, told in her words, and told in later days. It shouldn’t be told in as a Machen pastiche, so it isn’t.

Which is really part of what makes the story work so well. Helen Vaughan becomes something beyond the Victorian imagination’s ability to classify; she doesn’t fit into the roles assigned for her as monster, succubus, or slut. Helen’s Story is that of an artist, an outsider that looks for family, that tries to achieve a particular effect through her work. The kind of individual whose spirituality cannot be contained by any church, whose morality is too fluid for any system of law, who flits in between the systems of the world. Which is very much in the spirit of what Machen sought to convey to his Victorian readers, but done in a way which Machen because of the conventions of the time could not, except through hint and intimation (cf. “Unseen” (2020) by Claire Leslie).

“Ah, mother, mother, why did you let me go to the forest with Helen?” Mrs. M. was astonished at so strange a question, and proceeded to make inquiries. Rachel told her a wild story. She said—
—Arthur Machen, “The Great God Pan” (1890)

Of course I got into trouble. After Rachel left, there was an almighty row in the village.
—Rosanne Rabinowitz, Helen’s Story (2013) 11

There is a lot to be said for how women are often depicted (or not depicted) in both fiction and real life. In some cases, they can give their own accounts, set the record straight. In Lovecraft studies we remember The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft (1985) by Sonia H. Davis and One Who Walked Alone (1986) by Novalyne Price Ellis; readers of wider literature might recognize a precursor to Helen’s Story in Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (1995) by Gregory Maguire. In all these cases, the accounts of the women have to be taken together with and against that of the other narrative which they are responding to. They tell their stories, but in telling those stories they are instinctively or intentionally shaping them around the stories that are already out there.

Which raises the question: how reliable is Helen Vaughan as a narrator?

The mere existence of Helen’s Story sheds a bit of doubt on Machen’s “The Great God Pan.” If you accept the narrative conceit that Helen Vaughan is alive and well, then the ending at least is a fabrication. That calls into question the events of the rest of Machen’s story: how much of this “really happened” versus being a narrative construction by the people telling the story—Clarke and Raymond. How much is Helen being honest, in painting herself as this misunderstood woman, raised by an uncaring scientist and constantly discriminated against for being different?

This is the kind of textual complexity which is shared by H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys. The conflicts and correlations between the stories force the reader out of the passive role of just absorbing information; now with two conflicting narratives to keep track of, the reader has to decide for themselves how much of each is “true” or accurate. The real story is neither the one or the other, but somewhere in between. The effect is not unlike a historian dealing with different accounts of a battle, or a Bible scholar who has to evaluate a canonical gospel and a newly-uncovered apocryphal gospel.

It’s the kind of approach that the Cthulhu Mythos is built on. Stories written not just as sequels, but as commentary and expansion, to correct old ideas and add new ones. In the case of Helen’s Story, the effect is especially appropriate as Helen’s narrative in Machen’s “The Great God Pan” is always told in someone else’s words. It’s the kind of historical narrative that is built around scraps of evidence and hearsay, and represents the prejudices of the man who compiled and presented the facts of the story to the audience, who were also presumed to be mainly men and to share the same prejudices. Helen’s Story is like a female scholar came along a century later, dug up an account of the woman herself that all the other scholars had overlooked, and presented it to explode the orthodoxy.

The combination of re-examining the essential gender bias in Machen’s “The Great God Pan” and the textual questions that can be raised by this kind of narrative is great. Rabinowitz knocks it out of the park in how she interweaves flashbacks that reflect on the narrative of events in “The Great God Pan” (and another Machen story, “The White People”) with the continuing narrative of what Helen Vaughan is doing in the present day. However, in basing Helen’s Story on “The Great God Pan” in this way, Rabinowitz does inherent a particular narrative necessity: how to end it.

Helen’s Story starts off by negating the ending of “The Great God Pan,” that means that this story has to provide a new conclusion. The ending which Arthur Machen wrote contains the only blatant supernatural elements in the entire story; there are hints and intimations, but nothing like the sudden appearance of “a mountain walked, or stumbled” in “The Call of Cthulhu.” Readers up until that point could have considered that Dr. Raymond had molested Mary, that Helen Vaughan was his child, that “seeing the Great God Pan” was cover for the terrible failure of his experiment that lobotomized his adopted-daughter-in-all-but-name. So without that ending…Rosanne Rabinowitz not only needs to find a fitting conclusion, but a fitting revelation.

What is the Great God Pan in Helen’s Story?

The final sentiment, the last revelation, the apotheosis or ipsissimus that Helen experiences…is utterly apt. It is both an homage to ending in “The Great God Pan” and a negation of it; because it is not an ending at all but a beginning. The crux of possibilities that bridges dream and reality in works like Arthur Machen’s The Hill of Dreams (1907), Lord Dunsany’s “Idle Days on the Yann” (1910), and H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Silver Key” (1929). Sex without guilt, art without compromise, love without jealousy, freedom without boundaries…but with still those roads back to the old fields we know.

Helen’s Story by Rosanne Rabinowitz was first published as a hardback by PS Publishing in 2013, and reprinted as a paperback by Aqueduct Press in 2017, it is also available as an ebook.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage (2013) by Stephen D. Korshak & J. David Spurlock

Sometime in 1932, a six-foot tall, chain smoking woman, in need of a job to support her three-year-old son and crippled mother, walked into the office of legendary Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright. The woman was a freelance fashion design illustrator with no knowledge of who H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Otis Adelbert Kline, Seabury Quinn, Jack Williamson, Robert Bloch and dozens of other writers were. She had simply looked through the telephone book to find the name of a publishing company where she might find employment. During this initial meeting the woman, Margaret Brundage, displayed a painting of an Oriental female done in pastel chalk to Farnsworth Wright that caught his eye.
—Stephen D. Korshack, “Queen of the Pulps” in The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage 11

In 1932, Margaret Brundage (née Margaret Hedda Johnson) was a single mother; her husband Myron “Slim” Brundage was an alcoholic who had abandoned the marriage and the care of their son Kerlynn (born in 1927). Her first pulp cover would be for the Spring 1932 issue of Oriental Stories, and her first cover for Weird Tales would be for the September 1932 issue. Over the next 13 years she would produce 66 covers for Weird Tales, more than any other artist, and those during the height of the magazine’s golden years—when Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft were still alive, and C. L. Moore would make her sensational debut.

Pulp authors vied for their story to be featured on the cover; it often meant extra pay as well esteem. Pulp fans argued in the letter pages about the propensity for nudes, and began spreading the rumors that Brundage (originally signed only as M. Brundage; her gender was not revealed until a couple of years later) was using her non-existent daughters to model the bondage shots. Sometimes the covers had real effects on the authors lives, as one anecdote might show:

“You said you’d like to read some of my stuff, and so I—I brought a copy of this magazine that’s just come out…It’s—it’s got a yarn of mine in it. I—I thought you might like to look at it.”

My eyes bulged. I’d never looked at a magazine like that before! That cover! A big, handsome man, except for his very short hair, was standing there with a big, green snake wrapped around him. A blonde girl sat on the ground staring at him. She was something! All she had on was a wispy scarf that didn’t quite cover her up front. Between her legs was another wisp of cloth fastened to a red and gold belt.

“It’s—it’s ‘The Devil in Iron.’”

—Novalyne Price Ellis, One Who Walked Alone 58

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The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage is not quite a biography, however. It is primarily a collection of obscure but critical sources and essays on her life and work: memoirs and interviews normally only found in moldering and expensive fanzines, as well as new essays that expand on her life before and after Weird Tales. On top of that, the book includes a full gallery of her pulp art, and numerous photos of her life and art you won’t find anywhere else, all reproduced without the clipping or muddying of color typical of a lot of pulp art books. It is a gorgeous production from start to finish—and an enlightening one, as Brundage herself is a fascinating subject.

Arguably the best part of the book is J. David Spurlock’s “The Secret Life of Margaret Brundage.” Most of the interviews and memoirs you could track down with time; this is new, and fantastic. A glimpse at Margaret Brundage before she was the Queen of the Pulps. Her fascinating encounter with a young Walt Disney in 1917 has to be read to be believed:

Margaret (walks toward the freshman, mumbling under her breath): If I were a man, they would give me a title; Editor, Art Director, something. One day women will win the right to vote. We’ll see some changes then.

(Approaching freshman, extends her hand): Dizzy, is it?

Walter: Oh… it’s Disney, Walter Disney.

(Both laugh)

Margaret: Sorry, I’m Margaret Johnson.

Walter: Are you the art director?

Margaret: Well, sort of. They have me doing the work but (raising her voice), I GUESS I’M NOT MAN ENOUGH FOR THE TITLE. So tell me about yourself. Do you have any experience?
—J. David Spurlock, The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage 128-129

Did it happen exactly that way? Hard to tell. But it gives the flavor of the young fiery woman who would get mixed up with the Bohemian scene in Chicago, and eventually marry (and divorce) labor agitator “Slim” Brundage. Her life in the 1940s and beyond is filled in by examining her work with Bronzeville “the epicenter of the Chicago black renaissance”; Margaret Brundage did not have the same racial prejudices as many in the period.

Spurlock gives some of the extra details missing from the interviews and memoirs, filling in some of the context. It is not a blow-by-blow, cover-by-cover essay—there might be a market for such a thing, but the focus is on Brundage’s life beyond the pulp scene, which many researchers have overlooked or ignored, and for that it is welcomed and invaluable.

There isn’t much of Lovecraft in the book, but then there wouldn’t be. Lovecraft seldom included women or nudes in his fiction, much less bondage, and never had a story of his feature on the cover of Weird Tales during his lifetime. More than that, Lovecraft has been noted as a general critic of Brundage’s artwork:

As for the covers—I never yet saw one that was worth the coloured inks expended on it. Of course the luscious & irrelevant nudes are rabble-catchers & nothing else but—an attempt by Wright to attract two publics instead of one.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Lee McBride White, 28 Oct 1935, Letters to J. Vernon Shea Etc. 362

About the Conan tales—I don’t know that they contain any more sex than is necessary in a delineation of the life of a lusty bygone age. Good old Two-Gun didn’t seem to me to overstress eroticism nearly as much as other cash-seeking pulpists—even if he did now & then feel in duty bound to play up to a Brundage cover-design.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Willis Conover, 14 Aug 1936, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 382

About WT covers—they are really too trivial to get angry about. If they weren’t totally irrelevant and unrepresentative nudes, they’d probably be something equally awkward and trivial, even though less irrelevant. The “art” of the pulps is even worse than its fiction, if such be possible. Rankin, Utpatel, and Finlay are the only real illustrators of WT who are worth anything. I have no objection to the nude in art—in fact, the human figure is as worthy a type of subject-matter as any other object of beauty in the visible world. But I don’t see what the hell Mrs. Brundage’s undressed ladies have to do with weird fiction!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Willis Conover, 1 Sep 1936, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 391-392

Lovecraft wasn’t alone in his criticism. Clark Ashton Smith was not trained as an artist, but had his own self-taught style in drawing, painting, and later sculpture noted:

Glad you liked “Ilalotha,” a story in wich I seem to have slipped something over on the PTA. The issue containing it, I hear, was removed from the stands in Philadelphia because of the Brundage cover. Query: why does Brundage try to make all her women look like wet-nurses? It’s a funny, not to say tiresome, complex.
—Clark Ashton Smith to R. H. Barlow, 9 Sep 1937, Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 313

This was an oblique reference to something that comes up in one of Brundage’s interviews in the book:

E&O: Where you ever asked to start covering  your nudes a bit?

Brundage: I was never asked to, no. One funny thing did happen. One of the authors—well, Weird Tales asked me to make larger and larger breasts—larger than I would have liked to—well, one cover, one of the authors wrote in and said that things were getting a little bit out of line. And even for an old expert like him, the size of the breastwork was getting a little too large.

Etchings & Odysseys Interview with Margaret Brundage, The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage 32

We don’t know who wrote in, whether it was Smith or Lovecraft or someone else. Brundage is quite frank in her interviews about the details of her work for Weird Tales, and frank too about her sense of loss at the death of Robert E. Howard, whose stories she would illustrate for many of the covers. If you consider his Conan tales as extensions of the Cthulhu Mythos, her covers form some of the first Mythos art in color. For her work on Weird Tales alone, Brundage will probably long be remembered, emulated, parodied, and subject to homage. Her October 1933 “Bat Woman” cover for Hugh Davidson’s “The Vampire Master” has long been a favorite hallmark of her Weird Tales work, and is paid tribute to even today by artists like Abigail Larson.

Margaret Brundage as an artist and as a human being was more than 70-odd pulp covers. A lot more.

The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage was published in 2013 by Vanguard Publishing, and is available in a paperback, hardcover, and deluxe hardcover editions.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

Widdershins (2013) by Jordan L. Hawk

Now I ride with the mocking and friendly ghouls on the night-wind, and play by day amongst the catacombs of Nephren-Ka in the sealed and unknown valley of Hadoth by the Nile.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Outsider”

Some of the trustees were still unhappy, but Christine’s stunning find of the tomb of the Black Pharoah Nephren-ka had commanded headlines across the globe.
—Jordan L. Hawk, Widdershins 14

1897. Somewhere between Boston and Providence lies the small city of Widdershins, a quiet place where a man can start over…at least until the Liber Arcanorum drops into the lap of a closeted translator of dead languages and the bodies start piling up. Nothing like an unexpected mystery to bring two people together.

Jordan L. Hawk’s Widdershins (2013) is an historical paranormal romance with two little twists: the world is set in the same country as Lovecraft’s Mythos (Dr. Whyborne even went to college at Arkham), and the protagonists are two homosexual men. It may, in fact, be the first homosexual Mythos romance novel—somewhat of a weird distinction to make, but previous Mythos romance novels like Margaret L. Carter’s The Windwalker’s Mate (2008) and Robin Wolfe’s Arkham Dreams (2011) were focused on heterosexual relationships, and homosexual characters and relationships remain rather rare in the Mythos by comparison. The closest comparable work in the field is probably “Moonshine” (2018) by G. D. Penman.

The depictions of the men and the challenges they face are sympathetic; the construction of the setting is very competent. Hawk does their research:

A: But the research into the period!! How much did you actually do to capture the period as well as the paranormal element?

JLH: As much as I can! I have a replica Sears & Roebuck catalog from 1897 so I could figure out what sorts of goods and furnishings an average person in the period would have in their home. And I managed to find plans for middle class homes and hotels of the era online, which was a major boon.

My biggest problems research-wise actually came from the American setting. Casually glancing over the history section, you’d think America in the 1800s was nothing but the Civil War, followed up by the western expansion. At times it wasn’t easy to find out about the day to day life of people living in the northeast, especially if I needed something really specific. Most of the “daily life” books of the period center on Victorian England rather than Gilded Age America, and although there is some overlap, there are a lot of differences beyond drinking coffee versus tea.
Author Interview: Jordan L. Hawk

The Mythos elements are also rather refreshingly grounded: Arkham and the Necronomicon and all exist, but to the majority of the world (and the two protagonists), they are but part of the setting. The protagonists only discover gradually that there are secret cults about and some brands of paranormal science actually work, if you know how to pronounce the Aklo. Once that is established, given an expert in dead languages and a genuine grimoire, progress is fairly rapid.

The tone established falls somewhere between Cthulhu by Gaslight and Lois H. Gresh’s Sherlock Holmes vs. Cthulhu: The Adventure of the Deadly Dimensions (2017); magic exists, there’s a mystery afoot, and by chapter 7 the two principals have met and teamed up to solve it. As they continue through the adventure, the two grow closer; the common goal, trials, and tribulations provide the crisis for both men to open up, commiserate, empathize, and grow fond of one another.

“Damn it, Griffin, fuck me,” I growled.
—Jordan L. Hawk, Widdershins 152

There is a sex scene. Not a weird one; no naughty tentacles or atypical anatomies. It is no more or less than the same kind of scene that would appear, without comment, in any number of other novels; only the genders of the particulars are different. That in itself is almost exemplary of the attitude of the novel as a whole: the book is not a homosexual pornographic novel. There is more hanging between Whyborne & Griffin that Victorian reticence, personal and social boundaries that have to be overcome and guards let down; readers who just want to see the two get together have to wait for it.

Then there’s the small matter of saving the world.

While not written in a pulp style, there’s a pulpish appeal to Widdershins. The stakes rise like something in an Indiana Jones film, the protagonists have to take into account all the possibilities that magic and the Mythos bring to their setting, and there’s an action scene at least every couple of chapters to keep the pace up. The characters, even beyond the two protagonists, have their own motivations and hangups. The best supporting character is Dr. Christine Putnam, an archaeologist that has fought an uphill battle her entire professional life because of her gender—and succeeded. Her desire to retain her hard-won reputation almost gets her killed, but that’s all the more endearing.

Searchers after horror will have to haunt stranger places than Widdershins to find what they’re looking for, but it is a well-written novel in its own mode of historical paranormal romance. It never descends into any attempt to ape Lovecraft’s style like a bad pastiche, nor does it hold slavishly to the tropes of a roleplaying game. Hawk refers to Lovecraft’s setting, but she makes few direct references to any particular story so the story is fairly accessible to the lay reader—which is also rather rare for a Mythos novel.

Jordan L. Hawk’s Widdershins is the first in the Whyborne & Griffin series, which as of 2018 includes a total of 13 novels and novellas.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).