Filler content with pretty pictures

Three reviews that originally appeared in Black Static #41:-


Chances are if you’ve any sort of acquaintance with speculative fiction in its many forms, then you’ll have seen the work of Ian Miller. He’s been part of the genre’s visual landscape since the 1970s, with book covers, album covers, RPG and film work. A fitting showcase for his talent, THE ART OF IAN MILLER (Titan Books hc, 160pp, £24.99) contains a wealth of black and white illustrations and colour paintings that reveal the range and diversity of the artist’s oeuvre.

In the pages of this book you will find Neuschwanstein style fairy tale castles crossed with skyscraper DNA and soaring impossibly upward with Babelesque hubris; vegetable creatures that mutate into hideous monsters, thrusting up from the ground or lurking in stygian caverns beneath the surface of the world; marine life forms that seem to breathe by means of an iron lung; fearsome warriors sealed into armour that bristles with wicked looking spikes and gnarled nodules, tumorous barbs and goitres of tormented metal.

“Bristle” is a good word to describe the essence of what Miller is about. His work bristles with life. He appears to have an abhorrence of the flat surface and empty space, so that the paintings seem almost 3D, as if textured so that you can reach out your hand and stroke them, and they are all so very busy, with stuff going on in every area, things happening in a way to suggest a constant state of flux by means of the static image. Miller’s palette is primarily dark, with many of the paintings almost monochrome at first sight; only when you look closer do you realise the breadth of the artist’s paint scheme, the many ways in which he uses shadow to his advantage, with splashes of colour from the more vibrant end of the spectrum rare and all the more effective for that when they are put to use. Overarching all is a Gothic sensibility, so that even when portraying the future his work has a feel of the baroque and antique to it.

My personal favourites in this volume are the artist’s black and white illustrations for Poe’s ‘Maelstrom’; a series of dragon paintings and drawings; work produced as a companion to various Tolkien projects; the striking covers he produced for the several Lovecraft collections released by Panther back in the 70s, which was where I first encountered his art. To complement the visuals, there is an introduction by Brian Sibley and comments on his ideas and techniques by the artist himself. The only thing missing is an appendix detailing when and where the paintings first appeared, but it’s a quibble on the part of a reviewer with the mentality of a bean counter, and doesn’t detract from what is, when all things are considered, a gorgeous production and extremely good value for money, a feast for the eyes and the imagination.

Artist Keith Minnion sold his first illustration to Asimov’s SF Adventure Magazine in 1979, but all the art contained in DARK WORK (Short, Scary Tales Publications hc, 100pp, £23.95), as the title suggests, is horror based. With black and white as well as colour illustrations, the book is divided into three sections – Magazine Work, Book Work and Unpublished Work. Artist Steven C. Gilberts provides an introduction, and throughout the book there are quotes from publishers who have used Minnion’s work, but no text by the artist himself, though we do get a comprehensive appendix detailing where each work first appeared.

Minnion uses the common visual language and imagery of horror illustration – dead and mutilated bodies, skeletons and splashes of blood, graveyards at night and cannibal ravens – but in a unique and distinctive way. The illustrations are uncluttered and each has a focal point to which the viewer’s eye is first drawn, only thereafter becoming aware of the rest. We see the vivid red of the rose, and then the ray of light rising from it into the night sky and the shadowy buildings that form a backdrop. We see the ghostly figures in the foreground, and then the houses stacked behind them with windows that stare like the eyes of the damned. We see and ponder the significance of the design carved into an open palm, only after registering the splash of blood and the nail through the wrist that pins it to a flat surface. Eyes are important to Minnion, something that he delights in – eyes that implore or accuse, eyes that twinkle with merriment or secret knowledge, eyes filled with rage or sorrow, dead eyes. There are the occasional moments of dark humour also, as with the view of a snow girt chimney, attached to which by a black leather belt is a pole topped with the skull of a reindeer, baubles dangling from the antlers. And with that last image in mind, we neatly segue into the suggestion that Dark Work, or any of the other books in this feature, might make a very welcome Christmas present for the horror lover in your life, or anyone who enjoys beautifully executed artwork.

Daniele Serra is the new kid in the garret, but has already secured two distinctions that have eluded his compatriots, a British Fantasy Award and a Black Static credit in his back catalogue (for the pedants among you, he illustrated Lavie Tidhar’s story in #19). As far as I know, VEINS AND SKULLS (Short, Scary Tales Publications hc, 64pp, £16.95) is the first book exclusively dedicated to Serra’s artwork. Jeff Mariotte provides an introduction, with back cover blurbs by Joe R. Lansdale and Ramsey Campbell, but no other text. No appendix either, but I believe that all of these artworks are previously unpublished so provenance is perhaps not an issue, even for bean counters.

Each illustration is presented on a page by itself, with one word titles – ‘Upholstery’, ‘Nude’, ‘Water’ – on the opposite page, a presentation method about which I’m divided, in that while certainly allowing the art to shine it also feels a bit like padding when compared to the two other books here. There are three sections. The first contains thirteen paintings, each presenting an image of some scene of ruin or decay, many of them with a female face or figure in the foreground. Serra’s style is highly distinctive. He works with a muted palette, offering greys and browns, dirty white and pitch black, and each image appears almost as if smudged, with few clean lines, so that the effect is impressionistic, a blurred snapshot of the subject that invites the viewer to fill in the gaps, to concretise what we are actually seeing. That technique is taken yet further in the second section, in which we have four black and white drawings of a woman, where the figure seems to blend into the white background, as if the woman is growing out of the page, or perhaps being slowly erased by the course of time. A double page spread and three standalone paintings make up the third section, using the same palette as in the first section, each a scene of ruin, some urban centre that has fallen on hard times, with the prevailing mood one of sadness. More than the other artists whose work is reviewed here, Serra’s language is that of feelings, demanding an emotional response rather than some intellectual categorisation of what we are seeing.

Small point of order – for the last two works I received PDFs for review and so can’t speak as to their production values, though other work I’ve seen from this publisher has been first rate. I also advise checking out the Short, Scary Tales Publications website for various purchase options not available elsewhere, including exclusively signed editions and forthcoming limited, remarqued editions.

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