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Killers, crooks and vampires: Thrilling pages from Penny Dreadfuls

The “penny dreadful” was the name given to an incredible publishing phenomenon that flourished in Victorian Britain between the mid-1830s and the early 1900s. The penny dreadful or “penny blood” was a luridly illustrated booklet or magazine—usually of some sixteen pages in length—filled with sensationalist tales of highwaymen, murderers, cannibals, bounders, vagabonds, vampires and thieves. 

The first known penny dreadful was published on Saturday April 30th, 1836 under the title The Lives of the Most Notorious Highwaymen, Footpads and Murderers. The cover featured a fight between a gang of ne’er-do-wells—led by Grimes Bolton, a notorious robber and cannibal—and a group of gamekeepers. The success of The Lives of the Most Notorious Highwaymen, Footpads and Murderers led to an unprecedented range of similar publications which reached their height around the mid-1860s.

Originally penny dreadfuls focussed on thrilling tales of adventure but through time these fell out of fashion as the audience demanded increasingly lurid stories. These magazines hit pay-dirt with tales of true crime (Jack the Ripper being the best known subject) and grotesque fantasies of such creations as the murderous Sweeney Todd—the Demon Barber of Fleet Street; the bloodthirsty Varney the Vampire or the demonic urban legend of Spring-Heeled Jack—The Terror of London.

The penny dreadful ushered in a new era of publishing—launching a whole range of magazines and periodicals that benefitted from new printing technology and from the markets opened up by the penny dreadful. Political and educational serial publications similarly benefitted from the pioneering work of penny dreadfuls. But it wasn’t all money-making business. Before the Education Act of 1870 introduced free education for all, the penny dreadful can take some credit for encouraging generations of young men and women to read.

As tastes changed, the penny dreadful dropped in popularity—the now literate audience wanted more nuanced and stimulating tales. However, the genres it launched (horror, detective and true-life crime) continued and flourished under writers like Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle and H. G. Wells.
More pages from penny dreadfuls, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Snake women, dragons and other esoteric imagery from the alchemical manuscript ‘Clavis Artis’

The renowned composer Nino Rota collected books and manuscripts on the occult. Rota was a child prodigy who went on to compose ten operas, five ballets and many, many choral and chamber pieces. He is now best known for his multi-award-winning film scores for The Godfather, Romeo and Juliet and Fellini’s and

When Rota died in 1979, a copy of a very strange occult manuscript Clavis Artis was discovered among his personal effects. Rota had purchased this illustrated text from a bookseller in Frankfurt. After his death it was donated to the Biblioteca dell’Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei where it can still be found today.

Rota’s copy of Clavis Artis is one of only three editions of the manuscript being currently held in Italy and Germany—only two of which are illustrated.

The Clavis Artis is an alchemical manuscript believed to have been produced in the late 17th or early 18th century—though the title page states the book was written in 1236 AD. The text is attributed to “Zoroaster (“Zarathustra”) the rabbi and Jew” who claimed to have written the book over “a dragon skin.”

R. et AC
Secret key for many covert operations
In the animal kingdom, the kingdom of metals
and minerals

the rabbi and Jew
Clavis Artis
Part one
The original was written by the author
over a dragon skin
World Year
Following text was translated
from Arabic into German
in the Year of Christ

Zoroaster’s manuscript details various rites and practices relating to alchemy. It has been suggested the text may have been lifted from an earlier work, while its author “Zoroaster” may have been Abraham Eleazar—an occultist who wrote another alchemical text L’Uraltes Chymisches Werk in 1735. However both these manuscripts contain imagery to be found in an even earlier alchemical manuscripts by Nicolas Flamel—the man who allegedly found the Philosopher’s Stone.

Whatever the book’s provenance it is fair to say these illustrations from Clavis Artis are quite beautiful and strange.
More magical illustrations from the ‘Clavis Artis,’ after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘The Hound of Baskerville’: German pop duo cover Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ as a Sherlock Holmes tribute
02:20 am


Black Sabbath
Sherlock Holmes
Cindy and Bert

Jutta Gusenberger and Norbert Berger were a married couple from the western border of the BRD (West Germany) who were staples of the German pop scene in the 1970s. They went by Cindy und Bert, representing West Germany in the Eurovision Pop Contest in 1974 with “Die Sommermelodie.” In a strong year that included Olivia Newton-John and ABBA as competitors, Cindy und Bert finished 14th. Oh well.

They had a run of charting singles from 1972 to 1979 on the German Top 40 but before all that, in 1971, they turned in a delirious cover of “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath with completely different German lyrics that were all about the hellhound invented by Arthur Conan Doyle in one of his few long-form Sherlock Holmes narratives, The Hound of the Baskervilles.

More on the strange case of Cindy und Bert, after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Bloody Disgusting: A gruesome gallery of vintage medical illustrations from the 1800s

My father once bought several volumes of medical textbooks as a job lot from a secondhand bookshop. Why he did this I’m not quite sure. Perhaps he liked their fine red leather covers, their marbled pages, the beautiful yet gruesome illustrations of diseases contained therein. Perhaps he thought these fine volumes matched our home’s interior decor? Or maybe he hoped my brother or myself would one day study these antique books and become a medical practitioner? I certainly considered it. Indeed I nearly did apply for medicine at university but changed my mind at the last moment and chose a rather pointless arts course—my real intention had been to go to Art College and paint…but that’s another story.

However, I did spend many, many, probably far too many hours poring over these books and their fabulous colored plates of medical diseases, internal organs, autopsies, arterial systems, genitals, brains and what have you. I marveled as much at the complexity and wonder of the human body and its diseases as I did at the beauty of the illustrations. These were to me works of art that deserved to be hung in some gallery rather than just hidden away for the education of young minds.

Illustrations of different diseases and conditions provided an essential part in the development of medical treatment. All doctors need a good memory so they can recognize symptoms, ailments and you know body parts—and the work of illustrators in accurately depicting different forms of diseases—leprosy, syphilis or smallpox, etc—were central to a doctor making the right call in a patient’s’ diagnosis and treatment.

This is a tiny small collection of some of the vast number of disturbingly beautiful illustrations produced by artists for medical practitioners during the late 1700s to the early 1900s—and they are quite fantastic.

And the moral of my story? Well, if you ever get the choice between an arts course and studying medicine…do medicine because you can truly help people and maybe even make a shit load of money while you’re doing it.
A thirteen-year-old Girl with leprosy.
A thirteen-year-old Boy with severe untreated leprosy.
More beautifully rendered (and totally gross) diseases after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Henry Rollins reads Dr. Seuss
02:43 pm


Henry Rollins
Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go! has become the traditional graduation gift of our generation. It’s June, and people are graduating, so Funny or Die decided to enlist everyone’s favorite hardcore hunk, Henry Rollins, to sit a spell and read from the beloved volume.

Henry’s more of a literary figure than you might realize—he’s been publishing books for years on his 2.13.61 imprint—personally, I’d like to see a Dr. Seuss treatment of Pissing in the Gene Pool.......

Nice kid. Can we get an Einstürzende Neubauten homunculus on there?
Fortunately, it turns out that this isn’t just Rollins “reading” Seuss, it’s Rollins “reading and deconstructing” Seuss, which means that the video consists less of Theodore Geisel’s winsome versifying and much more of Rollins’ fervent crabbing about the silly-ass text.

And we’re all for that! Click and enjoy.
Henry Rollins Reads Dr. Seuss


Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Disorientation of the senses: William Burroughs makes a ‘sick’ and ‘disgusting’ movie, 1966

WSB by Charles Burns.
William Burroughs’ work has always been controversial. When Naked Lunch was first published it was denounced by critics as “obscene,” “repugnant” and “not unlike wading through the drains of a big city.” The poet and arbiter of highbrow taste, Edith Sitwell decried the book stating she did not want “to spend the rest of my life with my nose nailed to other people’s lavatories.” Its publication led to an infamous obscenity trial where Norman Mailer was called as a witness to defend the book and its writer. Mailer famously declared Burroughs as:

....the only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius.

However, Burroughs was generally unfazed by his detractors—after all he wasn’t writing for them.

When Burroughs decided to make a short film The Cut-Ups with B-movie smut-peddler Antony Balch it was perhaps inevitable that their collaboration caused similar outrage.

When The Cut-Ups was first screened at the Cinephone, Oxford Street, London in 1966:

Members of the audience rushed out saying, ‘It’s disgusting,’ to which the staff would reply, ‘It’s got a U certificate, nothing disgusting about it, nothing the censor objected to.’

According to Burroughs biographer Barry Miles the Cinephone’s manager, Mr. Provisor:

...had never had so many people praise a film, or so many hate it.

More after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
OMG, you can actually commission your own ‘Sweet Valley High’ portrait!
12:00 pm


Sweet Valley High

Image via Twitter

I’m sure you guys remember the Sweet Valley High book series from the 80s and 90s, right? Even if you were too old to read them, those SVH books were everywhere and the cover art was recognizable. They’re “totally 80s” iconic at this point, kind of like Patrick Nagel. Artist and illustrator, James L. Mathewuse—who’s also illustrated book covers for Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and Judy Blume novels—was behind the Sweet Valley High series cover art.

As one of the New York publishing houses’ popular illustrators, Mathewuse also became the sole artist who created over 250 covers for the “Sweet Valley High” and “Sweet Valley Twins” young adult romance series. Another young adult book, “Tiger Eyes” by Judy Blume, won the prestigious honors for “Best Young Adult Book of the Year.” The young adult series that Jimmy painted have been recognized as the largest selling, not only in America, but in the world.

If you’ve ever dreamt of having your mug immortalized as a Sweet Valley High character… now is your chance. James L. Mathewuse takes commissions! OMG.

According to his website, portraits start at $200 and you can contact him for a consultation. I just might take him up on this!

Click here to visit his page.

Below, examples of Mathewuse’s work:


via Boing Boing and Your Tango

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Concept art for David Cronenberg’s ‘Total Recall’ that never was

I’ve heard some great stories about the David Cronenberg movies that almost were. Indeed, I once heard Cronenberg himself tell the tale of taking a phone call from the office of George Lucas, who wanted to feel the Toronto-born director out on the subject of directing Return of the Jedi. Cronenberg sniffed that he didn’t really direct material written by other people, and that was the end of that. (The conversation is all the more ironic if you consider that since that moment, Cronenberg has directed material originated by William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, and Don DeLillo, among others. Maybe he just didn’t think of Lucas as a writer on that level?)

Cronenberg also turned down a chance to direct Top Gun, finding it too jingoistic (plus, as a Canadian, Cronenberg doubly wasn’t into it).

What I didn’t know until recently is that Cronenberg was the first director to be considered to direct Total Recall, which was eventually directed (rather well) by Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, previously responsible for Robocop.

Interestingly, Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon had tried to develop Philp K. Dick’s story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” as a script in the 1970s before concluding that the special effects would be too costly—their next project would become Alien, the commercial success of which kick-started the orignal PKD project again. 

Cronenberg worked on pre-production for the PKD project for about a year, a process that generated the fascinating concept art seen below. His choice for the lead role was to have been William Hurt, a far cry from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, er, likely less thoughtful approach to the movie. After Cronenberg’s labors, the producers told him that they admired his treatment but were hoping for something a little bit closer to “Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars,” so Cronenberg returned to a project that would have a tone that interested him much more, that being a remake of the 1958 sci-fi classic The Fly.

Purportedly, Cronenberg’s take on the material would have been lot closer to Dick’s original story than the Verhoeven movie.

The artworks here were created by Ron Miller and his wife Judith Miller, who was responsible for the 3-D models, as well as production designer Pierluigi Basile.


Much more after the jump…....

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Jeepers Creepers: Surreal illustrations of witchcraft-caused eye diseases from the 16th century

Georg Bartisch dedicated his life to the study and treatment of the eye and its diseases.

Born in Königsbrück, Saxony in 1535, Bartisch was apprenticed to a barber surgeon at the age of thirteen. After three years training, he set off to ply his trade as an itinerant surgeon—carrying out operations, amputations, and diagnosing illness amongst the populace of Saxony, Silesia, and Bohemia.

Medicine at this time was still prone to a belief in the superstitious. Bartisch believed a patient could be diagnosed through their astrological chart or horoscope and that magic, astrology and indeed witchcraft itself played an important role in the diagnosis and treatment of disease.

His main interest was ophthalmology. Though never academically trained, Bartisch excelled in his study of eye diseases and their cures, and was recognized as a leading expert in ocular medicine and surgery. One can imagine how brutal and painful such procedures would have been at this time when there was very poor hygiene and no anaesthetics.

Bartisch also believed myopia, hyperopia, astigmatism could be corrected by the wearing of masks rather than by the use of eyeglasses (see illustrations below). He believed a glass held in front of the eyes would only further damage the patient’s sight.

Though many of his ideas may seem strange to us now, Bartisch was a pioneer and his major contribution to ocular medicine was his compendium or “atlas” Ophthalmodouleia Das ist Augendienst published in 1583. It was the first book that detailed eye diseases and was responsible in establishing ophthalmology as a separate and distinct medical discipline.

Ophthalmodouleia Das ist Augendienst included sections on head and eye anatomy; strabismus; cataracts (which he classified by color—white, blue, gray, green, yellow, and black); external disease; trauma; and even witchcraft.

By 1588, Bartisch was oculist to the court of Duke Augustus I of Saxony. He died in 1607.

If you have an interest in the history of medicine, or are just a bibliophile, then you may be interested in viewing the whole of Georg Bartisch’s Ophthalmodouleia which has been digitized here.
More after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
What if Quentin Tarantino’s movies actually were pulp fiction?
10:56 am


Quentin Tarantino

It’s not news that Quentin Tarantino is a lover of hard-boiled crime fiction. His most successful movie is, of course, even called Pulp Fiction, which memorably featured a character (John Travolta’s Vincent Vega) who liked to read the first installment of Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise series while using the toilet.

Tarantino’s follow-up to Pulp Fiction, 1997’s excellent Jackie Brown, was based on Elmore Leonard’s 1992 novel Rum Punch. Tarantino threw in a shot of Robert Forster’s Max Cherry reading Len Deighton’s spy thriller Berlin Game while waiting for Jackie to be released from prison.

And Tarantino’s interest in Leonard doesn’t stop there: it’s been rumored that Tarantino has shown an interest in adapting the crime fiction master’s 1972 western 40 Lashes Less One—but considering that Tarantino’s last two movies were westerns, that didn’t seem too likely, but Tarantino brought it up again as recently as last December—it seems he might want to do it as a TV series.

Tarantino’s strengths as a filmmaker track those of the dime-store fiction category, so a French art director named David Redon had the bright idea to concoct a bunch of paperback covers for each of Tarantino’s movies. The quality is a bit variable (the Pulp Fiction one isn’t good, and come on, you have to misspell INGLOURIOUS the right way!), but I like most of ‘em just fine.

The iconic poster for Pulp Fiction actually is a dog-eared paperback cover, so this makes sense on a number of fronts.



More after the jump…....

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
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