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John Coulthart is a World Fantasy Award-winning artist, designer and writer. His illustration and design work has been exhibited worldwide, and includes commissions for Abrams, Angry Robot, Granta, Harper Collins, Savoy Books, Tachyon, and many others.

His work as a comic artist is contained in two books: The Haunter of the Dark, a collection of Lovecraft adaptations which features a unique collaboration with Alan Moore; and Lord Horror: Reverbstorm, a graphic novel written by David Britton.

His work as a writer includes essays and reviews for Andre Deutsch, Eye Magazine and Communication Arts.

He lives in Manchester, UK.

John Coulthart
is In Wild Air


Culture

The Quay Brothers


I've been obsessed with the work of The Quay Brothers after first seeing their animated films on TV in the 1980s. Since then I've followed their career forwards and backwards, waiting eagerly for each new film or video while looking for further examples of the graphic design and illustration they were producing before their animated work was established. The Quays are rare in possessing an aesthetic that seems sui generis even though they've always been open about their influences, many of which are Eastern European. I keep hoping they might make another feature but the opportunities for this appear to be increasingly scarce.

People

Sussan Deyhim


I listen to music all the time when I'm working; in addition to being an enjoyable habit it helps me concentrate, especially when I'm working to a deadline. I could have chosen any number of musical favourites but today I'll mention Sussan Deyhim, an Iranian singer/composer who moved to New York in the late 1970s. Most people will know her voice from feature films such as The Last Temptation of Christ but since the mid-1980s she's recorded many albums including several with composer and ney master Richard Horowitz. One of the latter, Majoun (1997), is one of my favourite albums of all, and one I like so much I'm wary of playing it too often for fear of making it over-familiar. She doesn't record solo material too often, unfortunately, since much of her work is guest appearances or live performance.

Places

The Obscure World


The Obscure World is a place whose cities and anomalies were first charted in a series of comic books in the 1980s by a Belgian duo, artist François Schuiten, and writer Benoît Peeters. Their creation is a "counter-Earth" positioned on the opposite side of the Sun to our own planet which the Obscure World resembles. Each of the books concerns a different city or location and an unusual, often metaphysical, predicament for the central character. Over the course of several volumes the stories have evolved into a multi-media mythos with maps, a history and recurrent characters. Schuiten & Peeters' narratives bear resemblance to their fictional antecedents: on the story level this means Borges, Calvino, Buzzati, Jules Verne and others, while the art runs the gamut of architectural history (real and imagined), all superbly rendered by Schuiten's pen. The Obscure World is one of my favourite fantasy creations, and Schuiten's comics are among the best the medium has to offer. A shame, then, that the translated books have been out-of-print for years. If these were films or novels everyone would know about them.

Things

Earl Grey Tea


Britain may be a nation of tea drinkers but they treat the stuff poorly, favouring cheap blends brewed in teabags, an American invention that should be hounded back across the Atlantic. I drink more Earl Grey tea than any other beverage, and prefer Twinings' blend (loose, brewed in a Japanese pot) even though this may also be regarded as "cheap" by connoisseurs. Earl Grey is black tea flavoured with bergamot, and Twinings provides the ideal composition of teas and bergamot oil. This may only be familiarity but I've tried the varieties offered by Jacksons of Piccadilly, Whittard of Chelsea and others; Twinings' is the one I always return to.

Thoughts

Mystery


In the short story Ibn Hakkan al-Bokhari, Dead in His Labyrinth (1949), Jorge Luis Borges writes (and Norman Thomas di Giovanni translates): "Dunraven, steeped in detective stories, thought that the solution of a mystery is always less impressive than the mystery itself. Mystery has something of the supernatural about it, and even of the divine; its solution, however, is always tainted by sleight of hand." I often think of these words when considering contemporary fiction, especially genre fiction. (I've also misquoted or paraphrased them in public on too many occasions.)

Many of my favourite novels, films, stories concern unresolved mysteries, but lack of resolution has never been a popular thing, and seems increasingly out of favour. We're living in an age of over-explanation where loose ends need to be securely fastened, lacunae filled and riddles solved. This process may give a short-lived buzz of satisfaction but it doesn't necessarily make for better fiction. Arthur Machen, a writer whose work Borges admired, would have agreed; one of his favourite aphorisms also serves as a shorthand descriptor of his best fiction: Omnia exeunt in mysterium.

Wildism

Axiom


And speaking of fiction, the ongoing Axiom project is my own private enclave where I can indulge myself without having to worry too much about pesky commercial considerations. Some years ago I realised I was spending all my time illustrating or decorating the works of others so Axiom is an attempt to redress the balance. So far the project comprises two novels and a small collection of related artwork. It's embarrassing to admit to having written novels when such a previously exclusive activity is now as common as, say, bicycle riding but there it is. To date the marketplace has been resistant to the attempts of my agent to sell these books but after spending my twenties accumulating unfinished manuscripts I was pleased to have completed two books to my own satisfaction. The artwork doesn't illustrate the novels but can be related to them via a small amount of textual accompaniment. The main problem at the moment has been finding any spare time to further expand this material but I persist. One of the mottoes that Coil used in the later stages of their career was "Persistence is all". This is a useful thing to bear in mind.