Lovecraft Sketch MWF: The Old Ones

Lovecraft Sketch MWF: The Old Ones

One of the first illustrations of a Lovecraftian creature I ever saw, sometime in the ’80s, was the drawing of an Old One in Wayne Barlowe’s Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials. The Old Ones stuck out by their total nonanthropomorphism, their radial/vegetable body shape, and their branching “I dare you to draw all 125 of them” limbs. Later, in Meade & Penny Frierson’s fanzine “HPL”, I saw tons more drawings of Old Ones, drawn with somewhat less naturalism and skill but a lot more vigor and character — these vegetable-starfish beings were jus’ folks, darnit! If Guillermo Del Toro ever manages to make “At the Mountains of Madness,” one of the real treats will surely be seeing the puppeteers/CG artists give human and emotional qualities to these extremely alien-looking creatures. And of course, they *do* have emotions — that’s the whole point of the story.

Visually, they’re so alien they’re not even scary; they’re like vastly enlarged radiates, like a highly-evolved, sentient version of a biological domain that only exists in primitive microscopic form here on the Earth. Since they created all life on Earth, I think any resemblances to Earthly life must be because we (de)volved from them. Even in my own limited knowledge of science, though, I do have to tsk-tsk Lovecraft for having the Old Ones remain unchanged in physical shape over the millions and millions of years in which they inhabited the planet. Did they have no form of evolution, natural or artificial? If they never changed, wouldn’t that mean they would gradually get out-competed by awesomer life forms? But it’s much cooler conceptually to imagine that there are creatures out there that are SO great, even billions of years of evolution couldn’t improve them. Of course, as a human with my limited perspective, I can barely even imagine how a recognizable culture could survive for 10,000 years, let alone a sentient species survive for 100,000. Deep time…

I think the inking turned out well in this one. I’ve been thinking of doing what they call “master studies” (i.e., to put it more bluntly, straight-up copying another artist) and trying to do duplicates of old Victorian newspaper prints, to see how difficult it is to get that lovely, fine-lined ink shading. The kind of art that used to be everywhere, the kind that Max Ernst used to form his cut-up novel Une semaine de bonté (A Week of Kindness). Not that this has anything to do with the Mountains of Madness, the Elder Things or the Old Ones. But although it’s totally not suited for digital art, there’s something very satisfying about carving out images from hundreds of little lines.

If you liked this sketch, please check out my new King of RPGs webcomic storyline! It’s a good place to jump onto the story. Also, I do commissioned sketches!

Discussion (10)¬

  1. another jason says:

    Terrific sketch, Jason. I saw my first illustration of an Old One in Barlowe’s book as well. While I have and love both his books on extraterrestrials and fantasy creatures, there’s a certain “sterility” to some of his renderings, if that makes sense. You do a fantastic job of making an Old One believable as more than a creature designed by a human author. For me, your art is the first one I’ve seen that does this.

    I’d certainly encourage those master studies. I think anything you do like this will help you grow as an artist. Even if it isn’t suited for digital art, I’m sure you’ll find that something of it will find its way into your existing style.

    Plus, they really do look cool. This is something I can imagine a kickstarter working on, as well. Doing some limited-run prints, especially if you do mythos content into the victorian print style. Or maybe it’d work better on etsy? :D In any case, it’d be cool.

  2. Ken Kobori says:

    You can see a brief preview of Guillermo Del Toro’s CGI version of Lovecraft’s Old Ones in the second Hellboy film. They’re in the background of the Goblin Market scene, or is it the Troll Market? Guillermo points them out in his commentary track. They perambulate very rapidly, and one of them snatches a bird from midair and stuffs it down it’s maw with a tentacle.

  3. another jason says:

    Funny you should mention that connection, Ken. Guess who did some of the creature design for Hellboy 1 and 2 – Barlowe! :D I’m not sure which things exactly, but I know he created Samiel for H1.

    He’s done scads of other stuff, too. Like Lupin, the dragons and the monster textbook from Harry Potter. Not to mention pretty much all the creatures in Avatar.

    BTW, I highly recommend his novel God’s Demon. I quite enjoyed it and look forward to him writing more.

  4. Jason says:

    I did see the Old Ones in Hellboy 2, and it’s a shame Del Toro hasn’t gotten to do more with them. I can’t believe that Barlowe drew “Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials” when he was just 21 years old — he started running right out of the gate! :) I’ll have to check out his novel.

  5. SteveED says:

    Just a couple of quick noodges = the Elder Things have prismatic cilia covering the top of their “heads”.

    In the book he compares them to echinodermata, not radiata. They have ‘radial’ five-fold symmetry like star fish. (The Flying Polyps are more like radiata, like modified soft corals.)

    I like how you rendered the “vegetable” look of them more than Barlowe did. In the book he specifically says they are biologically more closely related to plants than to animals.

    As to Lovecraft’s understanding of evolution, perhaps the Elder Things stopped their own evolution when they advanced far enough. It’s a common theme that once a race hits the “cosmic” level of technology, they stop evolving (c.f. Deep Ones, MI-Go), become protean (c.f. Colour from Space, Flying Polyps) or eschew physical form (c.f. Yithians, Fire Vampyres)

  6. Jason says:

    All these sea-creature-like aliens remind me of a one-page comic a friend once showed me (sadly, I don’t remember the name). It was a parody science fiction comic about a fish getting in a rocketship and flying around outer space to different planets, but he’s really disappointed and bored, because all the ‘exotic space aliens’ all look like thinly disguised sea life, so it’s just like what he sees at home.

    Re: the prismatic cilia… you’re right! My mistake! I missed the on my first readthrough of the description. ^^;; I tried to draw some short hairy cilia sticking out of the head(s), but it was an afterthought. Maybe they retract in the winter.

  7. another jason says:

    Perhaps Jason made the same mental slip I did and was thinking starfish ARE radiates since they have radial symmetry. Easy mistake.

    I didn’t realize Barlowe was 21, either. That’s pretty amazing. I have to wonder what a new edition of those two books would be like if he were to re-imagine the art today. I know I’d love to see it. Maybe we should convince him to kickstarter it. :D

    I also meant to comment earlier about the evolution thing; it’s really not that far-fetched. There are plenty of species that have existed relatively unchanged for millions of years. It’s hard to say that for sure, of course, as all we have to go on is fossils that look a hell of a lot like the species that exist today; not a lot of sequenceable DNA from that far back.

    But take the goblin shark. That’s one that we think looks a whole lot like the fossils from 100 million years ago. And really, when you have a species that is dominant and advanced like the old ones were, there would be very little pressure on them to speciate.

  8. another jason says:

    “Maybe they retract in the winter.”

    Maybe it just got out of the pool. The water was very cold, okay!

  9. Ken Kobori says:

    It’s always cold in Antarctica…

  10. Night-Gaunt says:

    The “Qun’qnx” or Old Ones were masters of land, sea and air. They have five wings like fans but resemble also spore pods on the end. They have five red mouths and five alimentary tubes at their bottom. They communicate via a piping over a wide range. They are rather colorful. yellow starfish head, red irised eyes, prismatic cilia, bulbous neck, gray bodies, green lower starfish legs, light gray wings etc. They have gills, air sacs and also can breath through pores in their very tough skins. Have a 5-lobed brain. They sleep standing up. They never lay down unless they are either sick or dead.

    In the water the cold didn’t bother them but on land they needed artificial heating and wearing cold weather gear.