HPL: The Best Lovecraft Fanzine Ever Published in a Dark Universe Yawning Where the Black Planets Roll Without Aim
It’s been awhile since I posted anything about other artists or authors, but since the new Sarnath page isn’t quite finished yet — it’ll be just a bit longer!! — I wanted to post about the one thing which, more than anything else, got me into H.P. Lovecraft. That would be the 1972 one-shot fanzine (more like fan-anthology) HPL, edited and put together by Meade & Penny Frierson.
My dad owned a copy of this book (as well as the ‘second printing’ which I believe was printed in the ’80s). It’s in pretty awful condition now after following me around for 15 years, and after I leafed through it for hours after discovering it on his bookshelf when I was about 10. At the time, I hadn’t yet read any Lovecraft stories, so I just wondered at the artwork and the cryptic writing. Essays on Lovecraft, poetry, Mythos fiction — this book had everything.
There were many major Lovecraft fanzines published in the ’70s and ’80s, before the Internet took over all that action. The two longest-running and most influential were probably Robert Price’s “Crypt of Cthulhu” and S.T. Joshi’s (well, it felt like it was Joshi’s) “Lovecraft Studies.” Possibly the most beautiful and far-reaching of them all was “Nyctalops”, published by Harry O. Morris, which started as a pretty straightforward Lovecraft zine (or so I guess; the early issues are really hard to find) and mutated into a zine about surrealist and other forms of dark non-splatter horror, which published, as far as I’m aware, the first work of Thomas Ligotti. I discovered all these zines when I was just entering college in the early ’90s; I sent letters to the ‘zine list in the back of “HPL” and, although the list was 20 years out of date, I actually got a few responses.
Here’s a link to the table of contents. HPL contains a bit of everything, and it’s almost all good: an interview with Frank Belknap Long. Robert Bloch talking about how cool Lovecraft was. (They were both alive back then.) Reminiscences on HPL by E. Hoffman Price, including possibly the first transcript of the “Lovecraft couldn’t believe that two men could drink a whole six-pack of beer” story, which Price told at some convention panel. Price’s astrological chart of Lovecraft. Reviews of the Lovecraft Night Gallery episodes, the play “Lovecraft’s Follies”, and the various awful Lovecraft movies. A big essay by Richard Tierney on the differences between Lovecraft’s and Derleth’s Mythos. “The Horror Theme after HPL”, a great essay by William Scott Home, which introduced me to the idea that “The Beast in the Cave” was about the terror of puberty (remember also, I was about 11 when I read this! The essay was like foreshadowing!). Then there’s the poetry, fiction and humor, like the ad for the Lovecraft cookbook, “The Skulker in the Scullery”: “Fade away to nothing on 15 cents a day!”. The fiction varies, from Manly Wade Wellman’s dumb story (in which the Necronomicon is defeated by holy water; it certainly ain’t no “Desrick on Yandro”) to a fair amount of forgettable stuff set in 7-point type to some cool finds. Brian Lumley contributes the first chapter of his Cthonian novel, “The Burrowers Beneath.” Ramsey Campbell, the master of psychological horror, contributes… an extraterrestrial weird-fantasy story?!? A brief note explains that Gahan Wilson said he doesn’t contribute to fanzines, but that the publishers got in touch with them and he wished them well and said, yes, he loves H.P. Lovecraft. Gary Myers’ “The Return of Zhosph” appears here for the first time (together with an illustration by a very young Myers himself!). L. Sprague deCamp contributes poetry. Literally everybody who was alive in the ’70s is in this thing.
But the best thing about this book, and the biggest influence on me when I read it, was the art. These were the first images of Cthulhu, Deep Ones, the Dunwich Horror etc., that I had ever seen, since I hadn’t read the stories themselves yet. The list of artistic contributors is as impressive as the authors: Tim Kirk. Steve Fabian. Virgil Finlay. By far the most prolific contributor is Herb Arnold; not the sculptor of found objects who has a posthumous website, but another Herb Arnold, a now-obscure comic artist. Arnold’s beefy, delicious crosshatched renderings of ghouls, Deep Ones, Elder Things, Chaugnar Faugn and frankly just about every Mythos thing imaginable, fill the book. I haven’t been able to find much information about him, except that he was apparently an assistant to Richard Corben… and lo and behold, here’s Corben’s drawing of Azathoth!
HELLLLLL YEAH. This was one of the two Corben things in my dad’s library; the other was The Last Voyage of Sinbad the Sailor. The art in HPL epitomized “good artwork” for me when I was a kid, and I’ve always been inspired by the wonderful B&W work I discovered there. The way I draw pretty much every Cthulhu Mythos/Lovecraft thing is inextricably influenced by Herb Arnold, et al. Also, I was fascinated by other artists in the book who had a more naive style, artists like Mike Scott and Denis Tiani (who drew the Lovecraft portrait above). Tiani was in the Harry O. Morris/Nyctalops circle and has had some work published by Centipede Press. Certainly, their cartoony work seemed, frankly, easier to imitate than the staggering craft of Corben, but I also found something very pure & evocative in their art, like Tiani’s vaguely foreboding, fascinating doodles of light beams breaking through clouds near crumbling towers, or this Mike Scott drawing of The Strange High House in the Mist:
If Denis Tiani, Mike Scott, or Herb Arnold read this blog, I want you to know: you are freaking awesome. Sadly, Meade Frierson is no more, but he wrote a great essay about the genesis of the magazine which you can read here. This whole book is full of gems. Someone should get the reprint rights and put the whole thing out as an eBook. I wouldn’t be a Lovecraft fan today if not for “HPL.”