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!