Monday, July 7, 2014

Review: The Whitechapel Demon

Readers of Libram Mysterium will undoubtedly recognize Josh Reynolds as the author of the excellent short story, Mordiggian's Due.  Josh is an incredibly prolific writer who, in addition to numerous Warhammer and Warhammer 40K tie-in novels for Black Library, has written a huge number of short stories, many of them featuring the exploits of Charles St. Cyprian, the Royal Occultist.

The Whitechapel Demon is the first novel in The Adventures of The Royal Occultist series, and was my first introduction to Charles St. Cyprian, an occult sleuth who holds the office of Royal Occultist, which was established in the sixteenth century by Elizabeth I for John Dee.  Put simply, it is the duty of St. Cyprian and his apprentice, Ebbe Gallowglass, to counter supernatural menaces that are beyond the conventional scope of His Majesty's government; a duty that pushes them to their limits when cultists of the Whitechapel Society attempt to call up the spirit of Jack the Ripper and instead attract the attention of something far worse: a demonic entity that wriggles its way through non-Euclidian angles and into our world.

The Whitechapel Demon fires on all cylinders and has everything that I love in a story: mad cultists, sinister demons, compelling characters, and frequent dashes of humour.  Josh deftly balances setting and pace, firmly grounding the novel in 1920 London while carrying us from scene to scene maintaining dramatic tension along the way.  This is no easy thing to do, but the story is so eloquently written that it is easy to forget you're reading a book and not careening through the streets of Whitechapel in the rumble seat of St. Cyprian's car with the hounds of hell breathing down your neck.

The characters are equally well-written.  St. Cyprian is a suave and charming Oxford man, an occult scholar, and veteran of the Great War who has his own inner demons to battle in addition to those conjured up by malfeasant miscreants.  His counter-part, Ms. Gallowglass, plucked from the mean streets of Cairo, is quick on the draw with sarcastic remarks, vulgar gestures, or lethal volleys of gunfire as circumstances demand, and she is an excellent foil for her mentor: a pugnacious and irascible Watson to St. Cyprian's Holmes.

It occurred to me while reading this book, that The Whitechapel Demon might especially appeal to lovers of Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game.  While the book only dances on the fringes of Lovecraft's mythos, St. Cyprian and Gallowglass are archetypal mythos investigators, particularly in campaigns that are focused more on keeping the forces of darkness at bay than on nihilistic existentialism.  In any event there is enough common ground here that fans of Lovecraftian horror are likely to also enjoy the Adventures of the Royal Occultist.

Learn more about the Royal Occultist by visiting Charles St. Cyprian's blog.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Berni Wrightson: Master of the Macabre

One of  my many (too many?) hobbies is drawing.  In fact I had once considered pursuing art as a career, having studied it throughout high school and even in University.  While my life ultimately took a different path, I have maintained an interest and although it has been decades since I've done any painting or sculpting I do continue to draw.  Pen and ink is one of my favourite drawing mediums, although lately I've been rediscovering the pleasure of brush and ink as well.  I don't want to bore you or embarrass myself by posting my own amateurish drawings, but I would like to show off some of my favourite pieces by one of my greatest inspirations, Bernie Wrightson.

Wrightson is best known for his comic book illustrations and his career has spanned decades.  He gained a great deal of prominence illustrating Warren Publishing's Creepy and Eerie magazines in the 1970's and also worked for DC and Marvel comics as well.  I first became aware of Bernie Wrightson's work by way Swamp Thing, the character he created for DC comics back in the '70's.  I was only a child at the time, but I really dug the creepy and tragic story of Swamp Thing and while I didn't really appreciate Wrightson's art on the same level then as I did in later years, it definitely put him on my radar.

It probably wasn't until 1983, when I bought the Marvel illustrated edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, that I truly came to appreciate Bernie Wrightson's artistic genius.  I was seventeen when this edition was published and just the right age to be influenced by the meticulous detail of Wrightson's drawings and his macabre aesthetic.  The pen and ink drawings in this edition were completed over a seven year period and Wrightson wanted them to look like period pieces - to resemble wood cut or steel engraved prints instead of hand-drawn illustrations.

I recently purchased Dark Horse Books hardcover collection of Bernie Wrightson's stories from Creepy and Eerie magazines.  Among the many stories that Wrightson wrote and illustrated for Warren Publishing, this collection includes Wrightson's wonderful adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe's The Black Cat from Creepy #62 (May, 1974) and H.P. Lovecraft's Cool Air from Eerie #62 (January, 1975).

The illustrations shown above are only a tiny representation of Bernie Wrightson's prolific career but they are some of my favourite drawings, the ones that both inspire me and remind me that I have no talent, whatsoever.  That's okay, because the world only needs one master of the macabre and that master is Bernie.