Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Mythopoeikon

Is Patrick Woodroffe still going? I found my old copy of Mythopoeikon the other month while helping my parents to de-clutter. It led to me looking him up on the internet. And in my search for an official website I discovered Monster Brains.

At the front of the book he’s shown decked out in a really very full on Paisley shirt and wearing one of those beards that people don’t seem capable of growing these days. And like in the picture above he’s clutching a pipe. Bar the odd lapse I don’t smoke anymore but I do covet a particular pipe I see in a shop window I walk past most days. I doubt I’d actually smoke through it. For a start I’m not sure I’d want to sully its beauty and secondly I’m don’t know whether I’m a pipe person.

I was once the owner of a much more functional pipe. Despite my groovy haircut and general bad attitude I’ve never had any trouble at customs. I did though nearly come a cropper on a trip to Dublin a few years back. I was breezing through the ferry terminal when an officer called me over to a little table and asked to look in my bag. I happily complied but about a second later remembered the very well used hash pipe I’d casually thrown in there. As luck would have it I’d also packed a Latin version of Juvenal’s Satires. When the old fellow saw this he gazed at the pages in mystified awe (much like myself it must be said) and in his eyes I was suddenly an upright and educated young man, maybe even destined for the priesthood. Certainly not somebody with anything nasty in their bag.

Anyway, Patrick Woodroffe. Why do I like his pictures? In part, possibly (probably), because it's all so massively Seventies and that is the decade I like to hunker down in when the modern world is getting too much. Something else I’ve noticed more recently is that I like images that are intricate and have lots going on in them (Nick Blinko, Henry Darger, Hieronymous Bosch, Utagawa Kuniyoshi). It’s true for the most part as well that I don’t particularly like paintings that seem almost blank, like Rothko. What does it all mean? Am I afraid of open expanses? Things that leave me alone with myself? Do I need to be distracted by bright colourful things?

He’s obviously a fantastically gifted painter but I don’t think he ever formally studied art (it says in the book he did modern languages) and this sometimes shows. Childhood is a period of interest to lots of artists and Woodroffe’s preoccupation with it is patent. So I don’t know if the sometimes na├»ve renderings are deliberate or just down to him not being able to draw certain things more realistically. He admits, for instance, that his spaceships look like Victorian toys but that that’s just how they come out.

Darker than the wonky spaceships though are his depictions of young girls. Some (most) of these pictures are jarring to modern sensibilities to put it mildly. A lot of his work was for science fiction/fantasy book covers in the Seventies – so it comes as no surprise to find the pages strewn with semi naked ladies. He’s done about 90 book covers but I’ve only seen the ones shown in the book and the odd one here and there in second hand bookshops. I think it does artists good to have to produce work in hothouse conditions (Lou Reed at Pickwick Records and Anthony Burgess when he thought he was dying for eg). Obviously, the more work you do the better you get but also deadlines help stamp out any preciousness.

And finally: Mythopoeikon - what a great word. It's made up I think and I'm all for made up words.

7 comments:

  1. I like his style, but don't recognise it though - I was flicking through some of my old seventies skateboard mags recently and saw some Paul Sample illustrations remember him, he was everywhere at the time - mainly strips and book covers.

    A personal fave is Leo Baxendale - the Spike Milligan of illustration

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  2. I bet he liked a bit of Arthur Rackham with his ready-rolled...

    A tip-top entry in your weblog sir.

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  3. Mondo - I know Paul Sample from all those Tom Sharpe book covers. And I couldn't have named him but as an avid Beano reader I was of course familiar with the work of Leo Baxendale. To be honest I was never that blown away by the artwork in the Beano but I do remember being impressed by Willy the Kid, which I think is the strip he did when he was allowed to cut loose a bit. It funny timing this, I nearly bought a Willy the Kid book a couple of weeks ago. I didn't in the end - it was actually a bit too bleak and weird. At the same time as I rescued Mythopoeikon I also grabbed all my Ronald Searle books - he's definitely worth a post at some point.

    Davy - I'm glad you dropped by, I finished Ubik a bit back. I'll have to read it again I think. The story was generally madder that Time Out Of Joint but I've got a feeling that the last page isn't going to be logically workable-outable, which I disapprove of. But I did like the whose dead? twist and the way it was introduced quite early on. I'd be very interested to see a film of it - PKD wrote a screenplay apparently.

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  4. I never liked The Beano or Dandy - it was Whizzer and Chips, Whoopee or Krazy for me. I've got two of the Willy annuals and they are as close to Python for children as you'll get, with some amazing multi-layered stories in the first annual. You've got to grab them

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  5. You're right - what was I thinking? I was pretty loyal to the Beano, I used to read my brother's Dandy and a kid called Chris up the road got Whizzer and Chips which I thought was better than the Beano but which I didn't order because, well...it was Chris's comic. I think I must have got Buddy for quite a few issues, it had Billy the Cat and the Iron Fish in it. And then I discovered 2000AD.

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  6. Don't start me on 2000AD. I swapped all my early editions Progs 1 - 50 for something silly years ago. But did manage to pick up some original Ron Smith Dredd art for about £20.

    And this new Dredd graph novel from 2007 is a cracker and well worth a go

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  7. My progs are mouldering away in my parents' attic - my brother occasionally makes noises about getting rid of them which I immediately veto.

    Looking at the reviews of the Dredd book - I'm not sure I'd go for that. The background to long running series like Dredd evolves haphazardly over the years - writers can't seem to resist the urge to come up with stories that attempt to stitch everything neatly together. Do you remember the ridiculous knot they tied themselves into over which planet the prison moon Titan orbited?

    £20 sounds an incredible bargain for stuff by somebody of Ron Smith's standing. I remember I wasn't keen on his drawing when I first started seeing it in the shorter stories they did in the aftermath of the Apocalypse War. I was totally won round by Shanty Town though.

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