Sunday, July 31, 2011

Punch & Judy: Modern Interpretations part 1

Punch and Judy by Carlo Giordano
I've long been enchanted by puppetry, and have a particular fondness for the classical Punch & Judy and their associates.  The history of Punch & Judy dates back to the 17th century, although the characters have roots in the Italian Commedia dell'Arte tradition which began as far back as the 16th century.

Unlike most modern children's entertainment, the Punch & Judy tale was quite dark, with Mr. Punch basically killing off all of the other puppets including The Baby, Judy, The Constable, and ultimately The Devil.  Mr. Punch was a thoroughly unlikeable character, selfish and mean, and yet he has attracted audiences and devotees throughout the centuries.

In 1992, Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean published "The Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch".  Their interpretation highlights the darker, creepier aspects of Mr. Punch and the performers (carnies, hucksters) who have kept the beachside puppet show alive over the years.

The story follows a young boy who is sent to his grandparents' house near a beach, where he finds an old rundown puppet theater tent. There he experiences the terror of watching Mr. Punch throw the baby out the window for the first time.

Later he visits his grandfather's spooky, failing arcade a short ways from the beach, and meets a Professor (as the puppeteers refer to themselves) and his bottler (who collects the pennies and interacts with both puppets and audience).

The artwork is a blend of illustration, photography, and collage used to great effect.  It evokes feelings of age, dust, crookedness and defeat, and really captures the strangeness and inconsistency of adults as seen through the eyes of a child.

Gaiman and McKean are long-time collaborators and are perhaps best known for the Sandman series of graphic novels and, more recently, Coraline which was turned into a popular film.  This may be my favorite creation by them, though.  It's a great tale which is true to the tradition and history of Punch & Judy, and the execution of the story, text and artwork is beautiful.

Check back soon:  In the next edition of Punch & Judy: Modern Interpretations,  we will explore another contemporary publication, The Comical Tragedy of Punch and Judy by Christopher P. Reilly and Darron Laessig.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tenebrous: An Interview with Santiago Caruso

I first discovered Santiago Caruso's artwork while browsing the web for images associated with the writings of H.P. Lovecraft.   I found a gorgeous illustration of The Dunwich Horror, and immediately followed the link to discover its creator.
Santiago Caruso is a 29-year old artist in Buenos Aires, Argentina. My first impressions from visiting his website were:  blood, fear, passion, desolation, and an incredibly precise and disciplined execution.  One of the first images I clicked on at random was the illustration of Our Ladies of Sorrow (below), which I may have stared at for hours.

It turns out that Dunwich was Caruso's first freely chosen full-book illustration project - one that wasn't done for school, and was from his own inspiration.  He has since given his visual interpretation to several other works in the dark genres.  Caruso's body of literary work includes selections from Ambrose Bierce, Alejandra Pizarnik, and Daisaku Ikeda as well as Lovecraft.  He also has a rich portfolio of cover art for publications through Miskatonic Press and Nightshade books, all of which are beautiful and engaging.  He is also an active member of the Beinart International Surreal Art Collective.  

Santiago Caruso, Our Ladies of Sorrow
Recently Santiago generously took time to answer a few questions for Book Aesthete:

BA:  Your work combines my two favorite things:  literature and the macabre.  You’ve illustrated books of several of my favorite authors including Bierce and Lovecraft, as well as several covers for Miskatonic Press.  Were you a fan of the horror genre when you were young?  Which authors, artists, films etc. influenced your style?

"When I was a kid I didn´t see horror movies. My parents didn´t allowed me to see those kind of things.  Today, I still don´t see horror films, in the new gore concept, I mean. I really like the tenebrism, the mystery, suspense, supernatural, but always aesthetic. Recently, I have found the films of Ken Russell and I must say that The Devils is now one of my dearest movies. My introduction into the macabre and horror was done by the hand of Edgar Allan Poe at the age of 12. Before that,   read fantastic fiction and comics. But with Poe I reached other lands, painted with dark glazes, strong and poetic words, and a macabre sense of the fantastic. 

Later, with the opus of Baudelaire and the other decadent authors, I built my way of speaking in silence. Specifically, the work of Marcel Schwob is a definitive influence on my way of thinking of an image, a theme, the fantastic.  The German Expressionism cinema added to the Symbolism in painting is my school. Redon, Kupka, Moreau, Klinger, Ensor and Vrubel are also great influences on my visual concept."

BA- I’ve always been curious why some artists take the path of literary illustration as opposed to other art forms.  How does working with a living author enhance or hinder your artistic visions for the book?  How does it differ from illustrating a book who’s author is no longer living?
Santiago Caruso, The Monk and the Hangman's Daughter

"I came to illustration through the comic discipline, so the images I made always came from a story or situation I´ve imagined or read. I try to say something to you. With time I learned to let you be free to read my image as you want, with more aperture into the possible meanings and interpretations, closer to the classic art than the usual illustration way.

I didn´t work directly with a writer until those wonderful short tales by Ángel Olgoso that I illustrated (2011). Before that, the writers were already dead or silenced by the editors. The collaboration and feedback must be made with respect for each other's discipline and talent, kneaded by generosity and kindness. 

Easier is to work with the text of a deceased author. You have complete freedom to interpret the book - I mean almost complete, depending on editors and the kind of text you have. For example, my first illustrated book, chosen with liberty and no educational purpose, was The Dunwich Horror. Well, I wanted to illustrate something from Lovecraft and for the editors from Libros del Zorro Rojo too. We agreed to that piece. Good, but the structure of the story, the speaking voice was nearer to a chronicle, and this fact limited me at the beginning of the creative process. I followed the story in some parts. I painted some moments that could have happened but the text didn´t mentioned directly, and many other images more visionary, taking advantage of the nightmarish aspects. You must gain your liberty with hard working, hard thinking. I was inexperienced."

Gabinete de Maravillas,2011 (from the Caruso-Olgoso collaboration)
BA- On your website you mention the project in process with Ángel Olgoso [mentioned above]:  “Los Demonios Del Lugar”. Can you tell us a bit more about that?  What is it like collaborating with Olgoso? Can we look forward to the publication soon?
"I met Angel in person in April. He is a marvelous human being and a complex writer. We are trying to find a publisher in Spanish to publish an illustrated version of his book Los Demonios del Lugar. I painted three of the short stories with great acceptance but a publisher hasn't appeared so far. On another path, we are trying to build a new book with a selection of his stories and a selection of my artwork. Over this selection, I will illustrate his writings and he will write about my images. This would be good. He is so generous with me, since he gives me full freedom to work and interpret his worlds. "

Santiago Caruso, The Peacock Escritoire, 2011
BA- You have worked on several publications that are more than just a book, more like sculpture perhaps  such as The Peacock Escritoire and Tarshishim: Tears of the Gods.  These creations are gorgeous and in my opinion really add a lot to the experience of the written work.   How does it feel to pour energy into a project that is limited to 100 or 500 printings, as opposed to a mass-market book that has a wider distribution?

"It´s hard, because for these projects the time is short and you don't get paid what the artwork is worth. Anyway, the material is good. I would like to have a real feedback with the authors. I always worked with writers from old times, dead voices, but with these contemporary authors the feedback would be good. However the editor doesn´t always allow you to work shoulder to shoulder with the other artist. 

Working freelance, you deal with many difficulties: payments delays, lack of comprehension, publishers´ madness and even long silences. You must defeat all: both the limitations of the people who work with you, but also, and harder, your own limits."

Caruso's latest projects include the cover artwork for The Master in Café Morphine: An Homage to Mikhail Bulgakov (pictured below) and Tarshishim: Tears of the Gods.  All of the images in this article plus much of his work can be seen in greater detail at his website,  And now, I think I must go see Ken Russell's The Devils.

The Master in Café Morphine: An Homage to Mikhail Bulgakov

Friday, July 8, 2011


Hello all!

Welcome to the latest incarnation of Book Aesthete.  The idea for this blog was born in my virtual library on Tumblr, Book-Aesthete.  For a couple of years I have had a hobby of searching rare book rooms, book auctions, online libraries and other sources for books to collect.  I look for anything that is odd, rare, unusual, or in some way catches my attention; and save them there with some basic information. During the course of this time I have discovered some fascinating illustrators, book artists and publishers.  I decided to branch off here and spend more time learning about the art and craft of fine press creation.

The intent is to take a book of particular interest and begin to research those involved.  My focus will not be on the authors, although of course they will be an integral part of the journey.  There are plenty of wonderful blogs and websites dedicated to authors and their writings, most of which I'm sure I'll link to from time to time.  My hope is to use this blog to spotlight their collaborators:  illustrators, binders, artists, illuminators, calligraphers, etc.

Thank you for taking a look!  Please feel free to send me a note about any artists or publishing houses that you think would fit into the mission here.  I love to discover new literary artists and will gladly credit any referrals.