He Wrote the Book: An Interview with Tom Sullivan

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Tom at work on the set of The Evil Dead (originally titled Book of the Dead), 1979

The first time I saw The Evil Dead was in 1985. I was 13 or 14 years old and four of my teeth had just been pulled—one of the nastiest experiences of my life. I was lying at home in agony, waiting for the Tylenol-Codeine to do what it was supposed to be doing. I asked my mom to go to the video store (where I worked at the time) to pick up some horror flicks I’d set aside, including one that had just come in—I had no idea what it was about, but the VHS cover showed a young woman in a nightie being dragged into hell by an uprooted, decomposing demon arm: I was in. Mom (bless her) brought the movies back in a flash, I plunged Sam Raimi’s manic, gruesome masterpiece into the VCR, and in less than 10 minutes I had completely forgotten about my teeth. I was smiling instead.

Like Night of the Living Dead, The Evil Dead is one of those inspired cultural moments that change the genre, and filmmaking, forever. A large part of the movie’s magic was conjured by Tom Sullivan, who handled nearly all of the effects for the film, including make-up, animation, and prop building (The Book of the Dead and the ceremonial dagger are his creations). In his 1983 review in The Boston Phoenix, film critic Owen Gleiberman called The Evil Dead “a dreamy delirium of terror” and said of Sullivan’s climactic stop-motion depiction of zombie decay that it was “a special effects coup as stunning as the climactic meltdown in Raiders of the Lost Ark.” It’s so true, and Sullivan did it—not just the one sequence, but all of it—with almost no money and no time.

I was really lucky to talk to Tom about The Cry of Cthulhu (“the greatest movie never made”), where he got his start doing pre-production art and sculpting, The Evil Dead, and his tremendous—and overlooked—illustration work on Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu, one of the smartest and most influential role-playing games of all time.

Tom tours widely and will be appearing next year at Bruce Campbell’s Horror Fest (March 6 – 8) and Cinema Wasteland Movie and Memorabilia Expo (April 10 – 12). Check his website, Dark Age Productions, for a complete, ongoing list of appearances. Anyone interested in purchasing replicas, art prints, or commissions should email Tom at darkageproductions@yahoo.com.

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2W2N: How did you become involved with The Cry of Cthulhu and what exactly were your responsibilities on the film?

SULLIVAN:  I met a magnificent dreamer and one of the to-be producers, Bill Baetz, at the Jackson (Michigan) Space Museum. There was an event that featured J. Allen Hynek of the U.S Government’s Project Bluebook (UFO research organization) fame. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was being released and Professor Hynek was on tour and, being fascinated by UFOs, I had to attend. Bill was working at the Museum and I met him after the presentation. We got to talking about movies and I told him about my artwork. And that set it off. Bill Baetz and David Hurd (a.k.a. Byron Craft) were preparing to make a horror film based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. Dave had a script and my job was to illustrate production designs to help promote the film. I was happy to join in. The story was based on the cosmic Lovecraft—not a strange and foul family living outside of town, but portals to terrifying dimensions and journeys to Unknown Kadath. I was new to Lovecraft, so off I went to local used book stores to educate myself on the Cthulhu Mythos.

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Sullivan concept art for The Cry of Cthulhu, 1978

Bill introduced me to a very young Cary Howe, an ambitious artist full of enthusiasm and talent. We each did sculptures called maquettes of the various creatures the script demanded. We shot them in natural settings and in a few instances used a primitive rear screen projection behind the sculptures. All our work paid off with a great article in Starlog and the late, great Fred Clarke’s Cinefantastique. The articles were written as though the film was being made and that it would be a great venture for potential investors to join in. Alas, it was not to be.

2W2N: Is that why the film didn’t get made, ultimately? Budget difficulties?

SULLIVAN: It didn’t get far enough to have budget difficulties. The story Bill told was that they took the script and articles to Los Angeles to try to sell the film. They pitched it around and finally to a female executive at one of the studios. She said it wasn’t for them and Bill and Dave went home empty handed. Six months later they got a bill from the I.R.S for a half million dollars. It seems that the executive greenlit the project and collected the three million dollar starting fund, leaving a paper trail that made it look like Bill and Dave got the money. I’m guessing she is getting out of prison right about now.

2W2N: How did you come to work for Chaosium on the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game? Was it in part because of the work you did on The Cry of Cthulhu?

SULLIVAN: Back in my married days, my wife Penny and I moved to San Francisco. After months of getting settled in I purchased a table at a comic and film convention in downtown San Francisco and took my artwork to show off. This was in 1982, if I recall. Up comes the late Lynn Willis, who worked for Chaosium on their role-playing games. I had some paintings from my The Cry of Cthulhu production work that sufficiently impressed Lynn to ask me about illustrating for Chaosium. And I said yes.

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For the next 18 years I did many game book covers and interior illustrations for them and I kept my copyrights and originals. What I find interesting is that when I am a guest at horror film and comic conventions, Evil Dead fans come up and see my art print gallery filled with Evil Dead and Lovecraft artwork (mostly from Chaosium projects), and they put Evil Dead Tom with Chaosium Tom. And I am thrilled with that.

2W2N: I had no idea what Call of Cthulhu was at the time, but I remember ogling the cover of Shadows of Yog-Sothoth in the hobby shop. It’s really a beautiful piece, and such a perfect distillation of Lovecraft. Was Chaosium pretty specific about what they wanted for each project? Did you work with Sandy Petersen?

SULLIVAN: Chaosium, through Lynn Willis, usually would give me a paragraph or so from some Lovecraft writing appropriate to the game illustration they required. I took the illustrations as if they were book illustrations, so this worked out well for me. While I was aware of Sandy Petersen and his important Call of Cthulhu contributions, we didn’t work closely together. We had our picture taken with Lynn Willis for use as human scale images for the size comparison chart in the back of S. Petersen’s Field Guide to Cthulhu Monsters.

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The Book of the Dead as seen in Evil Dead II (1987)

2W2N: The Book of the Dead from the original Evil Dead franchise is one of the most famous horror movie props of all time. How long did you have to design and create it for the first film, and was there a particular inspiration for the overall look?

SULLIVAN: It didn’t take too long to assemble. I had made molds of all the cast members but Bruce [Campbell]. He only had bruises, so he didn’t require a mold. I took Hal Delrich’s mold and slushed some liquid latex into it—about six or seven layers, I think. Then I took some corrugated cardboard and folded it into a book cover. I attached the latex face piece to the cardboard with contact cement. For the pages I used store bought parchment—just dyed, thick paper. I made bindings made of folded grocery bag material and glued the pages into the binding. Later, during the shoot in Tennessee, I would stay up late and draw the pages while I talked film with Josh Becker. And Josh knows his film history. The artwork on the pages was influenced by Da Vinci’s notebooks. I didn’t have a copy with me but I had studied them for years and had a good idea of the look I wanted.

2W2N: The design of the Book of the Dead (Necronomicon Ex Mortis in the sequels) changed with each Evil Dead film. Were you responsible for each of those designs?

SULLIVAN: I designed, built and illustrated the Books for Evil Dead 1 and 2. I believe the art director for Army of Darkness sculpted their derivative version. Not my favorite. They used some of my artwork, photoshopped to combine text and my drawing.

2W2N: With the exception of maybe Jurassic Park, I can’t think of one example of CGI that left me with the same feeling of magic, of total participation in the fantasy, that I get when watching, say, Harryhausen’s skeleton sequence in Jason and the Argonauts. What do you think of contemporary effects, and what do they mean for the future of the fantasy, horror, and sci-fi genres?

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Tom animating the flying “deadite” sequence in Evil Dead II

SULLIVAN: I am thoroughly blown away by today’s special effects. I do several horror and comic conventions every year and this subject comes up a lot. The fans are unanimously in favor of practical effects. They like the real thing actually there, even if the seams or strings can be seen. As a geek with a passion for and background in stop-motion animation and practical effects, I am actually enthusiastically for CGI effects. When I see Jackson’s King Kong, I see a living, thinking animal actually there. When done with talented animators and artists, properly budgeted and with enough time, what is produced today by CGI techniques is photo-realistic and miraculous. There is still room for the approaches of Harryhausen, O’Brien and the countless other pioneers of cinema magic, as well as other powerful tools to amaze the world.

2W2N: There’s a 2014 documentary about you and your work called Invaluable: The True Story of an Epic Artist. Can you tell me how it came about? Does it span your entire career?

SULLIVAN: I met gung ho filmmaker Ryan Meade over ten years ago and he’s a huge Evil Dead fanatic. Ryan’s been making very entertaining comedies and action films on no budget and they work quite well. He had done an interview with me around 2005 and I think that started the gears turning for him. Once he had made up his mind, we started contacting the Evil Dead gang, cast and crew members, and we started the interview process. And my good friends from Evil Dead came through like the champs they are. I supplied Ryan with my artwork, Super 8mm movies, videotapes, behind the scenes stuff and other materials that fill up the ultimate wish for Evil Dead fans. There is a lot of talk about the Evil Dead film productions, behind the scenes stories and a lot of the unsung heroes of the films. And we are getting great feedback and reviews for Invaluable. I couldn’t be more pleased.

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For more on Tom’s Evil Dead work, see comprehensive interviews at Book of the Dead and The Digital Bits. There’s also a good video discussion and interview at alt.news 26:46.

Go here to see the trailer for—and buy a copy of—Invaluable: The True Story of an Epic Artist.

Selected Tom Sullivan Cover Art for Call of Cthulhu (1985 – 1998)

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The man knows how to do zombies, does he not? And if you look closely you’ll see what the Great Old One depicted on the third module is flinging into his maw as if they were M&Ms, and what his giant tentacles churn and swipe—a funneling, appallingly endless mound of people!

Just a reminder that my interview with Tom runs tomorrow.

(All images via RPG Geek)

Movie Theater Marquees: Book of the Dead (1981)

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Josh Becker and Sam Raimi

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Sam Raimi and Ethan Coen

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Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Bruce Campbell

Book of the Dead (later retitled The Evil Dead) premiered on October 15th, 1981, at Detroit’s Redford Theater. Turnout was excellent, and Raimi started touring the movie. Eventually he met Irvin Shapiro, who had distributed George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Shapiro convinced Raimi to change the title to The Evil Dead and got the film into Cannes in 1982, where Stephen King saw it, loved it, and gave it a rave review. The rest is history.

Josh Becker did sound and lighting, Rob Tapert was producer, and Ethan Coen, believe it or not, flew down from New York with the final edit on the day of the premiere. His brother Joel had assisted with the editing. Blood Simple, the movie that got the Coen brothers their start, was inspired by the indie ethos and look of The Evil Dead and premiered three years later in 1984.

(Photos via Home Theater Forum and Book of the Dead)

Movie Theater Marquees: The Evil Dead (1983)

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The Prince Charles Cinema, London, 1983

The Evil Dead premiered in the UK on January 17, 1983. The photo is from “the definitive Evil Dead website,” The Book of the Dead, specifically the section on Graham Humphreys, the artist/illustrator who handled promotion of The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II in the UK. His theatrical quad posters are below. See more of Humphreys’ work at Horrorpedia.

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John Holmes’ H.P. Lovecraft Cover Art (1973 – 1974, Ballantine)

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John Holmes (1935 – 2011) was a British artist known for his minimalist, surrealistic book covers focusing on the human body, especially the face. The Lovecraft editions seen here—edited by August Derleth—directly succeeded Ballantine’s Adult Fantasy editions, which were edited by Lin Carter with covers by Gervasio Gallardo. The first printing of the Derleth/Holmes editions shows the titles in white lettering and volumes were priced at 95¢/apiece. The second printing, at $1.50/apiece, matches the much more engaging title design with the color of Holmes’ respective faces, with HPL’s name in bold yellow.

As an aside: as much as I like Holmes’ work in the fantasy and sci-fi genres, my favorite work of his is the 1969 Panther edition of Vladimir Nabokov’s Despair. The novel is about a Russian businessman who believes a vagabond he meets in Prague is his doppelganger. He murders the man in pursuit of the perfect crime, but it turns out the man actually looks nothing like him, and the police quickly catch the imperfect criminal. The cover painting is a slippery, postmodern homage to Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1893).

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Cthulhu Calling: An Interview with Byron Craft

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At one point in the late 1970s, after almost two decades of middling adaptations, H.P. Lovecraft fans were very close to getting a movie worthy of their devotion. The Cry of Cthulhu was written and co-produced by a young cosmic horror adept named Byron Craft. It promised to be the first Lovecraft adaptation to directly—and faithfully—address the Cthulhu Mythos, and a number of future special effects superstars were slated to work on the picture, including Tom Sullivan (The Evil Dead), Ernie Farino (The Terminator, The Thing), Lyle Conway (The Dark Crystal), and Craig Reardon (Poltergeist). Ultimately, Hollywood machinations quashed the much anticipated project, but, as the mad poet said, “that is not dead which can eternal lie…”

The Alchemist’s Notebook, Byron Craft’s novelization of his original screenplay for The Cry of Cthulhu, was released in early 2014. I had a chance to ask Byron a few questions about his book, the enduring appeal of Lovecraft, and the history behind The Cry of Cthulhu.

Read more about Byron and his works at Byron Craft Books. You can purchase a paperback or Kindle copy of The Alchemist’s Notebook at Amazon.

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2W2N: How and when did you first discover the works of H.P. Lovecraft?

CRAFT: I was twenty-two and attending college, in the latter half of 1968, when a good friend of mine, Bob Skotak, got me started reading Lovecraft. If my memory serves me correctly, the first of Lovecraft’s works I read was “The Colour Out of Space.” It was one of Bob’s Favorites. I couldn’t put it down, and within a six month period I devoured everything HPL wrote, including a collection of his letters. I am still obsessed (or is it possessed?) to this day.

2W2N: Lovecraft experienced quite a resurgence in the 1960s. Why do you think that was? What drew you personally to his work?

CRAFT: The 1960s resurgence of H.P. Lovecraft and the writer aficionados who followed him was owing to several reasons. It was the era of the Vietnam War, an emerging drug culture and a revolution against the then government establishment. It was the age of the anti-hero. One of the remarkable things about Lovecraft’s stories is that his protagonists were rarely handsome men of action; as readers of that period we preferred to follow his scholars and amateur investigators as they pursued the winding road of mystery, uncovering ancient secrets that sometimes led to insanity.

The dreams, the drugs, the witchcraft and the wormholes all played well to the “Turn on, tune in, and drop out” crowd. The desire to expand the consciousness welcomed the aliens and their alarming deities to the mundane world where the deviation from the normal was embraced. All of this oozed from the pen of one of the most influential sci-fi fantasy and horror writers of the 20th century—H.P. Lovecraft.

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First Lancer Books edition, 1963. Cover art by Len Goldberg.

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Third Lancer Books edition, 1971. Cover artist uncredited.

Fandom also grew in the 1960s during the “Monster Boom,” which was bred from the revival of the Universal monsters and merchandise, including publications like Famous Monsters of Filmland. Plus, August Derleth’s Arkham House publishing house was going strong back then with its hardcover reprints of Lovecraft’s stories. Ballantine Books picked up the rights from Arkham House to do paperback editions of the same, thus bringing Lovecraft very close to mainstream status, primarily with the youth of the hippie movement.

Having discovered the stories of Lovecraft when in my twenties, I immersed myself in every one of his works. Later, I explored those who continued the Cthulhu Mythos, as well as the authors to whom Lovecraft thought of as contemporaries, such as Lord Dunsany, Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith. To this day H.P. Lovecraft holds a strange attraction for me. He was the creator of Arkham, Innsmouth and Cthulhu; and he was the quintessential outsider who believed that human laws, interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos.

2W2N: When did you write (as David Hurd) the original The Cry of Cthulhu script, and when did you start shopping it to the studios?

CRAFT: Bob Skotak and his brother Dennis and I produced an independent film titled Timespace that never got past the rough cut. I also worked with them on some amateur film projects. Bob and Dennis relocated to the west coast sometime in the mid ’70s. I wrote The Cry of Cthulhu screenplay, final draft, in 1976. In 1977 I hooked up with Bill Baetz and we became the co-producers of the project. Bill had several connections in Hollywood by way of his uncle Jerry Logue. Jerry was a retired VP from United Artists and a grand gentleman. Mr. Logue set up several appointments for us with a variety of studios over the next few years to pitch our story. Around that time was when Bill Baetz introduced me to Tom Sullivan and Tom did several awesome pieces of artwork for Cry. We used Tom’s works in our presentations. We had color 35mm slides of Tom’s paintings and in the days before PowerPoint we would put on slide shows for various studio executives.

2W2N: Was the late Dino De Laurentiis one of the executives interested in your script?

CRAFT: I believe it was the summer of 1978 that Bill Baetz and I met Dino De Laurentiis. It was during that time that we were carrying on several correspondences with Arkham House’s attorney and April Derleth Jacobs, the daughter of August Derleth. We sent them a copy of The Cry of Cthulhu screenplay and asked for permission to make a film in the style of H.P. Lovecraft. We legally did not have to get their permission because Lovecraft never copyrighted any of his works and, as many of his fans know, he encouraged other writers to carry on with the Cthulhu Mythos. All the same, Bill and I believed that a friendly working relationship with Arkham would be best in the long run. The results were favorable and we carried on an amiable association with Arkham House.

Both Arkham’s attorney and Ms. Jacobs told us that they were very disappointed with the Lovecraft films that had been made up to that point and that they had been contacted by Dino De Laurentiis.  Mr. De Laurentiis, according to them, was interested in acquiring the rights to one of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories. As the account was related to us, they were familiar with Dino’s track record (i.e. King Kong 1976) and they refused to do business with him.

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Tom Sullivan concept art for The Cry of Cthulhu, 1978

Later, our agent Jerry Logue was contacted by Dino De Laurentiis’ office and told that Mr. De Laurentiis was interested in financing our film project. After our communications with Arkham House we were very leery. We sent word back that we were not interested in selling the project to Mr. De Laurentiis. A very short while later we were contacted by his office and told that Mr. De Laurentiis wanted to finance the project, that he would not be involved in the production of the film and would get the credit of executive producer. We knew that he had made similar arrangements in the past, so we flew to the west coast to meet the great Dino De Laurentiis.

When we walked into his office it became a horse of a different color. There was no film production investment made in heaven. Instead, he acted like his office never proposed a co-production deal. He offered us $100,000 for the complete rights to The Cry of Cthulhu. We would have no hand in making the film, we would not have any additional piece of the action and we would lose all ownership of the project including sequels, prequels, spin-offs, novelizations and product endorsements.

We refused the offer. It was immediately evident to us that he was unwilling to discuss any other alternative and we started to leave. De Laurentiis left his chair and with clenched fists started jumping up and down, screaming and yelling, “I don’t need you!  I will make my own Lovecraft movie.” Normally, I don’t put up with anyone’s nonsense, but I was temporarily in shock to see a grown man behave in such a way. My partner Bill was more audacious then me that day and said, “No you won’t. We talked with Arkham House and they refused to sell you the rights to any of Lovecraft’s stories.” Dino got really fired up after that and I was afraid that he would spontaneously combust. I guess he never knew that ole’ HPL’s work was public domain. We left in a hurry and it was the last time either one of us saw Dino De Laurentiis.

2W2N: Was a director ever attached to The Cry of Cthulhu? If so, did you have conversations with him or her?

CRAFT: The director that Bill and I had signed under a conditional contract (conditional upon The Cry of Cthulhu being produced) was Wolfgang Glattes. We had several conversations with Wolf and we also met with him in my home. Mr. Glattes was particularly interested in approaching the portion of the film from the female protagonist’s point of view.

2W2N: Can you tell me why the film never got made?

CRAFT: We simply ran out of money and patience. We both had families that needed us more than the film project. So we shelved it and went on with our lives.

2W2N: When did you decide to adapt your The Cry of Cthulhu script into novel form, and how did you find the experience? Adaptations usually go the other way around.

CRAFT: It was something we would discuss, from time to time, during the pre-production and pitching of the film. It was only talked about and I had nothing on paper besides a few scribbled notes and my screenplay to use as an outline. I always wanted to approach the novelization of the screenplay with a slightly uncommon style. I wanted to tell the story from three different people’s points of view. I always wanted to do it as three separate narratives wherein, as one leaves off, the other begins, seamlessly weaving the entire story together.

Part One is titled “The Schloss,” which was taken from the diary of Janet Church. Part Two became “The Alchemist’s Notebook,” which was from the journal of Heinrich Todesfall, followed by Part Three, “The Cry of Cthulhu,” which was written by Faren Church, the male protagonist of our tale.

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In 1979 Bill Baetz was contacted by Heavy Metal magazine. They wanted to print an excerpt from the novelization of The Cry of Cthulhu for their special October/Halloween/Lovecraft issue. Bill committed us and I was forced to perform. Rather than approaching the story from beginning to end, like any sensible earthling would do, I decided to start in the middle. I made the decision to write Heinrich Todesfall’s narrative first. Todesfall was an aging Nazi with a mind that had been warped and twisted by a world war. Becoming a master sorcerer, he searched the world for arcane secrets that he would eventually use for his own selfish and destructive end.

The Todesfall portion of the novel, for me, was easy as well as fun to write. It also contained an element within the structure of the story that made it a stand-alone read. It was a perfect pick for Heavy Metal’s October issue. My only regret is that the piece was hurried and was truly a rough draft. I apologize to the readers of that decade for a rushed job. If you are kind enough to pick up a copy of my novel, The Alchemist’s Notebook, you will find that the ravings of the megalomaniac Todesfall are done in a more polished and mature style.

As it turned out, years later, when I completed the first draft of the entire novel, my expectations as an author had reversed. Having Todesfall’s story primarily behind me, I was very apprehensive about writing Janet Church’s narrative. I figured that when it came to writing the husband’s account it would be a piece of cake. All I had to do was write it as if I was the one experiencing the terrors… right? But writing a portion of the novel from a woman’s perspective was daunting. Facing up to the challenge, I began writing Janet’s story next and at once discovered that when I got her narrative started I couldn’t shut the old girl up. It was just the opposite with Faren. Writing his narrative was a very difficult and arduous task. Nevertheless, as the old adage is recited, “If it isn’t hard it isn’t worthwhile,” and Faren’s chronicle eventually became a labor of love for me. I was able to dig down into the depths of Church’s soul. We have become close friends ever since.

I hope that whoever picks up The Alchemist’s Notebook will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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2W2N: Much of Tom Sullivan’s original concept art for The Cry of Cthulhu was used to illustrate The Alchemist’s Notebook. How did that come about?

CRAFT: The final edit of my novel The Alchemist’s Notebook was completed around April of 2013. I always wanted to use Tom Sullivan’s painting of Faren Church (the male protagonist of the story) digging up his great Uncle’s coffin. It is a frightfully good rendition of what happens in The Cry of Cthulhu, with his uncle’s screaming, rotting corpse rearing up out of the grave and the demon Yath-Notep rising up in the background. The problem was that Tom and I had gone our separate ways and we hadn’t communicated in 35 years.

It was Google to the rescue. I just did a simple search for “the Artist Tom Sullivan” and voilà, there was his website. I went to Tom’s contact page and the next day we were reminiscing on the phone.  Originally we made a deal for the use of the painting as the book cover alone. About a week later I was kicking myself for being stupid because Tom had originally done eleven paintings and illustrations for the film project, and I should have attempted to include them in the book as well. We amiably renegotiated a new deal, and The Alchemist’s Notebook ended up with a dynamite cover and fantastic interior illustrations. I have probably received an equal amount of complements for the artwork as I have had for the novel itself.

2W2N: What’s next for you? Can we look forward to more Lovecraft-inspired novels?

CRAFT: I have been writing reviews and historical articles for Strip Las Vegas magazine for going on ten years (over a hundred articles), but I do have quite a bit coming up in the fiction market, all Lovecraftian. I have a short story soon to be available on Kindle titled “Pilot Demons.” A friend of mine is after me to change the title to “Cthulhu’s Minions.” He may win that battle. If you have read The Alchemist’s Notebook, you will be familiar with the little revolting creatures. One of the main characters in the book describes them as “ethereal puffs of smoke that sometimes take shape and solidify.” Like the pilot fish of a whale they wait in subterranean depths to guide their master into our world. The short story takes place in Arkham and my main character is “the detective with no name” who is saddled with a case of serial killings that appear to have been done by hideous dwarfs.

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Walt Simonson’s illustration for the Heavy Metal adaptation of The Alchemist’s Notebook

I am currently working on my next Lovecraftian novel. It seems of late that I am having difficulties naming my works because I really wanted to call my next book “Tunnels,” but I’ve recently learned that there are several books on the market with the same title. I have re-titled it, but for the time being it is a secret. The story is about a group of scientists and military personnel who discover a network of tunnels beneath the Mojave Desert. They soon learn that the tunnels were constructed millions of years ago by an unknown race. They also realize, to their horror, that something still lives in the ancient passageways.

I refer to these works as “THE ALCHEMIST’S NOTEBOOK PROJECT” because it will be a series of five Cthulhu Mythos novels dealing with mankind’s internal, as well as outward struggle to control their own destiny while encountering malicious beings from another time and space.

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All of the Tom Sullivan artwork included in this article—and more—appears in The Alchemist’s Notebook and is © Tom Sullivan.

You can see more of the October 1979 issue of Heavy Metal magazine at John Coulthart’s website and The Por Por Books Blog.

The Starlog #24 (July, 1979) feature on The Cry of Cthulhu is posted here.

The Cthulhu Mythos in TSR’s Deities & Demigods (1980)

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Compare the entries and stats here to the “Lovecraftian Mythos” article in The Dragon. Despite J. Eric Holmes blowing off a reader’s suggestion to raise the hit points of the Great Old Ones, that’s exactly what’s happened—and a number of other criticisms have been addressed as well. My favorite part of the Azathoth entry—about the universe collapsing and all life being destroyed in the event of the creator’s death—has been removed, and instead of being “the creator of the universe,” Azathoth is now “the center of the universe.” The idea is to make the gods appropriately awesome and intimidating while also making them approachable from a role-playing perspective.

The illustrations are by Erol Otus, who, in my opinion, is the definitive early D&D artist and one of the greatest fantasy artists of all time. Lovecraft’s vibe suited him perfectly, and I wish he’d done—or would do—a portfolio or an illustrated edition. His smug Cthulhu is what I see when the name is invoked, and all the arcane denizens and their haunts shimmer with high strangeness and psychedelic mania.

To admire more Otus art from Deities & Demigods, visit The Erol Otus Shrine.

(Images via Dr. Theda’s Crypt)

‘The Lovecraftian Mythos in Dungeons & Dragons’ from The Dragon #12 (February, 1978)

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D&D Characters016

“The Lovecraftian Mythos in Dungeons & Dragons” is a fascinating and important supplement to Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes (1976), which was itself a supplement to the original D&D set of 1974. The column was penned by two genre legends: Rob Kuntz, co-author of Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes and the first edition Deities & Demigods (1980), and J. Eric Holmes, author of the first D&D Basic Set (1977). H.P. Lovecraft was, of course, listed as an “immediate influence” upon AD&D in Gygax’s famous Appendix N of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide (1979). Despite having little to do with the heroic fantasy genre as we know it, Lovecraft’s oeuvre is consistently identified with it, and has been just as influential on the development of fantasy role-playing as Tolkien and Robert E. Howard, Lovecraft’s long-distance friend.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the Cthulhu Mythos is fueled by occult lore and traditions: ancient magic, arcane knowledge and sacred mysteries, astral planes, psychic gateways, monsters of the deep, etc. As silly as the ’80s “satanic panic” was, the D&D universe (or multiverse) is alive with the same occult elements—employed as fictions, obviously, not facts. Second, Lovecraft, following Poe, used a journalistic approach when writing his weird fiction, sort of like a police procedural applied to supernatural phenomena. His world and its denizens are so convincing and internally consistent, in fact—so real—that actual cults have grown up around his writings and the anti-humanist, anti-rationalist philosophy they encompass. (See, for example, K.R. Bolton’s “The Influence of H.P. Lovecraft on Occultism.”)

Like Tolkien, Lovecraft experienced a dramatic resurgence in the 1960s, when alternative spirituality and the quest for altered consciousness reached a new high (so to speak). The Moral Majority resented, among other things, the spiritual independence won by young people by the end of the Summer of Love decade, and they feared that D&D and other products of the imagination would corrupt—i.e. render freethinking—a new generation of youngsters. The difference between literate hippies and early geeks is that the former wanted to replace the “technocratic” real world with a new one based on love, freedom (in politics and consciousness), and a return to nature, whereas the latter simply wanted to create and play in a sandbox of alternative realities.

The idea of inserting Lovecraft into D&D sums up the glorious absurdity at the heart of fantasy role-playing: on the one hand, we want to escape to a fictional time and place that is less complicated than the real one, a world in which magic exists; on the other hand, we want our fantasy worlds to be systematically playable, and for that to happen, statistics must be applied to said worlds and the beings inhabiting them. It’s equal parts Romanticism and Enlightenment, art and science. Hence the brilliant entry for `Azathoth, Creator of the Universe':

If Azathoth is destroyed the entire universe will collapse back to a point at the center of the cosmos with the incidental destruction of all life and intelligence.

Talk about game over. And the creator of the universe only has 300 hit points!

In The Dragon #14 (May, 1978), a letter from reader Gerald Guinn cheekily objected to a number of points made in the “Lovecraftian Mythos” article. J. Eric Holmes cheekily responded in The Dragon #16 (July, 1978). Both letters are below. Holmes’ response is listed in Lovecraft scholar/biographer S.T. Joshi’s H.P. Lovecraft and Lovecraft Criticism: An Annotated Bibliography (1981).

A “Cthulhu Mythos” section (see tommorow’s post) expanded from the Dragon article appeared in the first edition of Deities & Demigods, but was famously removed from subsequent editions because TSR didn’t want to acknowledge its debt to Chaosium, which had acquired the rights—or the blessings of Arkham House, anyway, since Lovecraft’s works were and are in the public domain—for the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game.

For a comprehensive list of Cthulhu Mythos references in early D&D, see this post at Zenopus Archives.

Dragon #14 May 1978 Guinn

Dragon #16 July 1978 Holmes Lovecraft

1982 Chaosium Catalogs: Call of Cthulhu Ads

Call of Cthulhu Spring 1982

Call of Cthulhu Winter 1982

You can read the full catalogs at Scribd.

The Lovecraft Files: Upcoming Interviews with Byron Craft and Tom Sullivan

Sullivan Cthulhu 1977

A few months ago I wrote about The Cry of Cthulhu, a movie based on H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos that, very unfortunately, never got made. The film’s screenplay was uniquely weird and true to the source, unlike every other movie based on Lovecraft’s work up to that point, and a number of future special effects icons were involved in the project. The blurb above is from Starlog #15 (August, 1978) and features concept art by Tom Sullivan, who went on to do ground-breaking special effects for The Evil Dead and The Evil Dead 2, among other notable accomplishments.

I’m excited to announce that I had the chance to interview both Byron Craft, who wrote The Cry of Cthulhu screenplay (and its recent novelization, The Alchemist’s Notebook), and Tom Sullivan about the almost famous film and their past and current projects. Byron’s interview will run this Thursday, October 23, and my interview with Tom will run on the following Thursday, October 30. Be there!


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