Sunday, November 23, 2008

Meanwhile, back at R'lyeh...

A long, long time ago, I promised my own artisitic interpretation of Great Lord Cthulhu, the best-known of H. P. Lovecraft's morbious Great Old Ones. That promise was not made in vain--in fact, I have been tirelessly attempting a reconstruction ever since. Cthulhu is terribly difficult to draw. The goal is always to capture the raw horror of Lovecraftian lore, while avoiding Earthly analogues as much as possible. Now, granted, Cthulhu is described as having various anthropomorphic features, but it was my goal to steer away from that. You see far too many bat-winged, claw-handed squidy demigods in Lovecraft art. But alas, those pieces have their grounding in the literature. From the titular Call of Cthulhu:

"...simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature.... A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings. Another, recovered by police from a raid on a murderous cult, "represented a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind."

In all of Lovecraft's descriptions of the beast, the octopus head and narrow wings persist. As for the anthropoid outline, perhaps this is a case where man sees himself in all things. Merely having a head and two arms might give Cthulhu his hominoid characters according to the madmen describing him in the literature. Claws on the hind and fore feet? How about claws instead of hind and fore feet? The octopus head is more suggestive of a boneless, muscular body. Perhaps Cthulhu is more mollusc than tetrapod? Perhaps Great Lord Cthulhu looked something like this:

Here, the arms end in horrible tentacles, the lower body is a sort of hellish caterpiller, and the wings are not wings at all, but elongate spineous processes. Bear in mind this is only a DRAFT. It's the first Cthulhu drawing I've done that I didn't absolutely hate. Let me know what you think! Lovecraftian beasties are terribly hard to get "right." And remember, I've drawn one other: Dagon, from the story of the same name.


Raven said...

I am very pleased at your quest to make a non-anthropomorph Cthulhu. I do agree, there are far too many man-mollusk-dragon renditions running around nowadays.

Since Lovecraft did describe his bloated Fishiness as being particularly fleshy and bulbous, I would shy away from the use of any "armors", like what you have on his noggin. The tendrils aren't menacing enough, either. I would think more "Humboldt squid" and less "Pacific octopus". Make it SPIKEY. And SCARY. We are talking about a diety that causes instant insanity when one stares upon it....

As for the clawed body, nice touch, but perhaps you should make them look a little more like toes coming out the side?

However! I do like what you have done to the arms! Again I would say more Humboldt and less Pacific octopus, but meh.

Anyway, great start, I really, REALLY wanna see you finish this.

Glendon Mellow said...

Excellent, a new way to imagine Lovecraft's creation.

I have to disagree with Raven, I like the 'hands' the way they are. Perhaps on longer arms?

I like what you are doing with the neck area.

Somehow I missed your Dagon many months ago. It's freakin' awesome. .

ScottE said...

The Dagon is great. This one...

Eh. I'm not seeing it. I think it's cool you departed from a literal interpretation of the text, but this doesn't seem really like something that could exist. It kind of looks more like a Gary Larson cartoon than anything that might be real.

Surface details might help (Raven's got a good idea there), but what also might help is suggesting an internal anatomy--IF you're trying to make something substantial.

Lovecraft described his Cthulhu in anthropomorphic terms because of the telepathic influence Cthulhu asserted upon humanity. As such, it made Cthulhu understandable (both to the reader and the characters).

But, Lovecraft did use a word that might give you some ideas: gelatinous. Think of a jellyfish out of water (certainly fits with tentacles, no?) on a massive scale and maybe that's a direction that could work. Mix jellies and molluscs!

It would certainly make it more intricate--and anything capable of making cities out of non-Euclidean geometry demands intricacy!

lantaro said...

If that were bearing down on me, at actual size, I would simply have a heart-attack and die right then and there. However, as it is simply a's not quite as scary as Dagon. It does look a bit cartoony, but I still find it disturbing. Which is good. Doesn't quite give me the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach like that creepy art from way back when did.

shiva said...

I like this, although it's quite a way off my own imagination of Cthulhu, which is probably closer to (although not *identical* to) the "standard" interpretation.

While i appreciate the intent to get away from it being too human/tetrapod-like, for me one important aspect of the horror of Lovecraft's beasties is their hybridity, their scientifically-impossible mash-up-ness, their combination of things which defy reason by going together - so i think that the chimeric nature of the "standard reconstruction" of Cthulhu is actually somewhat appropriate.

Where i think most renditions fail is they make him(?) look to straightforwardly brutish and predatory, sacrificing mind-bending creepiness for simple viciousness. My image would probably have more fetus-like than dragon-like elements, more gelatinous and less scaly/spiky, more asymmetrical horror of deformity and hybridity rather than simple horror of physical power.

(Unfortunately, i absolutely suck at drawing, so i very probably couldn't produce anything near my imagination... you may have inspired me to try tho...)

Anonymous said...

Since I can't make sense, as yet, of url stuff, I wrote in anonymously. Call me Deino Joe...

One thing that always struck me about Chthulhu is his colossal size. No matter what you make him look like, if he does not convey a huge size, the drawing is useless.

Trying to get away from EVERYTHING familiar can be fun. Trying to do so and succeeding in creating something that will convey meaning and frightfulness is excruciatingly difficult.

If Chthulhu conveyed an anthropomorphic mind picture of himself to humans, it might be how he wanted himself seen, and maybe he looked that way.

Wayne Barlowe is an excellent artist and his aliens are truly alien, if one is unfamiliar with a number of fascinating earthly creatures like membracids, nudibranchs, and polychaete worms. Yes, his aliens are alien, but he was careful enough to give them functional organs, thus making them reasonably understandable.

And a number of his creatures in Expidition DO follow earthly examples, some resemble dinosaurs, while one was drawn specifically to get an earthly effect.

Try and creep me out, try and awe me, try and make my jaw drop, but you won't do it simply by trying to be as different as possible. As an artist myself, who has had to try and design "different from anything!!!" creatures for customers, I give this advice: creep yourself out, make your own jaw drop, then you stand a chance of others having that reaction.

I'd rather see an old style version of Chthulhu that gives me nightmares rather than a "new" version that just looks different.

So far, you have a start. No idea how big your version is supposed to be. To judge from the drawing, he might stand as tall as a chimpanzee, maybe a large dog. Give us something to go by.