one point back in the 70s I was staying with author and book designer James
Wasserman down on Howard Street in NYC, sleeping on a couch. We’d both
been working at Samuel Weiser,
a publisher specializing in out-of-print ‘occult’ books – referred to as
‘New Age’ books these days. I’d done some illustration & proofreading
for them, and had been working in their mailroom keeping the shelves stocked
& packing books. He woke me up one morning, asking if I’d like to illustrate
‘the Necronomicon’. “There is no ‘Necronomicon’”,
I muttered. “Lovecraft made it up.” He just grinned and introduced me to
Larry Barnes, whose dad owned Barnes Graphics over on Spring Street. Larry
had set up his own publishing house, Schlangekraft,
and this was his first project.
hauled a few chairs out through a window onto the roof next door, and made
ourselves comfortable. Larry discussed the project with us while we noshed
on coffee and croissants. Jim had just started Studio
31 and he was going to design the book itself, but Larry felt they
needed some artwork and would I be interested? Well, yeah, I was interested.
When could I see the manuscript? A meeting was scheduled with Simon, whom
Larry referred to as “the Mad Monk”.
few days later, Jim & I walked over to the Magickal Childe bookstore,
over on 19th Street & 5th Ave. In an earlier
incarnation the Childe had been the Warlock Shop down on Henry Street in
Brooklyn, just around the block from the Watchtower - used to get pretty
the proprietor, greeted us at the cashier’s counter and escorted us to
the basement. Simon met us there. For those of you who’re forever inquiring
as to Simon’s particulars: he was of medium height, had long, dark, wavy
hair, moustache, beard, glasses, clerical collar, dark suit. Think ‘Father
Guido Sarducci’, and you get the general idea. We introduced ourselves
and they had a good ol’ palaver about what was needed to bring it to press,
and in my case about the ‘feel’ they wanted for the book.
took the manuscript back to the loft, dug up some pencils, a quill pen,
straight-edge, compass, and some india ink. I cobbled together a drafting
table from some boards, and set to work on a rough draft of the cover.
The New York Public Library provided a few touches that I introduced to
what was a typewritten & hand-illustrated manuscript. I viewed many
examples of Coptic & Demotic magical papyri, including the Gnostic
‘Book of Jeu’ with its Gates & Seals. The title lettering was inspired
by the underground comics & posters of Rick
Griffin – kinda rubbery looking, with claws. I adapted the border from
an old Coptic text, with bars added to the vesicae giving a suggestion
of eyes peering out of the page. The sigils needed some re-scaling and
thickening, and I enclosed them in circles after the fashion of the Seals
to be found in some mediaeval grimoires. The ‘Humwawa’ seal looked tatty,
so I rendered it a bit more ‘intestinal’. The ‘Urillia’/R’lyeh text was
shabby, so the calligraphy was touched up. I created the ‘Elder Sign’ by
superimposing the three signs “carved upon the grey stone, that was the
Gate to the Outside”, and enclosing them in a circle. And I did the initial
capital letters for the chapters, wrapping them up in Art Nouveau-esque
few weeks earlier, Weiser had retired an older model word processor. Bonny
Nielsen purchased it for her new company, Feint Type, and I schlepped it
down to her loft on Howard Street from the Weiser offices up on Broadway
near Houston Street. No mean feat - word processors in those days were
about the size & mass of a refrigerator. Bonny took the templates Jim
had drafted and started setting the type. It was during this time that
William Burroughs dropped by, having caught wind of a ‘Necronomicon’
in the neighbourhood. After going through the pages & a few lines of
powder, he offered the comment that it was “good shit.” He might have meant
the manuscript, too - check out the ‘Invocation’ on page xvii of his Cities
of the Red Night: Humwawa, Pazuzu and Kutulu are listed among the Usual
what did I think of it? Not my idea of a ‘Necronomicon’,
fer shur. I had hoped that they’d bring some sense of the unique fusion
of SF & horror that Lovecraft
had created. His entities are magickal after the fashion of Arthur
C. Clarke’s ‘possessors of advanced technology’. Heck, some of them
ARE the technology. They’re denizens of n-dimensional space, interpreted
- or, better yet, avoided - by humans as best they may. John Campbell (one-time
editor of ANALOG magazine) used
to refer to this as the ‘singularity’
problem – once you’ve reached a certain level of technological competence,
you fall right off the map of conventional reality. Whole new ballgame.
not much Lovecraft was in evidence, either – except for a pretty lame intro
& ending. I’d made up a concordance of all the ‘Necronomicon’ quotes
from HPL & his circle of Mythos contributors, but they weren’t interested.
I recall asking Harry
Smith for his take on the Book; "We-ell...", he drawled, "if you LIKE
that sort of thing, then that's JUST the sort of thing you'll like."
said, I think it’s only fair to say that Simon did do some homework for
this Hoax. If you take a look at a copy of Crowley’s 777,
you’ll see lists of correspondences there between plants, stones, Tarot
cards, Deities, & what-have-you. Simon attempted to fit his Sumerian/Cthulhuoid
pantheon into this scheme, thus providing a framework for further research
along lines that are recognizable to any practitioner of this relatively
modern system of attributes (more recently, John
L. Smith has upgraded the same). For that attempt alone, I think he’s
worthy of mention & merit. And how many Hoaxes so conveniently provide
the source material used in conjuring them up, tucked into the bibliography?
dramatic historical speculation regarding Crowley & Lovecraft &
Nazis, indeed the entire genre of Wildly Dramatic Historical Speculation,
was much in vogue in the 70s, having been popularized by the likes of Grant,
Daniken, Pauwels &
Bergier, et al, ad nauseam. Peter
Levenda did his best to string something suitably awful (and specious)
together for the occasion. These days, we’ve got folks like Sitchin,
is something of a special case, as he helped spark a renewed
interest in the Magickal Surreallists
- foreshadowers of the Chaos Magickians
of today. I think that's a Goode Thinge.
Pretty soon the book went off to press and I didn’t have occasion to think much about it until, years later, I happened to see it in paperback at a B.Dalton’s bookstore. And a few years later I was approached about doing the artwork for a sequel, the so-called ‘Spellbook’, and turned the offer down. Why do it all again, if it’s going to be done worse than before? Didn’t stop Avon Books from using my artwork, though – and this time, it was used without any credit given me. That stung - a bit. Take it from me, artists don’t like it much when folks walk off with their work without at least a token nod of appreciation.
Maybe I'll put the manuscript up on e-Bay, one of these days....