(& me)
Ye Signe

At 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.

We 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”.

A 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 bloody. Herman Slater, 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.

I 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 bandages.

A 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 Suspects.

And 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.

And 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."

That 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?

The wildly 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, Von 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, Baigent & Icke. Kenneth Grant 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.

Oh, well. Maybe I'll put the manuscript up on eBay, one of these days...  >;)
Copyright © 1999-Khem Caigan