Artist Dan Moran: The Lovecraft (ian) interview.
Hey Readers, when we last spoke with artist Dan Moran, he told us all about his fine horror art. Because he had so much to tell us and so much work to share, we decided to have another chat with Dan, and to share some of his Lovecraft-inspired work. Let’s start with a wee bio:
Dan Moran is a self-taught artist who has been drawing as long as he can remember. He was born in Connecticut, moved to Maine when he was 10 years old, and moved to Vermont when he was 17 to attend Goddard College, from which he graduated in 1992 with a B.A. in Liberal Arts (concentration in metaphysics). He spent a year in San Francisco in a Ph.D. program in Philosophy and Religion at the California Institute of Integral Studies, focusing on Tibetan Buddhism. He did not enjoy California (mainly because of the lack of snow and cold, which he enjoys very much), and so returned to Vermont to start a new graduate program at Vermont College of Norwich University. He earned his M.A. in Philosophy and Religion from Norwich in 1995.
Dan has worked with many mediums, including acrylic and oil paint, stone and clay sculpture, collage, etching, and of course drawing. Drawing is his favorite, and his weapon of choice is the black ball-point pen. Dan also does calligraphy, preferring ball-point or felt-tip pens for this (rather than calligraphy pens). He has done a large number of commissioned portraits and a few commissioned creative pieces, has painted some signs with both images and lettering, and has designed a number of T-shirts.
Dan’s horror work has been featured in print magazines such as Cemetery Dance, Cthulhu Sex, Chronicles, and Theatre of Decay, and in online magazines such as Strange Horizons, The World of Myth, and Horrotica. He has done artwork for some black-metal bands (some local, some from as far away as Greece), for the books of horror authors Ike Hamill and Mike Evans, and has also done illustrations for the role-playing games The Burning Wheel, Rangnarok, and Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Most recently he has done a large number of illustrations for Lucian Harke’s latest novel, Kiba Majo no Honshitsu (“Essence of the Fanged Witch” ).
Dan does non-horror art as well. His series of Nantucket drawings is available in postcard and notecard form in the Museum Shop of the Nantucket Historical Association. He recently did a series of drawings of the Mount Washington Hotel in New Hampshire, and prints and cards are due to appear in the gift shop there soon. His work also appears on the cover of an issue of ETC: The Journal of Semantics.
Dan’s dark art has appeared in a number of galleries and shows, beginning with his first solo show (“Unholy Glimpses of the Nethermost Gulfs”) in 1992. Although he has not had a solo show for some time (his most recent, “From a Dark Abyss,” was in 2005), he has participated in several group shows recently: “The Dark Arts Gallery” (2010), “The Dark Side” (2011), “The Art of Horror” (2011), and “Monsters International” (2011). His work is currently on display in the Galleria Transylvania (Glens Falls, New York) and at Galerie Espace (Montreal, Canada).
Dan’s other interests include history, geography, travel, poetry, wine, chess, and literature. He has taught himself how to play guitar, taught himself some German, and with his wife has been learning to sail for a few years. He has recently taken up fencing and skiing.
Dan currently works as an editor of medical journals at Dartmouth Journal Services in Waterbury, Vermont, and supplements his income by freelance editing and proofreading, as well as by art commissions and by modeling. He is also an author of erotica, and has been published in print magazines and online magazines as well as in book form.
Dan has a website for a variety of his non-horror work:
A variety of his images can also be seen here: http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/dan-moran.html
Okay, here goes:
THW: It’s been a while since we last talked. Any new projects we should know about?
I’ve done a couple more commissioned illustrations recently: one for Cemetery Dance, a magazine for which I’ve done illustrations before (due to appear in the June issue, I think), and another for the Lovecraft Ezine—which, despite its name, has a printed issue in addition to a website (not sure when that one is due to publish, but I’ll update my fans when it does). I’m also reviving an old project that I began but had put on pause for various reasons: a comic book rendition of Byron’s Manfred. For those who don’t know my old-school approach to many things, let me clarify that when I say “comic book,” I mean that I’m drawing it on pieces of paper—drawing the panels, drawing all the images, and doing the lettering, all with a pen. I’m not using any of that computerized crap to compose this. I was recently surprised to discover that almost nobody who creates comics does this any longer. Very sad.
THW: Your Lovecraft-inspired work is amazing. We’d love to hear about your introduction to Lovecraft’s writing.
This is an interesting thing to discuss. I can start by saying that for most of my life, from the time I could read, I spent a lot of free time in libraries and in bookstores. As a kid, books were the main things on which I spent allowance money. When I was about 12, wandering through the horror section of a bookstore I was checking out for the first time, I saw the cover of a Lovecraft paperback (this was one of the Del Rey paperbacks from the ‘80s, with the excellent Michael Whelan cover art). It actually stopped me in my tracks. Something about it grabbed my attention in a serious way. It was as though I’d heard the name, and somehow, I had a sense of just what the text inside would be like. I bought it, took it home, and simply devoured the short stories within. The writing was exactly what I’d thought it would be, and it matched exactly what I was looking for at that time. The initial tales I read weren’t the classic Cthulhu Mythos ones, but stories like “The Tomb,” “The Other Gods,” and “The Doom that Came to Sarnath.” As an introverted kid really into horror, history, and philosophy, Lovecraft’s work appealed to me right away. I could readily identify with many of the classic Lovecraftian narrators, highly intelligent outsiders with a knowledge of things forgotten or ignored by others, pulled toward things ancient and mysterious and gaining insights into dark realms of which most mortals cannot begin to conceive. I also really enjoyed the writing itself: verbose, sprawling, meandering through atmospheres and not so focused on directness or narrative or plot. In my own writing and art, I preferred to ignore convention and just put down what I felt like putting down, and I got the sense that Lovecraft operated in a similar way.
Here’s the really interesting part. My father (who was also an artist, and from whom I inherited much of my innate skill) died when I was 4, so I never really knew him. After I’d been reading all the Lovecraft I could find for some time after that first book, I told my mom about the fascinating new author I’d just discovered. She told me that my father had also really been into Lovecraft. Was this somehow part of the strange almost-recognition I’d felt when I first saw the name? Something to ponder.
THW: Many contemporary readers eschew Lovecraft’s work because of the racist content—both in the work and from him personally. What would you say to those who think Lovecraft shouldn’t be read anymore?
I’ve always been one to keep the art separate from the artist (or writer, or musician…). Creative works have a life of their own once the creator’s hands let go, and we are free to enjoy, despise, or ignore those works for our own reasons, regardless of the creator’s intent. There are plenty of people who have excelled at being creative geniuses while failing miserably at being decent humans. I don’t think we need to confuse the two. For example, I love much of Wagner’s work, especially the whole Ring cycle, but he was a terrible anti-semitic womanizer. I don’t have to think about that when I listen to it, though. Why should I bother? The music grabs me, moves me, transports me, and I get a lot out of it. In a sense, it’s like my soul can “steal” it from the composer—I don’t have to know or care a damn thing about him.
When it comes to Lovecraft, I think what really characterizes his work is the subtle and often philosophical nature of the horror (i.e., the horror is not a guy with a knife chasing you, but the fact that the entire cosmos is configured in such a way as to be incompatible with human welfare and the sanity or health of earthly life), as well as the long-winded and archaic prose. It was some time before I came across any obvious racist bits in his work, and when I did, I just kind of ignored them, focusing on the stuff that really pulled me in. Most creative works offer a variety of things that can be found or experienced within them, and few people (save critics) approach them in such a way as to try finding every single aspect. For me, there are things that draw me, and when they do, I follow. I don’t think the racism is an essential part of his work, and I certainly wasn’t drawn to his work because of him as a person. I just found certain worlds and atmospheres created by him to be spaces in which I felt entertained, intrigued, stimulated, and even comfortable.
I should also say that I tend to read a lot of older books, mostly non-fiction, and am used to focusing on certain themes and ideas without reference to the long-dead authors with whom I’d have little in common in terms of daily human life. I take what I like from books, and leave the rest, just as though they were plates of food (which, in a sense, they are). I wouldn’t just put Lovecraft off to the side because of one aspect of his life and work. The most interesting and appealing parts of his work are that way on their own merit. There’s no reason we can’t enjoy tales of tentacles, ancient cities, space beings, undersea gods, and dimensional gateways without paying attention to any social commentary lurking within his work. Consider, after all, the name of the main outlet for his work: Weird Tales.
THW: Cthulhu has always been the favorite of the Great Old Ones. Why do you think that is?
This is perhaps because he may be the easiest to grasp in strictly visual terms. Yes, he’s huge and weird, but overall he’s a monster that’s still somewhat recognizable, with four limbs and a head and just a few extra touches, all fairly earthly. It would be harder to make an icon out of something that has thousands of inconceivable shapes (all of which would drive you mad to behold) or that looms in the space between space. “Cthulhu” is also a nice example of a name that’s hard to say and that might be better pronounced by lips that are not human—and it fits nicely on a license plate (yes, that’s what I have on my plate).
THW: Cthulhu Rising is probably my fave of your Lovecraftian pieces. You really capture the moment. What led you to create this one?
After seeing some other depictions of Cthulhu, I really wanted to go to an opposite extreme and do something way on the anthropomorphic side of the spectrum. I was seeing a lot of depictions that went a little too far (in my opinion) on the bloated and slithery side, so I thought I’d do a piece that conveyed the idea of a “more conceivable” body and arms. I also thought this would help emphasize the weirdness of the head and face (sometimes, when showing drawings of Cthulhu to people not familiar with things Lovecraftian, they wouldn’t always quite get what was going on until I explained which piece was which, and I thought this would help get the idea across—“See? A guy with a weird head!”).
THW: Who is depicted in the piece Deep Ones?
I drew this as just a general Lovecraftian piece, without a particular subject in mind. It’s just kind of a doodle “in the key of Lovecraft.”
THW: Do you have a specific playlist for creating Lovecraftian art?
Not really. My music collection is fairly limited—not that it includes little, but I haven’t really updated it much since the early 1990s (for example, I have no MP3 players and have never bought music online). I actually do a lot of my art while listening to books on tape (and most of them are actually on tape—that is, cassettes), sometimes fiction but more often lectures on history. If I do put on music while planning to work specifically on Lovecraftian art, it would probably be the same music I put on for that purpose in the 1980s: old Black Sabbath, Celtic Frost, Slayer, Samhain. I must acknowledge that there is one band that I actually think of as Lovecraftian, and I don’t think any of your readers will have heard of them: The Gorehounds. I think there’s more than one band with this name, but the band I’m talking about was from Portland, Maine (where I went to middle school and high school) and played that general area in the 1980s. Jordan Krantz, the singer, was a big Lovecraft fan and wrote some songs centered around Lovecraftian themes or even including actual readings of text from the short stories. They were more blues than metal, but I really dug their work because of the horror and Lovecraftian aspects. (They only released stuff on vinyl, and I still have tapes of those albums, but I think that you may be able to find some of the songs online somewhere.)
THW: If you were introducing a friend to Lovecraft, where would you tell them to start?
I’d tell people to begin with the short story “The Festival.” It’s a classic example of his type of weird theme and of his writing style. It’s got the lonely narrator who may or may not be imagining things, a setting of old New England made much more strange, and a structure that reveals layers of increasing weirdness and terror. I think the unfamiliar or hesitant reader should start with some of the shorter pieces and with those not focused on the classic Mythos; tales like “From Beyond,” “The Other Gods,” “The Tomb,” and “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” will give the new reader an overall sense of what to expect from his writing, and each is short enough for someone to give it a shot without too much commitment.
THW: When did you create your depiction of Innsmouth? What can you tell us about how this piece came together?
With some pieces, I just start drawing and see where it goes, but this was one of the ones that came to me all at once. Sometimes I just spontaneously have a complete idea for a piece. The cool part about this happening is that I don’t have to figure out where to go with an idea. The bad part is that I then have to work hard to make my actual drawing match the specific thing I have in my head. In this case, I just envisioned a view of the decaying seaside town slumbering in the murky mist with a gigantic dead-eyed visage of Dagon looming in the background. I also wanted the eye to form a kind of pair with the moon/sun in the sky.
THW: Why do you think people continue to read Lovecraft today?
Well, because it’s cool and interesting stuff. I don’t think there’s any special reason to not read him today. I don’t think it’s relevant to any specific time. It just happens to be set in the past, for the most part, and the past is the past no matter how far into the future we go. Most of it is so weird that it’s not really connected with any real time or place anyway, so it doesn’t matter when people get around to reading it. It’s got an old-fashioned style, but so do the works of Jane Austen. If anything, the essential weirdness helps it be less old fashioned, because a tentacled monster isn’t any more or less relevant now than it was in Lovecraft’s day.
I do think that he’s more widely read than ever before. When I was first reading him in the 1980s in small-town Maine, no one else I knew had ever heard of him. I was always explaining to people who he was and what kind of stuff he wrote. Now, he’s very well known—at least, by those interested in horror, fantasy, and sci-fi, and even by many who aren’t. Some of this has to do with the Internet making it easier for fans of certain genres and subcultures to pass ideas around (until I was 30 or so, the only way for me to tell people about Lovecraft was to hand them a book in person and say “Check this out.”). Some of it also has to do with the fact that, over time, more and more people who have been influenced by Lovecraft are creating works of their own, and their audiences thus become indirectly familiar with the inspiration of those creators. For example, in films we’ve had not only direct homages such as John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, but comic-based movies like Hellboy (which features Lovecraftian themes) and even popular series like the Pirates of the Caribbean movies (whose Davy Jones character owes much to Cthulhu).
There are still plenty of people who have never heard of him, though. Having the license plate “CTHULHU” has given me insight into Lovecraft’s place in our current social sphere. It’s the kind of plate that one either recognizes immediately, or about which one has no idea at all. I find that anyone who recognizes the name “Cthulhu” is a huge fan; the rest have never heard of him. I don’t really encounter people who know the name but don’t like Lovecraft’s work, or who are only tepid fans. There probably aren’t many authors so divided between those who don’t read them at all and those who read them and love them.
In any case, it’s always amusing when people see the plate and say “Hey, what does that stand for?” I like seeing their puzzlement when I say “It’s Cthulhu—just what it looks like.”