Posts Tagged ‘art’

Hello, Followers of Fear. There are sixty days till Halloween. What have you done to prepare?

Artwork produced by artificial intelligence, or AI art, has become kind of a thing as the technology has advanced. In fact, some months back, there was an app that became a fad for horror writers to generate images and even book covers. And earlier this week, John Oliver featured it on his TV show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Here’s the video, if you’re interested. It’s hysterical.

John Oliver’s wife and children must have such a blast telling people who don’t know who he is what he does for a living. “Oh, my husband/dad? He sexually harasses Adam Driver and marries cabbages on TV once a week.”

Anyway, it got me interested enough to want to play around with AI art, so I made an account with one of the recommended companies, Midjourney, and went to work. The results were not only fascinating, but gave me some thoughts on the nascent AI art industry.

First, here are some of my successes. As it turns out, Midjourney’s AI program does very well with Lovecraftian/cosmic horror entities. For example, here’s Cthulhu destroying Las Vegas because I’m not a big Vegas fan (though under the right circumstances I’d visit again).

Then, in order, we have Yog-Sothoth, Shub-niggurath, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, two pictures of the Deep Ones, the Color from Outer Space, and the King in Yellow.

And portraits of famous people tended to go well with the program. Here are Stephen King, Anne Rice, and HP Lovecraft, three of my biggest influences as a writer, as well as one of Lizzie Borden with an axe. Because why not?

And because I love ballet and try to put dancers in my stories when I can, I made a series of ballet posts, with their titles in the captions.

Dancer and Wolf on the lake
The Little Ballerina Ghost
Dancer in the Egyptian Temple
Dancers on a Moonlit Beach
Little Dancers Running from Lava
Little Dancer and Anubis

Pretty cool, right? Most of them look really good. However, those were success stories, like I said. Here’s what happened when I tried to create Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th films.

Yeah, I know. None of those come close to looking like Jason! He’s arguably more famous than Cthulhu, but these were the results. And then there was my attempt at Freddy Kreuger from A Nightmare on Elm Street. Oy freaking vey!

Yeah, who is that? Not Freddy Kreuger, who is definitely more famous than Cthulhu! Honestly, it looks more like my conception of Leland Gaunt, the antagonist from Needful Things by Stephen King. How could the AI get our favorite subconscious serial killer so wrong?

And those are just a few examples. I went through several failures trying to get anywhere close to a specific idea or image, only to give up when I realized the program just couldn’t create it. I couldn’t even create a decent Sailor Moon or an accurate tiger image, and both those prompts have enough references out there that they should have been easy to create something accurate.

Even some of the successes took a lot of work and experimentation, such as The King in Yellow or Little Dancer and Anubis. I won’t even go into detail about how hard it was to get a good Alice in Wonderland pic that wasn’t too trippy. I mean, I know the source material is plenty weird, but not all art based on it has to be super-surreal!

And while I call some of them successes, they aren’t perfect. You can especially see it in the ballerina series, where features like the head and limbs look odd or bent in ways you wouldn’t see on a normal dancer or a Degas painting. Only the tutus and bodices come out well. The rest of their bodies can be a mixed bag.

It kind of reminds me of that scene in 1986’s The Fly, where Jeff Goldblum puts steak through the teleporter and it comes out tasting weird. He figures out that the computer hasn’t learned how to move organic materials, and is instead creating an interpretation or bad imitation of what it thinks steak is. That’s what we have here: the AI has learned how to mimic and create, but it’s still leagues away from making certain things.

And honestly, I’m glad. Art is art because there’s someone behind it with a vision or a passion. You can program a computer to recreate famous art pieces or original pieces, including Batman comics and scripts or horror screenplays. And the computer might even do a good job at times. But there won’t be any passion or soul behind it. Art is art because we’re putting our love and soul into our creations.

And getting to work with a creator? That’s even more special. Believe me, I’ve done it before, and it’s amazing to see your vision come to life with their help. Especially when working on art pieces like book covers. That truly is something special.

That being said, I can see AI-generated art being used for cheap book covers as the technology improves, and the services of artists becoming more expensive. This could especially apply for small presses or independent publishers who need to lower costs while maximizing profits. The only time publishers may use a real artist is if the author is big enough to warrant it.

Hopefully that doesn’t happen, because it would mean we wouldn’t get to see some really amazing collaborations. So, for the meantime, I’ll stop with the AI art (I’ve scratched that itch and I don’t want to pay a subscription for Midjourney, anyway), and continue supporting the artists who create amazing art. Especially horror art.

And now, here are some more pieces I created. Except for a few I’m waiting to reveal till the time is right, here are my other successes. You can ask what was going through my mind when I created these in the comments below. Enjoy, and until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

Vampire Mothers and Child
Jump Rope with a Ghost
Jack the Ripper in an Alley
Flaming Giraffe #1
Flaming Giraffe #2
The Necronomicon
Bunny Girl and Hammer
Spooky Alice in Wonderland

Last month, I wrote a story that combined art and my love of ballet with the stories of the King in Yellow. This was after finally reading the stories earlier this year, which was after hearing about them and their titular subject for a few years. Recently, I edited that story and then submitted it to a publication that I think will like it. And after doing so, I just wanted to write a blog post about the King in Yellow, and see how many of the Followers of Fear are familiar with the character.

So, for those of you who don’t know, The King in Yellow is a collection of short stories published in 1895 by Robert Chambers. The first four stories revolve around the titular character. Or to be more precise, around a fictional play revolving around the titular character. This play has the uncanny ability to make those who read/see it lose their hold on reality. Or, in another sense, to put them under the sway of the King in Yellow.

If you would like a more in-depth analysis of the character, the play, and stories than I can give here, you can watch this video which goes in depth on the collection and the stories in question.

Not bad, huh? I find the Tale Foundry channel puts out some incredible work on all things writing and literature.

Anyway, The King in Yellow–the book, the play, and the character–have had quite an effect on horror literature. HP Lovecraft was actually heavily influenced by the book, and some of the themes in the book could be considered proto-Lovecraftian. Some writers have even included the King in the Cthulhu Mythos under the name of Hastur, a name from the original collection, as well as the half-brother of Cthulhu. And plenty of other writers have played in the sandbox of The King in Yellow, both in and out of the Cthulhu Mythos. He’s appeared in tabletop games, video games, all sorts of stories, and even was heavily referenced in the TV show True Detective.

Question is, why? What is it about these four stories and the King that has caused them to endure and slowly germinate into our popular culture?

Well, that’s the thing: it does germinate. Or the play does, anyway.

If you’ve read the stories or watched the video, you might have noticed that the King himself only appears once. Even then, you can’t be sure this isn’t the hallucination of a madman. Really, what we see in the stories is the effect of the play. It’s power to corrupt people, as well as the public outcry against it, has ensured that if someone hasn’t read it, they at least know of it and have seen the damage it’s caused.

Sounds like Twilight, but better and horrifying in the right ways, if you think about it. And it’s a great metaphor for how stories can spread through a populace and change people and culture, for better or worse. Not just fictional texts, like Harry Potter or Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but non-fiction tomes like The Travels of Marco Polo and Herodotus’s Histories, and religious texts like the Bible. All of these had huge effects on the societies they spread through, changing cultures, beliefs, and minds in so many ways.

The metaphor is even more apt if you think of the play as a religious text for those who worship the King in Yellow.

Just one edition of the King in Yellow collection. There are as many as there are ways to tell a story with the character.

Add in that the stories are psychological works where a lot is left to the imagination, combined with some decent and eerie storytelling, as well as ideas that resonate with writers the way Lovecraft’s world would years later, and it’s no wonder people began playing with and adding to the concept of the King in Yellow. And this was happening even before the stories entered the public domain.

Is it any wonder the King has been partially absorbed into the Cthulhu Mythos now?

And like the Cthulhu Mythos, the King in Yellow is becoming more well-known and mainstream, albeit slower than the Mythos. Still, the fact that it showed up in True Detective says a lot. And I hope, should the story I wrote be published, that it’s considered a nice addition to the King’s legacy, as well as helps to spread awareness of the original stories.

Speaking of which, I highly recommend checking out the original King in Yellow short story collection. They’re really eerie and you probably won’t regret checking them out. At the very least, you’ll be able to see how another classic work of horror has influenced the genre as a whole.

Just don’t read beyond the first four stories. The ones afterward don’t really connect to the stories about the play and aren’t as good, making you wonder why Chambers included those stories. I heard that if you read the book in reverse, it reveals something, but I can think of a lot of other stuff I would rather do with my time.

Have you read The King in Yellow or come across works inspired by it? What do you think of the stories? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m going to make dinner, read a story a friend sent to me for feedback, and imagine putting together a King in Yellow costume. Until next time, good night, pleasant nightmares, and beware the Yellow Sign.


One more thing: the crowdfunding campaign for That Which Cannot Be Undone is at 29% funded! And we’ve added a whole bunch of new perks to the campaign, as well as a new author to the anthology!

If you’re unaware, I’m part of a small publishing press and we’re crowdfunding our first anthology, That Which Cannot Be Undone, which will highlight Ohio writers. It’s an exciting new venture, and we’re very excited for you to read the stories that will be included. I’ve already written one story that will be in the anthology, so I hope you’ll support us in making this anthology a reality.

If you’re interested, you can click on the link below and learn more about the anthology. I hope you’ll lend us your support! Thanks, and have a good night!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/crackedskullproject1/that-which-cannot-be-undone-an-ohio-horror-anthology

From left to right: Charles Naylor, Joleene Naylor and myself, masked up in front of our hotel and ready to rock.

Hey, Followers of Fear! I didn’t think I would have a moment to let you guys know how I’m doing, but I ended up having some spare time in the airport while waiting to head to South Carolina. With that in mind, I thought I’d take a moment to update you guys on what I’ve been up to. Now obviously, I can’t update you on the Villisca Axe Murder House, not until I’ve had some time to upload my videos to YouTube. However, I can tell you about my time in Des Moines, and the book expo I attended.

I arrived in Des Moines on Friday at about three in the afternoon, and took an Uber to the airport, where I met with my friend and colleague Joleene Naylor and her husband/my friend Charles Naylor. We went out to dinner at a themed burger joint called Zombie Burger (and yes, it looks just like you’d expect. See my Instagram for photos). We then spent some time driving around Des Moines and seeing the sights.

But it was the next day that was on our minds, as well as the reason why we were there: the 5th annual Indie Author Book Expo.

We arrived Saturday morning for the first day of the Expo at the Valley West Mall in Des Moines. We were located in a wide-open area on the first floor near a children’s area, with several tables spread around the area. I found my table, which was hidden in the shade of the second floor balcony and right bny two stores called Buckle and University Sports, and set my stuff down before introducing myself to Jenn Thompson, the woman who let me come to the Expo in the first place. After that, I got my booth set up and waited for 11, when the stores and the Expo would begin.

My table at the Indie Author Book Expo. Thanks to Joleene Naylor for the photo.

Some observations about the Expo:

-First, I need to work on my display.┬áMy table was the most bare-bones of the authors. I had my copies of Rose, one of which was on a stand; a Tarot deck; and a homemade sign stating my prices. Meanwhile, look at Joleene’s below.

Joleene’s booth at the Expo.

Holy crap! She’s got intricate displays, a tiered-display with pet vampire rocks and bottles of vampire blood on it, candy dishes filled with freebies! Plus a banner and a few other odds and ends! And many of the other authors had other additions to their booths: big banners that went behind their booths for photos, cheap little bobs and bits for sale to go with the books you buy, etc. And Joleene mentioned that at other expos and conventions she’s been at, people have used prize wheels, raffles, and more to entice readers. In fact, she usually uses selfie banners so people can take photos of themselves with vampire fangs (not something to do in this day and age, but still).

Seeing all that made me realize that, in future expos and fairs and conventions, I will need to step up how I display and sell my work to draw in more people. I’m not sure how, seeing as Rose and my other works don’t necessarily lend themselves to little toys or raffle wheels or whatever. But I have a year before my next scheduled convention (assuming COVID-19 doesn’t cancel that as well). I have time to think of something.

And if you have any suggestions, my Followers of Fear, I would love to hear them.

-Second, COVID-19 had its effect on the expo. As you can see in the photos, Joleene and I are wearing masks, and obviously we took our time and effort to keep ourselves and others safe. But the pandemic took its toll on the expo, to be sure. Most of the people who would go out of their way to attend an expo with authors at a mall are also the type who would not want to risk getting the virus, so they stayed home. That meant the mall was filled with mostly employees and people who were there to pick up what they came for and leave. Which made our job of getting books and other products into their hands that much more difficult.

And it was under those circumstances the expo began. The first day did not go as well as I’d hoped. Not only had I left my cloak at the hotel room, but given what I said above, it was hard as hell to sell books. I only sold one copy of Rose near the end of the day, plus a couple of Tarot readings. I got a lot of people passing by or saying no, including one guy who said he and his wife were moving to Malaysia and were downsizing by fifty percent. I’m not sure if that was just a line or the truth, but man, that was a strong rejection!

The second day, Sunday, on the other hand, actually went much better. I don’t know if it was remembering my cloak this time or the stars were right, but I sold about three copies of Rose and did a few more Tarot readings. Overall, a successful day. My favorite part was giving a young woman a Tarot reading about something close to her heart. Apparently the reading was very accurate to her life, and she liked what she heard in terms of what might be in the future for her. It made my day to give her a reason to smile and hope for the future.

I’d say, despite all the barriers up against us, the Expo was, at least for me, was a success. Sure, I didn’t make back everything I put down for this, very few can,* but I still sell some books and met some new readers. For me, that’s a success. A bigger one than the Bexley Local Author Festival last year, even.

Plus, I got to buy some art from Jenn’s daughters and made some new connections with other writers, so that’s a plus.

Thanks to Jenn Thompson for allowing me to come out for the Expo, and thanks to Joleene and Charles for all the help they gave me. Hope we can do it again someday.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I don’t know when I’ll be back again, but I’m sure I’ll have plenty to talk about when I do log onto WordPress again. Until next time, stay safe, watch out for the giant flying sheep, and pleasant nightmares!

This new film got some buzz after its trailer was released, with lots of people saying it could be scary as all get-out. That, and there aren’t many movies revolving around haunted artwork and/or the art world, so we thought it could be breaking some new ground. So I tuned in this evening. And I’m glad I had wine in the fridge, after what I just saw.

Velvet Buzzsaw follows tough art critic Mort Vandewalt, art agent Josephina, and her boss Rhodora Haze, who are considered the creme de la creme of the art elite circles or working on making that happen. One day, Josephina discovers her elderly neighbor has died, and then discovers he’s an artist of amazing talent, who also wanted all his artwork destroyed after his death. Jospehina decides to take the artwork and sell it alongside Rhodora, making them all very rich. However, several suspicious accidents and deaths occur, all occurring around the dead man’s art. Soon Mort, who has become obsessed with the dead man and his work, discovers some dark secrets around it. Secrets that are deadly in their power.

I’ve heard it said that contemporary art is about the idea behind the piece and its execution, rather than what the work portrays. If so, I think the idea here was a searing indictment of the elite art world in the form of a horror movie, but ooh, was the execution horribly botched.

Velvet Buzzsaw is only really a horror movie a third of the time. The other two-thirds, it seems to be either a slow-burn thriller about the dark side of the art world, or the film equivalent of those literary stories where characters go on personal journeys through their hundrum lives to find themselves/meaning in their lives/happiness. When it’s the third type, it’s actually pretty decent. If it were that kind of film, then we might get something Oscar-worthy. But then the film switches to slow-burn thriller, which is just kind of sub-par, all talk about cut-rate deals and how to screw everybody over (in more senses than one). And when it switches to horror, the rest of the movie has been so diluted that there’s no atmosphere or scares that the audience can be picked up.

I also found John Malkovich’s role in this film to be a total waste. He’s this tortured artist who kind of exits the film halfway through, and then we only see him in the credits, and it’s like…what? What was the point of this character? Along with Natalia Dyer’s Coco, which would’ve been a great perspective to see these events play out from if the character had been given more screen time, I’m just peeved.

If there was something about this film I liked, it was the cast. Jake Gyllenhaal, Zawe Ashton and Rene Russo do excellent jobs as the three main characters, Daveed Diggs of Hamilton fame has a role as an up-and-coming artist, which was cool. And there are some cool art pieces in the film, as well as some great bits of cinematography.

But taken all together, Velvet Buzzsaw is a 2 out of 5 at best. It’s inconsistent in tone, wastes some of its talent, and ultimately creates a film that’s stylistically memorable but otherwise forgettable. If the film had maybe found a tone to focus on and, if that chosen tone had been horror or horror-thriller, given the character of Coco more screen time instead of just using her as a sort of tragic comic relief, and had devoted time to building an atmosphere, then we might’ve had something here. But since the filmmakers didn’t go that route, it’s just a damn shame.

It’s here! It’s today! It’s the day I celebrate every damn day of the year, even during the High Holidays, but which I celebrate twice as hard in October, because everybody is celebrating it too. It’s Halloween!

I’ve always loved Halloween and the month of October.* In fact, I consider it the most wonderful time of the year. And before you say December and Christmas is the most wonderful time of year, think about this: during this month, you start worrying about a fat old man who watches and stalks you for three-hundred sixty-four days out of the year, and then one night breaks into your home via the chimney. And depending on whatever his judgment of your behavior is, he’s either going to leave behind awful fossil fuels or consumer goods that violate so many patent, copyright and trademark laws, you could be pulled into a class action lawsuit just by association. Prove me wrong!

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of problems I have with calling December the most wonderful time of the year.

But back to Halloween. You know what makes it really special? It’s a holiday both for the mainstream of society and outcast. For one day, you’re allowed to be someone else and revel in that. No one’s allowed to break that spell, and those who do are cursed to be jerks.

No one’s ever accused me of being mainstream. There were times where I didn’t have many friends, and when I did, I was always a little bit different from them. Call it being neuroatypical, call it being half-human and half-entity from another universe, call it just┬ábeing different. There was always this barrier between me and other people.

But on Halloween, all that changed. Kids and adults changed into costumes, became other beings and we were all equals. We all had a simple goal of showing off our costumes, getting candy, and having a spooky delightful time. It was magic for me. And as I got older, that magic has still been part of my love for the holiday. That, and more people actually get my obsession with things dark and creepy and horrifying and get into it, too.

But also this strange equalizing. For one night, we’re as different as can be from ourselves and from others, but we’re all equal and having a fun time. In a world where the wrong kind of scary is all too common, that’s something special.

I’m pretty sure if there’s a Heaven that I’ll be allowed into, and if that Heaven individualizes itself for each person in it, it’s going to be a forever Halloween. Lots of people in costumes, and my costume changes at my whim. Plus real monsters to fly around and terrify with. Lots of candy that never tastes bad and never upsets your stomach. There are endless horror themed rides and mazes, as well as libraries and theaters with an endless supply of horror movies, TV shows, books, manga and anime, music and art. All to digest at your leisure. The sun is never a problem (which is good, because even outside of sunscreen season, I have to worry about sun damage to my skin and even to my eyes!), and it’s just cool enough for sweatshirts. And everyone’s as friendly and chummy as the Addams Family, even after you scare them silly. And no one ever feels left out.

Like Hell Fest, but much better.

Seems like a nice dream, doesn’t it? And if it’s one I can someday achieve (though hopefully not too soon), I’ll be happy.

Wishing you a Happy Halloween this year!

In the meantime, I’ll work on making a Heaven on Earth. By that I mean, becoming a successful horror author who can afford to host an awesome Halloween party every October and get a bunch of people into a room to celebrate being scary together.

Wow, I really went on a ramble, didn’t I? Anyway, I think you get what Halloween means to me, don’t you? And I hope it means something special to you too.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll have another post out by the end of the day, a review of a new scary movie. Until then, Happy Halloween and pleasant nightmares!

*Even if, in Central Ohio, this is the month when summer heat and humidity changes to winter chill. Yeah, there’s no autumn here. It just switches from one extreme to the other. I’m pretty sure God’s punishing us for something, but I can’t figure out what.