Friday, December 31, 2010

Hybrid Vigour

The work of Dutch artist Arent van Bolten (~1573-1624) is worth checking out if you have an interest in early grotesque art, or hybrid and fantastic creatures more generally. His drawings are a classic example of the traditional grotesque as they depict bodies composed from various human and nonhuman elements, including plants, animals and objects.

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam describes his work in this way:

"Van Bolten was known for his work as a silversmith and sculptor, but especially for his drawings. Besides his designs for work in precious metals he drew numerous drawings of grotesque figures and monsters, biblical and mythological scenes as well as pictures of peasant life. Several of his grotesques and ornaments appeared in print and were widely distributed."

The Museum has a collection of engravings based in his sketches in their online database. They are magnificent. If you ever wondered who came before Dr Seuss and Tim Burton, Van Bolten is definitely an artist to consider.

I find the intricate details and expressive poses quite brilliant.

It is also amusing to observe the random photobombing cat and scatological humour in the above. We think we are so original in the 21st century...

Speaking of time. See you next year!

Friday, December 24, 2010


I hope everyone has a safe and relaxing weekend... even if you don't celebrate Christmas yourself. In case you're feeling Grinchy, might I suggest some music?

Please feel free to rock on.

Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays from Groteskology.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

New Blog, Old Blog


So. I decided to change the blog template. Partly because I was getting bored with the old look. Partly because it didn't allow for any adjustments or customisation at all.

Of course, within 24 hours I have become nostalgic for the old blog and want to change it back. I miss the good old days. As it turns out, changing back isn't possible. The other design was so old that they don't offer it as an option anymore. Can't go back. Ain't that just like life.

Probably for the best.

In any case, I am still undecided about the current template/background. I appreciated the last design because it was somewhat homey and had a reassuring old bookshop wallpaper feel. Not keen on white backgrounds, to be honest. I know they are seen as 'cleaner' (and, I dare say, more professional and academic) but after spending my whole day reading and writing black text on white backgrounds it is all too much. A blog is not a thesis, an essay, a book or a journal article. And I like to be reminded of that fact.

It also feels a bit like false advertising. I don't consider this to be an academic blog. It's more of a series of enjoyable mind splurges. Messy and multifarious. I would feel awkward and inhibited if it was all crisp and official looking on here. Odd? Perhaps. But there it is.


Long story short: I might keep this background, I might play around a bit more, but the content will stay the same. All grotesque. All the time.

One last thing... if anyone has ideas for potential 'grotesque' backgrounds please let me know. Within reason. (Eg, I do not want nipple wallpaper or blood smeared corpses. Awesome, but too distracting in the long run.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Santa: Slay and Vengeance Edition

Last Christmas I gave a couple of handy suggestions regarding entertainment over the festive period. This year I've been amused to discover how many homicidal Santas* have appeared in horror films. Forget Halloween, Christmas is the new fear.

*Can I say Santas? What is the plural of Santa? Santi? And what is a group of Santas called? A coop? A duffel? A mucous? So many questions.

Anyway, here are a few examples:

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984).

The Sequel, Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part 2.

It goes on in this vein until the fifth film, in which robot Santa tries to become a real boy while designing kill toys. Or something.

A little review of Evil Christmas.

Then we have Santa's Slay (2005). Sort of a horror/comedy.

OK, this isn't technically a Santa movie. But a genetically engineered snow man with a thirst for blood is worth mentioning.

What about the Gingerdead Man? Not very Christmassy. But the horrid special effects and enthusiastic voice-over are worth some bonus points. "A new kind of cookie."

Sorry, I'm getting distracted. Back to Father Christmas.

It isn't always about killer Santas... sometimes it's Santa killers!

If, for whatever reason, you don't feel like watching horror films on Christmas, Santa with Muscles (1996) is a good alternative.

David Hasselhoff needs to do one of these.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Grotesque Dickens


I've recently been reading Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop. Really enjoying it so far, and I swear it's not just because the word 'grotesque' pops up so often...

The character of Daniel Quilp is most often described as grotesque. His entrance in chapter three gives you a sense of what the term is understood to mean in this context:

"The child was closely followed by an elderly man of remarkably hard features and forbidding aspect, and so low in stature as to be quite a dwarf, though his head and face were large enough for the body of a giant. His black eyes were restless, sly, and cunning; his mouth and chin, bristly with the stubble of a coarse hard beard; and his complexion was one of that kind which never looks clean or wholesome. But what added most to the grotesque expression of his face was a ghastly smile, which, appearing to be the mere result of habit and to have no connection with any mirthful or complacent feeling, constantly revealed the few discoloured fangs that were yet scattered in his mouth, and gave him the aspect of a panting dog. His dress consisted of a large high-crowned hat, a worn dark suit, a pair of capacious shoes, and a dirty white neckerchief sufficiently limp and crumpled to disclose the greater portion of his wiry throat. Such hair as he had was of a grizzled black, cut short and straight upon his temples, and hanging in a frowzy fringe about his ears. His hands, which were of a rough, coarse grain, were very dirty; his fingernails were crooked, long, and yellow."

Amazing, right?

Quilp is a particularly heinous man. He treats his young wife very badly, and finds great delight in pinching, slapping and making her miserable.

[Quilp Interrupts Tea. Via]

Mrs Quilp's mother, Mrs Jiniwin, hates and fears her son-in-law in equal measures.

From chapter five:

"Mr Quilp now walked up to front of a looking-glass, and was standing there putting on his neckerchief, when Mrs Jiniwin happening to be behind him, could not resist the inclination she felt to shake her fist at her tyrant son-in-law. It was the gesture of an instant, but as she did so and accompanied the action with a menacing look, she met his eye in the glass, catching her in the very act. The same glance at the mirror conveyed to her the reflection of a horribly grotesque and distorted face with the tongue lolling out; and the next instant the dwarf, turning about with a perfectly bland and placid look, inquired in a tone of great affection.
'How are you now, my dear old darling?'
Slight and ridiculous as the incident was, it made him appear such a little fiend, and withal such a keen and knowing one, that the old woman felt too much afraid of him to utter a single word, and suffered herself to be led with extraordinary politeness to the breakfast-table."

It gets worse...

"Here he by no means diminished the impression he had just produced, for he ate hard eggs, shell and all, devoured gigantic prawns with the heads and tails on, chewed tobacco and water-cresses at the same time and with extraordinary greediness, drank boiling tea without winking, bit his fork and spoon till they bent again, and in short performed so many horrifying and uncommon acts that the women were nearly frightened out of their wits, and began to doubt if he were really a human creature."

This vision of a man chomping down whole eggs and gnawing on the cutlery is pretty hilarious. For the most part, however, Quilp is genuinely sinister. Especially when he propositions little Nell, who is still a child, and suggests she become his next wife once the current Mrs Quilp dies (presumably sometime soon-ish in a tragic/deliberate 'accident').

Perhaps as the story unfolds he will be redeemed. Or maybe he will get much worse. I will have to read and find out. If you're interested you can find the full text here.

Incidentally, the 1975 film adaptation of The Old Curiosity Shop showcases Quilp in full musical mode.

Great performance. Vicious, charming and trashy all at the same time.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

All Done

I am happy to report that the deadline was met: operation Intro Full Draft has been a success.

Of course, as a result of said efforts I now feel how this poor creature looks.



And Slightly Alarmed.

I guess it could always be worse.


Onward and upward.

Stay tuned for a grotesque gaming update coming soon

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Twas Brillig

Nearly there now. Feeling positive about meeting Friday's deadline. Positive enough for a few pictures...

[James Gillray. The Republican Rattle Snake fascinating the Bedford Squirrel. Via]

[Creatures of Jabberwocky. Via]

[Richard Dighton. Absolute Wisdom or Queens Owl Taken from a Wood. Via]

[Decorative roman-like trophy, XVIIth century, "grotesque à l'antique", painted on a wall, detail, Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, France. Via]

[Georgian-era (1824) Mermaid, a fake made up of various body parts from other animals. Via]

Yes, the blog is snowing. Yes, it is totally un-Australian. I like it. I like it so much I might leave it for the whole of next year.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


I have one week to go on my intro and I really, really want to finish it on time. Then revision of the chapters can happen. Then final draft can happen. Then submitting can happen. From now on, no overshooting is permitted!

As my incomparably wise supervisor has pointed out, I could keep writing the intro forever. At some point, you just have to stop. Keyboards down. Probably won't be posting much until I've hit this one.

I'm not entirely sure why Bill Bailey is on my wall. But his stare is oddly comforting. The man is a survivor.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Gautier, Darling

No, not that Gautier, sweetie.

More history. I'm talking about French wordsmith Théophile Gautier who, in 1833, agreed to write twelve articles for La France littéraire about certain under-appreciated poets of the time. These essays were to be collectively called Exhumations littéraire; making clear each writer's status as dead and buried in the public consciousness, and setting up Gautier's role as specialist excavator.

[Victor Vasnetsov. Grave-digger (1871) via ]

Editor Charles Malo must have been a patient sort, because the last essay of the batch was finally published eleven years after the contract was signed, hitting the presses in 1844. Significantly, for my purposes, these essays were then drawn together into a book titled The Grotesques.

My page numbers are from the English version of The Complete Works of Theophile Gautier volume II: "The Grotesques." This edition is translated and edited by Professor S. C. de Sumichrast, who provides the introduction and explains a few important facts.

The editor comments first on the use of "grotesque" in the title and its (in his opinion) dubious application to the poets treated within. (Already we have disagreement over which authors/texts can be called grotesque, seeming to indicate that different definitions of the term are in use.)

"It is a striking title, but it does not accurately describe the contents of the volume, or even the majority of the authors treated of by the critic; for no student of literature nowadays would dream of calling that great poet, Villon, a grotesque" (4).

He credits the appearance of the term with the recent popularity of Victor Hugo's "Preface," and quotes this text at length. I've already blogged about Hugo and the grotesque (in a double post: part1 and part 2) so I'm going to skim this and get right to the point.

"Gautier," Sumichrast explains, "fairly worshiped Hugo, and the "Preface" had very deeply impressed him, as more than one passage in "The Grotesques" abundantly proves" (6-7). This observation rings true, for Gautier puts forward a definition of the grotesque that is very similar to Hugo's.

Chapter one focuses on the poet François Villon, and Gautier's introductory remarks won me over right away. He explains his rationale for exhuming the down-trodden:

"The study of second-rate poets is both delightful and interesting, because, first, as they are less known and read, there are more novelties to be found in them; and next, because there is not a ready-made judgment for every striking passage. One has not to go into conventional ecstasies, to be convulsed, or to start with delight at certain places, as is indispensable with poets who have become classics" (15).

You had me at "conventional ecstasies," Monsieur Gautier.

For me this just captures that feeling I have sometimes when I'm reading a Very Important Book. The feeling that I must appreciate its many excellent qualities, but that there is a precise way of doing so that I'm probably ignorant of. It is not enough to simply read and enjoy the book - you must do it correctly!


Peer pressure, eh. Just when you think you've escaped it...

Gautier carries on:

"Among the second-rate poets one finds everything that the aristocrats of the Ark have disdained to make use of, - the grotesque, the fantastic, the trivial, the ignoble, the daring sally, the newly coined word, the popular proverb, the pompous metaphor; in a word, bad taste in its entirely, with its lucky hits, with its plated ware which might be gold, with its bits of glass which might be diamonds. Pearls are scarcely found elsewhere than in a dunghill, as witness Ennius" (16).

[James Gillray. An Excrescence-A Fungus,-Alias, A Toadstool upon a Dung hill (1791) via]

As well as Hugo, the mention of the word "ignoble" is a pretty obvious clue that John Ruskin's discussion of the grotesque provides inspiration here (I blogged him here: part 1 and part 2).

Most interesting to me is Gautier's understanding of "bad taste" and its potential value when taken seriously. "The grotesque, the fantastic, the trivial, the ignoble" are all grouped together under the banner of bad taste, and are all understood to have this deeper potential despite their maligned status. He is not merely excavating and resuscitating the poets, but these concepts as well.

Lest we find his passion for the distasteful unseemly, the author offers this clarification:

"I take singular pleasure in unearthing a fine line from the work of a despised poet... I rehabilitate him, I do him justice; and if at times my praise of some obscure poet appears exaggerated to certain of my readers, let them remember that I praise these writers in order to make up for all those who have insulted them beyond reason" (17).

These poets have been oppressed by the academy, "reputed poor, thanks to the judgment of a college pedant," and Gautier is having none of it (17).

[Théophile Gautier (1882) via]

Not all of the twelve essays were translated into English. In addition to Villon, this collection features essays on Théophile de Viau, Paul Scarron, Georges de Scudéry, Cyrano de Bergerac and Antoine Girard de Saint-Amant.

I can't talk about everything, but there are a few choice quotes worth mentioning. In particular, Gautier gets quite fiery in defense of de Viau. They share a special kinship, you know.

"Before I had read even a single line of his, I already felt a tender interest in him on account of his name, Théophile... I would willingly have thrashed that pedant Boileau for the harsh lines in which he insults my poor namesake."

"Forgive this foolish piece of pride, but it did not appear to me possible that a man bearing my name should be such a wretched poet" (62).

"It became necessary for the repose of my mind to confirm my entirely gratuitous supposition that Théophile de Viau was in fact as good a poet as I, Théophile Gautier" (63).

Tangent alert/ I hear Poirot's voice when I read this. Eg, "I, Hercule Poirot, world's greatest detective." Also, I understand completely. I've never read the books of Gwyneth Jones, but I feel certain that if I did they would be magnificent./

Gautier follows Victor Hugo's notions of the grotesque closely, specifically his assertion that the grotesque is "the richest source that nature can offer art." Nature is not all beauty, but equal portions of the ugly and the beautiful, and both must be represented and valued. Gautier's "bad taste" definition of the grotesque fits this bill.

"Good taste is a fine thing, but it must not be carried too far. Through excess of good taste very many subjects, details, images, and expressions which have all the flavour of life are lost" (267).

Gautier's philosophy and determination to dedicate time and energy to "bad taste" texts scorned by other critics reminds me of how popular culture was often framed during the 20th century. It also makes me think of how texts such as comics and video games continue to be looked down upon by some within academia. It is not so bad now, of course, as it once was. Perhaps if all pop culture theorists had the conviction of Gautier we would have come further, faster.

Please note: I do not recommend "thrashing" people who don't like your area of study. Not really. Maybe a little.

Dead Classics

I probably shouldn't be thinking about zombies right now, but check out these brilliant posters by Matt Busch.

"As opposed to just taking the original posters and altering them digitally in PhotoShop, Busch has painstakingly hand-painted every detail with traditional mixed media, before slaughtering them with a zombified treatment."

“It’s an ironic twist,” says Busch, “to take these beautiful master-works and attempt to recreate every detail, while at the same time, shredding them to bloody pulps. Literally. Nothing here is sacred, but it’s all in good fun and out of the utmost respect to the original posters that had such an impact on my life.”

My favourite:

Find a whole lot more "Hollywood is Dead" posters here.


Friday, December 3, 2010

Splice Me Up, Before You Go Go

I've mentioned my love of BioShock once or twice on this blog before. Here is the trailer, if you don't know what I'm talking about.

One of my favourite parts of the game is the Splicers; citizens of Rapture (a dilapidated 1940s underwater city) who have abused gene altering substances to the point of physical mutation and mental instability. Splicers are always ranting and singing to themselves.

And sometimes they just whistle.

There are a bunch of action figures out for BioShock and BioShock 2. I decided I should get the latest. Specifically, the Lady Smith Splicer. For research purposes, you understand... *ahem* I was curious to see how her figure would look in the flesh, so to speak, considering her outrageous persona and physique in the game. She's not your typical bodacious female figure.

The Lady Smith is one of the most snobbish enemies, as she was originally an upper-crust lady of leisure:

"Once she was the talk of the town – a high-profile socialite whose wit was her weapon among Rapture’s elite. As the city fell from grace, so did she – becoming addicted to ADAM, splicing herself stronger and faster to feel safe in the streets. She resents having to eat refuse and scrabble for ADAM, but ultimately, she’s a survivor. As a "Leadhead", she pelts her enemies with bursts of tommy-gun fire between vicious verbal barbs."


Speaking of verbal barbs... these are a few of her choice sayings from the first game:

Snarky. Anyway, she arrived yesterday, and is so lovely and horrid I thought it was worth sharing a few pics.

She comes with masquerade mask, a gun and a rolling pin.

Her quality is a lot better than I expected. The skin is particularly good, bulging with veins and chords. Check out these details:

The huge fleshy growth on her waist is matched by a lump on her arm which has split her long glove.

I like how she is bursting through her 50s style dress at the back. It reminds me of The Hulk and how he erupts from his clothing.

The rolling pin, perm and pearls offer a nice touch of 'femininity gone wrong.'

Don't look now, but I'm 90% sure she has a breast growing on her leg.

Cute shoe. She has also grown a tail from one leg, while the other foot has come to resemble more of a hoof/claw.

It seems to me there is something quite poignant about the idea a woman would mutate her body so dramatically: "splicing herself stronger and faster to feel safe in the streets." Women today are surgically altering their bodies for beautification purposes. But would they do it for physical power? What kind of environment would justify such an act? And at what cost?

(BioShock engages with plastic surgery also, through the character of Dr Steinman and his "Aesthetic Ideals" clinic. You can check out his bit of the game here- warning, major spoilers.)

As one reviewer put it: "NECA's Ladysmith Splicer is a hideous monster of a woman. She's painful to look at, and unsettling to consider. But that is as it should be: that's how she looks in the game, as well. "

If I still had my childhood barbies, they would definitely be clutching their pink purses tighter tonight.