The Call of Cthulhu by HP Lovecraft & the art of Chris Grun
  Book Reviews    October 20, 2015     Alicia Bien

 

Every midnight in October: a great work of horror and a conversation with an artist. All works are on display in The Last Bookstore. Don’t forget to pick up a map when you get to the store, so you don’t miss anything, or take a peek here.

 

A professor dies mysteriously.

A cult worships a strange statue.

A monster terrorizes men.

If you want all this and more, you have to read H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Call of Cthulhu”.

Cth—? Say what?

Okay, for mere humans the title is unpronounceable. But that’s the point, for the story contains an extraterrestrial element that puts author Howard Phillips Lovecraft—writing pulp fiction in the early 20th century—on the literary map and light years ahead of his contemporaries. Lovecraft’s fiction is less horror and more weird. And I mean “weird” in the best possible way.

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The tale begins in Rhode Island when distinguished Archaeology Professor George Angell dies under suspicious circumstances. When his heir and nephew, Francis Thurston, goes through the deceased’s paperwork, Thurston discovers the existence of an ancient cult that reveres a statuette of “Cthulhu”. Expertly carved from an unearthly green stone, the statuette depicts a creature with an octopus head whose face is a “mass of feelers, [atop] a rubbery-looking body and membraneous wings”. Although he sleeps under the ocean, the cult believes its chants can awaken the sleeping Cthulhu who will then overpower the earth and bring it under his evil sway.

Needless to say, Cthulhu is not a cuddly extraterrestrial.

Fast forward 17 years: a ship stumbles upon a great stone pillar protruding from the South Pacific, its crew investigates only to find the sunken city where Cthulhu sleeps in an unholy tomb. Like a hideous Sleeping Beauty, the massive Cthulhu awakens with one goal: to destroy earthlings, which he does with little effort. Finally, a lone surviving sailor decides to battle the monstrous Squid Dragon, knowing that only one of them will come out alive.

Who will it be? Read “The Call of Cthulhu” to find out.

[And for more Lovecraft, check out our brand new Overview.]

 

CHRIS GRUN with Alicia Bien

 

Clean cut, over 6-feet tall, sporting jeans and a plaid shirt, Chris Grun has a mainstream, all-American guy look… for someone who designs blood-curdling monsters. For The Last Spookstore exhibit, Chris created the drawings of the creature Cthulhu in H.P. Lovecraft’s short horror story “The Call of Cthulhu”. I got to talk to Chris about monsters. Here are some highlights.

 

Alicia Bien – You’re an artist at DreamWorks, an animation studio known for Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and other cuddly characters. How did you get into creating monsters?

Chris Grun – Before my DreamWorks gig, I worked on over 18 live-action feature films including Land of the Lost, The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Cabin in the Woods and Preternatural. This work was done for visual effects and animation studios—like Academy-Award winning Rhythm & Hues. I was their Art Director and Creature Designer.

 

AB – There’s actually a name for it?

CG – Yeah, as a “Creature Designer” I designed concept drawings of what a movie’s monster would look like—from its bones to its skin—as well as how big it would be, how it would breathe and move, how it functioned in the environment, its whole history and biology, really. Then I collaborated with a team of animators, artists and shaders to create a fully-realized creature. Creating monsters for movies is a team effort that begins with my original concept designs.

A whole series of Cthulhic portraits can be seen in the Pillars of Terror section of A Horror Story Art Show

A whole series of Cthulhic portraits can be seen in the Pillars of Terror section of A Horror Story Art Show. We may also have a few of Grun’s sketchbooks left over from opening night.

 

AB – How did you know you wanted a job creating monsters? I mean, as a kid did you see one under your bed?

CG – I wish I’d seen monsters under my bed! It would have made my job easier. Actually when I was in grade school I saw The Empire Strikes Back and was fascinated by all its space creatures created by artist Joe Johnston. I bought the sketchbook of the movie art where it showed Johnston’s concept drawings for the different space characters and vehicles and I was hooked. I knew then I wanted to do that when I grew up.

 

AB – What inspires you and your drawing?

CG – My earliest inspiration is from other artists, especially those illustrators working at the turn of the 20th century, because they had a heightened sense of style and great drawing skills. In the early 1900s cameras were growing in popularity so pen and ink artists had to push the envelope in their own work, which they did by creating images that tell a story, capture the imagination and transport you somewhere else.

 

AB – Artists’ names! I want names!

CG – I’m inspired by the work of N.C Wyeth whose paintings had an elevated sense of design. I also like Arthur Rackham who explored the things that “could be out there”. Frank Frazetta was a traditional painter with a keen eye for design. I also like the drawing quality and draftsmanship of Ralph McQuerrie, Edmund Dulac and Norman Rockwell.

 

AB – So you like dead artists.

CG – There are more dead artists than live ones. And FYI Joe Johnston isn’t dead!

 

AB – Touché. H.P. Lovecraft was writing in this era. Is that why you wanted to create the titular monster for his story “The Call of Cthulhu”?

CG – Maybe. But I also just really like the story of “The Call of Cthulhu”. Cthulhu is an evil monster with some benevolence. Besides “Cthulhu” is fun to say. Cthulhu, Cthulhu, Cthulhu—

 

AB – Now you’re just showing off. Hey, I loved the drawings of Cthulhu you created for this exhibit. What can you tell us about them?

CG – My design started with the author’s brief description in the story and grew from there. The story is set in the early 20th century when people were afraid of nature and the sea. So I incorporated that into the size and force of the character. Also, back then deep sea monsters—like Cthulhu—were representations of nature, which were feared and needed to be avoided at one’s own peril. The drawings represent that point in the story when the sailors encounter Cthulhu and fight to the death.

[Editor’s Note: At the time of this interview, Chris had created two pieces for the show, both pretty well-described by the above. He then went on to create 7 more pieces that are Cthulhic, but… different. You’ll have to see them in person.]

 

AB – Last question: Why did you think people like to read horror stories and be scared?

CG – Horror and monsters force us to confront our own fears. And if we can gasp and scream with fear at a scary story or creature it helps us deal with the reals horrors that happen in our own lives. Boo!

AB –  AAGH!

 

Apparently, this one looks a bit like his cousin.

Grun may have modeled this one after his own cousin.

 

Steal a glance at our full slate of October events: masquerade, magic and more Halloween mayhem.

 

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