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Monday, July 23, 2018

James Cawthorn: The Man and His Art (2018)

Jim Cawthorn's career as an artist is inextricably entwined with the writing career of Michael Moorcock. Cawthorn had served in the R.A.F. for his National Service (shifting explosives and mustard gas at a Norfolk depot) before returning to his native Gateshead and a career as clerk in various businesses. At a mining machinery company he met fellow science fiction fan Don Allen and began producing illustrations for his fanzine Satellite in 1954.

Cawthorn began drawing illustrations for Moorcock's Burroughsania and, although the artist was a decade older, the two developed a life-long friendship, Cawthorn introducing Moorcock to the decaying gothic fantasies of Mervyn Peake and the surrealist comedies of Maurice Richardson as well as Pre-Raphaelite art. As Moorcock moved from fan to professional editor, Cawthorn followed: through the pages of Tarzan Adventures, Sexton Blake Library, New Worlds, and beyond. The artist drew the definitive image of Elric of Melniboné and adapted both heroic albino warrior and jewel-wearing Dorian Hawkmoon in graphic novels as well as virtually every other Moorcock hero in illustrations or book covers. The two also co-wrote fiction, including Caribbean Crisis, The Distant Suns, and the script for the movie The Land That Time Forgot.

Cawthorn was also heavily involved with Savoy Books, drawing covers and illustrations for many of their titles. He was also a huge figure in Edgar Rice Burroughs fandom, having produced illustrations for Peter Ogden's ERBania in 1956 as well as Moorcock's fanzine.

But there was more to Cawthorn than Burroughs and Moorcock and Maureen Cawthorn Bell has written a fascinating memoir of Jim's life which grounds this collection of  his artwork in the human side of Cawthorn; an introduction by Alan Moore, an outroduction by Moorcock and dozens of pieces between them pay tribute to Cawthorn himself as well as his artistic talents.

Cawthorn was a master of the figure in action and his images were full of powerful strokes and movement. Burne Hogarth and Milton Caniff were influences on his early artwork that were carried throughout his career. Hogarth only  ever wrote one book introduction and it was for one of Cawthorn's graphic novels, so who better to offer a critique of the artist:
In his depiction of character we move to a larger stage of comprehending the interplay and dramaturgy of the narrative discourse. This is the riveting material of our scrutiny. Here there is personification with descriptive necessity; faces given with a power of expression and emotion with intent, purpose and inexorable resolution. The types of monsters, beasts, ethnics, men-at-arms, warriors and leaders, female and male, all bear a clarity of impact that stays in the mind ... Look into the faces of his heroes, villains, warriors, adversaries, foes – study their eyes – and you will feel the implacable hatred and manic determination of these bedeviled creatures living in an unbridled fanatical time.
Some of most interesting material in James Cawthorn: The Man and His Art relates to unfinished projects that will sadly never now be completed. Amongst them is the comic strip adaptation of A Princess of Mars produced (in part) by Cawthorn in the 1960s, a second graphic adaptation of Stormbringer; and the third volume, The Sword and the Runestaff, in Cawthorn's Dorian Hawkmoon. There are many other intriguing projects, amongst them a Savoy Books Adam and the Ants novel entitled From Adam, to Oscar, up Edgar. Others, like Ceirl, Elric's Sister and Dragonlords of Mars, hint at lost gems.

At 446 pages, this is a definitive collection of art and memories of an artist who created some remarkable, beautiful, compelling images for book covers, magazines, fanzines and friends (the selection of birthday cards is delightful). Moorcock fans are probably already aware of its publication, but anyone else who remembers picking up a Moorcock fantasy over the past few decades, here's a brilliant chance to meet the artist. You won't be disappointed.

James Cawthorn: The Man and His Art, written and compiled by Maureen Cawthorn Bell, edited by John Davey. Jayde Design ISBN 978-0957-57842-1, 2018, 446pp, £35. Available via Jayde Designs.


  1. In further good news, in November 2018, Titan will be collecting Cawthorn's two Hawkmoon adaptations under the title The Michael Moorcock Library: Hawkmoon - History of the Runestaff Vol. 1.

    sadly, I can't see any sign of a reprint of Cawthorn's tabloid-sized adaptation of Stormbringer, so I guess I'll just have to stick with my slightly tatty copy that I've had for over thirty years.

  2. I've heard today from John Davey that Titan will also be reprinting Stormbringer.