Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Book of Phobias and The Book of Ishness

So, one really interesting book Bijee showed me during our recent visit to Trout Lake was an art book illustrated by one John Vassos, someone I'd never heard of who turned out to be a really important industrial designer of the 1920s through 1950s. If you've seen 'futuristic' furniture or household items from that era, there's a good chance they're by him. Apparently he even designed the look of one of the first commercial tv sets. Anyway, in 1931 he produced a very weird limited edition book called simply PHOBIA. Each spread therein featured a full-page greytone illustration of a phobia.

Now, since phobias are abstract, the goal of each picture is to suggest the state of mind a person suffering from that phobia would have, and express the fear and turning away that accompanies all phobias. Being an acrophobic myself, I can testify that the results are strange and disturbing and fascinating, all at the same time.

While the original book is fairly rare, it turns out there's a recent Dover reprint. But for those who just want to see what the art looked like, here's the link to a website that has most if not all of the book's contents posted:

Two thoughts:

--Being a Tolkienist, I was reminded of Tolkien's somewhat earlier attempt (which Vassos cd not have known about, since it was never published*) to portray abstract states in some of his early artwork, in the pieces he collectively named THE BOOK OF ISHNESS. Some of these pieces have been published in Wayne and Christina's JRRT: ARTIST AND ILLUSTRATOR, but I don't think all of them appear there (cd be wrong about that). While Tolkien's style is nothing like Vassos's, some of Tolkien's topics in pieces like BEFORE, AFTERWARDS, WICKEDNESS, EERINESS, UNDERTENISHNESS strike similar themes, while GROWNUPISHNESS is more light-hearted and THOUGHT reminds me of Sime; it wd have fitted nicely into one of Dunsany's early books (which we know Tolkien was v. fond of).

--Also, being something of a Cthulhuist, if there is such a word, I thought what a good game prop a copy of PHOBIA would be in a CALL OF CTHULHU campaign; it wd do v. well as an example of a Mythos book, disturbing in subtle ways so that just being exposed to its images underminds yr grip on sanity just a little.


current reading: EMPIRE magazine December issue

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