Tag Archives: Cthulhu

A Eulogy on Character: Andrew Brechin

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Andrew Brechin knew how to be a character and a three-dimensional one at that. Photo: Tanya Kozak

Originally I was going to write about gender stereotypes for the Ink Punks (a local writing group)
but after the unexpected death of a friend last week I have decided to switch. So, in honour of Andrew Brechin who died too young, I dedicate this post to character.

If you saw Andrew on the street you might think, there is a rather stout fellow, or; he is a portly guy. Two ways of saying the same thing but different connotations to them. These statments might give the tone of the time period in which the story is given, or the narrator’s voice and suggest a certain level of education or deportment. They can also indicate a person’s view of another character. We’ll see more about Andrew’s deportment as we go on. In fact, as I play the only partially omniscient narrator of this piece, I will hopefully reveal more about Andrew to make him live in your mind, for that is how we keep all who have moved beyond the veil alive.

If I said that Andrew was part of the Society for Creative Anachronism (or medieval society) you might get a picture in your head of someone who liked history and to dress in costumes. And if I told you his medieval name was Guillermo Portelli, and knowing he was a stout fellow, you might begin to think he made a joke at his expense. And you would be right in both accounts.

He did indeed like to dress up but he saw it more in terms of daily raiment than as a costume. He was known to have once dressed as baby Cthulhu, that tentacled Old One of  H.P. Lovecraft’s invention. A few pictures do exist. There are other pictures of him with black wings and a black peasant shirt, fake Viking helm with plastic horns, wearing striped pants as he stands proudly on a miniature Viking ship, swirls of paint and glitter as he participates as one of the topless wish fairies in the Lantern festival, or wearing a long red robe with hood as a tech wizard, and wearing a purple top hat as he walks down the street, with cloak and a drum over his shoulders. There are many pictures of Andrew in various types of face and body paint.

Yes, Andrew loved to dress up and was known to have a few hats. You see, he didn’t believe that as an adult you had to let go of the child within. He was a staunch agent of joy and the sacred jester. He brought mirth and fun wherever he went, whether he was drumming for bellydancers, playing as part of the festive Carnival Band or just out there enjoying a party.

If I stopped here, you would have a picture of him, of how he looked and some of his attitude, but he was much more than this. Every year for his birthday, he would announce Breklormas, a feastorama at a local Chinese restaurant. The greasier the better, and I’m sorry to say I never made it to one.

He had a cunning mind and frequently formed wild plans for world domination or something with bacon in it, or some other crazy idea that he’d share with friends. One of his last posts before he died was this:

So, on the one hand, I really don’t want the Winter Olympics back. On the other, the idea of taking it back from the Russians and making it the GAYEST FUCKING OLYMPICS EVAR (which is really saying something, since the Classical Greek athletes competed naked except for a coating of olive oil) amuses the heck out of me. We could make a Queer Olympic Flag with seven rainbow rings on it, and I think it would pass copyright law as a parody…

He was always thinking. I wasn’t his closest friend but I saw some of this wizardly wit with his quips on facebook. And yes, Andrew’s, or Breklor as we sometimes called him, wit and whimsy were evident. He had a penchant for shooting pictures of toilets and posting them just because it was rather, well…Andrew.

Stereotypes begin in reality and are only a snapshot of someone. We have a clichéd image of what a jock, a hippy, a power attorney, a rock star, a nerd, a hipster, etc. look like. There is a uniform to both clothing and personality type. But it’s like looking at twenty blueberry pies baked by twenty people. They may all be pies and have blueberries but they will have diverse textures, various flavors and when you really look at them, uniquely different aspects.

When you write, even if you have a stereotype, you need to flesh that character inside and out. Anyone who just saw Andrew walking down the street, in cape and top hat, walking into the Stormcrow, haven for geeky game enthusiasts, would classify him as one of the same ilk. They would be right but what distinguishes one geek or nerd or jock from another is how you portray them. Already, because I’ve described more carefully Andrew’s clothing, he wasn’t just a T-shirt wearing geek. He was always clean and carefully dressed, and while he wore T-shirts from time to time, he also wore other clothing that had far more character.

While he loved to bring in joy and mirth, he wasn’t goofy. He had an innate sense of when to bring in laughter and when to be serious and listen. He loved kids, and while I heard he experienced bullying as a child, he decided to turn it around and put joy in its place. He was a good and intelligent conversationalist with deep insights. The beliefs he held included loving and wholly embracing who he was. Never once would I say he was annoying. He just knew. And he was pervasive, so much so that when the ripples went out last week from the shock of finding out of his untimely passing, various friends were surprised to find that another of their friends had known him as well. He was everywhere and the words most people used to describe him were: wizardly, witty, wise, joyful.

Make you characters come alive so the reader is invested. If you only have a few words, or limited space, choose those words well. Stephen King has done this very well, even if it was particularly annoying to get into a character in just two pages and find that on the third page he died. Instead of giving dry descriptions, it’s best to show character through movement, expression, dialogue and appearance.

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Andrew Brechin was the sacred jester, bringing mirth to many. He would make a great story character. Photo: Tanya Kozak

Andrew knocked at the old church gate, black feathered wings tied to his back and a glint in his eye. He leaned forward expectantly, then looked back at the camera, trying to suppress a smile. Giving up, he turned and stuck his tongue out. With this external view, you get a sense of the character, the surroundings and the attitude. So in a page or less you can define a character and if you’re writing a story, you can drop small pieces of description in as the character moves or talks. A little goes a long way in the reader’s imagination.

As you write characters into your stories, remember this: Even your villains have to live and while they may want world domination, they may also suffer from a runny nose and lumbago, and love kittens and blueberry pies. No one, not even a stereotype is all bad or good. We are made up of shades of grey and of all colors of the rainbow. Andrew was. Not only did he bring light into lonely dark places, he brought rainbows as well.

I plan to use Andrew one day in a story, either as a villain or a good guy. He’d be tickled pink and purple to know that he lives on.

I should also mention that Andrew will move on to become one of the Great Old Ones. He is being cremated in his baby Cthulhu suit.

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Publisher Highlight: Innsmouth Free Press

Innsmouth Free Press is a Canadian small press that specializes in dark fiction of a particular gothic or Cthulhian vein. Silvia Moreno-Garcia is looking for public funding through the fundraising site Indiegogo, for an anthology called Sword & Mythos. They hope to pay professional rates to the authors. That’s only .5 cents per word. It’s not a lot and speculative authors don’t get rich even on that amount. There are 5 days left to hit their funding goal of $5,000 and they’re still $1,000 short.

Innsmouth has been going for a few years and the well-laid out site offers reviews of books, comics, TV shows, movies and anything gothic, dark or Lovecraftian. H.P. Lovecraft was a writer who created the Great Old Ones and Cthulhu.

I’ve only been in one anthology Candle in the Attic Window, with a reprint poem but I’m impressed with the quality of cover art. If you wonder about the tentacled Old One in the future, then there’s Future Lovecraft. I have friends who hate mushrooms but did you ever dream of what an intelligent or malicious fungus might do? Then there is Fungi. Innsmouth’s website is lush with imagery and interesting information.

Check it out, maybe by a book and if you have a few spare bucks, donate to the Sword and Mythos fund and you’ll get a few goodies

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Sword and Mythos needs your help to pay pro rates.

in the long run.

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Artist Highlight: Andy Tarrant

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Trespasser Ceramics Samian Ware (I love this piece)

I met Andrew Tarrant years ago and he was already making truly awesome pottery. A graduate of the Alberta College of Art and Design, it looks like he hit the ground running and has been a successful enough artist to make a living and support his family. He teaches from time to time and then works on his wares.

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A jar made with sprigs of Andrew’s design.

Andrew Tarrant’s Trespasser Ceramics blends old and new. There is an obvious love of the medievaland ancient art that influences his pieces, whether, Celtic knotwork, green men, Venus of Willendorf, Roman figures or other historical elements. But he blends his pieces with other designs, which can be fantastical or just different. He has made teapots with a gear design, and other steampunk inspired pieces. While he does mostly vessels, he has created one of a kind pieces such as busts that incorporate sprigs.

Sprigs are a mold designed ornamentation that can then be made over and over and applied to the thrown pot. This is one of the signature elements of Trespasser Ceramics. He also uses the clay with a wash and specific applications of a shinier glaze, as evidenced in these pictures.

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Andrew’s steamed teapot blends elements of steampunk in clay.

As in the middles ages, Andy would be considered a master of his guild. His work is clean, precise and yet whimsical and beautiful. I aim to own a piece when I can afford it. His art ranges from beads that you can buy off of his site to large urns that are several feet tall. The art evinces both a feel of the ancient and mystical and of future bizarreness.

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What dark mysteries lie ahead in Andrew Tarrant’s studio as Cthulhu takes shape?

He is working on some mysterious new piece and from the sprigs he’s designingCthulhu will be involved. Cthulhu, for those who do not know, was created by writer H.P. Lovecraft and is revered by fans of horror and industrial metal alike. I’m sure everyone will be interested in seeing what this master artist comes up with.

You can check out Trespasser Ceramics at his website or on Facebook to see what he’s up to. And if you happen to be in Calgary, you could take a class from him or find his work in the local galleries. Anyone who owns a piece made by Trespasser Ceramics cherishes it for the unique and wonderful art that it is.

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Cthulhu Who?

Last Friday I went to Cthulhupalooza, thinking, why not? Let’s try something new. Although I know of Cthulhu I can’t say I’m on intimate terms with it…him. But what, you’re asking, what the heck is a Cthulhu? Pronunciations differ but “kathooloo” is the most common. “He” is an Elder God or perhaps a Great Old One and is the creation of H.P. Lovecraft who was writing at the advent of the fantasy/horror genres.

Lovecraft doesn’t seem to have been a particularly healthy person and his parents were both committed for different forms of madness, brought on by a syphilitic disease in at least his father. Lovecraft wrote in the same style as his predecessors of the gothic age, Mary Shelley, and especially Edgar Allan Poe who was a strong influence on his writing. Cthulhu was created in the 1920s and though one of many “unspeakable horrors” has gained much fame and cult following after the fact. Cthulhu is often portrayed as greenish, with tentacles dangling from its mouth, great batlike wings at its back and talons gracing its hands. He is a god so alien that humans barely matter and Lovecraft’s writing is rife with the insignificance of the mere human mortal in the great scheme of things.

I don’t know if I’ve ever managed to read a complete Lovecraft story. Even for his time he wrote in an archaic style and I’ve found it very hard to drag myself through the prose. But…being a writer of science fiction and fantasy I know of the mythos and I know of the beast. Many of the stories describe the indescribable horrors in long melodramatic, as only gothic can be, prose. Often the writer has read an ancient book, maybe in Sumerian and the horrid tales work an insidious change and captivation on the mind.

So, when I was invited to Cthulhupalooza II on Facebook I decided what the heck. There were to be short films, a couple of bands, a few tables of geek paraphernalia and a burlesque act, Little Miss Risk being sacrificed to Cthulhu. I went with two friends and we dressed up in semi Victorian clothing. Only a few people were dressed likewise with the majority in jeans and heavy metal hoodies. The venue was the Rickshaw, an old theater in Vancouver’s E. Hastings St. Not the best area of town and I had a vague recollection that the Rickshaw hosts heavy metal bands. It was the scariest part for me because I’m not a heavy metal person.

The venue had a stage and theater seats. We missed the short films so I don’t know if they were snippets of Lovecraft inspired stories or not. Scythia, the self-titled folk metal band was funny, at least with the head banging, hair tossing antics and the lead singer changing his accent from German to English between songs. If there were discernible words I couldn’t tell but that might have been issues with the acoustics or the way of heavy metal bands because when Darkest of the Hillside Thickets came on stage they were just as incomprehensible. In between these two bands they showed films of…bands including Hillside Thickets. So we saw them in film and live and probably could have avoided both. I never thought I’d see head banging, heavy metal fans just sitting in seats, or doing that thing that I call the zombie adoration of standing  on the dance floor (not dancing or head banging) in front of the band. I also never thought that heavy metal would be…well, boring. But it was. I’m no connoisseur but I didn’t find the tunes that catching. Not like Cthulhu would be. Who knew that Lovecraft attracted heavy metal? Maybe it’s all that doom.

An example of the kitschy cult of Cthulhu

The “bar” consisted of a motley mix of canned beers, rum, vodka, Jack Daniels and one or two other elixirs. They only had white wine to which I said, “Cthulhu wouldn’t drink white wine! No red?” When I asked if the rum was dark I was told it was white, to which I replied, “Cthulhu wouldn’t drink white rum!” Oh well. We did see the burlesque act and I regret that we missed the first dance. Little Miss Risk came out dressed in 1930s style reading a great tome, the ones that lure the reader into a Stygian nightmare they cannot escape. She did something so one eye looked closed and one was open but nearly white. Creeeepy. As she crawled onto the Cthulhu altar, wearing the ubiquitous pasties, furry tentacles appeared and writhed; then she stood and spit green blood.

The burlesque was well done and the best part and I’m sorry I missed the earlier one which might have made the $15 price almost worthwhile. Still, we did have fun and found it an amusing, if limited in events, mini-con. As it was, we escaped the creeping horror…or boredom… and went back to my place to drink wine as Cthulhu would.

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