Items Tagged: Jim Woodring

Cosmocopia cover art(illustrated by Jim Woodring)

Payseur and Schmidt

October 2008

signed, limited edition box set 1-23456-789-0

trade paper 1-43443-554-7

Buy it now from Wildside Press

 

 

 

 

Frank Lazorg’s gone mad.

The elderly, ego-driven dean of fine-art fantasy illustrators, venerated by admirers around the world, has reached the end of a lifetime of dreams fulfulled. His creative powers have failed him, his mistress spurned him, and younger rivals threaten to eclipse him. Is it any wonder he eagerly falls upon a strange new drug that promises to reinvigorate him, as both man and artist?

But his reliance on the organic high soon turns to addiction — and addiction to madness. Lazorg finds his grasp on reality slipping. He’s suddenly plunged into a world inhabited by monstrous parodies of humanity, living in a culture that bears a skewed resemblance to the world Lazorg knows.

Yet as the oddly rejuvenated artist soon discovers, this new dimension exhibits its own, perhaps higher-level reality and tangibility, its own dangers and delights, enemies and lovers, including the remarkable being known as Crutchsump.
What Lazorg experiences with Crutchsump and her kind, however, is merely the first rung on the Cosmocopian ladder.

by Charlie Jane Anders for io9

If you really loved your loved ones, you’d get them Cosmocopia by Paul Di Filippo, with illustrations by Jim Woodring. It’s that rare thing: an art book that makes your brain burst.

A limited edition of 500 copies, Cosmocopia is a thing of total beauty. It reminds me of some of McSweeney’s weirder experiments, but in the service of a trippy, crazy science fiction novel. Besides the book itself, which is a sturdy hardcover with a few illustrations by Woodring, the whole thing comes in a cardboard box which contains a print of lurid illustration of the novel’s most disturbing scene. And there’s a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle which comes together to form a demented image of weird creatures from another universe.

But honestly, it’s worth the $65 price tag just to get Di Filippo’s novel (novella?), which may actually be the most demented thing I’ve ever read by him. And if you’ve read Di Filippo’s work, you’ll know that’s a tall order. I’ve been a screaming fan of his since I first read his story about Queen Victoria running off to live in a brothel and being replaced with a genetically engineered mega-newt, which is in the Steampunk Trilogy book.

In Cosmocopia, Di Filippo tells the story of Frank Lazorg, an artist who rose from a pulp illustrator in the 1940s to become a famous artist in his own right. Lazorg is a creature of pure ego, and every time you think he’s going to see something beyond himself, he reverts to type. Now an old man, he’s suffered a stroke that’s left him unable to paint… until a mysterious benefactor sends him a crimson block of crushed scarabs to use as pigment. Lazorg eats the scarab paste instead, and becomes reinvigorated, seeing the world anew through the crimson haze.

And just when you think you see where the story is going — Lazorg is going to become a drug fiend, seeing more and more fantastical things and becoming more monstrous in the process — it takes a sharp left turn, and then another. Without giving too much away, Lazorg leaves this universe behind and visits a more primitive universe, closer to the source of creation. The “Cosmocopia” of the book’s title isn’t literally a horn of plenty, it’s a series of stacked universes, with the smaller universes closer to the source and the bigger universes farther away.

In this new universe, the inhabitants all have their genitalia on their faces, and they have two brains, one in their head and one in their guts. They view Lazorg as a monster (and he is, sort of) but eventually come to accept him. But just surviving isn’t enough for Lazorg, who wants to be a great artist in every universe. Art, as Lazorg understands it, doesn’t exist in this other universe, so he has to learn the closest equivalent, which is called ideation. He eventually masters the local art form, but that isn’t enough for him: he has to bend it to his will. Along the way, he uses anyone who cares about him, including the local creature, Crutchsump, who falls in love with him.

This story lets Di Filippo ask some fascinating questions about the nature of art, and the differences between representational and non-representational artworks. (Which is fitting for an art book, which comes with lovely illustrations and is an object of beauty in itself.) It’s all mixed up with sexuality and spirituality, and the nature of that mysterious endpoint of the series of stacked universes. But in the end, the story is always about Lazorg’s raging ego, which makes him a more audacious creator than anyone else but also makes him crave fame and adoration. Is it really possible to be a great artist without having a horrendous ego?, Di Filippo seems to ask. We never quite get an answer, just like Lazorg’s final confrontation with the source of the Cosmocopia doesn’t quite settle all our questions.

In short, Cosmocopia is one of the few books-as-fetish-items that is also a thought-provoking, exciting read. If I had to quibble, I’d say I wished for a few more illustrations inside the book. And $65 might be a tad steep — although it’s a gift for the whole family. (I think the jigsaw puzzle is kid safe, if you have a weird kid.) But those are just quibbles, and honestly this is way better value for money than a few DVDs, or some nice drugs — and the effects will last a lot longer.

Paul Di Filippo’s short novel “Cosmocopia” is just part of a package featuring a jigsaw puzzle and other articles reminiscent of the vivid, multi-colored heyday of pulp adventure stories.

By Ed Park

Paul Di Filippo’s short novel “Cosmocopia” (Payseur & Schmidt: 106 pp., $65) is an art book, in multiple senses of the phrase. There is an artist at its center: Frank Lazorg, whose career describes a trajectory from commercial to fine art, beginning in the 1950s with comics, focusing on “hyper-real yet fantastical book covers for paperback-original novels” during the next two decades (“a gallery of demons and brawny warriors, luscious-bottomed maidens and brawling barbarians, aliens and otherworldly explorers”) and concluding — or so it seems — with vivid depictions of “mental landscapes, surreal collages, visions of dimensions beyond.” A stroke has left him physically weak and creatively impotent. “Cosmocopia” is the story of his artistic redemption, a tried-and-true mode, which Di Filippo transforms into a fable at once ludicrous and heartfelt.

“Cosmocopia” is also an art book because it costs 65 clams, comes handsomely bound as a horizontal artifact and shares space in a large box with a 513-piece jigsaw-puzzle of a Jim Woodring illustration inspired by the work (putting the pieces together is tough because everything’s gray). The set also includes a deliciously fiendish full-color scene (also by Woodring) of Lazorg at his demented peak, painting his model blood-red.

You may not know the publisher, Payseur & Schmidt; according to the book’s copyright page, P&S “has embraced the underground for the last 96 years” — indeed, this is one of the few copyright-page how-do-you-dos worth quoting in full, so here’s the rest:

” . . . releasing over 417 volumes and bearing witness to two World Wars, 17 presidents, 23 resident art directors, five generations, three bankruptcy filings, and one 1906 Pearl Improved #11 letterpress, with offices on 47 planets in 13 solar systems, as well as Cauheegan, Wisconsin, and Seattle, Washington. Like Toxoplasma gondii, we remain.”

What is “Cosmocopia,” then? Just the book? All these goodies, I mean items, together?

The high-end presentation of “Cosmocopia” is itself a commentary on the story, and Di Filippo and Woodring’s (and Payseur & Schmidt’s) multiform production is more than just so many bells and whistles.

The above précis of Lazorg’s artistic career shows his steady movement from low to high art (quotation marks should go around both “low” and “high”), a restlessness that can be read as a series of rejections of lubricious, juvenile fare. In a plot development straight out of a pulp story, the spent artist receives a mysterious package, partakes of the occult-rejuvenating powder therein and winds up with a horrifying murder on his hands. In the throes of his climactic masterpiece, he is translated into a completely alien world — that is, he’s a character in the sort of story he once provided eye-grabbing, crowd-pleasing visuals for.

The style reads like a loving pastiche of creaky distant-planet narratives. Our first immersion into this new setting (upon being jerked out of Lazorg’s, and ostensibly our, world) begins: “Crutchsump knew that a trove of valuable fresh bones awaited her on the Shulgin Mudflats at the edge of Sidetrack City, where the metropolis met the water of the Rodinian Sea.” The awful, slightly disgusting-sounding name (Crutchsump); the inscrutable folkways (bones? of what? and why would you want them waiting for you?); the meaningless geography (ah, the Rodinian Sea!): Di Filippo slings this deadly stuff so effortlessly that one can be forgiven for releasing an inward groan.

But soon he’s unloading a “Jabberwocky”-size helping of impenetrable neologisms — shifflets, grapple-gnaws, mockmucks, gorgit vendors, trindlebrumes and much more — and deploying antique vocabularies, and the effect is comic, disorienting and evocative, sometimes all at once. A creature is turned into “a heap of calcific flinders”; “juncos, lammergeiers and questrals . . . parceled the sky into avian empires.”

All books are worlds created out of language, and “Cosmocopia” presses this to the breaking point. Even as Di Filippo elides the issue of translation (Crutchsump immediately understands what this oddly shaped visitor is saying), he plays with the idea that certain concepts simply have no equivalent. A reenergized Lazorg spends the majority of the novel in Crutchsump’s world, which has no signs, no writing and, alas, nothing resembling his preferred mode of creative expression. (“What is ‘painting’?” Crutchsump queries, when Lazorg tells it about his previous profession. “Is it a kind of thing like ‘writing’?”)

There is no art, per se, on this world, but something called “ideation” exists — a sort of standardized sculpture involving mental strength and something called nacre. Di Filippo nimbly describes the process (or “technics”), giving plenty of details while preserving the form’s essential strangeness. Even more fun is his take on alien sex. Crutchsump explains to Lazorg: “Male and female are variable roles based on size. During mating, whichever introciptor is the smaller will slip inside whichever is the larger. The smaller is considered the male.” (Introciptor?) Lazorg and Crutchsump may be anatomically incompatible denizens of parallel universes, but one absurdly roots for them to hook up.

“Cosmocopia” fluctuates between a jeu d’esprit and a portrait of the artist as an old man. Di Filippo has implanted a bizarre, funny and melodramatically inclined fantasy world within the “real” world of his story. This is the author’s way of showing both the nightmarish multiplicity of worlds and the hazy line demarcating genre art from a supposedly higher form.