Today, we are talking with Dave Carson, a Lovecraftian illustrator working mainly with pen and ink. He has won five British Fantasy Awards for Best Artist during his career as an illustrator. He has also done extensive work for the Call of Cthulhu RPG published by Chaosium:
IFP: Tell us a bit about yourself. What’s your background? Did you go to art school? That sort of thing.
DC: I was born in Northern Ireland in 1955. I never did go to art college, left school when I was fifteen, and am completely self-taught.
IFP: How did you discover Lovecraft?
DC: The very first thing by H.P.L that I read was “The Lurking Fear” in an old magazine when I was quite young – eight or nine, I believe. I had been reading a lot of the classic stuff such as Dracula and Poe’s work, but there was something about this Lovecraft tale that made me want to read more, so I began tracking down his stories, which wasn’t that easy back then. When I eventually discovered “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Call of Cthulhu”, they got me well and truly hooked.
IFP: How and why did you begin to create illustrations based on Lovecraft’s work?
DC: Well, I’d been reading Lovecraft for years, but hadn’t seen a lot of illustrations of his work. There were a few Virgil Finlay pieces and a couple of the other Weird Tales artists, but the drawings that I had seen weren’t Lovecraftian enough, as far as I was concerned, anyway. Hardly a tentacled monster to be seen! I thought this was rather strange considering the wealth of inspirational material in his work, so I decided to have a try myself. I also like drawing monsters.
IFP: Lovecraft’s creatures are alien and often difficult to describe. Does this pose a problem when you are creating an illustration? Or is it even a hurdle?
DC: No problem at all. That’s one of the pleasures of illustrating Lovecraft.You have a lot to work with. He does get into some very detailed descriptions of his creatures.
IFP: Aside from Lovecraft, what are some other sources of inspiration?
DC: Arthur Machen, M.R.James, Clark Ashton Smith, William Hope Hodgson, and a bunch more, but these are my favourite weird authors.
IFP: Most of your illustrations are black-and-white pen-and-ink. Why the preference? And do you ever stray and use some other techniques?
DC: The black & white ink drawings were the easiest and cheapest for the small-press publishers and fanzines that I started off with to reproduce. I suppose that was the main reason back then. But I do prefer working with pen-and-ink anyway. It has a sense of permanence, unlike digital work which I have experimented with but never really grown to feel 100% comfortable with. I also do some sculpture.
IFP: Who is your favourite artist?
DC: It’s a toss up between Lee Brown Coye and Harry Clarke. I think Coye wins it for sheer weirdness and originality. I love that man’s work! He really hasn’t had the recognition that he deserves. Where are all the Coye art books ?
IFP: What artistic accomplishment are you most proud of in your life?
DC: That I’m a recognised Lovecraftian artist.
IFP: What is your dream project?
DC: It would be great to be involved in some Lovecraft movie project. With a budget of more than $10.
IFP: Can you tell us about Called by Cthulhu: The Eldritch Art of Dave Carson?
DC: Well, it’s as complete a collection of my work as I’ve been able to put together. From the earliest efforts, around 1975, to the most recent drawings. I’ve been researching and unearthing old drawings for months now and have managed to compile quite a lot of material. Illustrations from books, magazines, fanzines, t-shirt designs, even Christmas cards that I’ve designed for clients over the years. This will be the first time that a lot of people will be seeing these drawings. Some of these publications had amazingly-small print runs.
IFP: Tell us about some future projects.
DC: I’m working on a new series of Lovecraftian t-shirts. The first one, “De Vermis Mysteriis”, is currently available from cthulhuart.com. I have three other designs completed and more are planned, so I will probably be working on those over the coming months if nothing else gets in the way.
IFP: What is your favourite Lovecraft story?
DC: Has to be “The Call of Cthulhu”. I like the structure of it. The piecing together of dissociated knowledge from journals, newspaper clippings, etc. There’s also the cool stuff about artists and sculptors being sensitive receptors of Cthulhu’s thoughts. I can identify with that.
IFP: If you could be a Lovecraft/Mythos character or creature, who would you be and why?
DC: Cthulhu of course. Just imagine all that sleeping, not to mention the dreaming!