Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Necronomicon, Open Source Edition

I wanted to get some feedback about an idea.

Over the last few weeks I've featured a number of amazing tomes and grimoires from a variety of artists. Every time I make one of those posts I'm reminded that such tomes are probably the pinnacle of Lovecraftian propmaking. They're undeniably impressive, but the amount of work needed to create one is shocking. To make a truly convincing eldritch book requires a huge amount of custom artwork to make the pages look authentic, and that all has to be done before you can even begin to think about the binding process.

But what if the necessary high-quality artwork were free?

Well, not quite "free". It would have to be paid for initially, but after that it would be freely available to anyone under a Creative Commons license. Then you could re-use it and remix it anyway you wanted for the rest of time. Print it out and bind your own evil grimoire. Make decorative scrolls for games. Heck, just lift the graphics to make Halloween party invitations.

I've tentatively called this idea "The Open Source Necronomicon".

The basic idea is a to create a crowd-sourced funding project, either through Kickstarter or a similar venue, to pay a professional artist to produce at least 40 pages of art and text. Once completed the pages would be freely available as high-resolution (600 DPI) scans for anyone to use under an open Creative Commons license. Any individual elements from the pages, either calligraphy, art, or text, could be reused and remixed by anyone for any purpose. The only requirements would be that any derivatives be made available under the same free-to-use license and that the project and artist receive attribution.

Personally, I'd be in favor of producing a more fantasy-influenced version of the Necronomicon and not one of the canon print versions. I'd definitely want the artwork to be firmly grounded in the Mythos, but beyond that I think a version that isn't tied to a specific time period would be more flexible. That should help with funding, since the project would appeal to a wider audience outside the Lovecraftian faithful.

As to the actual amount of funding, I'm open to suggestions. Ideally the project would use a proven artist with a record of reliability, skill, and familiarity with the Mythos. Artists deserve to be paid well, particularly for such a massive undertaking, so I think $15,000 would be an absolute minimum. All of the money raised, minus any fees from the funding organization, would go directly to the artist.

Your thoughts and suggestions would be appreciated.


Jere Genest said...

Sounds like a great idea. Once an artist(s) are selected and a few example pieces worked up it should get very quick funding.

Sir Timothy Of Kent said...

I think this is an amazing idea. But would people be willing to initially stump up cash for something that other people can come along and use for free?

Perhaps, after the project is fully funded (and supporters have received the full package), the files could be made available for a small fee per page (that way the artists will continue to get 'royalties')?

Propnomicon said...

@ Jere Genest

I have a few candidates in mind, but I wanted to get a feel for how much the support the idea had before moving to that stage.

@ Sir Timothy Of Kent

I *think* there's enough support that a premium wouldn't be necessary. One surefire goody would be a contribution tier that earned the donor a page of the actual artwork.

Jason McKittrick said...

Sounds like a great idea. I think forty pages would be enough to get the person started and then they're own creativity could fuel the rest of the project. This allow for plenty of customization and would cut down on "clones" floating around. Each person would feel like they had a unique one.

Alex Kaeda said...

I like the idea in concept (and considering how much difficulty I'm having with my worldbook yearbook to necronomicon conversion..... i wouldnt mind putting it on the back burner for a while, to have better pages to glue inside, so that it looks more....evil....and then moving on to a different project)

and I have been wondering for a while what the "next big project" was going to be....

yes sir, I like the idea in concept

ethicalcannibal said...

A kickstarter thingamajig for this would be something I'd donate to. I've been wanting to do up a tome in the near future, and what has been holding me back isn't the binding, or the covers. I have some content, but honestly, I need more.

If it was like other kickstarter projects, and I were to donate, and get the files, I'd be totally up for it.

Andros said...

I contributed in the last Kickstarter fundraiser and I will again for this one. I do like the idea that the top 40 donors (for example) would each get one of the 40 pages produced. A good idea because people donating a lot would be rewarded and a $15,000 project needs more than $20 donations.

Jacob Matthew said...

This idea made me wonder: What about setting up a wiki of sorts where many different artists could upload Necronomicon pages, as many or as few as they could create, under the same license. Then anyone looking to put together a prop could pick out as many as they needed, mixing and matching the work of different artists to get the look they wanted.

The benefits of this approach are that you have a greater body of work for propmakers to work with and you spread the work out among a larger number of artists. Artists that might balk at the idea of making 40 pages might have a sudden flash of inspiration that's enough for one page.

The drawback would be the inconsistency among the pages. If you wanted a single style and layout, you would want the material from only one artist and I doubt there would be enough from any single artist to fill a book.

Tim Lonegan said...

Sounds like a capital idea to me. Perhaps as an incentive for some of the top end contributors you could arrange to have 10 or 20 sets of pages bound up in book form. That ought to motivate people to dig deep.

Umpherous said...

Great idea. Just a question -- what about continuity? Would there be some kind of .... I don't know the word--theme, design, concept--that artists would use as a framework? Otherwise forty pages of disparate artwork will not gel as a single Necronomicon.

CoastConFan said...

Try it this way: Get 40 people to pledge a certain amount of money toward a 40 page grimorie. Each person of the 40 Club would get one original page of artwork from the book project. The final project would be scanned in for free use of the digital images. The contributors would get an original page.

The value comes in if you also set this up so that people can also get a fully printed book from an online printing company such as LuLu. Buy the basic book and get a high quality printing in soft cover. Pay more and get it in hard back. That makes the original art work valuable since it is from an in production print book.

Those who want to play with the images and make their own can just download the digital images from the website. That reminds me, you need cover art for the hardback so it might be the 41 Club rather than the Necronomicon 40 Club.

The chosen artist gets national exposure and an in print book to his/her credit. Money from the printing portion can go towards funding another project, if necessary. Or the money from the book publishing can go to the artist, which would reduce his/her fee. All hail the 40, uh 41 Club!

Although I have a background in traditionally printed and distributed books and games, the electronic age is upon us and we can use the on-demand concept to our favor.

Carmilla said...

Great idea!
If I can be of any help, please contact me!
If you don´t want to keep a same style all along the pages it could go on growing forever with the contributors of those who want to draw one or two pages!

Christopher Darrin Horn said...

That is a very cool idea!

Spider M. Mann said...

I was just thinking about something like this, along the lines of what Jacob Matthew suggested above.

Except instead of a Wiki, start a thread over at the forums (probably the Lounge) and ask for artwork donations from anyone interested. That might save you some money.

There are lots of mythos fans over there, and this could be good practice for them.

I would just speculate the format and style parameters (e.g. only pen and ink line art - no full color paintings) and see what suggestions and submissions you receive.

I'm no artist, but I would be happy to donate some font design and creation skill for this.

josefk said...

I like the idea. I'm thinking, though, that if one artist is used for the overall artwork and text it will be tough to add additional pages without them looking out of place. One thought might be to have the text style be available as a font so a person could add additional text pages by making up their own material and then printing them. I know that 'ready made' fonts don't always look great, but with a little hand work can look decent.

drjon said...


Anonymous said...

As for artists, I would imagine you would want to stay open to needing two unless you find one flexible artist. Simply because not every artist is a DaVinci and can draw all the organic elements as well as the sigils, circles, and whatnot.

Line weights could be an issue. Since someone might want to use a piece of art to dominate a page while another scaled down to fill half. Throw in script and it will all start looking inconsistent.

Speaking of scripts, you might want to encourage that as well, find someone who can write in a proper style or 12, have them make fonts. But make four of them with the characters hand drawn in the same style to introduce variety to the characters and kill that "it's a font" look.

As for artist cost, it is somewhat a question of what is a "page of art?" Is it as much related "clipart" that will fit on a page of given dimensions? Is it a page-sized plate? It could be the difference between $50 and $500 per page.

Free artists might help the project as well. After the initial kickstarter portion and the artist(s) have essentially provided a style, it might be possible to have artists provide more art (complying with certain rules such as medium, DPI, overall size, etc) and have the core contributors essentially vote on which art gets accepted to keep up a certain level of quality.

Anonymous said...

Ah! If only I'd created a greater body of work... as is, I don't think I have anything stunning enough to make one consider me as a possible artist for this :/

In any case, I'm kind of intrigued by the concept put forth by Jacob Matthew - as for consistency, I don't know how you might do this, but I know most (all?) animation studios have one artist whose sole purpose is to go through and edit things into being consistent, though I suppose this approach would still require a team working towards one similar style.

Bad Mynock said...

I like it and would gladly contribute through kickstarter or a similar service to see it realised.

Bad Mynock said...

I like it and would gladly donate to see this project realised.

Marc said...

Really cool. I'm looking forward to it.

Frank Fehrenholdt said...

Great idea. I would most definitely donate to such a project.

Princekarr said...

Sounds fab, I'd be in favour of it

laurent said...

Hey there. I'm the one that made this

I'd say that it is a gorgeous idea.

I don't have any idea yet about how to raise money, what people who give money may get and the rest but I have something in mind about what the book may look like.

Apparently, the Necronomicon is a compendium, a book made by gathering scattered information coming from different sources. And this is what it may look. If you think of that, many old books are made of little books put together (it's not unusual in the middle ages and if you've read The Name of the Rose, you may remember that THE book is made of 3 books binded together). So, why not ask different artists to work on it and bind all this together ?

The other point is that anyone and not only artists may be part of the project. We need artists to turn the book into something beautiful but we also need people who may tell us what to put in the book.

So, I think we need artists and supportive people that will help to find out and gather what will appear on the book.

What do you think ?

Geoffrey Schaller said...

I'd be willing to chip in.

I'm also willing to host / donate server space, if someone would like to dedicate an actual website to this. I'll pick up the domain, configure cPanel, run backups, etc. - I just don't have the resources to run the actual site itself.

As for formatting - the idea of CSS styles that might let you choose "themes" for your variant of the book could be cool. So by modifying a few bits of code here and there, the text would change, without too much content changing in the book itself.

Carl said...

This is a great idea, I would pledge some money into it, a decent amount as I would quite like to have a piece of the original art. But I also like some of the ideas people have mentioned for a free alternative should raising $15,000 prove to be too great a task for the community. Should a free collection of user submitted art be pooled under a free distribution licence I'd probably pull myself out of artistic retirement to create a couple of pages. As harsh as it sounds though, I think a free collection would require administration of some form to reject / remove lower quality submissions to maintain the value of the collection as a useful resource.

MadKeeper said...

I think it's awesome idea, however like Sir Timothy said, I would suggest a premium be added but only as a method to continue growing the project.

Perhaps to make it easier for fund raising and on the artists start with a smaller amount of pages.

Making this an on going project on it's own site with premium and free content???

I might be getting ahead of myself, but I really do like the idea!

Princekarr said...

Did just have another idea based on the comments floating around. Perhaps anyone that wanted to donate the pages could have an open submission to a mail set up that you could use, go through and pick out the stuff to use to put it together. EG I would probably be happy to put something together but I don't think I'd be good enough to do a whole lot. Plus with the digital artists they might be able to do things like city scapes and stuff for books like Innesmouth. Perhaps some technically minded folk would like to make the machines into diagrams and things like that. You really have started us all off thinking! Thanks this is much more interesting than work :)

RahneFan said...

This is a splendid idea.

Anonymous said...

$15,000 is a lot of money. If only a small number of people would get a perk of owning an original page, either their investment will be pretty significant or you'll need a ton of people putting in money who are getting no cool perks.

I bet this could be done for half the amount, be completed pretty easily and you'd still have artists interested. Just MHO.

anarchist said...

In general, getting artwork that's already been made would be much cheaper than having it commissioned, so it might pay to have a look at people's portfolios.

Randall Wolf said...

I would participate on such project. Even better if there is a printed version with a creepy cover for those donating, let's say, some 100 USD?

Stonyman said...

The most authentic looking artwork needn't come from professional artists. Take the Voynich manuscript as an example. The work is amatuerish and primitive, but strangely compelling. It looks a lot like what we now call "outsider art."
Mythos art can be like this too. Imagine for a moment what sort of person would be drawn to producing a work such as the necronomicon; they'd be outsiders, half mad and their art would reflect this.
Other relevant references that could give a wonderful impression of antiquity would be cave art, like that in Lascaux.
My point in mentioning these is that while a professional artist could produce wonderful quality, eerie artwork for a creative commons Necronomicon project, amateur contributors could also produce something very special and authentic looking, and needn't cost a huge amount to get started.

John said...

I would love to see something like this. I have taken up a small hobby of book binding but lack the artistry to create content for them that is sutiable. Having something like this that I can mix and match would let me create a whole shelf of "Restricted Books". I am in, I like the kickstarter approach, but my question is, can the donations be aggregate. I have a hard time swinging a large chunk but if I make a habbit of throwing $5 a paycheck at it could that count as my $100 or 26 $5 donations

Anonymous said...

Not bad of an idea. The biggest problem that could potentially be seen is people using the artwork and such to sell replicas and profit from others hard work. But other than that, it's definitely a great idea. :D