Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Mystery Of The John Closson Necronomicon

Ned Brooks contacted me about a version of the Necronomicon that may have been created in the late 60's or early 70's. There were several artists that produced tomes in that time period in Los Angeles and New York, but this is the first time I've heard this particular story:

Back in the 60s I was told that a NY-area calligrapher named John Closson had made his own Necronomicom and then died in a mental asylum - has this book ever come to light?

Closson was apparently in the first wave of NY Tolkien fandom, and did two beautiful pin-buttons - one with "Frodo Lives" in Tengwar and the other with "Go Go Gandalf" in Angerthas with the fire-lighting spell around the edge in Tengwar. I got these at a convention in the 60s, and lost one on a trip to Australia in 1975. So then I thought they should be printed - and I borrowed a the lost one to copy, and did have new ones made in a different color scheme. At that time I tried to reach Closson for permission (though under the law at the time the images were public-domain as having been published without copyright notice). That was when I was told about his Necronimicom and him being in an institution. Much later I was told he had died - but I never got any details, and none of the sources could be verified. The button images are on my website -

I find this interesting for a couple of reasons, chief amongst them the Lovecraftian implications of an artist going mad while working on a reproduction of the Necronomicon. On it's surface it seems like the perfect setup for a work of Mythos fiction or an ARG, but some cursory Googling demonstrates both that Mr. Closson was a real person and that he was heavily involved in fandom in the time period given. That same search uncovered this information from issue 19 of the "Entropy Hall" newsletter:

Just one more note about John Closson. Bob Foster, Ian Ballantine, and I appeared on a TV talk show in Philadelphia. I know I got flustered and made a poor show of it, but one mistake was something I didn't even think of. The station used as a backdrop big blowups of John Closson's Frodo Lives and Go Go Gandalf buttons. When we got back John was really pissed off at us because we didn't mention him in connection with the designs. Shortly thereafter I heard he had to go underground in connection with dealing acid, and I never heard anything more about him. [I had heard no rumors about drugs, but had heard at the time a rumor that he had had himself committed because of certain tendencies in his behavior which he could not control.-erm]

Which led to this exchange in issue 26:

Dear Edmund: I found references to John Closson in your recollections of Tolkien fandom. I was an old friend of his, and was wondering if you might know what has happened to him. David

[I wrote back that I had heard conflicting rumors of self commitment because of problems in dealing with children and arrest for drugs, and that he had since passed away, but knew nothing for sure. David replied as follows. ERM]

How sad. Actually, John was a camp counselor of mine in the '60s and he was something of a mentor for me for some years afterwards. A predilection for small children? I guess I was one when I first knew's quite a strange thought that this might have been going on. I just recently started thinking of him and wondering what had become of him.

John seems to have been around relatively recently. An AltaVista search turns him up as part of the staff of LA con III in 1996. So reports of his death may be exaggerated. [Anyone know if the Closson on the LACon 3 staff is the same as the NY fan of the '60s? ERM]

I remember meeting Dick Plotz around that time as well, in the TSA. A small group of us came to a few meetings from Flushing, Queens.

Thanks for the info/rumors.

After reading that it occurred to me that perhaps I had heard something related to the story after all. Mind you, I'm relying on memory for this, but I seem to recall that there was an incident involving a prop Necronomicon that had been commissioned by a New York bookstore owner (or patron?) in the appropriate time period. Allegedly, the book was never finished because of a "curse" on the project.

Again, I want to make it perfectly clear that this is just a vague memory of a story I read or was told. I have absolutely no sources for it. That said, I also associate the incident with Gahan Wilson, Robert Shea, and Robert Anton Wilson, but I can't for the life of me think of why.

If anyone has any insights or more information about any of this your thoughts would be most welcome.

Update: A kind emailer suggests that I might be confusing Gahan Wilson with Colin Wilson, the creator of the Hays Necronomicon. That's certainly possible, but my memory of the incident specifically includes the involvement of an artist that was physically producing a prop copy of the book.

Update: Another kind emailer suggested that Mr. Closson may have been the "Khem Set Rising" behind the pseudo-arabic writing used in the Simon Necronomicon . Both were calligraphic artists working in New York in the right time frame, but the differences between the style of the Tolkien buttons and the glyphs in the Simon book are pretty significant.

I'm going to try and contact Daniel Harms to see if he might have any insights. If that doesn't pan out someone with more information may stumble across this post thanks to Google.


drjon said...

Unfortunately, the relevent books are still un boxes awaiting unpacking, but from memory, I believe a story somewhat like this is mentioned in 'Necronomicon' Simon's "Dead Names" autobiography.

Propnomicon said...

You don't know how happy I am to hear that. It's reassuring to know my mind isn't making up random anecdotes.


Nick Storm said...

Riveting and disturbing at the same time.

I've come to expect nothing less, though.

Trina said...

I knew John Closson and had his buttons in the 60s -- wish I had kept'em. If he died in a mental institution, it must have been much later, because I last saw him at a showing of Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings -- when was that? late 70s? Early 80s? -- and he was just fine. It is possible that he sold acid -- around 1967 I recall smoking opium at his apartment. If he's still with us, he would be very old.