Friday, November 30, 2012

The Hidden History

Artist Rick Sardinha brings us yet more proof that the true history of our world is being hidden from us. How else to explain this flying amphibian that modern "science" denies?

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Matternicuss brings us this work in progress, a sculpt of Dagon.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Miller Edition

Here's something new. Britta Miller bring us this faux lava stone Cthulhu idol. It was sculpted from polymer clay and then coated in salt. Once baked the salt was washed away to reveal the rough, bubbly surface finish.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Quick and Dirty Vampire Killing Kit

The talented Allen Hopps brings us this excellent tutorial on creating a vampire killing kit. The final product isn't an ornate objet d'art, but it's superior to quite a few kits being sold by "artists".

I think this is important for two reasons. One, it demonstrates that anyone can create a kit of their own using relatively cheap off the shelf parts. Two, this is going to be the new baseline. From now on kits that aren't at least as good aren't going to sell.

In the past year there has been an explosion in the number of vampire killing kits on Ebay and Etsy. Despite most of them being absolute crap they're still selling for goodly sums, creating a self-perpetuating cycle of mediocrity. Hopefully a video like this will help cause the dismally lame low end of the market to collapse.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Shoggoth

Joe Broers brings us this wonderful shoggoth sculpture from beyond the Mountains of Madness. The dynamic, flowing lines are a nice contrast to the "puddle of bubbles" approach they usually get.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Pilcrow Designs brings us this nicely done decapitated head. The layered colors of the paint job are outstanding.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Holiday Gift Guide 6: Classic Monsters

One of my ongoing projects is a recreation of Van Helsing's vampire killing kit from "Dracula". I talked about it a bit last year, but it's one of those efforts that will probably take years to complete. I want it to be accurate to Stoker's text and for this particular recreation that means tracking down genuine antiques.

The guidebook that I'm using for my effort is Leonard Wolf's outstanding "The Annotated Dracula" . If you have any interest in Dracula I would strongly recommend picking up one of the absurdly cheap used copies on Amazon. The story itself is already a propmaker's dream thanks to it's epistolary nature, but Wolf takes it one step further and includes copious historical references in his marginalia. That includes maps, illustrations, period documents, and detailed looks at locations mentioned in the story.

Another classic monster you might want to explore is Frankenstein. I write that quite deliberately, since I've always found the good doctor, and not his creation, to be one of the most horrific figures in literature. I can't be the only one shocked at his behavior, not to mention the free pass he seems to get, since getting inside his head is it's own mini-genre. Beyond the various novels building on Mary Shelley's original work there are an amazing number of books built around the conceit of being Victor Frankenstein's diary. Two of the best, also notable for being absolute steals from Amazon's used section, are "The Frankenstein Diaries" by Hubert Venables and "The Diary of Victor Frankenstein" by Timothy Basil Ering and Roscoe Cooper.

Besides being long out of print, both books are profusely illustrated alternate takes on Dr. Frankenstein's obsession with creating life. Venable's version features a text written from the viewpoint of the doctor interspersed with dozens of pictorial elements including photographs of locations and vintage copperplates. But the real highlights are the wonderful pen and ink drawings of equipment, experiments, the massive lab where the deed was done, and multiple views of the Monster in various states of assembly.

Ering and Cooper take a more stylized approach. The book is all art, each page a reproduction of the parchment pages allegedly found after the final confrontation in the frozen north. The handwritten text can be difficult to read at times, but the book has some truly memorable images in charcoal and ink. The early pages feature illustrations of technical equipment and nicely done anatomical studies of the monster's components. Those start be be overshadowed by some very dark and tortured imagery as the story moves toward its conclusion. (Please pardon the spectral artifacts in the scan below.)

I would heartily recommend both books. They're intriguing versions of a story most people are already familiar with, and I think there are some insights to be gained from comparing how they approach the same subject matter. One alternate use you might want to consider is using imagery from the books for the notes of Herbert West. They're absolutely ideal for that purpose and would make great handouts or accessories for a larger prop project.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Holiday Gift Guide 5: Cthulhu Fhtagn

Jason McKittrick's work is frequently featured here, and his Esquimaux Cthulhu Fetish is one of his best pieces. Who wouldn't want to find one in their Christmas stocking?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Holiday Gift Guide 4: Traveler's Tales

One of the hallmarks of "Call of Cthulhu" gaming is the concept of campaigns that involve traveling around the globe. I know all of us here recognize that "Beyond the Mountains of Madness" is the greatest CoC campaign of all time, but there's a significant fan base for both "Masks of Nyarlathotep" and "Horror on the Orient Express". Those classic-era adventures revel in the trappings of the golden age of travel, long before zipping around the globe was something that could be done in hours.

One neat way to embrace the allure of those days are these Old-Fashioned Luggage Labels from Dover. I first came across them back in 2009 and still think they're a great value for the price of a burger and fries.  The book features over fifty vintage luggage stickers and the vast majority are appropriate to the 20s and 30s.  The print quality is excellent, but they do have the minor drawback of being shrunk from their original size.

A similar product is offered by Laughing Elephant, who box up twenty vintage travel stickers in their Golden Age of Transport Luggage Labels. They include a selection of classic era railways and cruise lines for around the same price as the Dover set, but have one standout entry- an actual Orient Express luggage label.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Holiday Gift Guide 3: Small Treasures

I almost feel guilty about posting this, since it borders on making me an accessory to a crime. I say that because getting one of Allan Harwood's Cthulhu cultist artifacts for just ten bucks is an absolute steal. Browse through his Etsy store and you'll find that everything is currently priced like that, including some nifty Mignola-inspired Lovecraftian pieces.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Holiday Gift Guide 2: The Ecstasy of Gold

There is something primal about coins running through your fingers.

I'm not talking about avarice. I mean the simple tactile pleasure of them slipping from your hands. The tinkling sound as they fall through the air and land in a pile. Nothing else is quite like that.

Sure, you can get a few rolls of pennies from the bank and do it, but why not invest in your own treasure trove? The Great American Coin Company specializes in collectible coins, but one of their sidelines is replica coins. Spanish doubloons, to be exact, and lots of them.

For the price of a good dinner for two at a restaurant they'll sell you 200 reproduction coins based on the Two Escudo and Two Reale coins of the Conquest era. That's enough to establish a respectable stash, but the price per coin becomes even more reasonable when you start talking about ordering thousands of the things. You know who else needs thousands of doubloons?  The producers of "The Goonies" and "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom", who sourced their props from Great American.

The doubloons are available in a variety of gold and silver finishes.  Outside of the reasonable prices for the coins themselves the company uses flat rate shipping, so you'll pay the same amount if you order 50 or 5000.  If you want to add some real sparkle to your treasure chest they even have loose semi-precious stones in bulk lots. I have a feeling you could find assortments of faceted gemstones for a better price through a rock and mineral shop, but they sure do look pretty, don't they?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Holiday Gift Guide 1: The Turn of a Friendly Card

Sweet Jebus, I just figured out I've been playing Mythos-based games for over thirty years.

In all that time the only one that I've continually returned to is the "Call of Cthulhu" role-playing game from Chaosium. There are a lot of reasons for the game's success since it's release in 1981, but it was, and is, the emphasis on props and handouts that keeps me coming back. No other RPG, or game in general, has ever embraced that level of immersiveness so consistently.

Of course, things are a bit different today than they were back in the 80s when CoC reigned supreme. Now there are dozens of tabletop Lovecraftian games and expansions. Out of all of them there's only one I find myself playing repeatedly- "Munchkin Cthulhu".

I know, I know. Just look at that cover. It absolutely oozes the kind of cuteness I've repeatedly expressed a disdain for. Everything about it was seemingly designed to rub me the wrong way, and for years I begged off when anyone suggested giving it a try. Then I was reluctantly dragged into playing it last year.

That first game featured five players besides myself, most of them with previous experience playing Munchkin. It only took a few minutes to learn the basic mechanics. Frankly, I thought the rules were overly simplistic. The cards were dealt, we started playing...and I not only had a blast, but actually won the game.

There are two reasons I ended up adoring "Munchkin Cthulhu". The first is that it wholeheartedly embraces the tropes of the Mythos in general and of "Call of Cthulhu" gaming in particular. Much of the humor, and this is a very funny game, comes from the designer having an intimate knowledge of Lovecraft's work. Beyond that, the game is hysterically self-aware of how ridiculous the mainstreaming of the Mythos has become, mocking everything from Cthulhu bumper stickers to the very Cthulhu plushies that Steve Jackson Games also produces.

The second is the social aspect. This is one of the very few games where the more people that play the more fun it is for everyone, and that's brilliant game design. The mechanics of Munchkin Cthulhu really are quite simplistic in and of themselves. What the rulebook doesn't convey is the dynamics of how the players interact within those guidelines, producing an endlessly entertaining number of alliances and betrayals. Wheeling and dealing is not only part of the fun, but a key part of claiming final victory. I can't count the number of times I've been able to win by simply donning the halo of friendliness and helping every other player. It's all smiles and happiness...right up until that priceless moment when I get to say "Shucks guys, I think I just won."

"Munchkin Cthulhu" is a great game. If you're a die hard Mythos aficionado you'll discover it's filled with references and minutia you'll enjoy, while the social play style makes it easy to dragoon your friends and family into playing. It's easily the best Lovecraftian game of the last decade.

Also Rans

Bag of Cthulhu- Exactly what it says- a bag filled with Cthulhu. 30 altogether, consisting of 24 small figures and 6 larger ones. They're supposed to be used as counters for the collectible card game. I ordered my first set back in 2009, and since then they've ended up being used for everything but game counters. ProTip: These make outstanding ornaments for a Mythos-themed miniature Christmas tree.

Arkham Horror- Put simply, one of the most beautiful games ever produced. Both the artwork and the quality of the components are outstanding. There is a huge fanbase of dedicated players of "Arkham Horror", but despite over a dozen attempts I have never been able to finish a game. And Lord, how I've tried. Mind you, I'm saying that as someone who has literally spent years working on projects for the "Call of Cthulhu" RPG. My sorry history of failure eventually led to the conclusion that that the game is like one of those exquisite crystal animals that spend their lives in a box. Once in a while you take it out to admire the magnificent craftsmanship and artistry, but then it's back into the box and up on the shelf.

Cthulhu Bas Relief in Soapstone

Bellerephon brings us this Cthulhu bas relief carved from soapstone. Someday when I win the lottery I want to have a massive soapstone masonry stove absolutely covered in Lovecraftian imagery.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Wraith's Medallion

There are two television shows currently on the air that have really strong design work- "Grimm" and "Once Upon A Time". Oddly enough, both are variations on the "fairytales are true" trope. That means lots of ancient artifacts and occult items put in regular appearances.

Yrantho brings us a nicely done recreation of the Wraith's Medallion from this season of "Once Upon A Time". The sculpt avoids the soft edges that are the bane of Sculpey, but it's the finish work that really brings it to life.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Dingwiri Alphabet

The search for fantasy fonts that haven't been over-exposed is never ending. Douglas Mitchell, Sr. brings us this unusual take- the Dingwiri alphabet. Like so many of the more obscure non-human scripts it was created for a role-playing game. As is it's suitable for scrolls and tomes, but I think it would look even better in it's designed role as a spiraling text.  A downloadable TTF file is available through the link.

Friday, November 16, 2012

That Time of Year

Starting on Monday I'm going to be posting a series of gift suggestions for the holidays. 

Yeah, I know it's the time of year when everybody starts doing that, but my take is going to be a bit different.  For one, it will focus on gifts I think regular readers will enjoy.  That means an emphasis on items connected to the Mythos, horror in general, and propmaking.  I can absolutely guarantee that it will not include the deluge of Cute-thulhu merchandise that infests similar lists. Well, there's one item that skates dangerously close to being cute, but I think it provides enough entertainment to get a pass.

You're also not going to be seeing any referral padding.  Far too many gift giving lists are more about generating referral fees for the writer than actually helping the reader find something interesting.  That leads to things like laptops and smartphones popping up as suggested purchases from sites that have nothing to do with personal electronics or technology*.  I'm going to be taking the opposite approach and try to keep things under $50, and I'm aiming for an average of around $20. 

I think you'll find everything at least interesting, if not outright irresistible.

*One of the scrapbooking blogs my Significant Other reads daily did this last year.  The cheapest item on their list (a set of artisanal embellishments) cost $65, while the most expensive was a $2400 gaming laptop.  On a blog about...scrapbooking.  You have to admire the sheer shamelessness of it.  

Satyr Helm

From artist Douglas Herrings comes this well done fantasy helmet.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Elder Signed, For Your Protection

Noctemi brings us this Elder Sign mosaic. For some reason I find the incongruity of a shower stall with supernatural protection incredibly amusing. Then again, it's the one location where you're totally defenseless.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Fair Folk

Oh, how happy this makes me.

One of the fun things about my rather niche interests are how they intersect with other sub-cultures. One of the most interesting is the fairy art hobby. There are dozens of incredibly skilled artisans producing beautiful recreations of all manner of little folk, from fairies to goblins. It's almost unbelievable how good some of their figures are in terms of anatomical detail, technical execution, and world-building.

There's just one tiny, niggling detail that I just can't bring myself to embrace about them- the cuteness. Don't get me wrong. I haven't traveled so far down Curmudgeon Lane that my cold, dark heart can't appreciate tiny wood spirits with rosy cheeks and cute little hats that are jauntily askew. No, I'm just ol' skool. Really old school, as in back when fairies were baby stealing, disease spreading, come-dance-with-us-until-you-die-from-exhaustion little monsters.  You left out a saucer of milk for the damn things not so much because they would cobble your shoes as to avoid them maiming or killing you for their amusement.

The gifted Tóbal has worked in both realms, sculpting both loathsome horrors and some delightfully cute little creatures. His latest is somewhere between the two extremes. I'll never be much for jolly little gnomes, but insectoid fair folk clad in an exoskeleton? That I can get into.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Distressing Documents

The very talented Dean Engelhardt has an outstanding tutorial on aging official documents with Photoshop. Each step is carefully described, so users of other imaging programs should be able to reproduce the effects without much trouble.
For this particular piece I started out with something very mundane, namely a Microsoft Word document with the kind of extremely clunky and basic formatting that is typical of official government reports and documents. In real life these reports use the blandest and most default fonts and templates they can … so here I just decided to type up everything in Arial and judiciously bold a few titles, but not to try to do anything fancy. Then I printed out the page, scrunched up the paper, punched holes in the side, scribbled on it and stuck some staples in it. Then I slapped it on my scanner at a jaunty angle and scanned the page back in as a bitmap. [Aside: I've never figured out why, but the real-world guys who photocopy official government documents seem to *really* not care about whether they are straight or not. I figure it isn't an artistic statement.]

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Horror in the Museum

Mike Jenkins was kind enough to send over this prop ticket from "The Horror in the Museum". It's the kind of obscure prop I take delight in.

After some rough sketches of the design with pen & paper, I laid it out in Adobe Illustrator. Drew up a simple "safety ticket" background pattern, dug up some suitable fonts for the typesetting, and after looking at some period tickets for inspiration, it came together reasonably easily. It's not perfect, nor jaw-droppingly ornate, but it is completed. Printed 'em out on my cheapie little scanner-printer at home. Cut out with an X-Acto knife and perforated with a cheapie rolling cutter thingy from the craft store.

He's also made quite a number of paper props available at the Replica Prop Forum, including these outstanding classic era passport stamps. Sadly, membership in the RPF is a requirement of access to the paper props forum.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

From the Borderlands

Greg Aronowitz from BarnYardFX has a great post about producing the props for a live action "Borderlands 2" commercial. The quality of his work is amazing, particularly in light of the insane deadlines for the project.

Friday, November 9, 2012

False Face

Marc Green brings us this very disturbing human face mask. It's the beard that really pins the needle on the creepy meter.

Update: As CoastConFan points out in the comments this is an actual historical artifact. This isn't the first time I thought something was a prop when it was the real thing. In my defense, Mr. Green's horror work has been featured here quite a few times.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Byakkofield Edition.

Byakkofield brings us this hand-carved soapstone Cthulhu idol. I almost ignored it because I thought it was a chibi figure, but I realized the proportions were a result of the original stone block.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Spirit Bottles

Joe Broers brings us some outstanding recreations of the spirit bottles from Lovecraft's "The Terrible Old Man". I love when someone comes up with an obscure prop like this.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Trophy Necklace

Marilyse was kind enough to send over this disturbing digital trophy necklace. The fingers are cast in urethane while the decorative beads are wood and mother of pearl.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Paper Trail

Puriri deVry brings us this nifty trail of clues for a "Call of Cthulhu" game. I always thought insane conspiracy theories backed up with a wall of newspaper clippings were the perfect embodiment of the modern Mythos. Then newspapers started to die. Now I guess it's whackadoodle blogs and Tumblr sites where that bizarre connect-the-dots nuttiness is found.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Dreggs Edition.

Scavenger Dreggs brings us another hand carved Cthulhu idol. This one was made from cherry, with a wonderful aged patina.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Neo-Necronomicon

The official Facebook page for the upcoming remake of "The Evil Dead" has posted some interesting pictures of the film's Necronomicon Ex Mortis.

I really like the cover treatment, which seems to be a far more realistic take on the "bound in human flesh" trope. The face adornment on the original trilogy props always looked cheesy. For the kind of movies they are that isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the remake seems to be taking a more realistic approach. The only thing that seems odd is how thin the book appears to be.

Here are two of the interior pages. The artworks seems okay, but not particularly memorable. If you right click and open up the picture in a new tab you can get a more detailed view of the prop's construction details.  From the visible corner seam in the lower left hand side it looks as though the cover is a latex skin folded over mounting boards.  Based on the staining of the pages I would guess that the text block was sewn together and then stained by dunking the whole thing in tea or diluted ink.  The deckled edges of the paper look like they're also the product of distressing the text block as a whole.  Those rough but even edges probably come from clamping the pages down and using sandpaper or a wire brush along the entire text block.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Truth Will Set You Free

The Mercer Museum outside of Philadelphia is a magical place filled with the massive collection of...stuff...acquired by eccentric businessman Henry Mercer. Some of it's more popular displays include an actual gallows, full sized boats suspended from the ceiling, and a Blomberg-style vampire killing kit. And by "Blomberg-style" I mean "fake". Thankfully, the museum is among the growing number of institutions that take that kind of thing seriously and openly admit the kit is an artistic creation.

"“When we acquired the kit, we hadn’t seen anything quite like it,” Amsler said. “Obviously, many of the objects were period to the 1800s -- percussion cap pistol, the bullet mold, the powder flask. The syringe had some age to it. The ivory crucifix which doubles as a wooden stake, were period, too.”

But there were suspicions. The items seemed to mix vampire legends and traditions. Silver bullets? That’s for werewolves, isn’t it?

“It seemed to reflect more of the literary and popular culture tradition of vampire lore, not the traditional folk legends of vampirism,” he said.

As it turns out, the kit is likely fake, although belief in vampires and how to dispatch the "undead" was real in Europe.

At the time the museum acquired the kit, similar kits suddenly arrived on the auction market, Amsler said. Each kit contained slightly different objects, but always noted Prof. Blomberg and the gunmaker Nicholas Plomdeur.

“What occurred to us is that someone was very likely assembling material and putting it in a different context. You know, finding a case that had been designed for a dueling set or a pistol case or something like that and recontextualizing the objects and presenting them as a vampire killing kit,” Amsler said."

I'm really happy to see this. I absolutely adore vampire killing kits, but none of them are authentic. Every single one is the product of an artist's hand, and it's embarrassing that reputable dealers and organizations have been allowing them to pass for genuine historical artifacts. Let's be honest- they're huge draws because people find them intriguing. I don't think their popularity is hurt one bit by the open acknowledgement that they're works of art.

Mr. Amsler was kind enough to provide a more detailed look at the Mercer's kit in this video.