Monday, December 31, 2012

The Curious Case of Jason McKittrick

For some time now I've become increasingly suspicious of Jason McKittrick.  He seems pleasant enough.  Cheerfully sculpting away, crafting both intriguing bits of Cthulhiana and a line of Lovecraftian candies. But about six months ago something changed.

The problem is the sheer amount of stuff he's producing.  It's simply...unnatural.  I suspect, although I have no proof, that he's been exploring things better left alone.  And by "things" I mean "the reanimation of essential saltes".   It may even have begun innocently, as genuine research for one of his prop assemblages.  But at some point he realized he could call up beings better left dead and put them to work with silicone and casting resin, leaving himself free to sculpt even more.

How else do we explain this?  Yet another Cthulhu idol allegedly done by Mr. McKittrick's hand.

I warn Mr. McKittrick, and all others of similar predilections, that #118 still walks the earth. As Baron Ferenczy and others have learned, his wrath is not a thing to be trifled with.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Daring Edition.

The Schlitzie sent me a heads up that Nick Daring's Cthulhu idol project is entering it's final stages over at the RPF. I featured the initial sculpt back in August. He's now progressed to the final stages of casting the idols and designing the packaging (!) for the run. Head over and read the entire thread. It's an impressive project in every way.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Gentry Edition.

Shaun Gentry is no stranger to these pages. He's currently working on a new Cthulhu project and was kind enough to post a work in progress shot. I'm looking forward to the final product, but the picture itself is a great instructional tool for anyone looking to sculpt their own.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Tools of the Trade

Aurélien Jouve sent over this well done assemblage piece. I absolutely love tableaux presentations of props.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cthulhu Necklace

Swedish artist Sarah Burchill brings us this nicely done Cthulhu necklace crafted from silver and amber. The inset shot gives you an idea of just how detailed the tiny cameo is.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Tailiana Edition.

This Cthulhu idol comes to use from Czech artist Tailiana. Believe it or not, this was the result of her first attempt at sculpting. Based on that I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Stars are Right

In commemoration of the apocalypse, Jason McKittrick brings us this outstanding Cthulhu artifact. I really like the geometry of the piece. Trying to sculpt smooth spirals is a lot harder than he makes it look. Although the linked page says it's no longer available I believe a quirk of the Mayan calendar means it's still possible to order until tonight.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Crass Commercialism

I've added an Amazon link to the "Crass Commercialism" tab over there on the right. It includes all the items from the 2012 Holiday Gift Guide, books I've recommended over the years, and some publications I've contributed to. In case there was any doubt, you'll be fueling my book addiction with the cut I receive from anything you buy via the link. It doesn't cost you anything extra and it keeps the monkey on my back happy.

On a related note, you can save piles of money by ordering used copies of the books on the list. In some cases you can score a book for less than a buck, but the $3.99 shipping and handling charge is unavoidable. That's still an incredible bargain and well worth a little cover wear.

I also wanted to announce that I'm accepting advertising.

This is going to be a limited experiment and is solely for advertisers offering Lovecraft and horror related items. Frankly, it would be silly to advertise anything else because of Propnomicon's niche audience. That said, the site's community is intensely enthusiastic about products that do fit within that narrow interest.

Artists offering short run projects will find the sponsorship package particularly attractive. You're exactly the kind of advertiser I want, because you'll benefit the most from targeted marketing. Just drop me an email via the "About Me" tab on the upper right for all the details.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Being the Remains of a Witche

Barry John brings us a memento of merry old England- the left hand and heart of an executed witch.

The grungy, dark brown finish of a mummified body part is devilishly hard to get right. Based on my own experience the best way to do it is a traditional three color shadow-base-highlight paint job followed by multiple coats of a translucent coloring agent. For the tinting wash I've come to rely on a mixture of furniture paste wax and powdered pigment, but I've seen some very nice pieces done with artists ink or plain old shellac.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cthulhu Fhtagn! McKittrick Edition.

The latest from Jason McKittrick is this gold Cthulhu idol allegedly owned by one Edward Teach.  The statue is an homage to the gold fertility idol from "Raiders of the Lost Ark", but the sculpt stands on it's own merits.  

If you're interested the piece is available on Ebay.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Witchhunter Armor

The sheer craftsmanship of this witchhunter armor from Italian artist Luca De Rubeis is amazing. I'm not normally a fan of the Warhammer aesthetic, but this is gorgeous.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Whitby Vampire

Dan Baines of Lebanon Circle Magic brings our attention to this curious specimen- the Whitby Vampire.
The grotesque remains were discovered in 2011 after a series of storms ravaged the Yorkshire coast. Erosion of the cliffs in a now secret location close to Whitby revealed the entrance to a network of caves leading beneath the ancient Abbey. University spokesperson Professor Edward Forks commented: "The cave literally appeared overnight, as the sea had washed away a large section of cliff face to reveal a small cave entrance. We were only made aware of the cave after Mr. Stephen Meyer brought his disturbing find to the university where he usually brings his fossils for verification." Meyer, a keen fossil hunter, had been scavenging along the coast when he stumbled upon the cave. He entered the 'vampire’s lair' armed with only a torch, chisel and mallet. The scattered remains of wooden barrels indicated that the caves had probably once been used by smugglers; he commented that as he ventured further inside the atmosphere became increasingly dark and brooding. The cave seemed to lead directly to the space beneath Whitby Abbey on the cliff tops.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Property of Dr. Jones, Mystery Solved

The curious case of the misplaced Indiana Jones grail diary has been solved. And the resolution is pretty neat.

According to Paul, this package was en route from him in Guam to his intended recipient IN ITALY (registered mail confirmation attached) when it must have fallen out of the package in Hawaii. Our address had originally been put on the manila wrapping of the journal just for cosmetic effect. We believe that the post office wrote on our Zip code on the outside of the package and, believing the Egyptian postage was real, sent it our way. From Guam to Hawaii en route to Italy with a stopover in Chicago: truly an adventure befitting Indiana Jones.

Paul has graciously let us know that he will make the intended recipient a new journal, and that we are welcome to keep this one— thanks, Paul! It will find its home either in Oriental Institute at UChicago because, as many have noted, “It belongs in a museum!”. We will post a link here when its exhibit is finished— we hear they’re working in some neat history about the men who inspired Indiana’s character, so it should be way cool.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Deep One Protection Kit

RKEM brings us this fun little Deep One protection kit. It's an interesting Lovecraftian spin on the traditional occult assemblage piece.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Property of Dr. Jones

It's been quite some time since Dr. Henry Jones Jr. was at the University of Chicago, but he's still getting mail there.

We don’t really even know how to start this post. Yesterday we received a package addressed to “Henry Walton Jones, Jr.”. We sort-of shrugged it off and put it in our bin of mail for student workers to sort and deliver to the right faculty member— we get the wrong mail a lot.

Little did we know what we were looking at. When our student mail worker snapped out of his finals-tired haze and realized who Dr. Jones was, we were sort of in luck: this package wasn’t meant for a random professor in the Stat department. It is addressed to “Indiana” Jones.

What we know: The package contained an incredibly detailed replica of “University of Chicago Professor” Abner Ravenwood’s journal from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. It looks only sort of like this one, but almost exactly like this one, so much so that we thought it might have been the one that was for sale on Ebay had we not seen some telling inconsistencies in cover color and “Ex Libris” page (and distinct lack of sword). The book itself is a bit dusty, and the cover is teal fabric with a red velvet spine, with weathered inserts and many postcards/pictures of Marion Ravenwood (and some cool old replica money) included. It’s clear that it is mostly, but not completely handmade, as although the included paper is weathered all of the “handwriting” and calligraphy lacks the telltale pressure marks of actual handwriting.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Making Tentacles

Allen Hopps returns with another video tutorial, this time focusing on creating animated tentacles. His redneck engineering, and I mean that as a high compliment, is of obvious special interest to Lovecraftian live action gamers

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Kirkby Edition.

David Kirkby brings us this well done Cthulhu idol. One thing I really like about this sculpt is the anatomical structure of the head. It's a nice break from the puffy, octopus influenced take found in similar projects. Back in June I had a look at this piece when it was still a work in progress.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Avalon Chronicles

The incredibly talented Alex Libris brings us this leather bound tome. Browse the full album for over a dozen shots, and the rest of his gallery is filled with more beautiful tomecraft.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

NecronomiCon Kickstarter

The organizers of the 2013 NecronomiCon have launched a Kickstarter drive to cover the event's administrative costs. Because of the emphasis on scholarship and genuine research, not to mention the more pop culture aspects, I think it's deserving of support. A number of the artists regularly featured here are planning to attend and there's a good chance the convention will host some prop-specific programming.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cult of Cthulhu Dagger

Joe Broers offers up this well done artifact. The faux ivory finish is quite nice.

Dagger recovered in a police raid of a Cthulhu Cult group in the wooded swamps to the south of New Orleans in March of 1925. It has an ivory colored handle with steel blade, and is similar in materials and design to a dagger recovered from a Cultist in an raid in the same area in 1908. The sheaths of both dagger bear the same winged star cult symbol. Dagger is slightly over 12 inches long.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Cultist Artifact

Orthaevelve brings us this intriguing artifact from the cult of Cthulhu. The pendant features embellishments of silver and copper on a fossilized shark's tooth, surmounted by a star diopside.

Relics of the cult of Cthulhu rarely make it to the open market. Cultists tend to snatch them up when their previous owners disappear or die messy and undignified deaths. It is certain that this piece will make it into the pockets of a cultist at some point in the future.

This piece was said to be from the personal collection of Captain Obed Marsh of Innsmouth, pocketed by an unscrupulous police officer and subsequently pawned after the officer went insane from nightmares and drowned himself in an aquarium fish tank. The auction house has had several complaints from epileptics that it caused worse than usual seizures in potential buyers who woke tasting ocean water.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Skyrim Keening Dagger Replica

Bill Doran of Punished Props produced this amazing replica of Keening from "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim". The craftsmanship is impeccable, and he was kind enough to provide a complete build record.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Holiday Gift Guide 7: High Touch Books, Part Deux

Continuing on with my suggestions for high touch books, I'm going to throw you a curveball in the form of Journal: The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Amy Zoe Mason.

If you've ever cruised the scrapbooking/collage/altered book craft scene you'll immediately recognize where this book is coming from. Like those websites it's filled with tastefully arranged collage pages set down by a suburban mom. All the tropes of that subculture are here- re-purposed vintage ephemera, artfully cute tributes to precious family moments, warm and wonderful color treatments, and a veritable tidal wave of happy memories.

And under that is a horrific story of lust, betrayal, and madness.

I'll be upfront and admit that this book isn't going to appeal to everyone. Hell, it didn't even appeal to me when my Significant Other bought it. She's heavily into the scrapbooking thing and thought it looked like an interesting attempt at narrative fiction via collage. On that count it succeeds, but I have a feeling it went in a direction that the target audience really, really didn't like. I, on the other hand, couldn't believe a book that goes to such dark places, albeit with some very subtle touches, was packaged up with a veneer of pink ribbons and Grandma's doilies. It's as if David Lynch hijacked a Martha Stewart project, and the results are glorious.

Again, you're either going to love this book or hate it. That said, there are a bunch of used copies available for a penny, so you can take it for a spin without breaking the bank.

Finally, we come what's probably the highest achievement of the high touch approach, as well as an example of how it can go wrong. I'm talking about Personal Effects: Dark Art by J. C. Hutchins and Jordan Weisman.

Here's how Hutchins' website describes the book:

Dark Art follows the extensive notes of art therapist Zach Taylor’s investigation into the life and madness of Martin Grace, an accused serial killer who claims to have foreseen, but not caused, his victims’ deaths. The items among Grace’s personal effects are the keys to understanding his haunted past ... and finding the terrifying truth the patient hoped to keep buried.

The narrative is tightly tied into the included "personal effects", and the producers didn't skimp on either quality or quantity. There are so many inserts and documents, ranging from business cards and Polaroids to police reports and official paper, that it can be difficult to actually lay the book out flat for reading. The effort that went into the art direction for the project really hits home when you actually lay out the dozens of items on a tabletop. Each bit is unique, with a fantastic mix of graphic styles and varying paper stocks on display. It's prop document heaven.

The close integration of all these delightful props with the story is the highlight of the book. Unfortunately, it's also one of the biggest flaws. As part of the "transmedia" approach the book makes multiple references to online assets that the reader can explore to get more information. Unfortunately, most of them have simply vanished since the book's original publication in 2009.

That's a jarring oversight that immediately breaks the immersion the authors have spent so much time and effort developing. What makes it particularly odd is that phone numbers and automated voice mail systems connected to the story are still active. I can understand that the publisher wasn't planning on converting "Dark Arts" into a long-term backlist title, but establishing an archival copy of the assets seems like a no brainer. This is, after all, a project that touts it's technological savvy and multi-media approach as a major selling point.

Beyond it's innate entertainment value I think "Personal Effects: Dark Art" is a good example of how to use both physical and virtual accessories to move a story along, with the obvious caveat about having the online portion actually available.   Even with it's flaws it provides a tantalizing hint of the possibilities of the high touch approach to storytelling.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Holiday Gift Guide 7: High Touch Books

I doubt I have to describe the pleasures of a good book to anyone reading this. That feeling of being transported by a story, of being taken to another place and time, is a sensation I absolutely love. The only drawback is the inevitable shock when you look at the clock and realize you've been reading well into the night. You really, really have to get some sleep...but a few more pages won't hurt. Or another chapter. Or two.

That level of story involvement comes from an author's ability to immerse you in their world. Well crafted prose has an almost magical ability to build up an alternate reality that you inhabit for the length of the story, and sometimes beyond. But words alone aren't the only way to do that.

Over the years there have been a number of writers that have explored the use of prop documents and inserts to help bring their stories to life.  I've taken to calling the result "high touch books", since being given a piece of the author's world is such an important part of the experience.  When done well, with the production quality of the faux paperwork complimenting the actual content, it's incredibly engaging. 

The earliest examples are the Crime Dossiers from Dennis Wheatley and J.G. Links.  These were a series of four murder mysteries first produced in the 1930's and since reprinted several times in increasingly less impressive editions.  The defining conceit of the mysteries is that they're actual dossiers containing all the details of a crime, including interview transcripts, crime scene photos, faux telegrams, and physical evidence (like cigarette butts) gathered at scene.  Sadly, the reprints replace all of those nifty inserts with photographs, but they're still great examples of an interactive whodunit. I've sung their praises before, and have since assembled a complete set.

The first dossier in the series is Murder Off Miami , featuring an investigation into the death of Bolitho Blane on a passenger ship.  It was followed by Who Killed Robert Prentice, The Malinsay Massacre, and Herewith the Clues, with a noticeable decline in the quality of the mysteries as the series progressed. If you're going to give them a try I'd suggest starting with Murder Off Miami, since it features the most interesting setup and the best use of the gimmick. You can pick up the reprint edition, along with all the other installments, for pocket change from Amazon's used book section.  Copies of the original issue can be found, but they're a bit pricy.

Next up we have something that should be of particular appeal to Lovecraft fans- Shadows in the Asylum: The Case Files of Dr. Charles Marsh by D. A. Stern.

In September of 2004, Dr. Charles Marsh arrived at the Kriegmoor Psychiatric Institute in Bayfield, Wisconsin, anxious to take on his new duties, eager to distance himself from the scandal that had forced him to resign his previous post. Among the patients assigned to Marsh at this time was a young woman named Kari Hansen, a college student who had suffered a nervous collapse during a school-sponsored anthropology dig a year previously. Subsequently, Ms. Hansen began experiencing what hospital records referred to as “a series of vivid hallucinations;” her own words described visions of an “alien” intelligence, a heretofore unknown kind of life form which appeared to her as shadows, often of indeterminate shape, occasionally taking on the form of man. Dr. Marsh came to believe these shadows were real.

This is a real standout. The entire story is told epistolary-style through collected letters, newspaper articles, emails, interview transcripts, scribbled notes, and research reports. What sets it apart is the synergy between the storytelling and the art direction. It strikes just the right balance between moving the story along and the logical constraints of the documentary evidence used to present the narrative. While Stern gets the cover credit I think a great deal of the books effectiveness is thanks to the design work of Matthew De Rhodes. This is a story that builds up the chills with atmosphere, and De Rhodes serves it up in style.

"Shadows in the Asylum" is an entertaining read in and of itself, and on that basis alone it deserves your attention. It's also a nearly perfect example of how to tell an involving story through documents alone. If you're a gamer interested in exploiting prop paperwork to it's maximum the book can serve as a template for your own efforts, including some very subtle examples of how to handle "truth" when dealing with subjective observations. As usual, used copies can be had for a song through Amazon.

I'll have a few more suggestions tomorrow, including the most prop-heavy high touch book of the modern era. You can see the earlier installments of the 2012 Holiday Gift Guide over here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Under the Sea

Rev. Marx offers up the final installment of his deep sea diving suit build. It includes a step by step construction log for all of his accessories.

So, containment canister on the right and voice box on the left, that still left me needing something in the back of the utility belt. I thought about the storm trooper costumed from Star Wars, and how they had some kind of canister on the back of their belt (I think that's where Luke got the cable he used to swing across the room with Leia in Episode IV). A canister should be fairly easy and quick to make, and didn't need to have any particular function other than to take up space and look utilitarian. So I took a cardboard mailing tube, capped the ends, added a cardboard panel with rivets for texture, painted it brass, and added a couple of pieces of scrap leather belt as trim for more texture. I attached it to the belt with some metal wire through the grommets. Simple and quick.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cthulhu Fhtagn! McKittrick Edition.

The latest from the gifted Jason McKittrick is this nicely done Cthulhu artifact.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Retro ARG

This is a bit ranty.

I'm putting together another installment of the Holiday Gift Guide that focuses on prop-heavy books, like the Dennis Wheatley mysteries I've raved about before.  One of the attractions of those dossier-style projects is that they tell a story using a novel mechanism of documents and physical objects.  Spotting the clues and putting them together is fun, but there's a real narrative being built up as the backstory is slowly revealed.  One with engaging characters, interesting twists, and a logical chain of events.

That's something almost totally missing from today's Alternate Reality Games, the spiritual and technological successors to Wheatley's work.  And that's a damn shame. There was a time, not too long ago, when ARGs were filled with possibilities.  They were the perfect venue for bringing interesting stories to life in a multi-media format, a technological embodiment of the epistolary style writers had been using for centuries.

There were hints of what were possible on display during The Beast, the epic tie-in with Kubrick's/Spielberg's "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence", and it's stylistic followup "I Love Bees".   Both games had a massive community of followers dedicated to steadily decoding the bits and bobs of the overall story.  It was a revolutionary approach, but with the benefit of hindsight it's easy to see that the seeds of mediocrity were already being sown.  How?  The increasing reliance on the decoding element of gameplay over the narrative strength of the story.

Today, over a decade later, I can't think of a single ARG that isn't primarily an exercise in cryptography.  Instead of building a strong story game creators are concentrating on ever more obscure encoding schemes.  It's almost risen to the point of self parody.  Discover a website address in viral video.  Visit the website.  Get asked for a password.  Sign up for an email.  Get an email that links to a distorted image.  Try different stenographic techniques to decode the image.  Break the code on the picture to get a phrase, which turns out to be a key for a code imbedded in another email, which gives you access to another webpage that needs a hashtag you can only get by running an audio clip through a spectrum analyzer.  And then, finally, you get access to...a list of corporate officers.

Sweet.  Fancy.  Moses.  What a god awful waste of time.  The player has to jump through multiple hoops and the story has only advanced incrementally, if it all.  It's just like the horrific "grind" that used to characterize online fantasy games.  Bring me ten ghoul ears.  Ding!  Fetch 16 rabbit skins.  Ding!  Lather, rinse, repeat, ad infinitum.

The problem, I think, is the idea that interactivity equals immersiveness.  Designers seem to think that the mere act of tackling ever more elaborate and bizarre encoding schemes means the players are "involved" in the game.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  They're just grinding away, the same way they did when they were a 4th level Wizard hunting spiders in EverQuest.  It's rote busywork carried out solely as a required exercise to get to "the good stuff".  You know, the actual content.  The Story.

Except, sadly, there usually isn't a story.  That's because creating an engaging narrative is a lot harder than running an encryption program.  Developing characters, establishing locations, and nurturing a plot takes time, effort, and skill.  There are vanishingly few people, much less game designers, who can do it well.  Hence the reliance on Ye Old Cryptography Program, because you can pad out even the most inane and amateurish story to epic size by laying on an endless series of passwords, codes, and pointless, illogical puzzles.

I would love to see an ARG that totally rejects the current trend.  Something that returns to the epistolary roots of the genre and tells a story through documents, as Stoker did with "Dracula".  Even better, I'd like it to be grounded in reality and incorporate real historical documents.  If your medium is going to be the internet, use it.  All of those online historical newspaper archives, museum collections, and genealogy databases are an absolute goldmine of material just waiting to be used.

Here's a demonstration of what I think is possible, starting with an actual newspaper clipping. In Firefox you can right click and open the image in a new tab to make the whole easier to read. Just look at how many clues and potential plot hooks are in this single story. Then imagine using faux documents to amplify the story that already exists and take it in a direction the "official" version only hints at.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Vintage Battery Reproductions

One of the things I dearly love about the modern era is the popularization of niche hobbies. No matter how obscure your interest might be there's bound to be someone that shares it. Propnomicon itself is a good example.

What's even cooler is when one of those niche hobbies overlaps your own. I'm only vaguely aware of vintage radio collecting, but these vintage battery label reproductions from Radiola Guy are right up my alley. Need an absolutely authentic battery from the 1920s for a prop project? Take your pick of labels for making your own, or order a fully functional battery. He even has a step by step tutorial for making prop batteries using an off the shelf mailing tube.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Second Seal

B. de Corbin brings us this intriguing occult artifact, the Second Seal.  Yet more proof that nothing good comes from exploring ancient structures that have risen from the sea.

Just inside was a little cubby, just big enough for the three of us, and there in front of us is another door, an’ across the crack is a metal seal, with a gem set in it. I pried at that second seal with my own knife, and it comes away in my hand, an’ I slips it in my pocket without thinking’ (hang on, he said, I gots it right here, and he tossed The Second Seal on the table) an’ the door opens up, and Skinny Dick slips through.

An’ whaddaya think? The next wall has a crack an’ a seal as well, but I can’t tell what this one was, ‘cept it didn’t look right, but Skinny Dick doesn’t wait for advisement, he outs with his knife and starts right in.

I don’t know what that last seal was, but it was more like flesh than anything else, an’ soon as his knife touches it, it begins to swell and move along Skinny Dick’s knife, an’ when it covers the knife, it moves along his hand, a gem like an eye in it winkin’ at him.