The Febrile Illustrations of Harry O. Morris

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Harry O. Morris is a prolific, accomplished artist and illustrator in the realm of weird horror. His name is perhaps not as well known among younger weird admirers as it used to be, something I hope to help correct in this post. Even if the name is unfamiliar, the weird literature reader's chances of seeing a Morris work at some point are quite good. Morris' support and hideous illustrations have tainted the covers and innards of many upstart weirdmongers since the 1970s. Today, his work continues to appear in massive art tomes like the Lovecraft Retrospective. He has also recently done cover art for Thomas Ligotti's reprint of Teatro Grottesco from Mythos Books, as well as books by the lesser known Michael Cisco.

Whether it is his own original creation or art that seeks to illustrate a story, Morris' pieces have always had a unique edge rarely found elsewhere. Clearly inspired by surrealists, his technique originally produced a number of feverish collages. These disturbing scraps of imagery worked effectively in illustrating works by the likes of Thomas Ligotti and Clive Barker (his black and white collage for one of Barker's Books of Blood is pictured above). Truly, Morris' art is well styled to reflect the psychological madness induced by certain types of weird horror. The observer is almost overwhelmed on several levels by screaming faces, disorienting body parts, and malevolent geometrical patterns from a schizophrenic nightmare. Imagine glimpsing Morris' work in the middle of reading a weird tale by some of the authors mentioned, and you begin to understand how crucial his illustrations can be to upping the disquiet one gets from reading the weird story alone.

Harry O. Morris' role as an editor must also be mentioned, since his magazine "Nyctalops" functioned throughout the 1980s as a small press lightning rod for talent. "Nyctalops" was responsible for publishing several of Thomas Ligotti's first complete short stories. Additionally, the magazine published important new articles and fiction by heady names in the field of Lovecraftiana like S.T. Joshi, W.H. Pugmire, Darrell Schweitzer, and many more. Morris recognized the burgeoning weirdism of Ligotti, in particular, and published a limited edition release of Songs of a Dead Dreamer in 1985: the first collection of Ligotti tales that arguably launched the bleak delver's success. Each tale in the collection was handsomely illustrated by Morris with kaleidoscope frights like his visual adaptation of "Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story" featured above.

The shadow of Morris as artist, illustrator, and editor has loomed over the careers of many notable minds in weird fiction, and continues to haunt the field with strange imagery. He does not appear to have an official online presence--hopefully, something that will be corrected in the years to come. Fortunately, there are a couple internet repositories of his work worth examining. Thomas Ligotti Online harbors a well organized gallery of Morris' illustrations from Songs of a Dead Dreamer. Those who really enjoy his work can purchase limited edition prints at the Shocklines page here.

-Grim Blogger

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