Well, this “Collect Call of Cthulhu” thing is working out even better than I’d hoped. Today’s entry comes from paleontologist and paleoartist Mark Witton. It’s an original piece he’s been working on for some time, and he finished it up just for my little Cthulhuthon–thanks, Mark! He also sent a writeup which is so good that instead of embedding it in my post, I’m turning it into a guest post: everything below the first image is Mark’s writing. Mark’s forte is pterosaurs. When he’s not pondering reality-distorting alien geometries, he’s one of the mad geniuses behind Pterosaur.net, he keeps a separate blog for his paleoart, there’s an old Flickr stream that he used as a blog, and, oh yeah, he wrote a book on pterosaurs (physical, Kindle), so you can get your mind blown by real denizens of deep time.
This piece has been a long time in the making with a base sketch done on New Year’s Eve 2010, virtually no activity on it for years, and the final colours added last night. It’s pre-dating of this project is why it’s an image of the being itself rather than an idol, but the positioning of him on a pedestal at least puts it in the same ballpark.
So what of the image itself? I found myself nodding in agreement with the comments and suggestions in your blog posts. Cthulhu shouldn’t look like a Toho creation, but frequently does in Mythos artwork. I wanted to avoid that and came up with a lot of the same solutions you suggested: asymmetry, gangly limbs, maximum creepiness and a look of malevolent intelligence. At the same time, I wanted to homage the little sketches of Cthulhu done by Lovecraft. I always thought they were too cute and jar somewhat with the descriptions in The Call of Cthulhu story, but given that they come from Lovecraft’s brain, I figure they serve as a useful starting point. Hence, my image took the basic anthropoid bauplan with a bit of a belly, some wing-like structures and a cephalopod-like face as a base plan and worked from there. The view and pose are also very obviously Lovecraftian.
I tried not to draw on any single organism for reference. Cthulhu’s not a local, so he needn’t look like anything on Earth. This version has no obvious eyes and his appendages are a little all over the place. He has some depressions in his chest which almost look like arthropod trachea, although that’s not necessarily what they’re meant to be. I made his outline quite globby and messy, almost like it’s a moving, greasy, flowing mass rather than a neatly packaged set of tissues. I don’t think you’ll ever see him look exactly alike twice. He’s pouring over the margins of his pedestal and his ‘wings’ – made to look more like a cape in a nod to the Lovecraft original – are particularly gloopy. Because we never hear of Cthulhu using his wings (at least, as far as I remember) I figured they could represent other structures which are only interpreted as vestigial wings because of their location on his back, so wasn’t worried about making them look functional. I figure there should be a lot of anatomy of this guy that, because of his completely unique evolution from our own, isn’t immediately explainable. Presumably, his movement was achieved by falling, lurching and flowing from place to place, as there’s no way that body shape looks stable enough for more typical forms of terrestrial locomotion.
I’ve tried to nod to the weird geometry associated with his pad in R’lyeh (‘all wrong’, ‘non-Euclidean’ and ‘loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours’) by making the image quite twisted and distorted. It’s beyond my ability to do this properly, but it seems he should look like a portrait M. C. Escher may have produced if he was on a really awful acid trip. Bits of my Cthulhu almost seem to be floating away while other bits are flowing down, and it’s hard to make out where some features end and others begin. The background was added not only for colour, but to almost look like an messy extension of him, so you can’t really tell his exact shape or position. As you and Mike noted, it’s important that you’re never 100% certain what you’re looking at with this guy and, if his appearance is going to be absolutely maddening (as it should be, according to TCoC), he probably needs to be not only terrifying but also reality distorting. I always thought that had to be a big part of characters being sent mad in Lovecraft literature: it’s not only the creatures they encounter, but undermining of their perception of reality itself.
And gosh, that’s a lot more than I meant to write. Best get on with other things. As a fun closing point, it occurs to me that this is the second time I’ve made a run at Cthulhu. The first, a much cruder effort from 2007, can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/markwitton/399259503/.