Tinkers Resting — Louis Le Brocquy

Tinkers Resting 1946 by Louis Le Brocquy born 1916

Tinkers Resting, 1946 by Louis Le Brocquy (1916–2012)


Pear Tree — Gustav Klimt

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Pear Tree, 1903 by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)

Tree — Moebius


Untitled (Tree) by Moebius (Jean Giraud, 1938-2012)

Lucifer — Thomas Häfner


Lucifer by Thomas Häfner (1928–85)

The Lotus Flower — F. Scott Hess


The Lotus Flower, 1996 by F. Scott Hess (b. 1955)

Two Oranges — Avigdor Arikha


Two Oranges, 1975 by Avigdor Arikha (1929-2010)

Loveday and Ann: Two Women with a Basket of Flowers — Frances Hodgkins

Loveday and Ann: Two Women with a Basket of Flowers 1915 by Frances Hodgkins 1869-1947

Loveday and Ann: Two Women with a Basket of Flowers, 1915 by Frances Hodgkins (1869–1947)

Sunday Comics 

Cerebus #166, January, 1993 by Dave Sim and Gerhard; published by Aardvark-Vanaheim. This issue is Chapter 16 of the Mothers & Daughters storyline, Sim’s imagining of a tyrannical matriarchal state (sort of like The Handmaid’s Tale in reverse, sort of). This issue is one of my favorite chapters in the novel, a riff on Sim’s earlier “Mind Games” issues, wherein Cerebus’s dream-state shapes events in the real world. Mothers & Daughters is pretty much the last good Cerebus novel, before Sim took things completely off the rails in Reads.

Portrait of the Artist’s Mother

Albrecht Durer
Guido Reni
Sofonisba Anguissola
Mary Cassatt
Giorgio de Chirico
Juan Gris
Georges Valmier
Camille Pissarro

The Trojan Horse — Gérard Vulliamy


Le Cheval de Troie(The Trojan Horse) by Gérard Vulliamy (1909-2005 )

The Labyrinth — Robert Vickrey


The Labyrinth by Robert Vickrey (1926-2011)

Self Portrait with Necklace of Thorns — Frida Kahlo

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Autorretrato con Collar de Espinas (Self Portrait with Necklace of Thorns), 1940 by Frida Kahlo (1907-54)

Him — Paula Rego

Him 1996 by Paula Rego born 1935

Him, 1996 by Paul Rego (b. 1935)

Red House — Peter Doig

Red House 1996 by Peter Doig born 1959

Red House, 1996 by Peter Doig (b. 1959)

Lost in The Vorrh


I got lost in Brian Catling’s expansive 2012 novel The Vorrh, a phantasmagorical critique of colonialism set in and around a massive, possibly infinite jungle called the Vorrh. Apparently God likes to stroll this primeval forest while he meditates, the original Adam (gray and shrunken) skulks about like Gollum, and anthropophagi lurk in the hopes of capturing a human or two to snack on.

These are just minor moments though in this shaggy opus. The Vorrh is larded with myth, religion, science, history, art, and literature. Catling, a sculptor by trade, synthesizes the nascent 20th-century’s ideas about all the centuries that came before it into what Alan Moore calls “Easily the current century’s first landmark work of fantasy.” Moore goes on to describe The Vorrh as

….a sprawling immaterial organism which leaves the reader filthy with its seeds and spores, encouraging new growth and threatening a great reforesting of the imagination.

Moore is enthusiastic (perhaps overly so), and his introduction to the novel serves as a far better review than anything I can muster here—like I said at the outset, I got lost in The Vorrh. It’s an overstuffed beast of a book, its storylines sprouting strangely (often from nowhere), tangling into other storylines, colliding in a kaleidoscope of blooms that often fall from their vine before bearing fruit.

There are a several main strands to The Vorrh’s plot though, and they do bear strange fruit. There’s a Cyclops named Ishmael, raised by robots underneath a haunted house in the colonial capital of Essenwald. He has sex with a blind woman named Cyrena during Carnival and she becomes sighted, an event that sparks a healing epidemic which in time turns into a plague. There’s Peter Williams, veteran of the Great War, who makes a bow out of his wife’s corpse in the novel’s opening section. (Don’t worry, she was a shaman who wanted him to do that). He treks into the Vorrh.  Tsungali, a warrior of the True People, tracks the trekker. Another warrior tracks him. There’s a shady doctor and a Scottish taskmaster who conspire to keep a hive-mind slave army happy (?) cutting down trees at the periphery of the Vorrh. There’s a knot of historical characters, including the photographer Eadweard Muybridge (the dude who photographed a horse in motion), Queen Victoria’s personal physician Sir William Withey Gull (whom Alan Moore posited as Jack the Ripper in From Hell), and a version of surrealist writer Raymond Roussel. I realize I began this paragraph with the phrase “several main strands” and then listed more than several without even getting to all of the plot points, let alone an articulation of how they come together—or don’t come together.


The Vorrh has the feel and texture of grand great shaggy comic book, one rendered in my mind’s eye in the fabulous, expansive style of Moebius. Characters—so many characters!—come and go, and if someone dies, don’t worry—there’s every possibility of resurrection in The Vorrh. Catling delights in giving us the backstory on a pair of twin assassins even after he’s killed them off; he allows his free indirect style to enter the consciousness of a sleeping dog’s sex dream; he spends a few sentences on a charming cannibal’s dinner plans. The Vorrh’s in the details.

In its loose erudition and striking visuals, The Vorrh reminded me of the fiction of China Mieville or Neal Stephenson. In its shaggy weirdness it also reminded me of Chris Claremont’s run on The Uncanny X-Men. Its Victorian Gothicism and syntheses of adventure, horror, and Western tropes also recalls the late Showtime television series, Penny Dreadful. And The Vorrh’s prose style often harnesses some of the bombast we find in classic Weird Fiction of Lovecraft or Lord Dunsany.

If it’s lazy to simply trot out comparisons (and there are so many more I can make), mea culpa. The novel is big, and I’d have to read it again to figure out how its baroque features fit together to do any real proper decent analysis—and I’d rather read its sequel, The Erstwhile. I will say that I liked it despite (and maybe to an extent because of) its faults. I think you can suss out from my weak summary in the fourth paragraph if The Vorrh holds any interest for you.

[Ed. note–the image at the top of this review is a scan of a strange press booklet that publisher Vintage sent with original review copies of The VorrhIn addition to Alan Moore’s introduction, the slim, string-bound booklet contains an interview with Catling, and a portrait by Catling of Alan Moore as a cyclops. The cover of the booklet is a painting by Catling].

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe — Arnulf Rainer

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 1982 by Arnulf Rainer born 1929

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1982 by Arnulf Rainer (b. 1929)

Männerpflanze — Arik Brauer


Männerpflanze (Plant Men) by Arik Brauer (b. 1929)