Thursday, June 18, 2009


Clark Ashton Smith was a multi-talented individual. In addition to his verse and prose writing, he also drew, painted, and sculpted. A good selection of his artwork can be seen here. As an example, here's a little idol of the frog god Tsathoggua that CAS sculpted:

I know there are people out there who'll find this sculpture utterly unremarkable and argue that it's "childish" or "amateurish" or some other such term of derision. From my perspective, though, it has a powerfully primitive look to it that makes it appear as if it were the product of some prehistoric human culture that actually did worship Tsathoggua. A lot of Smith's art has a similar quality to it and I can't help but find that appealing.

Several years ago I had a dream of writing three related RPGs based on Hyperborea, Averoigne, and Zothique. Though I had permission from Smith's estate to do so, the thing became entangled in legal oddities, since Arkham House claimed -- dubiously, I might add -- to hold the copyright on Smith's texts and that I'd have to pay for the right to quote any of them at length, which I had hoped to do. Not knowing any better back then, I simply abandoned the whole project. I regret having done so for many reasons, but one of the big ones is that I had had a plan to commission artwork that drew on Smith's own as inspiration. That would have given the whole thing just the right "otherworldly" air to it and certainly set it apart from anything that'd ever been done before in the RPG field.

Ah well.


  1. I like the idea of 'RPG as an artistic medium', and not in the contemporary sense.

  2. ...since Arkham House claimed -- dubiously...

    I don't know the intricate details of Arkham House's past dealings with Chaosium, but it is perhaps possible that AH is especially persnickety when it comes to game publishers -- perhaps they feel hard done by over CoC's enduring popularity (if not raging financial success?)

    Or is HPL's body of work not in the same sort of state as Smith's when it comes to Arkham House?

    (And as for a CoC equivalent based on Smith's work, not Lovecraft's, yes please. At some point soon, Smith's earlier works should be going into the public domain, should they not?)

  3. In fact it's highly likely that Smith (like Lovecraft) is in the public domain now. Arkham House's claim to owning the copyright on both authors work is pretty dubious.

    And don't get me started on Conan Properties...

  4. Victor,

    Worlds of Cthulhu magazine... a quarterly magazine with five issues so far. The first four issues have detailed Averoigne using the Cthulhu Dark Ages rules. (Haven't seen the contents of issue #5.)

    You might be interested.

  5. I just want a copy of that statue.

  6. I find that statue disturbing on a fundamental level. The distorted, bloated looking features and a malignant smirk or grin on the thing. I suppose that was the intent on some level of the sculptor, but seriously, that thing is bad ju-ju.

    Where can I get one?

  7. I would LOVE to see Averoigne. I haved used it my games before and it is just a great, fun place.

    And don't get me started on Zothique. OMG that would be so awesome. I even played around with a Unisystem version myself.

  8. That not only looks like real life idols, but somehow it manages to look thousands of years old too.

  9. I love his sculptures; they are solid, powerful and strangely disturbing and I certainly agree that his style lends them a primitive and authentic aspect. After checking out that gallery I would have to dissagree about his pencil drawings, however. His general lack of skill in that department does not prevent some of the pieces from having a certain emotional impact, but the medium prevents their primitiveness from seeming authentic to me; pencil drawings simply weren't around thousands of years ago. I think charcoal might have been a better medium for his drawings (if indeed a sense of authenticity was even something that he was going for).

  10. I think your analysis of Smith's artwork is dead on, James.

  11. It's a strange thing to make art "in character:" on one hand, the character becomes part of the artwork. On the other, one could argue that it's dishonest, preventing or sidestepping a sort of dangerous, authentic engagement with the act of creation. Personally, I like it, and I think CAS has captured a particular "anthropological" style of object that contemporary statues of, eg, Cthulhu never manage.

    At some point soon, Smith's earlier works should be going into the public domain, should they not?

    That depends on the Mouse; at one point there was a popular theory that history divided into cyclical and eschatological periods - "primitive" peoples were assumed to be locked in cycles, explaining why they did not advance, while "advanced" peoples 'had history:' they were going somewhere. Steamboat Willie marks a moment when our own, 'progressive' history has become cyclical: as long as Disney remains a world power, nothing made after Willie will enter the public domain.

    1. As Steamboat Willie has just entered the public domain, I'm now looking forward to a flood of freedoms

  12. If you ever pick up the project again, I believe that you will have plenty of support. I will throw in all I can to assist.

    Now, if the Eldritch Dark can present free CAS stories, why can't you quote him?

  13. You might enjoy Jason Thompson's comic book version of one of Smith's Hyperborea stories, which (I now see) draws heavily on Smith's artwork for inspiration:

  14. Now, if the Eldritch Dark can present free CAS stories, why can't you quote him?

    The issue was, I recall, that I couldn't get the blessing of Smith's literary estate, CASiana Literary Enterprises, to quote the texts unless I first entered into a deal with Arkham House, with whom they have an agreement about such matters. I could have produced the games without their explicit blessing, since the texts in question are in the public domain, but, naive that I was back then, I actually wanted to make it "official."