Q: What is an Illustrated Oddment?

A: It’s a book that in its gorgeous strangeness and fascination deserves some ink on this site, even if I (for whatever reason) can’t really justify writing a full review. Case in point: A TALE FROM THE FIRE, a wholly unique quasi-narrative picture book created by the famed collage artist TERRY BRAUNSTEIN in 1995.

Running just 16 pages and containing a mere seven sentences of text, A TALE FROM THE FIRE is not what you’d call expansive. It is bold and eye-catching, however, picturing a young girl (model Sydney Bays) interacting with famous paintings that include Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” Rene Magritte’s “Personal Values,” Peter Bruegel’s “Return of the Herd” and Edward Hopper’s “Hodgkin’s House.” The girl is depicted traversing the surreal and oft-horrific landscapes of these canvases in an odyssey whose mythological overtones are elucidated on the inside dust jacket, which recounts the myth of the phoenix. I really wish there were more to it, but the gorgeous design of the book is undeniable, with the Macintosh PC that was used to create its imagery deserving of partial authorial credit.

2010’s THE TROLL KING is a graphic novel scripted and drawn by the Swedish cartoonist KOLBEINN KARLSSON, who deals with European myth and folklore in his own thoroughly idiosyncratic manner. It’s about two forest-dwelling gay trolls who are granted offspring by the Gods, only to have those children run away after discovering that the rustic life isn’t as idyllic as it might seem.

This account is intercut with other like-minded tales, one involving a dwarf who dreams of falling into a river and entering a psychedelic realm of gods and monsters, and another about a mutating carrot, and still another about a pair of green goblins who make a most fortuitous discovery. Precisely how all these accounts connect–or if they do at all–I’m not sure.

There’s very little dialogue, with the strange and frequently gruesome imagery being all-important. The artwork has a staunchly handmade, primitivistic sheen, albeit with a sophisticated design sense that compels one to keep reading even when the storytelling is at its most confounding.

While on the subject of Euro-comics, let’s take a look at the 2004 Spanish import DEICIDE: PATH OF THE DEAD by CARLOS PORTELA and DAS PASTORAS, which reads like a lunatic variant on CONAN THE BARBARIAN.

DEICIDE was evidently inspired by the nutzoid comic book scripting of Alejandro Jodorowsky, and contains a wealth of bizarre and excessive elements. The narrative (such as it is) involves a muscleman living in a tribal world filled with all manner of inhuman creatures who embarks on a journey to save the soul of his beloved. He teams up with a cloven-hoofed, lion-headed man, and the two have all sorts of adventures that, frankly, grow repetitive and dull very quickly. Thankfully the artwork by Das Pastoras is eye-popping, particularly in its depiction of slimy critters; a rendering of a guy’s body dissolving into hordes of toothy reptiles is especially memorable.

Worth a look is TRIBULATION 99: ALIEN ANOMALIES UNDER AMERICA, a 1991 companion book to the similarly titled underground film (a longtime favorite of mine) by writer-director CRAIG BALDWIN. Baldwin is also credited with authoring this book, which transcribes the narration from the film together with several representative stills.

The flick is a positively mind-roasting found footage collage that mixes the real-life facts of America’s military interventions in South America with a wild account of space aliens wreaking havoc from under the earth. Every conceivable conspiracy theory is addressed along the way, and in a manner that forces us to ponder the media’s representations of truth and fiction. Of course much of the effect was contingent upon the film’s ultra-kinetic imagery, which is lost in the printed format. The book is useful, at least, in deciphering the jam-packed narrative, which wasn’t presented in entirely coherent fashion onscreen. 

THE TATTOOED MAP by BARBARA HODGSON is a 1995 novel presented as a copiously illustrated Nick Bantock-esque hardcover. Not that author Barbara Hodgson ever integrates the artwork into the text in any meaningful way, as what we get in the way of visual aid are mostly drawings and handwriting in the page margins detailing inconsequential aspects of the travels of the two main characters (restaurant tabs, hotel expenses, etc). But the story this book tells is an intriguing one.

The tale is related in the form of diary entries by Lydia, who’s vacationing in Morocco with her partner Christopher. After several days of aimless travel Lydia wakes up one morning with what look like flea bites on one of her hands. The marks grow increasingly pronounced, and eventually form a tattoo that appears to depict a map of some unknown country. But then around the halfway point (one peculiarity of the book is that it doesn’t have any page numbers) Lydia abruptly disappears, and Christopher takes over the narrative with his own diary entries–and things only get progressively stranger.

What are we to make of this bizarre and ultimately unresolved story? Much of it has a vaguely SHELTERING SKY vibe, spiced with the exotic supernaturalism of THE ARABIAN NIGHTMARE. About the best I can say for it is that, once again, it’s intriguing–and indeed, maybe that’s all that need be said

1979’s large format hardback PILE began as (according to the back cover description) a series of black and white drawings by British artist MIKE WILKS, with a verse poem created by sci fi legend BRIAN W. ALDISS to tie those pictures together. The unique circumstances of PILE’S creation would appear to explain why its images don’t always match Aldiss’ story. Highly metaphoric in nature, that story concerns an otherworldly seaside city called Pile, marked by insanely ornate architecture and a perpetually warring populace.

Following the latest of many battles one Prince Scart addresses Pile’s all-powerful computer of St. Klaed, imploring it to smite his enemies at any cost. The computer complies, resulting in Pile literally crumbling into the sea. From there Scart is abducted by the monstrous inhabitants of a strange ship that dives beneath the waves and deposits him in the kingdom of Elip. This place is a mirror image of Pile ruled by its own computer, which is far more mystically inclined than St. Klaed, and which helps effect a profound spiritual rebirth.

Aldiss’ verse is impressive and (appropriately) confounding, but PILE’S true selling point is the extraordinary artwork of Mike Wilks. Overpowering in its scope, grandeur and impeccably proportioned architecture, Wilks’ art can be appreciated independent of the text–which, it seems, was the initial intent.

Somewhat similar in conception is 1992’s BHIMA SWARGA by IDANNA PUCCI, which fleshes out the story related by a series of sequential paintings found on the ceiling of the Kertha Gosa pavilion in Bali. The narrative in question hails from the Balinese version of the MAHABHARATA, and tells the story of a Dante-esque trip through the underworld taken by Bhima Swarga, a heroic warrior determined to rescue his parents from Hell. Bhima’s actions set off a war among Hell’s demons, who are eventually joined in their fight by Yama, the lord of Hell. Unsurprisingly, the impossibly heroic Bhima wins the fight, and from there ascends to the over world, where he incites another apocalyptic battle, and proves that “Even in Heaven, Bhima’s power was unmatched.”

The bulk of the story naturally focuses on the tortures undergone by the sinners of Hell: people are sawed in half, boiled, set on fire, submerged in lava and ripped apart by animals. There’s even a depiction of an inflamed hemorrhoid getting pulled and squeezed by a demon.

The layout of the book is simple enough, with photographic reproductions of the paintings of the Kertha Gosa ceiling with text by author Idanna Pucci explaining what’s happening in them, preceded by a lengthy introduction outlining the history of the pavilion–it was apparently constructed in the early 1700s and its ceiling repainted at least twice–and Balinese culture in general. The paintings, for the record, are marked by strangely proportioned figures and an oddly flat, two-dimensional aesthetic, which are apparently mainstays of classical Balinese art. Beyond that my only real complaint is that the author isn’t much of a storyteller, with the flat prose and wooden dialogue being frequent and annoying distractions.

To read about how the Weekend of Horrors once was (i.e. cool), see here. That was back when the WoH was a jam-packed three day affair presented under the auspices of Fangoria magazine in conjunction with Creation Entertainment. In the last couple years, alas, the cash-strapped Fango has distanced itself from the event, leaving Creation to go it alone. Thus far the results haven’t been too inspiring.

As with last year’s WoH, this one was held in the convention hall of the LAX Marriot Hotel, located beneath the main part of the hotel. This explains the cramped and claustrophobic feeling of this WoH, which not that long ago filled a sizeable portion of the cavernous L.A. Convention Center. It’s best not to think back to those days, as the quality of the dealers’ room swag has deceased markedly from then to now, just as the presence of has-been actors and filmmakers has increased. This year saw the likes of CONTAMINATION director Luigi Cozzi, ESCAPE 2000 director Brian Trenchard Smith, Lance Henriksen and Ernest Borgnine peddling autographs for upwards of $20 apiece. The film room? I didn’t bother checking it out. Ditto the art “ghoullery,” situated in a stuffy room with what seemed like a very scant assortment of artwork.

That leaves the panel discussions by various horror folk, hosted by Creation honcho Adam Malin and a giggly chick whose name I didn’t catch. Again, I only caught Sunday’s presentations and so can’t report on what occurred the previous day, but the panels I saw were very much in keeping with the show’s overall vibe–all, that is, except for one.

That one was definitely not Sunday’s “Ladies of Horror” presentation. Featured were Brooke Lewis (a.k.a. “Ms. Vampy”), DEMONS’ Gerretta-Gerretta, Sybil Danning and Tippi Hedren. Danning, a fixture at these shows, did the majority of the talking–much of it about her role in THE HOWLING 2(!).

More interesting was the 81-year-old Ms. Hedren, who’s aged extremely well. She spoke at some length about her initial meeting with “Hitch” on THE BIRDS, getting live birds repeatedly thrown at her throughout the production (being an animal lover, she claimed not to mind all that much) and Hitch’s answer to her question of why she’d venture into an attic alone in the film’s climax: “Because I told you to, dear!” I was hoping Tippie might detail how Hitch propositioned her on MARNIE, but the moderator cut her off and ended the panel before she could do so. Boo!

Next up was one of those reunion panels so popular at these events. It was the fifth anniversary of BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON (oh boy!), with the director and several cast members in attendance. Their primary intent was to drum up interest in a sequel, which is currently on hold because the filmmakers “don’t have a single financier in town” who wants to invest (I wonder why?).

Following this was an auction of signed photos and posters held by Adam Malin. Nothing auctioned off seemed too interesting to me, but my fellow audience members evidently felt otherwise, as nearly every item fetched upwards of $120.

Tom Savini was up next. During the first half of his appearance he discussed coming up with various ways to kill people on George Romero’s flicks, how the late Joe Spinell kept a Savini-created severed head from MANIAC by his TV set, how Savini once visited Manhattan Beach’s fabled Video Archives at the behest of a pre-RESERVOIR DOGS Quentin Tarantino, and how Savini is the “first degree” of Kevin Bacon due to the fact that Savini killed him in FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH.

For the remainder of the presentation two directors of an anthology film Savini was pimping took the stage: Jeremy Katsen and Buddy Giovinazzo. As a huge fan of the flick COMBAT SHOCK and book LIFE IS HOT IN CRACKTOWN, I was particularly excited to see Mr. Giovinazzo. The latter, speaking in a New York accent so thick I initially thought it was fake, admitted he was excited to be part of the current project because he was told the film “couldn’t be stronger than an NC-17,” an encouraging sign considering Giovinazzo has struggled with censorship throughout his career. Unfortunately he didn’t get a chance to say much else, as the motor-mouthed Katsen hijacked most of the rest of the presentation.

Next was A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET’S Heather Langenkamp, promoting her new documentary I AM NANCY. She showed extensive clips from the film, which evidently profiles NIGHTMARE’S effect on Heather’s life. Doesn’t sound too interesting to me (there are already several books and movies about NIGHTMARE’S impact), but Heather promised that I AM NANCY contains “an important message for the screwed-up times we live in today.”

Heather Langenkamp remained onstage for the following panel, a NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movies reunion featuring cast members from various NIGHTMARE sequels. I’ve seen most of those films and didn’t recognize any of the people on the panel, the most entertaining of whom was a rotund fellow who appeared in a couple of the NIGHTMARE flicks, and was apparently “the first African-American to survive a horror film.”

Nope, nothing too inspiring came out of the above panels, but there WAS a presentation toward the end of the day that nearly repaid all the boredom I’d suffered leading up to it: the first ever convention appearance by Asia Argento!

Truthfully, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Asia. I’ve always found her acting hit and miss, making little impression in the likes of xXx or her father Dario’s films (in which she’s nearly always miscast), yet in BOARDING GATE and THE LAST MISTRESS she’s the epitome of cool–and that’s how I’d sum up her appearance here.

Fetchingly garbed in a mini-dress and clearly blitzed out of her skull on God-only-knows-what, Asia was the closest thing to a rock star I’ve seen at any Weekend of Horrors (not counting the numerous appearances by Rob Zombie). Her heavily accented speech was halting and shaky (it sounded like she was going to burst into tears at any moment), her demeanor fragile yet quite blunt (she’d frequently signal boredom and/or dissatisfaction by tapping her microphone against the side of her chair, resulting in loud thumping from the speakers).

Asked if it was difficult growing up in a showbiz family, Asia’s breezy response was “Are you kidding? It was great!” Other subjects she covered included Marilyn Manson (“He has incredible aesthetics and is a very smart guy”), Abel Ferrara (who got Asia into trouble because he had her kiss a dog during a striptease in GO GO TALES), her role in Sophia Coppola’s MARIE ANTOINETTE (“A lot of champagne, everyone was drunk…I don’t remember much of it”), the fact that she appeared in seven movies last year but “not all of them are very exciting,” her understandable discomfort with doing nude scenes in films directed by her father (who himself has no problem with it), and the fact that the latter didn’t speak to her for two years after she turned down a role in THE CARD PLAYER.

Following was yet another reunion, for which Asia remained onstage. It was for THE STENDHAL SYNDROME, and included FX man Sergio Stivaletti and second unit director Luigi Cozzi, neither of whom spoke much English. Most of the audience members’ questions went to Asia, who called STENDHAL her own favorite of the films she made with her father (because it’s “so fucked up”) and complained of how her voice was dubbed for the film’s U.S. release even though she spoke English. Asia also revealed that it was the first Italian feature to use CGI, and that her father claims to have had the actual Stendhal Syndrome as a young man.

The final presentation was by doll maker Christy Kane, who screened a visually impressive, highly Tim Burton-esque black-and-white short called CALLALILLY starring one of her creations and helmed by KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE director Stephen Chiodo. As for Christy herself, she was lively and cute, and gave out free DVDs of the aforementioned short. Too bad she was stuck with the unenviable task of following up Asia Argento (a tough act for anyone), and a largely deserted auditorium.

And with that the weekend was over. The next one of these, FYI, is set to occur in 2012. Maybe I’ll be there–but that’s a big maybe!