Welcome to The Jewels of Aptor, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's biweekly column on art and the fantastic. Ian Miller would've been cool even if he hadn't worked on Ralph Bakshi's underrated movie Cool World. The UK native has produced a distinctive body of SF artwork over the last thirty years, sometimes pulling collage and photography into his more traditional drawings. Not only did he create an amazing and iconic graphic novel of the brilliant New Wave writer M. John Harrison's The Luck of the Head, he also did covers for such classic magazines as New Worlds and Interzone. Edgy and surreal, Miller combines intelligent geometric exactness with a messy, fluid sense of what it means to be human.
Miller's assertion that he hates "cars and gadgets but love my Mac along with mechanical and architectural structures" makes a lot of sense in the context of his art: "One goes where the story or illustration takes you. A purist might well disagree and good luck to him. Someone described Surrealism as nothing more than the juxtaposition of unlikely forms. I think this explanation sits reasonably well with both SF and Fantasy writing. The mix [of SF and fantasy] ...comes from being me and the particular way I am plugged into the plethora of information we are all bombarded with twenty-four hours a day. Some of which, of course, comes pre-installed. We all find our own way of filtering this information, and at day's end staying sane. I'm still trying to make contact with my right foot."
To Miller, who has a dark sense of humor, the creative process "might be compared with an expanding universe. My needs to express new ideas cannot be contained in a tight pen style or a single medium." He also believes that "computers allow me to do things I could not do any other way without investing in an afterlife. I worry about most of the imagery I produce and how it could be better. I'm more proud of trying to be better and carrying on than with any particular image because sometimes I wonder what the fuck it is all about. And then they put me back in the dark cupboard without a candle until I stop screaming at my feet."
His SF influences, meanwhile, run the gamut from classics to cheesy classics: "Alfred Bester stands out as the writer who impacted on me most as a young person. The Demolished Man and Tiger Tiger. So vivid, even now after thirty odd years...I grew up with Flash Gordon and love that arcane sparking wobble the space ships had. Whenever I look at footage of the Great Wars now I'm reminded of things Gothic and medieval. Strange, perhaps, but true."
However, Miller's interests include much more than art. He's currently working on "A tarot pack, a series of large panel tight pen images about the inside of my head, several commissions, and my suspect book/project called amongst other things The Broken Diary, The Broken Novel, and Can I Read My Notes. This is now finished bar typing it into a computer, and it is a tad strange even by my standards. The spelling is shit but the dead fish don't mind and I've moved out of that part of my brain for good. Dreadful damp and noises in the walls—and what are editors for?"
The teaser for a nearly completed screenplay for a film associated with aspects of The Broken Diary has been completed by Miller, and he's currently shopping it around. It's as beautifully strange on the page as Miller's art, so we thought we'd share an exclusive excerpt from it below (you can read the entire opening on the Ecstatic Days blog).
The setting for the opening scene is a ruined Los Angeles, in the remains of the Academy building, amongst the archives of old films. A badly injured Edward Schrimmer is mysteriously reborn through a synthesis of flesh and metal, become, almost, a kind of surreal superhero. From the same source that rejuvenated him, a kind of renaissance of new life occurs, from the middle of The Heap...
The Heap continues to grow.
A perimeter wall of igneous steel and concrete, rises up around it and within its confines, a New World begins to fashion itself. The regenerative mélange at work within the Heap, flows out to touch and bond; carrying in its flux something sentient and mediaeval.
A theme park is borne / one world only: Mediaeval.
Assembly lines appear, old Ford Cars style, serviced by bedraggled survivors , drawn inside the protective skirt of the perimeter wall. Overseers, creatures from the mound, direct these wretches.
A Hospice is created to treat them, and the worst afflicted become creatures of the Heap; half this, a little bit of that, but free from the awful pain.
Schrimmer is not overtly harsh in his treatment of those, gathered in. They are viewed with benign indifference. They are a resource, serfs, a feudal asset.
Strange Boschesque style machines festoon the site, sporting fish heads, cavernous maws, scissorblade appendages. Cranes move everywhere, lifting prefabricated sections of rampart into position.
The Flux flows and joins.
In the grey desolation, beyond the scaffolding and welded plates of the Wall, hostile elements quietly gather, mutants, demented creatures, transmogrified beings, comic cuts, animated characters, befouled poisonous things, all chuckling fit to kill.
Schrimmer names them the: "Children of Mordred"
They have driven out the rats (for the moment) but the cockroaches prove a tougher proposition. An uneasy truce is called and the city and its environs are divided up between them. They get the North and the Roaches the South. Both elements flourish in the slough and multiply at such a rate, that all other living things are driven out or overwhelmed. The Heap offers sanctuary to many of these displaced beings.
The Mordants both repelled and excited Schrimmer. They were the stuff of pestilence and plaque, essential elements in any mediaeval drama.
The Animations and Comic Cuts, were something else however; not even Bosch could have anticipated these horrors.
They had been nothing more than paintings and drawings, on paper and plastic cells, and now they were alive and violent. They were soiled slithers, two dimensional forms that killed by wrapping their plastic and soiled paper bodies tight around the faces of their victims, until they suffocated. With each kill, they sucked and got a little fatter.
Ian Miller [official website]