MEETING MICHAEL MOORCOCK - MASTER OF THE MULTIVERSE
I have to take you back to 1973, when after reading most of what JRR Tolkien had to offer, I asked a friend (who was similarly nuts about fantasy and sci-fi literature):
- “Where do I go from here?”
- “Michael Moorcock” he replied enthusiastically.
He took me into his “library” where several bookshelves were groaning under the weight of his Moorcock collection of paperbacks!
- “Help yourself” he beamed, “but let me have them back without damage.”
- “But where do I start?”
There followed much verbage about an eternal champion series, a bloke named Elric, another called Corum and so on. There were quests, runeswords and dragons galore!
- “Better start here”, my friend suggested, handing me a couple of paperbacks with strange psychedelic cover artworks, and tales of this Elric bloke.
In next to no time I was back at Roger’s door craving more, and then again more, until finally he suggested that I go buy my own copies, which is exactly what I did. I left no page unturned. In fact, I read every Michael Moorcock story I could lay hands upon.
Taken as separate novels, there is little in Moorcock’s work that remind me of Tolkien’s legendarium of mythopoeic writings, but place them all together and you have a compelling and original premise - an Eternal Champion with numerous identities, existing across multiple universes, with multiple dimensions and alternative worlds, chosen to fight for the Cosmic Balance. The series undercurrent centres upon the struggle between two forces - Law and Chaos (the good and evil of Moorcock’s multiverse). Once such incarnation of the Champion is Elric, the albino warrior, 428th Emperor of Melniboné. He may be charged with protecting the Balance, but we are never quite sure where the loyalties of this forlorn anti-hero lie - did I mention he is the wielder of the soul-drinking sword Stormbringer?!
What interested me though, as an illustrator, was the sheer number of great visual ideas per chapter that featured in Moorcock’s stories, and with that in mind, I decided to approach the man himself, offering concepts for book cover art. Firstly, I sent a colour photograph – addressed to Michael Moorcock – to one of his publishers (I think it was Granada/ Mayflower) of my original image ‘In Search of Forever’. Around that time in the mid-seventies, it was unusual for me to receive a prompt or positive feedback from my outreaches to publishers, yet in this instance, what did I get, a letter, handwritten, by MICHAEL MOORCOCK – I was thunderstruck!
As can be seen from this very letter, Michael was enthusiastic and complimentary from the outset, being also as good as his word in his insistence that his publishers would use my artwork on his works:
LETTER FROM MICHAEL MOORCOCK
This news came a year or so after I had made the acquaintance of Peter Ledeboer and his international poster company Big O. Things were beginning to happen in the Matthews world – there were signs of imminent lift off! Indeed Michael’s patronage, together with that of Big O, earned me recognition as a fantasy and sci-fi illustrator. More than that Michael treated me to a level of respect I was previously unaccustomed to. I am greatly indebted to him.
My first illustration for a Moorcock book jacket featured Lord Jagged of Canaria, seated upon a swan, which was used for the third part of the Dancers at the End of Time trilogy –The End of all Songs.
LORD JAGGED OF CANARIA, 1976, INKS AND GOUACHE
This was followed by images for dust jackets for two hardback books – Legends from the End of Time:
MONGROVE, 1976, INKS AND GOUACHE
and The Transformation of Miss Mavis Ming:
THE RETURN OF THE FIRECLOWN, 1976, INKS AND GOUACHE
If any collectors are interested, I still have some original, unsold posters of these images from the 1970s! You can find them by clicking here.
Many more collaborations followed, but for the moment I would like to concentrate on a project that concerned Ledeboer, Moorcock and myself – a range of twelve large posters, which would ultimately make up the 1978 calendar titled – ‘Michael Moorcock’s Wizardry and Wild Romance’:
As this concept began to gather momentum in the minds of Peter Ledeboer and myself, it occurred to me that I would have to hold a meeting with Mr Moorcock to discuss the image choices and other related detail for the poster range, which was agreed would be published in two collections of six designs.
I arranged to meet Michael at his residence in West London – a face to face – wow! As I have implied, Moorcock struck me as being a warm and compassionate man, yet, I was beginning to wonder if he had written himself into his novels, so that in person, he would come over as an incarnation of Elric of Melniboné – I shuddered at the thought! The big day arrived and driving up to London from Bristol, I pulled up outside his address in W11. By the time I had plucked up the courage to ring Michael’s door bell, I was convinced that the door would be opened by an albino, red-eyed warrior, dressed in ornate black armour, and holding a gigantic black rune sword! I was sweating! There was what seemed like an age before the door opened to reveal ...... a tall bearded man, shrouded in a red cloak (or was it a dressing gown??), with legs covered by a pair of metal greaves (or were they football socks??) and I’m sure I could hear the moans of a sentient hell-blade concealed about his person (or was it the profuse apology of a mighty warrior-wizard who had been laid low by a filthy cold??) – he mopped his nose with a large handkerchief as he invited me in.
I can’t remember which of the “Wizardry” images I painted first, but I think it might have been ‘The Twilight Tower’ from The Shores of Death, because the artwork is pictured here in these shots taken in 1976 of myself at Skyline Studios (which I shared with the late Terry Brace):
THE TWILIGHT TOWER, 1976, INKS AND GOUACHE, 100 X 70 CM
Shortly after this time, Terry and I amicably parted company to concentrate on our individual careers. This left me in “studio-limbo” for several months, in which time I set up in the attic of my father’s house “Rocklands” in Somerset. There was no fixed heating in this large attic space, other than an old paraffin stove that I used as a seat while painting ‘The Dragon Lord’ from Elric of Melnibone. Frozen fingers, burning butt – what I do for my art!
THE DRAGON LORD, 1976, INKS AND GOUACHE, 100 X 70 CM
There were one or two other attic pieces, but the majority of the ‘Wizardy and Wild Romance’ series was done in my studio at Caledonia Place, Clifton, Bristol.
Here are a few more from the series:
one from The Sleeping Sorceress -
ELRIC AND MOONGLUM, 1976, INKS AND GOUACHE, 100 X 70 CM
one from Quest for Tanelorn -
TANELORN, 1976, INKS AND GOUACHE, 70 X 100 CM
and one from The Ice Schooner:
THE ICE SPIRIT, 1976, INKS AND GOUACHE, 70 X 100 CM
which, as with many of my artworks, I associate with a particular piece of music of the time. In this case, it is Mike Oldfield’s ‘Hergest Ridge’, which took pride of place on my vinyl player at the time I was painting ‘The Ice Spirit’.
Anyway that's it for now, I'll be back next week with another instalment of Michael Moorcock tales.
Click here to read Part II: Elric at the End of Time
UPDATE 22/9/2021 - 'The Dragon Lord', 'Encore at the End of Time' and 'Tanelorn' are being exclusively dropped as NFTs by Terra Virtua on 30th September 2021 at 5pm BST. Click here to learn more and to view the images, which have been subtly animated to add an extra dimension!
I started reading Moorcock’s paperbacks in ’81 with the Hawkmoon series. All great over art too.
Loving the Michael Moorcock story. I followed the same path from JRR
Will you and Sarah be back at The Bishop’s Palace in Wells again? I’ll be available for “crowd calming” again, if needed. X
I too jumped from Tolkien to Michael Moorcock and devoured every one of his books I could find at the time. The two of you were such a perfect match and you have both brought me so much pleasure over the decades. Thank you for sharing your memories here.
As a teenager I also owned the W&WR calendar – which made me something of a social leper as I was pretty much the only hippie in town by the end of 1978…
Hello Rodney, it’s thrilling to talk to you here! I owned the calendar when I was in college as well as most all of the Big O posters. They graced my apartment walls for many years. I still own The Dragon Lord, this is a brilliant version of Elric. I also enjoy your renditions of Corum and Hawkmoon. These all led to a long appreciation for your art. Thanks for this post, it brought back many happy memories!