At the Mountains of Madness, dreadful secrets lie. As we step into the cold abyss that is January and welcome in a new year, EDT Gaming felt it only fitting to explore one of Free League Publishing’s latest snow covered products – the beautiful illustrated edition of H.P Lovecraft’s ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ (volume 1). We don’t usually cover books or artwork of this kind, but it is no secret that our gaming community is largely obsessed with the world inhabited by the likes of Cthulhu, Dagon and the Necronomicon and Free League remains one of our favourite tabletop gaming publishers so it made sense that we peel back the cover on this masterpiece.
Simply put, this book is incredible. We were very excited to get our hands on it and drool over the beautiful images within it’s hardback cover. The scenes are brought to life so vividly that it really adds to the original experience Lovecraft penned all those years ago. We are very excited to share below a very insightful interview with the artist himself François Baranger, for your reading pleasure. It turns out, he is also a Call of Cthulhu fan! Please note this interview is translated from French.
“Each illustration deployed on a double page takes between 10 and 15 days to complete.”
EDT Gaming: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us over at EDT Gaming. To start with, can you tell us all who you are and what you do?
François Baranger: My name is François Baranger, I am an illustrator and writer. Illustrator is my main activity. I worked for a long time in the video game and film industry as a concept artist, i.e. as an illustrator attached to a production, in charge of designing sets or creatures. For a few years now, I have been devoting all my time to making illustrated adaptations of Lovecraft short stories, in the form of big books, or “coffee table books” as they say. As a writer, I’ve already published three novels, a two-part SF novel and two thrillers, and I’m currently working on my fourth, which this time will be fantasy.
EDT: We don’t normally review books that aren’t RPGs, but Lovecraft has a strong presence in our community and many of us were clamoring to lay our eyes on At The Mountains of Madness. What attracted you to Lovecraft’s work?
FB: Like many people of my generation, I discovered H.P. Lovecraft when I was a teenager, in the 80s, with the role-playing game “The Call of Cthulhu”, published by Chaosium. A friend of mine had made me try it and I liked it right away. I had already heard of Lovecraft, but I hadn’t read anything about it yet. In order to play the role-playing game better, I started reading his works. And I never came out of it again. In fact, his universe corresponded very well to my personal tastes. I already liked this style of fantasy, and finding an author who exploited it as well was a pleasure. And, as I was drawing as a teenager, I started very early on to make illustrations based on his works. But at the time, I was never satisfied with what I was doing. It took a long time before I felt ready to show the result of my interpretation of his world.
EDT: Just how long does it take to create an art book like this, full of such incredibly detailed artwork?
FB: Yes, it’s a lot of work. Each illustration deployed on a double page takes between 10 and 15 days to complete. If you add the time for general conception, design, story board, etc., it takes almost a year to produce a book. This means two years to make the two volumes of “At the mountains of madness”.
“I think [Lovecraft] would have appreciated seeing a fully illustrated version of his short story”
EDT: What was the most difficult part of At The Mountains of Madness to illustrate?
FB: Without hesitation, all the architecture of the Cité des Anciens, both the surface and underground parts (in volume 2)! The whole difficulty lay in the fact that this city is supposed to predate mankind, so nothing in its architecture was supposed to recall anything in human architecture. However, it is very difficult to get rid of all its cultural influences. I had great difficulty in finding a general style that doesn’t recall any ancient civilization, Greek, Roman, Babylonian, Inca, Egyptian, etc., but I did find it very difficult to find a general style that doesn’t recall any civilisation. It took me a lot of preparatory work.
EDT: The likeness on some of the pages I’ve seen, it feels like you’ve plucked the imagery right out of my mind and feels like a good representation of the story. If Lovecraft was alive today, what do you think he would think of your illustrations?
FB: Ah ah, who could tell? I don’t even know if Lovecraft would have liked his works to be illustrated. Having said that, I tend to think he would have liked it, because I understand that he had his first contact with fantasy literature when he discovered, as a child, an edition of “Artur Gordon Pym” by Edgar Poe (to which he refers in ATMOM) illustrated by Gustave Doré. So I think he would have appreciated seeing a fully illustrated version of his short story, especially as I have tried to stay as close to the text as possible.
EDT: I note this is volume one, could there be more HP Lovecraft illustrated books coming in the future? Or perhaps work by other authors you are interested in?
FB: There will of course be volume 2 coming out soon in English (which has already been released in French) and I have already published an adaptation of “The call of Cthulhu”. After that, I intend to continue illustrating his short stories. The next one will probably be ” The Dunwich horror “.
EDT: Finally, the global pandemic and it’s associated lockdowns have been difficult for us all. Is there a message you want to pass to our readers and community as we close out the year 2020 and look toward the future?
FB: It has been a difficult time for all of us, but I have noticed that during these confinements, many people have rediscovered reading and the pleasure of books. I try to keep this kind of positive aspect in mind rather than focusing on all the negatives.
Thanks to Free League Publishing and FB for this interview. You can find out more about the illustrated version of At The Mountains of Madness as well as make a purchase over at https://frialigan.se/en/atmom/