The Human Chimaera: A Sideshow Oddysey

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A number of years ago, I ran away with the Show Folk. Literally I did, getting a taster initially in North Wales I then joined a traveling carnival as it traversed across Asia. It was a strange time that influenced and inspired a fair portion of my later art and writing. But it was not the first time my mind turned to dark carnivalia. I never liked rollercoasters or other rides, never found clowns funny (or frightening) but something about circuses and carnivals especially the sideshows enchanted me.

When I was very young, I received as a present the book Horrors: A History of Horror Movies by Tom Hutchinson and Roy Pickard. Along with Monsters and Vampires by Alan Frank and Usborne’s Mysteries of the Unknown: Monsters, Ghosts and UFOs these books were my childhood bibles. On page 111 of Horrors though was a photograph that beguiled me. It was a still from Tod Browning’s 1932 classic movie Freaks. Upon reading underneath it, I was informed that the people in the photograph looked in reality as they appeared. I then visited a sideshow tent at I cannot remember where on some childhood daytrip, but although for the money only saw some photographs, some flea-bitten anomalous taxidermy and a few indistinct things floating in dirty jam-jars, I felt a weird sense of homecoming or something.. Upon getting my first ever book token as a gift I then purchased The World’s Most Fantastic Freaks by Mike Parker.My curiosity was stirred further but so also was my compassion – these were not monsters but people, intriguing exceptional people.

In years to come I read more books, watched documentaries and movies that featured real life people with teratological features or other profound physical differences. Films such as the afore-mentioned Freaks, but also The Mutations, The Sentinel, Chained For Life, The Other, even the Time Bandits. No matter how brief the appearance was, it intrigued me. Some of the films and books displayed compassion whilst others were perhaps more exploitative. Freaks and geeks captivated me. One night in a student bar, The Enigma, a man tattooed head to foot like a jigsaw puzzle, who was a former member of The Jim Rose Circus Sideshow whom I’d seen perform at a theatre the night before and who also starred in the X Files carnivalia episode Humbug,  asked whether he could sit at our table. I was thrilled at that happen-chance

Later in life after my own days on the midway and having viewed the great Channel 4 tv show Cast Offs and the amazing HBO serial Carnivale, my mind turned again to something I had mulled over for years – writing and illustrating my own book about these very special people. With the encouragement of actor Mat Fraser, author Karl Shuker, artist Madame Talbot and John Robinson the ringleader of Sideshow World, all my years of admittedly voyeuristic curiosity took form in the pages of The Human Chimaera: Sideshow Prodigies and Other Exceptional People. It to date was my most difficult book to create, I wanted to show empathy and compassion but no condescension in my words, yet I wanted to render their portrait with regard to the fantastic nature of their stage names or curious features of their lives. In my own, apparently ‘dark’ style I wanted to pay tribute to the sideshow banners that intrigue and captivate but yet stay true to the subjects’ actual likenesses. I think / hope I got the balance right.

~ Andy Paciorek

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Image may contain: 2 peopleContaining over 100 original pen & ink portraits alongside biographic text, The Human Chimaera is an indispensable guide to the greatest stars of the circus sideshows and dime museums.
Includes a foreword by John Robinson of Sideshow World.

Available now in a choice of three cover formats from ~ http://www.blurb.co.uk/b/5567832-the-human-chimaera

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Seen in Half Dreams: The Fairy Investigation Society Interview Andy Paciorek

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Andy, thanks so much for agreeing to talk. First of all, can you just tell us something about your background and how you became so interested in fairy art?

Hi, thanks for asking me to talk. I have had an interest in strange and mysterious subjects and have also compulsively drawn since I was a child, so it was probably inevitable that I would someday end up drawing fairies. As a very young child I think I saw stuff, that I never really thought anything of at the time – faces in the trees and one time I remember playing on the fields at the back of my house with an unfamiliar child who was very pale with white hair and I think white clothing. Nobody else seems to have seen him or knew who he was, which was odd as it was a small village where most people knew each other. I think he said his name was Samuel. I never thought he was a ghost, angel, faerie (though some theories identify faeries as either being ghosts or fallen angels) – just a kid. He wasn’t an imaginary playmate either as I only ever saw him the once. As I got older I became more and more interested in supernatural subjects but paid little attention to faeries as still then I had the Tinkerbell impression of them.

So what changed things?

Well, in my reading I came across Passport to Magonia by Jacques Vallee and then the books of Hilary Evans and that brought me around to a new way of thinking about faeries, which inherently felt righter to me. On the art side as well as Froud and Lee’s
seminal Faeries, via the Pre Raphaelites and Aesthetic artists I became aware of the Victorian genre of Fairy painting and I became enamored especially with the works of Richard Dadd and John Anster Fitzgerald. There was a dark, mysterious underbelly to their work which really resonated with me.

Jeremy Harte has a very nice comment somewhere: he says that Brian Froud basically took Katharine Briggs’ Fairy Dictionary and drew it.
How does folklore writing inform what you draw, Andy? It is very influential and inspiring. How I came to write and illustrate my own folklore books, however, is a bit of a strange journey. At one point in my life an opportunity arose for me to work on a travelling carnival, so I literally ran away with the show folk for a few years, starting off in Wales and then travelling to the Far and Middle East. There was a girl who worked on the fair with us in the Philippines, who had a sort of a Goth look and one night I heard some Filipinos refer to her as a WokWok. And I asked them what that meant and they said Witch of the Night. I broached the subject with other locals and they informed me that the WokWok was a type of Aswang, a breed of differing vampiric or sinister entities and that piqued my curiosity. Then in Oman on one of the carnival games, the prizes were big Tasmanian Devils – Taz cartoon character stuffed toys and a local pointed at the toys and told me that people like that lived in the interior of the country, so I grew more and more interested in creatures and beings from different world folklore and mythology. Upon leaving the carnival life and returning to Britain I worked for a brief stint temping at Bizarre magazine in London. Whilst there a small filler feature was needed so I wrote a short ‘Ten alternatives to the Bogeyman’ which featured I think WokWok as well as Black Annis, possibly Tonton Macoute (Uncle Hears Me) and I cannot remember who else now but I went on to write about and illustrate far more than ten. I decided to illustrate a series of portraits of strange creatures from British and Celtic folklore. For research I had a massive pile of books scattered around me – Reverend Robert Kirk, W.Y Evans-Wentz, Katherine Briggs, Wirt Sikes, W.B. Yeats and many more and I thought it would be handy to have all this reference in a single book. So not finding one at a time, my proposed series of portraits became that book – Strange Lands: A Field Guide to the Celtic Otherworld containing over 170 illustrations and further descriptions of all manner of mystical beast and beings, many from the Faerie domain. Whilst I was still working on it John And Caitlin Matthew’s Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures came out, which is a bumper reference book. I would have possibly pulled my hair out in despair at the work I’d done, had Harper Collins not contacted and commissioned me to provide interior illustrations in the Encyclopedia. In the end the books have a different feel to them but actually complement each other pretty well.
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And your latest published work?
Well, last year I published Black Earth: A Field Guide to the Slavic Otherworld, a book I had finished writing years ago but which span over time getting the illustrations done amongst other work I had on. Again, there are a number of Faerie type entities to be found. Slavic folklore is one of the most under-represented in English language or translated books, which is a shame as there is some rich interesting material to be found in those lands. I am pleased I tackled that as a subject and hopefully there will be further material published by other authors relating to that lore. I am tempted to do further Otherworld Field Guides; have a series of them – Japanese, Native American, Oceanic … etc. There is a wealth of possibilities but it is also a lot of work involved.

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As to your drawings I just want to start, if I may, with the phooka, a favourite Irish supernatural creature. How do you go about drawing that?

With Strange Lands, there was a lot of almost automatic-style drawing involved. After reading a text I would just draw with the being vaguely in mind. What was on the page quite often was initially little more than a scribble, but from that I would trace over and the pictures which were in the book. Whilst numerous entities virtually drew themselves, others had a little bit more conscious input from me. I knew I wanted a goat in the book and the Welsh Gwyllion could have also offered that opportunity but of all the shape-shifting forms the Phooka takes, the goat seemed to push itself forward. Brambles feature within the illustration in reference to the superstition that it is unwise to eat over-ripe blackberries as either the Phooka or the Devil himself had either spat or urinated on them. I am pleased I went with the goat aspect of the Phooka as a film of recent years I enjoyed was the Witch with its unlikely superstar of Black Philip the goat. I also prefer the sinister entities and illustrating them so shapeshifting bogies appeal to me.

There are so many fairy artists out there now and you’ve already mentioned a few. But who do you rate as being among the best? Who are your living inspirations? Who should we go and look for?
Alan Lee, Brian Froud, Charles Vess, all deservedly earned their position of being the successors of a tradition that followed Arthur Rackham, Dorothy Lathrop, Edmund Dulac and the other Golden Age illustrators and before them the great Victorian illustrators and fairie painters, but it is great to see that this tradition is continuing. Amongst those who regularly or frequently illustrate themes associated to Faerie, it is the darker earthier works that appeal to me as they maintain that capricious undercurrent and strange nature of the subjects, so apologies to those I have surely forgot but among the contemporary Faerie artists I admire are Karen Hild, Virginia Lee, Marc Potts, Cobweb Mehers of Eolith Designs, and especially Julia Jeffrey. Julia’s most recent body of work relating to the confessed Scottish Witch Isobel Gowdie is my favourite of her work, very sinister and evocative.
I’ve recently finished editing the Fairy Census 2014-2017. When people are describing fairy sightings frequently – I’d guess five or six times – people say, ‘it looked like a Brian Froud drawing’. What is happening here is modern artwork influencing sightings or is modern artwork taking from reality?

In talking with people about fairy artists, we think those who are ‘seers’ are very apparent. Among those whom I mentioned in the previous question are some whom I know or would expect to be Seers. There is an authentic feel to their work; it is not necessarily from literally seeing with the eyes but frequently just sensing and allowing those sensations to take form. With those who do that, sometimes it is as if the entities are rendering themselves through the conduit of the artist. The reasons for them being seers can vary. With Richard Dadd it could be his madness – he would simply smear paint on a canvas to begin and then paint the faces he saw peering out at him in the
pigment. For John Anster Fitzgerald there is a suggestion that his visions may have come from laudanum or opium half dreams. Some may simply be more sensitive to such things.
Location could also be a factor, Froud lives on Dartmoor which is notoriously ‘thin’, but the reasons why people may report Froud-like creatures is because they are seeing the types of creature Froud also sees. His earthier creatures are completely like those half-seen peering faces that can be found amongst foliage, tangled roots, tree bark and burrs, dry stone walls and such places. There is a stylistic difference amongst individual artists, but it may be that Brian’s work most closely captures the forms that numerous other people have seen. There is also the consideration of archetypes. If a collective unconscious exists, then art and reality will constantly influence each other I think

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Let’s finish with a boring but fundamental question. If anyone is interested in commissioning you for art work or just buying one of your books, how do we get in touch?

My solo books are available mail-order only from

http://www.blurb.co.uk/user/andypaciorek

but books I have illustrated for Harper Collins and other publishers are generally possible to buy from bookshops, Amazon etc. I can be contacted at andypaciorek@yahoo.co.uk
Andy, thanks so much!

This Interview first appeared in Fairy Investigation Society; Newsletter 7. New Series. January 2018

Founded in Britain in 1927. The Fairy Investigation Society has members from many different walks of life with different views about fairies and fairy existence: what ties us together, in mutual respect, is an interest in fairy-lore and folklore.

Read the Fairy Census 2014 -2017 here –  fairy census 2014 -2017

Alongside Darren Charles, Andy Paciorek will be discussing witches, faeries and folk horror at the The Pagan Federation Scottish Conference on Saturday April 21st 2018

Hung, Drawn and Quarter off Andy Paciorek Books

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25% discount off Andy Paciorek books.
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View Strange Lands by Andrew L. Paciorek  : foreword by Dr. Karl Shuker

Offer valid until 28th January 2017Strange Lands is a deeply researched and richly illustrated information guide to the entities and beasts of Celtic myth & legend and to the many strange beings that have entered the lore of the land through the influence of other cultures and technological evolution. At nearly 400 pages and featuring over 170 original illustrations, Strange Lands is an essential accompaniment for both the novice and seasoned walkers between worlds.The following text from the foreword by Dr Karl Shuker ~ “Right from a child, I have always been fascinated by mythology and folklore, especially the rich corpus originating in the British Isles, and I have read very extensively on the subject. However, I can say in all honesty that Strange Lands is one of the most comprehensive single volumes on British mythological entities that I have ever encountered. Even Dr Katharine M. Briggs’s essential tome, A Dictionary of Fairies, universally acclaimed as the standard work on such beings, now has a rival in terms of the sheer diversity of examples documented. And where Strange Lands effortlessly outpoints even that classic work is of course in its illustrations, which are truly breathtaking in their beauty, intricacy, and vibrancy” from the foreword by Dr Karl Shuker

http://www.blurb.com/b/1957828-strange-lands

View The Human Chimaera by Andrew L. Paciorek
Containing over 100 original pen & ink portraits alongside biographic text, The Human Chimaera is an indispensable guide to the greatest stars of the circus sideshows and dime museums.
Includes a foreword by John Robinson of Sideshow World.
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20% Discount – Strange Lands and The Human Chimaera

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Save 20% on Orders of the books Strange Lands: A Field Guide To the Celtic Otherworld and The Human Chimaera: Sideshow Prodigies and Other Exceptional People. Both written and fully illustrated by Andy Paciorek.

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Strange Lands is a deeply researched and richly illustrated information guide to the entities and beasts of Celtic myth & legend and to the many strange beings that have entered the lore of the land through the influence of other cultures and technological evolution.
At nearly 400 pages and featuring over 170 original illustrations, Strange Lands is an essential accompaniment for both the novice and seasoned walkers between worlds. Includes a foreword by Dr. Karl Shuker

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Containing over 100 original pen & ink portraits alongside biographic text, The Human Chimaera is an indispensable guide to the greatest stars of the circus sideshows and dime museums.
Includes a foreword by John Robinson of Sideshow World.

Just add code GIFTWORTHY20 at checkout at http://www.blurb.com/user/andypaciorek

No minimum or maximum order amount.
*Offer valid through December 13, 2016.

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Andy Paciorek Book Discount

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Great gifts for your Ghoulfriend or Boofriend this Halloween 3:)
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Strange Lands is a deeply researched and richly illustrated information guide to the entities and beasts of Celtic myth & legend and to the many strange beings that have entered the lore of the land through the influence of other cultures and technological evolution.
At nearly 400 pages and featuring over 170 original illustrations, Strange Lands is an essential accompaniment for both the novice and seasoned walkers between worlds.
Foreword by Dr Karl Shuker


Containing over 100 original pen & ink portraits alongside biographic text, The Human Chimaera is an indispensable guide to the greatest stars of the circus sideshows and dime museums.
Includes a foreword by John Robinson of Sideshow World.

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The Human Chimaera: Sideshow Prodigies & Other Exceptional People

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The Human Chimaera: Sideshow Prodigies and Other Exceptional People ~
Containing over 100 original pen & ink portraits alongside biographic text, The Human Chimaera is an indispensable guide to the greatest stars of the circus sideshows and dime museums.
Includes a foreword by John Robinson of Sideshow World.

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