Read Before Providence #7: Introducing Pickman

Providence #7, Portrait variant cover, art by Jacen Burrows
Providence #7, Portrait variant cover, art by Jacen Burrows

Providence #7 was announced for February 2016 (update: comes out February 3), though sometimes Avatar Press issues arrive sooner or later than the actual cover date. Below is our best guess at what to expect in Providence #7.

Towards the end (P18,p2) of Providence #6, Robert Black says he will head for Boston to meet the photographer Ronald Underwood Pitman.

Keen-eyed readers will recall two Pitman photos shown earlier in Providence. Pitman’s photograph of the Wheatley boys appeared in Providence #4 P21,p3. Pitman’s photo of the Stella Sapiente hangs in the St. Anselm College library, shown in Providence #6 P10,p1.

From the name, the 21 Henchman Street, North End, Boston address, and Providence #7’s regular and Portrait variant covers, it is clear that Pitman is the Providence analogue for Lovecraft’s Richard Upton Pickman. Pickman is a character that appears in Lovecraft stories “Pickman’s Model” and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath

After the jump are more Pickman details, including a minor Lovecraft spoiler.

In “Pickman’s Model” the narrator states that “Boston never had a greater painter than Richard Upton Pickman.” His paintings include portrayals of ghouls. Here is Lovecraft’s description:

The madness and monstrosity lay in the figures in the foreground—for Pickman’s morbid art was preëminently one of daemoniac portraiture. These figures were seldom completely human, but often approached humanity in varying degree. Most of the bodies, while roughly bipedal, had a forward slumping, and a vaguely canine cast. The texture of the majority was a kind of unpleasant rubberiness. Ugh! I can see them now! Their occupations—well, don’t ask me to be too precise. They were usually feeding—I won’t say on what. They were sometimes shewn in groups in cemeteries or underground passages, and often appeared to be in battle over their prey—or rather, their treasure-trove. And what damnable expressiveness Pickman sometimes gave the sightless faces of this charnel booty! Occasionally the things were shewn leaping through open windows at night, or squatting on the chests of sleepers, worrying at their throats. One canvas shewed a ring of them baying about a hanged witch on Gallows Hill, whose dead face held a close kinship to theirs.

Pickman's Subway Accident - from The Courtyard #2 P8,p2 - art by Jacen Burrows
Pickman’s “Subway Accident” – from The Courtyard #2 P8,p2 – art by Jacen Burrows

Further:

There was a study called “Subway Accident”, in which a flock of the vile things [ghouls] were clambering up from some unknown catacomb through a crack in the floor of the Boylston Street subway and attacking a crowd of people on the platform. Another shewed a dance on Copp’s Hill among the tombs with the background of today. Then there were any number of cellar views, with monsters creeping in through holes and rifts in the masonry and grinning as they squatted behind barrels or furnaces and waited for their first victim to descend the stairs.

One disgusting canvas seemed to depict a vast cross-section of Beacon Hill, with ant-like armies of the mephitic monsters squeezing themselves through burrows that honeycombed the ground. Dances in the modern cemeteries were freely pictured, and another conception somehow shocked me more than all the rest—a scene in an unknown vault, where scores of the beasts crowded about one who held a well-known Boston guide-book and was evidently reading aloud. All were pointing to a certain passage, and every face seemed so distorted with epileptic and reverberant laughter that I almost thought I heard the fiendish echoes. The title of the picture was, “Holmes, Lowell, and Longfellow Lie Buried in Mount Auburn”.

There is a plot twist ending: Pickman’s subject matter, which appeared to be fantasies, are actually being painted from photographs.

In The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, Pickman has become one of the ghouls he had painted (although Kadath was written before “Pickman’s Model,” it is not clear whether the events are set before or after that short story). The ghoul Pickman helps protagonist Randolph Carter navigate his way through the dream lands:

There, on a tombstone of 1768 stolen from the Granary Burying Ground in Boston, sat the ghoul which was once the artist Richard Upton Pickman. It was naked and rubbery, and had acquired so much of the ghoulish physiognomy that its human origin was already obscure. But it still remembered a little English, and was able to converse with Carter in grunts and monosyllables, helped out now and then by the gibbering of ghouls.

The family name Pickman reoccurs a few more times in Lovecraft’s fiction, from “The Thing on the Doorstep” and At the Mountains of Madness to “History of the Necronomicon,” where the Pickman family is said to have a Greek edition of that fell tome.

It is not entirely clear yet what use Moore will make of Pitman/Pickman. Given that Pitman has so far formed a connection between the Wheatleys and the Stella Sapiente, it seems likely that Moore will take the opportunity to expand on Pitman’s connections with Lovecraft’s Mythos—and Pickman occupies an interesting place. Lovecraft’s ghouls are based on the ghūl of Arabic mythology, drawn from the Arabian Nights, and are almost uniquely associated with Pickman in Lovecraft’s stories. Likewise, Pickman is one of the few characters that crosses over between Lovecraft’s “Arkham Cycle” and his “Dream Cycle,” which means that his introduction could tie back in to the discussion of the dream world mentioned by occultist Robert Suydam in Providence #2 P13,p1: “Older Kabbalistic traditions, after all, insist that dream and reality are part of the same sphere.” Perhaps the back matter might include Suydam’s second pamphlet Kabbalah and the Faust Legend? We’ll see.

Pickman shown in Neonomicon #1 P21,p4 (detail) art by Jacen Burrows
Pickman artwork (and name) shown in Neonomicon #1 P21,p4 (detail) art by Jacen Burrows

One of the nitpicky questions we detail-oriented fans might be looking for an answer to is why the character is presented as Pitman in Providence in 1919 but as Pickman in The Courtyard and Neonomicon in 2004-2006. One possibility is that Johnny Carcosa and/or other characters deliberately made use of Lovecraft’s name for the character, since it is established in Neonomicon that Lovecraft’s fiction exists in that setting. Another possibility is that Pitman deliberately used the alias of Pickman for some of his artwork, particularly the pornographic elements collected under the title Pickman’s Necrotica.

Read “Pickman” (short) and Kadath (long) to get familiar with the analogues that Moore and Burrows will likely explore in Providence #7, due out soon.

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10 thoughts on “Read Before Providence #7: Introducing Pickman

  1. The main page for issue 7 still doesn’t have a comment section open yet, so I’ll use this one.

    Great issue! Poor Robert still resolutely refuses to believe that the things he’s experienced actually happened to him; now he’s blaming hypnosis. Pittman/Pickman, to his credit, was trying to explain things as clearly as possible to Robert (as was the ghoul). I suspect Carver/Carter next issue will be even more blunt.

    One thing I noticed in the journal entry at the back: He refers to “Woodrow ‘I kept us out of the war’ Wilson.” Based on this, I presume that in this setting, the US never entered WWI.

    I can’t remember if two of the people in the Stella Sapiente photo (Van Buren and Annesley) have been mentioned before.

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    • I liked how Black starts the issue. His journal in the back continues to show him wrestling to hold it together, and how he grasps at anything that might explain what he’s been through. I fear that his clutching at straws will end in a padded room wearing a comfy jacket with really long sleeves.

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    • What’s making me worry for Robert’s life is how “King George” response when Robert asks why he’s trusting him: “And you, Robert, you do your work, and then you are gone. Our worry is FOR you.” It depends on how “gone” Robert is going to be.

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  2. “yeah but when you realize graveyards are actually orchards, life seems pretty sweet.”

    The “graveyards are orchards” line reminded me of the extremely bleak comfort at the end of Charles Stross’s “A Colder War”: “There is life eternal within the eater of souls [i.e., Cthulhu]. Nobody is ever forgotten or allowed to rest in peace. They populate the simulation spaces of its mind, exploring all the possible alternative endings to their life. There is a fate worse than death, you know.”

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