Monday, October 6, 2008

The Weird Art of Lee Brown Coye

      Being raised in upstate New York was mostly riddled with disadvantages. LaFayette is a small town that had little more to offer than MAD Magazine at the IGA grocery store and the huge pile of rocks behind the firehouse (which my siblings and I used to play in/on for hours on end). But there was also the woods. Of course the woods carry the widely appreciated outdoors/nature/etc. aspect, but that's not the part of the woods that I connected with as a youth exploring them. As many times as I wandered deep into the woods behind our house I really never could seem to find out where they ended. Part of the charm to me was that you could get lost in them, just walking for hours and waiting for something that would trigger familiarity in your senses, hopefully before nightfall. Still clear in my mind is an image of an old abandoned house that wasn't too far from the back lot of the IGA. With its wood all raw and grey from decades of rain and weather, the house actually was more of a cold, twisted, rotting shape sitting in a sea of overgrown weeds in the middle of nowhere. This is what I think is great about living in upstate New York - I've been all around the country and as many places that I've seen that are similar to it in some ways, this eerie tone remains exclusive to the North East. There's something about the air. It's cold and unforgiving, and sometimes exists in a way that seems like it's actually trying to wear things down; maybe even by driving them mad.

      Lee Brown Coye's art exists as this tone. Nearly all of his work communicates the harsh and haunted way of life of small town, Upstate New York to its clearest extent. Coye lived in Tully, New York; which is next to LaFayette (Tully was our main rival when I was in little league, actually) and both towns are quite similar. Pretty, but depressing slices of life far away from the action and horror of the city, where children still dig in the dirt for something to do. If you've never been, just check out what Mr. Lee Brown Coye can express so masterfully with a pen, a woodcut, a brush or even a camera and you'll get the idea.

These are from the Lee Brown Coye issue of the fantastic zine Whispers, a publication which he contributed to frequently in the 70's.

'Weirdisms' was a reoccurring Coye invention that found a welcome home in the pages of "Weird Tales". Coye also illustrated many of the Lovecraft stories for the mag (and those of Lovecraft's contemporaries as well). Coye did this cover to "Fantastic Stories ..."; notice he included himself on the bottom right.

This is some of the incredible work Coye did for Arkham and other publishers of Weird fiction.

These are photographs Coye did of his friend Freedie in the 50's.

This is a woodcut of Freedie. Doesn't she look beautiful!?

More Coye coming when I can scan it, and I'm planning a chapter on just the Arkham House book covers.


dreymandi said...

The art is amazing.

Family Computer said...

Old SF/horror fan zines have the best art.

freedomschoolrecords said...

Oh yes. The best, best, best. I plan on scanning a bunch!

urshrew said...

There's a reason H.P. Lovecraft centered all his stories around the New England area.

prdarnell said...

I knew Lee, Ruth and some of his family the last six years of his life. I'm glad you are preserving his work!

freedomschoolrecords said...

prdarnell -

Wow, that's really interesting - I hope you read this, if so please send me an email at, I'd love to have your contact!


John Mayer said...

“There's a reason H.P. Lovecraft centered all his stories around the New England area.”

Yes. It’s because he lived there. It’s always best to write what you know. Including your own, regional demons.

BTW, if you haven’t read it, the short story “Sticks” by Karl Wagner, who published some of Coye’s work, was inspired by a real incident in Coye’s life, up in that region.