John Kaiine is an artist, sculptor, poet and story-teller, who’s worked with Immanion Press since 2011, both as an author (through his novel Fossil Circus) and an artist, in providing the sumptuous cover artwork for most of the books by Tanith Lee we’ve published. John and Tanith were married for 25 years, a relationship that ended with her death in 2015. John is currently working on intriguing new material, including the cover art he’s providing for the Tanith story collections we’re publishing this year. We thought it was time we asked him to tell us more about his work and what has and continues to inspire him.
Self-Portrait by the artist, April 2019
IP: It’s clear you’re interested in the peculiar and the macabre, John. What were your early influences in respect of films, TV shows, fiction and music?
JK: I didn’t go looking for the weirdness, it was just there. Perfectly natural. Environment was part of the influence. I was brought up in a weird part of London, Roehampton. (Roers) More on that later. It was early 1970’s, all was grim-garish post-hippy pre-punk inbetweeness. Fifty shades of brown tartan. There was still some respect in the air. Not much, but enough. Precious little hope, the three-day week with Gothic candlelit shadow’d evenings, but we had colour TV, so that made it alright. (Yeah.) But it was always the old black and white movies viewed on those screens that entranced me. King Kong, the original with Fay Wray, was the first film I ever saw. BBC2 showed old horror flicks on Friday nights; Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula. Beautiful visions, so much detail and emotion compared to TV with its old game show queens in sequin suits, Carry On movies, Northern soaps. Jimmy Savile O.B.E. Kids TV was surreal and shite. Monty Python was cool. And wonderful Dr Who. Radio 4 spewed out the Goons. That was enough to be going on with. Fiction, to me, was all of the mythologies and American comics; same thing. I was what would now be called the Geek, who knew all the names of the DC and Marvel heroes and villains, and Atlas and Charlton’s, too. When all the school was drooling over Kevin Keegan, I was finding out as much as possible about Lon Chaney Snr. I was never really into music as a kid, although I always had a huge crush on Suzi Quatro. My brother had a massive record collection and I would sometimes root through some of the boxes, looking at the cover artwork. I recall some cool Roxy Music, Budgie and Wishbone Ash. He played me Napoleon XIV’s ‘They’re Coming to Take Me Away Ha Haa!!’ one night and then he played the B-Side, which is the same song in reverse. That did something to me. Later on, the first album I heard and fully took on-board was Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Kinda went downhill from there… And so, early creative influences and absolutely no respect at all must go to my prescription junkie psychopathic father who taught me to read and write when I was 2 or 3, respectively. My rest of ‘early’ was stuff that Universal Studios couldn’t, and really wouldn’t wanted to have churned out. Dear old Boris and Bela withstanding.
IP: How did you begin writing and creating art? Can you share details of your early career with us?
JK: I was always drawing, making notes. It was a form of escape. I don’t have old artwork, just a remnant from when I was making notes/sketches for Fossil Circus. I have some early photographs. I always wanted to be a comedian – laugh or cry. That thankfully didn’t happen, but I was apprentice for a while to the wonderful special effects expert, Ian Scoones. That was amazing. I love the working film crew atmosphere. Other stuff happened. I was always creative throughout.
IP: Tanith wrote the previously unpublished story ‘Iron City’, which appears in ‘Strindberg’s Ghost Sonata’, around the time she met you. How did you meet? Would you say that the creative sensibilities – including a love of the unusual – you shared were part of what forged your relationship?
John and Tanith in 1991
JK: We met at a Forbidden Planet publishing ‘do’, (‘Crying in the Rain‘) London 1987. We had never met, had no idea either existed and were both going to leave for different reasons. We were both persuaded to stay by two different lots of people. We ended up being in the upstairs bar and the old cliché (eyes across a crowded room etc) happened. We met for dinner a week later and that was that. When we first got together, because of age difference, Tanith was 39, I was 20, there was a lot of negativity from others. Age and also height discrepancies, I’m 6’6, she was 5’2. I recall some twat saying, ‘I give it six months’. Twenty-eight years later, twenty-five of those married, the only way we were parted was by death. Tanith literally died in my arms. But that was only the physical. She’s still around. And always will be. ‘Unusual’ to the both of us was natural for different reasons. That was apparent from night one. Iron City came around from word play. We both wrote a line each and at the end of the evening, she said. ‘Whatever happens with us, I will never be bored with you.‘ Creative sensibilities may have had something to do with it, we just liked throwing words and ideas around. Nothing more, nothing scholarly or pretentious. Kids who had finally re-found one another’s imaginary friends. Just the love of creating with images which came to be stories sometimes. Novels. Even trilogies. Our joint love of cats was integral too. We were forged by one another. (I have almost three decades worth of ornate tins/boxes full of notes, ideas, scribbled details, possible character names, titles. Some got used. The rest are gathered together.) I have an entire book of Sherlock Holmes short story ideas we came up with over the years.
The Tin of Ideas, photograph by John Kaiine
IP: You collaborated on many of Tanith’s works. Could you talk about some of these collaborations?
JK: After Iron City ~ October ’87. We were walking through Richmond Park the weekend after the ‘nothing like this for 80-100 years‘ hurricane had arrived in England. Tanith had just signed up for a massive commitment. An epic erotic vampire novel. That was her real first time ‘ Vampire novel’. (Aside from, Sabella) Her working title was ‘The Colour of Blood‘. I said, ‘That’s crap, and it’s already been done.’ She laughed, nodded, agreed and for the rest of our afternoon picking through the devastation of uprooted trees, we came up with the title’ The Blood of Roses.‘ We worked well together; I could think of ideas as swiftly as she could write. Tanith had written so much; she appreciated a new fresh voice in her vast cacophony. Sometimes my suggestions fitted, sometimes not. At the end of the working day, we would sit down together, and Tanith would read what she had written, we would talk about it, very seldom making small changes. Any other editing was done when she typed it all up on her electric typewriter. Sometimes what I was making on Photoshop would trigger an image and she would write about who or what that was. (Israbel. Cold Fire.) She was always being asked to contribute to anthologies and when approached for a tale on vampires, dragons etc, her response would normally be “OMFG, I’ve done that to death!”
My response, “Do you want me to have a think about that…?”
Then after dinner I would approach with a possible idea. If it struck the right note, the question would be if I ‘had written that down’.
We would always talk about plots, characters, ideas when out at lunch. Many a heavily-scribbled tablecloth was purloined, and fellow diners freaked out by enthusiastic new ways of killing. Sometimes we did that on purpose. Death by flamingo will always take first prize for that. (A Bed of Earth ) Another perfectly normal Indian lunch wrapped up with another unique death. The novels/ideas that come to mind are: Vivia – I suggested the whole kicking in the castle door, walking up to the bridal chamber with the dead horse image and actually quite lots of it, as she was getting to the stage where she wanted to write contemporary or at least not fantasy, however dark. Elephantasm – which came from a sketch of a skeletal giraffe looming over/through a Victorian four-poster. Reigning Cats and Dogs (how to find a new way to kill in a Jack the Ripper style… do it by time. Victims found ancient, bits newborn, child, embryonic) and all of The Scarabae Blood Opera. We had so much fun with that. She loved the true historical myths/legends of vampires, I just added new insights, days out wandering around the weird London that I knew and introductions to odd contemporary stuff. East London then was in the beginnings of being ‘gentrified’, so there were still real people and real places alongside the encroaching suits and overseas investors.
Tanith Lee in 1999, photograph by John Kaiine
The highlight of OMFGness was when Tanith couldn’t get into the first Piratica book. It was meant to be about real pirates, yet she had a massive block on it. We found out why later. She went away with friends for a few days and I had that time to think about it. Return. Lunch. ‘About that pirate thing…’
‘You don’t want to write about real pirates, so why don’t you write about your favourite people.’
‘Do what? (it was actually, ‘what the fuck are you on about, John?’)
‘Who do you like best?’
‘Actors, you know that.’
‘OK, so they’re not pirates, they’re actors convincingly playing pirates.’
Long, silent stare, wine glass in hand, not knowing if she was going to launch it at me, then a lift of an eyebrow, and ‘have you written that down…?’ Result. Those books were always an excuse to intrude upon each other’s workrooms with lists of stupid names and surprisingly intense newfound pirate facts. She had a wall full of intricately detailed illustrated fighting pirate ships and everything else I could find for her. Another short story, Black and White Sky, came about from one of our monotonous hour-long journeys to Maidstone when she was having to have radiotherapy every day. We were out in the wilds, stuck behind a tractor. I looked out the window and saw a magpie flying up out of a field of reeds, and then another, then another. I told Tanith to look and she saw what I was seeing, magpie after magpie rising up, rising up. She only said, “Are you writing that down?” I wasn’t, but I did later.
Years ago, when Coronation Street had excellent writers, we happened across an episode where an old witless guy was left to a character in a will. The germ of that became the short story, ‘Antonius Bequeathed.’ See, it was all very intellectually cultural and stuff. An idea could happen from a passed remark from a cab driver, and often ended up fifty pages later. I would begin writing novels or more often than not, long short stories and me being me, would hit ‘bored now’ and discard it. ‘Unlocked’ was one such, and Tanith asked if she could add to it. She did, I did some more, and the end result was especially beautiful. There are endless such examples, short stories, novels. All genres. I will always miss it, but so damned pleased that I wrote most of it down.
IP: I know there’s a story about what gave you the idea for ‘Fossil Circus’. Would you tell us about it?
‘Jerusalem Car Chase’
Illustration from ‘Fossil Circus’ by John Kaiine
JK: Early 1970’s, I grew up in South-West London. Roehampton Village. Roers. <sigh> OK… Enviroment can manipulate character. It was one of the biggest housing estates in Europe, slab blocks, point blocks, low-level housing nestling within the Georgian landscape, ‘considered by many British architects to be the crowning glory of post-World War II social housing.’ Everywhere was concrete grey and leaf green. Science fiction architecture growing up, out of an endless forest. Now Grade II listed buildings. To the East and to the West the wilds of Wimbledon Common and miles of Richmond Park skirt the perimeters of the village. It was the home of a massive hospital, Queen Mary’s. Base of original false limbs making, burns unit, psychiatric specialist wards. Most of the patients there were encouraged to live within the local environment. So everywhere you looked were either limbless, horribly burnt, psychiatric, geriatric passers-by. Or any mixture. There was a substantial head count of Down’s Syndrome folk too, ministered to by heavily-veiled and wimpled nuns. It’s the home of The Priory, where celebs rush to now if they have any ‘bad’ publicity. In its glory days, Mervyn Peake convalesced there for a while. Looking back at it all, I don’t think I could have lived anywhere else. Everything was twisted, distorted, disfigured, beautiful, brutal… Different. Double amputee war veterans with tall steel crutches loomed on every corner. Shell-shocked old geezers rattled through Le Corbusier’s walkways. I recall a woman who had been in a terrible fire – she had no face, just an empty black shape held in place by a metal cage. A glamourous tobacconist lady with a wooden hand. Dangerous inpatients would often go AWOL from P1 and be at large. There were colourful fly-by’s from the pandemonium of escaped parrots that lived on Wimbledon Common. 1960’s bronze sculptures – The Three Watchers and The Bull, all verdigrised. It was near Heathrow and the planes were so low and loud. The first episode of Minder, Gun-Fight at the OK Laundrette, was filmed there. The Pope visited in 1982 and all the pubs in the district ran dry. Epic twilights. There always seemed to be a full moon. There is a tiny graveyard dedicated to the bones of nuns. It was totally fucking Weird and I loved it. (You can see now why I lost my job at the English Tourist Board advertisement agency…) My Mum worked at the hospital and sometimes brought me home junked artificial hands and arms to play with. I was brought up in an atmosphere of violence and nearly always threat in the air (my C word of a father was the inspiration for the seemingly indestructible serial killer Jerusalem Lamb), so losing myself in the much-needed escapism of myths, comics and horror films, it’s little wonder that my future landscape had already been painted for me. These memories and encounters forged the characters and backdrop to Fossil Circus. A much-used piece of advice to aspiring authors is Write about what you know. I did.
IP: What are your current inspirations for your art? Are there any stories behind the pictures displayed on your new Instagram page?
JK: OK ~ Instagram. It’s a free gallery for my art until I decide what I want to do about/create my own website. It’s waited this long, it can wait longer. I’m no lover of social media, (Neither was Tanith. She was offered a financially substantial publishing deal 2 years before she died, and she/we knew she was dying, and turned it down because contractually she would have had to have blogged the trilogy’s ongoingness. ‘Why fucking blog when you can use that time to write?’ Unquote.) I don’t FB, Tweet or whatever solipsistic rubbish. But I do understand the commercial viability of such. Instagram seemed the most contact-free option. Inspirations… Not really. There are book covers there spanning twenty years. Life, therefore illness, death, grieving, mistakes and consequences got in the way and needed to. Art happened when it did. Art (for me) is easier than writing. Right now, and for a while, writing has been tucked away until I can be in that fucked up arena of luscious thought again. It’s coming.
‘Mother Went Away to Make you Cry’ by John Kaiine
Stories: There are quite a few Doctor Who images there. Reason ~ I had an art show in USA where I couldn’t attend. Apparently photographic images of mine of cemetery angels were taken to be Weeping Angels. These were popular and sold. Therefore: Doctor Who images sell. Gosh, really that obvious… Yep. So, taking advantage of several long weeks of disability last year, when all I could do was be stretched out and immobile, I opted to be stretched out in front of my lovely big work screen and submerged myself in hundreds of hours of past and present Who. I/We (Tanith and I) had been lifelong fans. I had been lucky enough to operate a working Dalek and she was asked to reincarnate the Doctor years before BBC reinvented the series. (The actor name in that particular Doctor frame then was Brian Blessed). I created myriad Who images, past, present and future. There will be (all being well) a Doctor Who art exhibition of mine later this year. (More on that later.) Other images are Giger inspired, long term doodles that slotted into others and become complete, and/or just stuff sitting around in ancient files and re-layered and re-curved.
‘Wuthering Depths’ by John Kaiine
Can I vent about Doctor Who here now…? Who is Epic, legendary, mythological. Enchanting, much-needed escapism since 1963. We/I followed it from Hartnell/ Pertwee through good, bad, indifferent, heart-rending, stupid, ‘wow, I wish I’d thought of that’, ‘meh’… We stopped watching during the 12th Doctor era (Capaldi was, and is, brilliant. But criminally let down by erratic writing: Midlife crisis sunglasses, electric guitar playing, bursting into scene on a “I don’t like soldiers, don’t like guns, weapons” Sherman tank forchristsake, and totally miscast choice of co-actors, feeble must-have PC companions, misandry and hijacked rank SJWness. Fair and equal rights to all, but please (no pun intended), please stop trying to ram it down our throats. To cannibalise a quote from a much-loved, wonderful writer friend of ours, who puts it so succinctly ~ “As if Tanith gave a fuck about this faddish, ridiculous PC stuff. She just told stories, since that was her vocation in life, and her own wisdom shone through as a natural part of her work. Others simply seek to demystify authors’ work, making it fit a certain agenda. They’re just draping their whatever’s trending right-on clothes on the mannequin of others’ genius.” (That being said, I’m really looking forward to that new possible Marvel movie re-boot with Dame Judi Dench playing the lead role in Black Panther.) I truly hope The Doctor returns one day, in whatever gender, beautifully written, acted and supported. With more Cybermen and Zygons.
IP: Do you plan to produce any more fiction or graphic novels in the near future?
JK: Yes. Absolutely. An editor has recently very unwisely approached me to participate in a Weird Landscapes U.K anthology, which will be a good way of easing back into writing all day long again. Bliss. Before Tanith died, I was working on (writing, photographing, Photoshopping) an on-line graphic novel, Flowers, for inclusion in David Lloyd’s, (V for Vendetta) online magazine Ace’s Weekly, but stuff happened and it’s sat on a hard-drive somewhere for four years. I’m not sure if I’ll revisit it or dramatically change it or offer something new. I have three unfinished novels which all need completing; Hollow. Mind-Sea-Wreckage. MoonThief. Or I may just piss everyone off with a sequel to Fossil Circus.
From ‘Flowers’ by John Kaiine
IP: Can you tell us what plans you have for your artwork? Is it available for people to buy?
‘Fuschia’ by John Kaiine
(Appeared on the cover of ‘Animate Objects’ by Tanith Lee (Immanion Press 2016)
JK: Some of my work is on Instagram, if anyone wants to buy an image, they can DM me. I am looking in to having an E-Commerce website build sometime this year. I offer a unique service – especially for Doctor Who fans. They tell me their favourite Doctor, companion, monster and I create an image incorporating all of those elements. One image, one layer, printed, Photoshop file deleted, they own the only copy. I will frame the image too from one of my many effected frames. I am going to begin having some of my designs printed on to fabric material and wallpaper too.
‘Our Lady of Maggots’ by John Kaiine
IP: Now, on to more frivolous things. What is the weirdest thing that ever happened to you?
JK: How long have you got… Aside from my childhood and things that blur legality ~ a séance on a ripped-up snooker table, coming face to face with rutting stags in Richmond Park in 3am darkness and steaming, misty rain. Shopping trolleying down Caterham hill at great speed into oncoming traffic, falling off a cliff on the Isle of St. Mary’s, my time gravedigging and un-ivying Howard Carter’s neglected gravestone, meeting my doppelganger on the roof of Notre Dame cathedral, having my ‘soul realigned’ by my kinesiologist, Beryl. Walking through ghosts in The Stag pub, Hastings, being the only audience to an brass band of Down’s Syndrome folk playing Christmas tunes (1975), being accused of being German by Japanese tourists in Utrecht on our honeymoon! Being banned from Cornwall (1985), unearthing a Victorian human jaw bone while mud-larking on the Thames, and any of our numerous meetings with Harry Harrison and/or Ken Campbell. Every visitation in The Clown pub, Hastings. And just living in Hastings. I wouldn’t call Tanith and I meeting, weird. That was written, meant to happen. Weird is relevant. All of the above were great fun and very interesting. Weird to me is how the majority exist.
Tanith and John at Hastings’ ‘Pirate Day’ in 2012
IP: Who are your favourite authors, musicians and film-makers?
JK: Writers ~ Mervyn Peake, Graham Greene, John LeCarre, John Banville, Jean Rhys, Isak Dinesen. Angela Carter. Kafka. John Fowles. M.R. James.
Artists ~ Klimt, Beardsley, Edward Gorey, Howard Pyle, Durer, H.R. Giger.
Films ~ Plunkett and Macleane, Brotherhood of the Wolf, The Hitcher, BladeRunner 1 and 2, Freaks, The Man Who Laughs, Nosferatu, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Dog Soldiers, Alien, Karloff’s Frankenstein, The Legend of the Holy Drinker, Fatherland, The Happy Time Murders, Mad Max 1, Mad Max Fury Road. Jumanji 1 and 2.
Recently – the excellent series Taboo, Bosch, The Punisher and of course every single episode of South Park. The Tick is very funny too.
Music ~ depends on what I’m doing – art or writing. Gary Numan, Tubeway Army, The Stranglers, Fields of the Nephilim, Marillion old, Marillion new, Curve, Gorecki, David Bowie, Killing Joke, Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, Dead Can Dance, Rammstein, David Sylvian, Depeche mode, Sisters of Mercy, Fever Ray, Peter Gabriel. And my guilty Youtube video secret – Panic at the Disco…
My favourite albums to work to are The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway by Genesis, The Tubeway Army album, Marillion’s F.E.A.R, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Outside by David Bowie. Security, Peter Gabriel.
Favourite tracks ~ Sinister, The Stranglers. Freaks, Marillion. Jo the Waiter, Tubeway Army. Comfortably Numb. Rakim, Dead Can Dance. Carpet Crawlers, Genesis. Small Idols by Cyclefly. Panic at the Disco – We Write Sins Not tragedies. Anything by Rammstein.
IP: What is your ambition for 2019?
JK: I’m just 52 now and have an overwhelming feeling that my time is running out, so I need to achieve lots more. Working towards getting more of Tanith’s work back in print, The Blood of Roses will be republished by Immanion in 2020, more art shows, getting back into writing, a massive Doctor Who art project (Time is a Forgery), my own website and creating a series of Gothic portraits made from a hybrid of antiquing mirrors, photography, Photoshop and lots and lots of dirty white candle wax…
Thank you, John, for all these wonderful stories you’ve shared with us.
John’s Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/johnkaiineartist/
John’s novel, ‘Fossil Circus’ is available from Immanion Press. Following the recently-published Tanith collection ‘Strindberg’s Ghost Sonata and other Uncollected Tales’, we’ll be releasing two further collections of rare stories and curios in ‘Love in a Time of Dragons’ and ‘A Wolf at the Door’. John will provide the cover artwork for these as well as the forthcoming ‘The Blood of Roses’. All details will appear on this blog, and our page on Facebook.
THE PHOTOGRAPHS AND ARTWORK FEATURED IN THIS INTERVIEW ARE COPYRIGHTED. PLEASE DO NOT REPRODUCE ANY OF THEM ONLINE OR IN PRINTED FORM WITHOUT THE PERMISSION OF JOHN KAIINE, WHO MAY BE CONTACTED THROUGH IMMANION PRESS. info(at)immanion-press(dot)com