Mort: The Late Great Joseph A. West

Today would have been birthday number 98 for Joseph A. West, who sometimes signed his funky eldritch art as Joe West, and often as JAW.

Old Uncle Joe didn’t quite make it, passing away on December 11, 2019. As I’ve said elsewhere, one of the all-time favorite people of my acquaintance. Met him when I moved to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1975 and 76 — part of the old MinnCon group of Lovecraft and weird fantasy fans, along with Richard L. Tierney, Count Koblas, Eric Carlson, and such totemic local figures as Donald Wandrei and Carl Jacobi.

After I moved back to San Francisco in 1977, Joe came out for visits two or three times, and in the early 90s it chanced that we got to hang out in London and mope about some ancient English graveyards. Nothing much Joe and I liked better than wandering in a boneyard, or thinking about a boneyard.

Scrambling around for images to toss up, I really wanted to find some of my own fan art, in particular a piece I did in tribute to Joe. Think the title was “Dry Work” — it featured a Westian geezer in a bowler hat busily excavating a grave by flickering lamplight, with a bottle or two of wine wedged into the heap of dirt.

Another one spotlighting Joe featured us cruising through a flooded cemetery in a canoe, referencing some canoe action we engaged in, but only on regular rivers. I did find the one at the bottom with some ghouls dining in a necropolis — on me. You’ll notice the letters JAW on one of the tombstones.

Perhaps we leaned a trifle toward the morbid, but we had fun.

For the image at the top I found a typical enough JAW piece, used as the inside back cover of Nyctalops no. 9 — Nyct 9 was where my first piece of writing appeared, something to reprint one day in some collected essays and reviews. Another full-pager in Nyct — no. 7, I think — featured one of Joe’s goofy protagonists sitting at a desk, up to necromantic mischief. On a shelf a book bore the title DEATH. A box next to it bore the word CANDY.

Candy and Death. Definitive JAW.

Joe did have a couple of collections of his art and poetry appear from The Strange Company back in the day, and further collections later. He didn’t do a lot of memoirs, but recorded for posterity a visit he made to Sauk City, Wisconsin to meet August Derleth of Arkham House.

In a July 4, 2017 holograph letter, Joe wrote, “Now, of course at 95, old age is not fun-fun-fun.” He mentioned that his brother and a pal in England “are both dead, past away and gone.” Then he switched pens to green ink for emphasis, and added: “And they are no longer alive.”

Of our long-time favorite author Joe said, “I am not much on H. P. Lovecraft now at 95. I mean his weird tales. He is still a fascinating person. I like about six (6) of his weird stories.”

I asked which six and JAW replied September 21, 2017: “I liked The Lurking Fear, The Hound, Dunwich Horror, In the Vault, The Shunned House, The Innsmouth Horror, The Rats in the Walls, one I can’t remember about a New York City neighborhood, etc.”

I think he simply forgot at that moment the title “Pickman’s Model,” with scenes of ghoulish graveyard humor that surely tickled his funny bone. The New York one probably was “The Horror at Red Hook,” but I suppose we can’t discount “He.”

“So many of our friends are now gone,” Joe noted in the September letter. Too true.

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