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Death, Cake, Balloons and the Birth of Spooky Stuff

Updated: Oct 8, 2023

As we lurch into actual October, my creative output's spooky quotient has risen correspondingly. Truth be told, the increase in ghosts and Halloween weirdness started in September, but I'm always acutely conscious of holiday calendar creep and I never really feel good about posting festive-themed designs until we're about a month away from the actual day. We are now fully in the safe zone.

Of course, all this Halloween-oriented design work is being accomplished with the use of Midjourney, and I have been taking full advantage of it's ability to emulate the painting styles of artists long dead and thus ethically uncomplicated from a copyright perspective. I've identified a few painters whose styles are particularly fruitful and seem to jibe well with my own personal aesthetic. These include George Hyde Pownall, John Atkinson Grimshaw, and Canaletto for the essence of misty classical urban landscapes and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec for expressive and colourful brushwork.

You can find the designs in this vein that made it onto shirts and whatnot in the Lazy River's newest section, Spooky Stuff. I've always had a portion of my taste dedicated to the dark, grotesque and unsettling, and the creation of this category in the store provides a space for that.

One subject in particular has captured my attention, a timeless character but also a particular character as manifested by Terry Pratchett in his Discworld novels, that being Death. From the Wiki:

- "Death is not invisible; however, most people's brains refuse to acknowledge him for who he is, unless he insists. Under normal circumstances, only those of a magical disposition (e.g. witches and wizards), children, and cats can see him, or allow themselves to see him. Due to his eternal nature, Death can ignore such things as walls and magic spells; he exists throughout all time, so things lasting merely centuries are not as real as he is. He can adjust time with regard to himself and others near him, completing tasks very rapidly from a normal perspective.[1] He can only go where people believe in death[2] and can only see people who can die. ... He is fond of cats, who can see him at all times (he seems particularly furious when he once attends to a sack of drowned kittens), and curry, the consumption of which he describes as like biting a red-hot ice cube.[1] ... Death is fascinated by humanity. His interest is coupled with bafflement: it's a favorite point of Pratchett's that the habits and beliefs that are grown into instead of being rationally acquired are an essential part of being human. As Death is an outside observer, his imitations of humanity are intricate but marked by a fundamental lack of comprehension." (.)

As a fan of the tensions created by incongruity, I've been enjoying the placement of Death in contexts and situations which are especially human. That incongruity gets jacked up a notch when the context is modern and, for laughs, mundane. My personal favourite so far in this style is Death's Ball Pit:

You can find this one on a card and a Hawaiian shirt, with additional products (e.g., all-over tee) coming soon.

The idea of putting timeless and ethereal characters such as Death, Satan, or Thor in mundane modern situations for jarringly humourous purposes is not new, but still powerful and effective. Who can forget the fatal consequences of the salmon mousse?

Most recently, I've thrown Death a party with cake and balloons. I'm thinking that, for Death, every day is his birthday. It's just a matter of whether or not he is in the mood to celebrate at any given moment.

We shouldn't assume, though, that Death is male when Death comes for all, regardless of gender. Death could just as easily present as female or gender neutral, depending on the personal expectations of the one doing the dying. As an eternal figure who exists above and beyond the veil of flesh, I think a gender-neutral Death makes the most sense. Fortunately, this is one area where there is no definitive answer, and Death can be personified in any way that takes your fancy.

Some of my earliest explorations of this concept of a modern Death occurred during my very early experiments with Midjourney, with "Death Shoveled My Driveway."

Given that these were rendered with Midjourney version 4, they lack a finesse that would be dialed in with another pass using a version of 5.

As usual, the rest of the day beckons and my time runs short. Please enjoy these remaining renders as Halloween nears and the fabric of reality wears thin.

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