For 10 years, Morbid Curiosity was a one-of-a-kind cult magazine which gained a devoted following for its celebration of absurd, grotesque, and poignant tales — all true — submitted from across the country and around the world. Last year Scribner collected many of editor Loren Rhoads’s favorite stories in the anthology Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues: True Stories of the Unsavory, Unwise, Unorthodox, and Unusual.
From the beginning, Morbid Curiosity’s aesthetic was heavily influenced by the RE/Search series of books, particularly Modern Primitives. Other influences obvious from the very first issue were the fairytale etchings of Howard Pyle, Vesalius’s medical illustrations, and Loren’s fascination with graveyard iconography and funeral ephemera.
Underground and outsider artists further defined the look of Morbid Curiosity. Drawing from punk rock collage, Goth fashion design, religious iconography, and fine arts photography, the magazine’s illustrators explored ossuaries, cemeteries, and the inevitability of decay in all its forms, always searching for the beauty of the skull beneath the skin.
Artwork came to the magazine in two ways. Some artists preferred the adrenaline rush of creating original art for a specific story, often on a relatively short deadline. Others gave Loren a large portfolio from which to match images to stories. Most of the artists in this show combined both approaches.
When assembling the magazines, Loren’s emphasis was on the text. She sought illustrations that evoked the memoirs they would accompany without revealing too much. Often she used illustrations the way she employed pull-quotes: a short visceral jab to lure readers into the words on the page.
As she compiled the magazines, Loren knew they were being hoarded: not just by avid readers but also in permanent collections such as the Research Library at 20th Century Fox and the State Historical Museum of Wisconsin. This encouraged her to hold to a vision of Morbid Curiosity, beyond catharsis and entertainment, to serve as an enduring source of inspiration. As far as she knows, the San Francisco Public Library’s Little Maga/Zine Collection owns the only complete public collection of the magazine. She hopes you’ll visit the out-of-print issues there.
Artwork published in the magazine has been displayed at both incarnations of Borderlands Books in San Francisco and in piecemeal fashion as the artists arranged their own gallery shows. This is the first time that some of these works have been offered for sale.
The Morbid Curiosity art show opens tonight at 7 p.m. at the Borderlands Cafe, 870 Valencia Street, in San Francisco. The art will be up all month. Please drop by!
Causes Loren Rhoads Supports