100 Ghosts: The Face by E F Benson


Published in 1928 in his Spook Stories anthology, this is the only E F Benson ghost story with a female protagonist, a fact pointed out to me by artist and bookseller Eli John who suggested this to me as a subject for illustration. A woman with a seemingly perfect life (including two apparently invisible and trouble free children) living the life of Riley in suburban 1920s London is troubled by a ‘warning dream’ she has not had for many years. The dream, of a fairly uneventful walk along a cliff path towards a ruinous churchyard, is only the precursor to the nightmare which Esther knows will come the following night: the materialisation of a ghastly face and its promise that its owner will come for her. Benson is very fond of dreams and portents, and he absolutely nails the dread Esther feels but tries to dismiss as nothing more than a bad dream of her childhood returned. But in the dream time has progressed and the words uttered by the owner of the ghoulish face have been updated too, Esther realises with horror. Attempting to dismiss her fear with the bustle and business of her privileged Metropolitan life only goes so far, especially after coming face to face with the portrait of her nocturnal tormentor at an art gallery, and eventually she is dispatched to the coast by her doctor for absolute rest, with predictably unhilarious consequences. (Ten bob if you can guess which precise bit of the coast she ends up on).

I decided to make this into a micro animation, partly as I just couldn’t get the face itself to look quite ghoulish enough on its own, even though it is pretty much how I envisaged it. I left out his ears and hair basically because I forgot about them, but frankly, I think the sticky out ears would have made it look ridiculous. He looks gormless enough as it is. I’ve recently invested in a gert big Cintiq drawing screen thingy and using this drew most of the artwork with Photoshop, as I’m intending to do most of my digital stuff on that in the future (and it is lovely to work on such a big screen) but it is going to take some getting used to, and I couldn’t for the life of me work out how to animate it there, so exported it onto lovely old simple(r) Procreate on my iPad Pro. But it was fiddly enough there - I think it probably works better if you do it from scratch, as I ended up having to do a lot of duplication of layers/frames and confusing swapping about. Also because the image was so big in the first place I was limited to 50 frames which was good and bad - it’s a bit short and jerky but it stopped me from going entirely over the top and spending three days adding extra layers of detail. These are supposed to be speedy little drawings after all.


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