• Italian Illustrator, November 5, 1915 – December 8, 1997

    Born in Reggio Emilia, Italy.  He began his career as an illustrator and caricaturist in 1935, working for outlets such as Il Popolo d’Italia and Bertoldo

    The themes of Molino’s work consist of anything related to disasters – fire, water, falling from cliffs, planes, boats, buildings, and so on. 

  • The Icarians were a 19th-century utopian society in France. The movement’s formation was inspired and encouraged by the writings of Etienne Cabet; a politician, writer, and irritator. 

    14 minutes

    The Founding

    Before becoming a radical Cabet was born in Dijon in 1788. He grew up in a family of middle-class artisans. He became active in politics after the fall of Napoleon in 1815, incensed by the prospect of a restored theocratic monarchy. He moved to Paris in 1820 and immersed himself in the secret revolutionary societies of the city’s salons. 

    The saucy salons of Parisian social life.

    By 1830 the July Revolution was building in Paris. Cabet was leading his so-called Insurrection Committee to aid in forcing the abdication of King Charles X, the last of the restored Bourbons. For his role in the chaos, the newly crowned Citizen King, Louis-Phillipe d’Orleans rewarded Cabet with the title of Attorney-General of Corsica. A position he would lose shortly after due to his loud and constant criticisms of the Orleanist monarchy. 

    After the loss of his post, Cabet took some time off to author a four-volume history of the French Revolution. A year later he was able to wiggle his way into a lower deputy position at the National Assembly.  He aired his political grievances as loudly as ever. Once again his representative occupation was short-lived. He was formally labeled an Agitator and given the choice between two years in prison or five years in exile. 

    Agitation at the National Assembly.

    Choosing exile, Cabet departed for England where he took up an obsessive study of philosophy and economics, paying particular interest on the dynamics between political structures and economic welfare throughout history. One of his acolytes recorded this about him: 

    Studying, pondering the history of all ages and countries, he at length arrived at the conclusion that mere political reforms are powerless to give society the welfare which it obstinately seeks… He found at all epochs the same phenomena: society sundered in twain; on one side a minority, cruel, idle, arrogant, usurping exclusive enjoyment of the products of a majority, passive, toiling, ignorant, who remained wholly destitute… To change all this, to find the means of preventing one portion of humanity from being eternally the prey of the other — such was his desire, the goal of all his efforts.

    Cabet’s exile ended in 1839. He returned to fair France and began work on a book that expounded his ideals in the allegory style of Thomas More’s Utopia. The books title was Voyage en Icarie, or “Voyage to Icaria”, and it was finally published in 1840. 

    The plot’s narration was in the form of a travel journal kept by a young English nobleman who had learned of a remote country known as Icaria. It was said that their way of life, culture, and form of governing was unlike anywhere else. The young lord was made so curious that he decided to visit the strange country and record his remarkable experiences. 

    The young lord was made so curious that he decided to visit the strange country.

    The first part of the book is a fawning account of the wonders of Icarian society with its cooperative industry, inconceivable accomplishments, productive education systems, the peoples’ comforts, freedoms, and high morality. Essentially, why their way of living is the most perfect. 

    The second part outlines the history of Icaria. The country apparently lived the exact same way all the rest of Western Europe until 1782, when the hero Icar led a revolution and communism was established. 

    The final section is devoted to the nonfiction history of communist and egalitarian thinking and was accompanied by comprehensive summaries of all the writing on the subject from Plato to Cabet’s contemporary Utopians. 

    Icar led a revolution and established communism.

    The book became successful enough for Cabet to launch a monthly magazine named Le Populaire. He also put out a yearly Icarian Almanac. Fans of Icarianism began to see Cabet as a political messiah and sought to implement his ideas in a practical setting. 

    In the May 1847 edition of Le Populaire, Cabet published an article titled Allons en Icarie, or Let’s Go to Icaria”. The article detailed his proposal to establish an American colony based on Icarian ideals. He called for volunteers to come and build an artisanal cooperative community with him. He initially believed that at least 10,000 working men would enlist immediately and that the numbers would swell to one million skilled workers and artisans, and soon there would be huge cities bursting with industry, education, and cultural facilities. His plan was met with great enthusiasm from his readers. A deluge of offers to enlist, donations of money, seeds, farm tools, clothing, and books began to pour in. 

    The dream of Icaria.

    The Settling

    “which lays down with great care the equality and brotherhood of mankind, and the duty of holding all things in common; abolishes servitude and service; commands marriage, under penalities; provides for education; and requires that the majority shall rule.”

    Preamble of the Nauvoo Constitution

    Hoist the Banners: Denton County, Texas

    In February of 1848, an “advance guard” of sixty-nine Icarians set sail from Le Havre, France to the million-acre parcel in Texas that had been purchased by Cabet. They arrived in March, landing in New Orleans. They were to claim the land title first and when they did they quickly learned that they had been deceived. First, one million acres turned out to be 320, and the parcel was not contiguous but split up in a checkerboard of state land, private land, state land, private land, etc. Additionally, the sales contract contained the contingency that required 3,125 individuals or families to construct 3,125 log cabins and occupy them by July 1st of the same year. 

    By June only twenty-seven of the settlers had made it to their Texan utopia. The rest had either gone back to France after learning about the discrepancies in the property deed or had given up and turned back to New Orleans when the wagons broke down a hundred miles away from Denton. Upon arrival the remaining believers began a frenzied effort to get their homes built in time to stake their land claims while also attempting to build-up productive crops in the Texas prairie. Poor housing, poor eating, and exhaustion were the way of life in early Icaria, then came the demons of cholera and malaria, at which time the settlement’s only doctor succumbed to a nervous breakdown and fled the colony. 

    1500 settlers had been registered for the second wave of migration to the colony. Of these only nineteen showed up to make the trip, and half of these hung back in New Orleans rather than finish the journey to Texas. The deflation of enthusiasm could be explained by the events in France that year. By the time the first settlers had landed in America, the February Revolution was well under way and before the month was over the July Monarchy of the supposed Citizen King had been brought to an end, resulting in France’s Second Republic. 

    Frenzied efforts.

    When the Icarians in Texas learned of this dismal turnout in the second migration those few who were left standing decided to give up. The colony was abandoned and the defeated handful made their way back to New Orleans in the fall. Upon arrival to the city, they were surprised to find that some several hundred Icarian enthusiasts from France has been gradually gathering there and waiting for news of the Texas colony. When they learned of the failure the news was sent to Cabet. He immediately bought passage to America and left for New Orleans in January of 1849. 

    By the time he arrived in the city, there were 480 Icarians loitering around. A portion of these wanted to return to France, while another wanted to stay in America and find a better location to live the dream. Cabet organized a General Meeting where they would all vote on their fate. This led to the movement’s first schism. Two hundred voted to return to France and two-hundred and eighty voted to stay. The two hundred fair-weather Icarians had an amount of money pared to them from the treasury to cover their travel expenses, though this would not be the last time they were heard from. The remainers followed Cabet to a new home. 

    Strangeland Reloaded: Nauvoo, Illinois

    The town of Nauvoo was founded in 1839 by Joseph Smith and his gang of Mormons. By 1845 their population had grown to 15,000. At the time the town dwarfed Chicago with its population of 8000. After Joseph Smith’s jailhouse murder in 1844, a succession crisis split the Mormons, mostly between those who would follow Brigham Young to Salt Lake City and those who would keep with Smith’s wife and son in Independence, Missouri. Those who stayed behind sold the town to the Icarians in 1849. 

    Nauvoo was reborn as the first semi-permanent Icarian community. They structured their governing and society to model those praised in Cabet’s Voyage en Icarie. A president would be elected annually and there would be one officer each to administrate finance, farming, education, and industry. New members were to be admitted by majority vote among the community men, and only after satisfying the prerequisites of four months residency, a forfeit of all personal property, and the payment of an $80 pledge ($3046 in 2023). 

    Every family was allotted the same amount of living space, two rooms in an apartment building. They were also each given an equal amount of furniture. Upon reaching the age of four children were moved to a boarding school and were only permitted family visits on Sundays. The intention of this was to encourage a greater love for the community as a whole, rather than cultivating special affection for their parents. Marriage was the norm in the community, but divorce was permitted with the assumption that re-marriage would soon follow. The Icarians did not practice any religion, but they did gather on Sundays where they discussed Cabet’s writings and general ethics. 

    Once fully settled the Icarians enjoyed a short period of energetic growth and relative prosperity. Farmland was rented. A sawmill and flour mill were established. Multiple workshops and schools were built. They even opened a theater. A periodical press was released to spread the news of Icaria in French, English, and German. An office was set up in Paris to recruit new members to the colony. Cultural life thrived with weekly concerts and theater productions, as well as an extensively stocked library of four thousand volumes. By 1855 the Icarian project would record just over 500 participants. 

    The Second Schism

    In 1849 Cabet was the de facto authority of the sect, a status granted more by his followers than his own ego. However, a single individual being the supreme decision-maker was a major contradiction to the ideals of Icaria and Cabet acknowledged this. In 1850 he proposed a constitution that would provide for an elected president and board of directors. 

    Presidents, directors, and forgotten kings.

    Two years later Cabet was forced back to France to face the courts. Those former Icarians who voted to go back to France after the failures of Texas had combined their complaints of Cabet into a class-action lawsuit, claiming that he had obtained their property by dishonest means and misrepresentation. He spent eighteen months fighting the charges. When he made it back to America he had brought a much different demeanor with him. He started instituting a series of restrictive rules; a ban on alcohol and tobacco, the prohibiting of talking in the workshops, as well as a push to reinstate his old authority as autocrat, though only on a four year term. He insisted that the changes were necessary to preserving the moral fabric of the community. He had a strong minority of supporters, not unlike the restoration kings he’d spent his youth railing against.

    The Icarians’ response was divided along the lines of Dissidents and Cabetists. They resolved to a formal split with Cabet leading 170 exiles out of Nauvoo in October 1856. This represented a loss of 40% of the population and the Dissidents came to find they could no longer raise financial support in France without Cabet. Four years later, broke and defaulted, the colony would have no choice but to disband. Many of them would become part of the Iowa colony. 

    Dark Ages: Cheltenham, Missouri

    From Nauvoo, Cabet took his followers to St. Louis. Two days after they arrived he had a stroke and died at the age of 68. Leadership was given over to a 32-year-old lawyer, Benjamin Mercadier. They used what was left of Cabet’s money for a $500 ($18,343 in 2023) down payment on a $25,000 ($917,195 in 2023) mortgage for thirty-nine acres of land with three buildings on it in Cheltenham, Missouri. 

    They chose to use the same constitution as they had in Nauvoo, “which lays down with great care the equality and brotherhood of mankind, and the duty of holding all things in common; abolishes servitude and service; commands marriage, under penalties; provides for education; and requires that the majority shall rule.”

    In Cheltenham, there was less development for community industries. The members commuted to work in St. Louis and sent their children to local public schools. And the colony was to be short-lived. The Civil War began in 1861 and would claim most of the men. By 1864 only twenty residents remained. Unable to make the mortgage payments the Icarians abandoned the keys and fled to the Iowa colony. 

    Rule Icaria: Corning, Iowa

    In 1852 a group of Icarians ventured out from the then-stable Nauvoo to establish a second colony. Four thousand acres of land were purchased southwest of Queen City, Iowa. After Nauvoo and Cheltenham failed the Iowa colony was the primary destination for the remaining believers, who would turn up in phases at the colony with nothing but their skill sets and a collective debt of $20,000 ($761,620 in 2023). 

    For a long time the Iowa colony lived in mud hovels or, if lucky, poorly built log cabins. They managed to stabilize themselves by selling food for low prices during the Civil War. They were able to bring in enough to pay off the group’s debt while also erecting a two story building to serve as the community dining hall, a washhouse, a school, and a dozen cheaply built frame houses. They were collectively supporting sixty-five members. Roughly 2500 pounds of wool were sold per year in addition to the sales of cattle and hogs and the produce of their manufacturing facilities. 

    The Corning system of government involved weekly meetings of all adults each Saturday, which was led by an officer who was elected also weekly. A president was elected annually. Four directors were elected to each manage agriculture, clothing, industry, and construction. 

    The Third Schism

    The Corning project went on to survive and grow for twenty years before the next major conflict arose. This time division was sown over the question of whether the community women should be allowed a vote on community matters. Against it were the Vieux Icariens, and in favor were the Jeunes Icariens. The Vieux won 31-17 in a General Meeting. With this defeat, the Jeunes moved one mile Southeast on the property and took eight of the frame houses with them. For the Vieux, despite their win, their corner of the community would soon become unviable and they would declare bankruptcy in 1878. 

    Twenty more years would pass before the Jeunes disbanded their commune. With a final total of forty-six years, the Corning project was the longest-running non-religious commune in American history. 

    The Last Colony

    Before the end of Iowa, a party of the Jeunes Icariens traveled to California and established Icaria Speranza in Cloverdale, in 1881. Situated on the sprawling Bluxome ranch with vineyards, orchards, and acres of arable land. The commune drew some followers, peaking at 55. Nevertheless, the settlers disbanded in 1886. 

    Despite holding the record for longest running secular commune, the story of Icaria reeks of loss. A sincere attempt was made to build a utopia in the wilderness without all the prudishness, one reverent to the budding mythology of communism. A brave stumble in the pursuit of paradise.

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  • An eccentric city and the oldest established in the Highlands departement, and one of the oldest in the country. The metropolis fans out from atop the precarious cliffs of Erise that overlook Auview Island. At the height of its autocratic rule Endcliff was renowned for its hanging vertical farms and advancements in philosophical mathematics. The economic conflict that preceded the Good Revolution nearly hollowed the city. Little is left of the innovative energies of old but the cheapest of arts and the population’s bizarre superstitions. 

    The Hanging Farms of Endcliff

    Today’s Endcliff has only a reputation for what has been called its “horrendous cultural impact” and a very distinctive, often abrasive, local accent. The negatives of the city’s cultural exports are due to its niche art movements. Sophistication and aesthetic balance have long been lost in their grimy districts, leaving room for all kind of “experimental” scenes that mostly dabble in degrees of shock and self-righteous hedonism. The city was once known as the capital of the theatre. It is believed the peoples’ unusual accent comes from the influence of stage speech and the number of people once employed or descended of those employed in the theatrical arts. 

    The city’s crime rate is classified as medium for the country, but the highest for the departement. This is particularly concentrated in the Abattoir district where at least two known criminal organizations keep their quarters and frequently battle each other over perceived slights and business competition. There is a lack of will to deal with this. These organizations have become normalized by time and entrenchment in community institutions. The workforce needed for adequate law enforcement is lacking like all civic services in Endcliff due to the city being nearly financially insolvent. The local governing is held by House Cymbelline. Ever aloof, and some would say they set the eccentricity of the city by their own weird ways. In recent years the Directory has suspended several of the house’s rights over incompetency. 

    Growth and development are a rare sight, public services were nearly non-existent until the Good Revolution and the city is overall a greater burden on Directory resources than any other in the Highlands. However the cost of living is low and the employment rate has never had a major drop off. The house maintains minimal public transport in the form of two crossing streetcar lines that, though irregular, work well with the design of the city and face no major criticisms from residents. 

    The streetcar nexus.

    The city is hard to comprehend from any angle. Age and past prestige fostered extreme density with an urban core taking up 70% of the metropolis. There is little room to build and most construction is reparative when it actually happens. The same cobbles that first laid Endcliff’s roads can still be seen in some places through the patches of tar. 

    A large population is still maintained, but year over year these rates have decreased due to declining fertility rates. The cause of rising impotence has not yet been found, but it is uniquely high enough to warrant an ongoing case study funded and organized by the Directory. 

    Read stories from this world here.

  • Contemporary painter and graphic artist.

    Born 1968 in Odessa. Kozhuhar’s subjects depict everyday scenes of city life, sports, and eroticism. His painting have a refreshing lack of pretentiousness. The imagery is evocative, with the harsher edges of expressionism and the fluidity of classical impressionism.

  • Carolyn Chute, 1985

    Ghosts bust up my house all the time. They don’t hurt me…but they keep me awake rollin’ them big Blue Hubbards around and smashin’ up glass. They get right under the sheets with me and run around in there under the sheets.

    Set in the impoverished hills of rural Maine in an era that could be any time, Chute’s debut novel is essentially a story of pastoral poverty. There is no heroic character transformation, no one is saved, no one escapes. Harsh living gets even worse. 

    The story follows Earlene Pomerleau, a young girl obsessed with her freakish neighbors. These are of course the big and messy Bean clan that infests the whole hillside. Drunk, violent, grotesque. The women stumble over a brood of clinging babies. The men break each others ribs and pass out under their trucks. Earlene’s father has raised her with the assertion that they are above the Beans, but her obsession pulls her ever closer into the rat’s nest. Where another writer may have used such source material in mockery, the book has takes a somber tone. There are no judgements nor is there any romanticizing. It is simply a story of some lives, written in practical third person omniscient narration. 

    The author seems either of that world or at least grew up in close proximity to it. A former floor scrubber and potato farm worker, but also a former professor of creative writing at the university in Portland and a present-day contributor to the New England Literature Program. Still alive and still in Maine, reportedly living in a house with no phone, computer, or indoor plumbing. She resides with her handsome gun collection and handyman husband who never learned to read. 

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  • I came across the term Black Nobility while reading a vintage conspiracy book that liked peppering in ominous names paired with sinister insinuations dastardly geopolitical deeds. There was little explanation of these spooky societies. Coincidentally I was also reading J.M. Roberts’ A History of Europe around the same time and had come across an entry about a near Venetian empire with a quirky political structure. There I found another casual mention of the Black Nobility.

    Generally, the term seems to refer to a specific group that supports the Papacy at any time of crisis and whose members have descended from a specific spread of noble families. The most modern-ish application of the term, besides my weirdo book from the 1960s, was used for the aristocratic families of Rome who sided with the Papacy when the Savoys lead an army into Rome in 1870. The Savoys overthrew the Pope and moved into the Quirinal Palace. 

    This would ultimately be the end of Papal Rule in Rome. By the end of the crisis Rome and all of Italy would come under a secular government. 

    For fifty years after 1870 Pope Pius IX was confined to the Vatican City. He claimed to have been kept a prisoner in the Vatican. The aristocrats who had been ennobled by the Pope or were subjects of the Papal States kept their palaces closed in mourning for the confinement. This is claimed to be the reason for the term Black Nobility in its modern incarnation on sites like Wikipedia and Britannica. 

    The families that made up the Black Nobility had settled in Rome to benefit from their connections to the Vatican. All of these families had relatives among the high ranking clergy and some, like the Borgia, had descended from previous Popes. Many of their members held ceremonial positions in the Papal Noble Guard. Notable names include the Colonna, Massimo, Orsini, Pallavicini, Borghese, Odeschalchi and Ludovisi. There were more, but they’re now extinct. 

    Pius’s confinement ended in 1929 with the Lateran Treaty. A truce between the Italian government, signed for by King Victor Emmanuel III and Prime Minister Benito Mussolini. The treaty granted the families of the Black Nobility duel citizenship in Italy and the Vatican City. 

    In 1968 Pope Paul VI changed the Papal Court to the Papal Household and abolished most of the positions held by members of the Black Nobility. In his letter he stated, “Many of the offices entrusted to members of the Papal Household were deprived of their function, continuing to exist as purely honorary positions, without much correspondence to concrete needs of the time.”

    And this is as recent as the mentions of the Black Nobility get. 

    I found an older use of the term, and one that wasn’t irrelevant to the topics of Italy and papal strife. At its earliest, the Black Nobility refers to a set of oligarchical families of pre-Roman times. These early dandies were based in Babylon, Persia, Greece, Tyre and Phoenicia. They were the first to gain dominion of maritime trade and commerce. Over time and a series of political marriages these families condensed and many of them set up shop in the strategically located city-state of Venice. For centuries they fortified their trading rights, and then a time of opportunity came to Venice as Rome the city took its last ragged breaths as the seat of empire.

    Venice nearly became Rome’s successor. The almost empire. It’s detached location, nestled on a cluster of islands in a shallow lagoon, spared Venice the mainland’s troubles. Their civic model was one of a city-state republic, ruled by a doge who was elected by a council of twelve tribunes who representing the twelve communities of Venice. The small empire was cut short in the 12th century by an uneasy Holy Roman Empire in mainland Italy that viewed the Venetian autonomy with suspicion. A small war was had over it and Venice lost. 

    A pillar of the Venetian oligarchical system had been the fondo, or the family fortune. This referred to the continuity of said fortunes by their respective enterprises. The largest fondo was the endowment of the Basilica of St. Mark. Closely tied to the city Treasury, the Basilica absorbed the family fortunes of those who died without heirs. This fondo was administered by the procurers of St. Mark and their position was one of the most powerful in the Venetian system. Around this centralized fondo were grouped the individual fortunes of the great families. 

    When the republic was smashed many of these families migrated to Northern Europe and took their parts of St. Mark’s fondo with them. Their capital was used to open the coinage institutions of the Bank of Amsterdam and the Bank of England. These northern banks prospered until 1255, when Henry III nearly bankrupted them with the English crown’s insolvency. Economic crisis was imminent, and then the Black Plague came, depopulating the continent’s tax base. 

    Under the next king, Edward III, the former Venetians sought to re-coup their losses by offering the king capital in exchange for the spoils of France. The resulting conflict came to be named the Hundred Years War. A further strategy to regain their northern footing was to ingratiate themselves with the oldest aristocratic tool, political marriages. Many of these were concentrated into two particular families, the House of Hohenstaufen and the Weifs. The Weifs, or as they were called in Italy, the Guelphs, were also known as the Neri, Black Guelphs, or Black Nobility. 

    The Hohenstaufen  was a dynasty of unknown origin. They first ruled the Duchy of Swabia from 1079 and then came into the royal rule of the Holy Roman Empire from 1138 to 1254. In their time the empire reached the peak of its territorial expansion. They are now extinct. 

    The Guelphs, also known as the House of Weif, was the older branch of the north Italian House of Este. The House came to rule Bavaria by inheritance. An early death in a childless marriage granted the family rights to Tuscany, Ferrara, Modena, Matua, and Reggio. This inheritance would play a major part in the Vatican’s Investiture Controversy. The Weif’s were brought into direct conflict over their unwillingness to aid the Hohenstafens in the Italian War of the 12th century. A war in which their familial Italian counterparts in Italy were also involved, more on that later. The Weifs were stomped and lost their duchies of Bavaria and Saxony. Left with only Brunswick, they still managed to kidnap England’s king Richard I and demand a huge ransom before the end of the century. Such an allotment that it probably helped maintain their survival in their diminished realm. 

    The Weifs fortified their territory around Brunswick and by 1705 they formalized their lands into the Kingdom of Hanover. This would become the ruling house of Britain one day when the Act of Settlement in 1701 placed the granddaughter of James I in the line of succession rather than suffer a Catholic crown. This granddaughter was the wife of the Duke of Hanover, House of Weif. 

    Meanwhile, in the moody Mediterranean…

    Shown above: the flag of the Ghibellines and flag of the Guelphs.

    In Italy, the Weifs are latinized as the Guelphs. The Hohenstaufens become the Ghibellines from the name of their castle, Wibellingen, which they used as a rallying cry in battle. So the Ghibellines are team empire, the Guelphs are team pope. The Guelphs came from wealthy mercantile families whose cities tended to be in places where the emperor posed a territorial threat. The Ghibellines drew their wealth from agriculture and their cities were in places that were threatened by the expansion of the Papal States. 

    The two families and their associated factions would fight over territories, perceived threats, and the disagreements of church and empire for-seemingly-ever. A pause in the conflict came in 1289 when the Tuscan Guelphs prevailed over the Ghibellines and regained control of the city-state. Almost immediately after this, the Guelphs began in-fighting. The split was defined as the Black Guelphs and the White Guelphs. The Blacks supported the Papacy while the White opposed it. And so the song kept playing. The family overthrew each other for the rule of the same old city for a couple generations. When they grew bored, the arbitrary conflict with the Ghibellines kicked back up and brought new massacres and conspiracies. By 1334, Pope Benedict XII threatened to excommunicate anyone who used the name Guelph or Ghibelline politically. 

    That’s the synopsis of the Black Nobility. A fun name, a violent and Shakespearean past, and for those who really squint between the lines, a murky cabal of ambiguously powerful entities that twiddle with the common folks lives to this day. 

  • American illustrator, born June of 1956.

    Matingly got into art in childhood with matte painting, a discipline that was once used in film-making to create the illusion of environment. These were done using paints or pastels on large sheets of glass. 

    After dropping out of art school he took a job at Disney Studios. His notable works there include The Black Hole, Tron, The Watcher in the Woods, and I, Robot. He was eventually contracted by Ballantine Books and would go on to make over two thousand cover illustrations in the course of his career. 

    Later in life he took a teaching position at the School of Visual Arts and an adjunct professor position at the Pratt Institute. At both of these schools he teaches digital matte painting and compositing. 

  • The seated estate of Endcliff, the oldest metropolis in the Highland zone.

    The Cymbellines have historically been known as an eccentric and reclusive family. They have nonetheless been at the center of scandal and wild speculation. For several centuries, the odds of a Cymbelline reaching old age was nearly fifty-fifty. The house was plagued by precarious stairwells, sudden and incurable disease, outright poisoning, and more than a couple of gruesome murders. 

    Rendering of the now collapsed grand hall.

    The family’s wealth is old, and few of its generative industries remain today. They continue to hold the rail lines and the attached labor schools. They also retain a theater circuit, though the number of their venues has shrunk down to only those located in the Highland cities. The prestige of these institutions had faded considerably and today they are known for the nauseating spectacles put on by nameless experimental directors. 

    Interior of the Endcliff Play House

    The House’s leadership has recently been held in a state of suspension due to the ongoing investigation of the former patriarch’s demise. Mortimer dropped dead while descending the front stair of his estate. The family and their few staff members had little information to give. When interviewed they stated that he’d had no enemies and only a small but trusted circle of friends. They said he had never complained of his health or had need of a doctor, but that cigars and liquor were a common part of his daily diet. The investigation was nearly shelved until the confession of a young drudge who had been in the garden when Mortimer fell. She claimed to have been close enough to hear him say, “She’s done it,” just before the life went out of him. The maid could not be found again after the initial interview. 

    Cassandra Cymbelline, daughter of Mortimer and Cora

    The statement brought renewed interest to the women of the house, Mortimer’s widow in particular. Cora has been unhelpful and at times hostile toward the investigation efforts. An interview with the couple’s eldest, their daughter Cassandra informed the Directory of the distance in their relationship. When asked if there had been any disagreements or tension between her parents, the girl informed the interviewers that her parents hardly spoke to each other, and that she herself hadn’t seen them together in at least four years. 

    Cora Cymbelline, Mortimer’s widow, with her sister-in-law Thessia.

    The investigation has not succeeded in finding clear evidence of any wrongdoing on Cora’s part, though it has kept her from assuming the regency of the house while her son waits for his inheritance. The issue has been doubly strained by perennial crises over the same son’s union contract. 

    You can read more about this world here.

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