Lovecraft: Four Classic Horror Stories

Lovecraft: Four Classic Horror StoriesLovecraft: Four Classic Horror Stories by H.P. Lovecraft
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I.N.J. Culbard adapts and illustrates four of H.P. Lovecraft’s longer and better-known works: “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” “At the Mountains of Madness,” and “The Shadow Out of Time.” The artwork is extraordinary, especially Culbard’s renderings of various creatures whose descriptions Lovecraft left intentionally vague, and fulfills the purpose of cutting through Lovecraft’s sometimes dense and baroque prose to make the stories flow more smoothly. He does an excellent job adapting the stories, sometimes making slight alterations to their structure that work to increase their narrative power.

Revisiting these stories, I found myself struck by a few things. I had never really realized before, for instance, that “Dream-Quest” is kind of a “Lovecraft’s greatest hits” compilation, featuring not just recurring characters like Randolph Carter and Richard Pickman, but also making use of places and creatures that had only appeared in his poems and fragments before, all brought together into a single narrative. One could say “Dream Quest” is to Lovecraft’s work like the Dark Tower series is to Stephen King’s. I also noticed for the first time how similar the climaxes are in both “At the Mountains of Madness” and “The Shadow Out of Time.” In “Mountains,” the deadly shoggoths that destroyed the Elder Things and their ancient city in Antarctica are discovered to still be alive and a threat to the protagonists. In “Shadow,” the deadly flying polyps that destroyed the Great Race of Yith and their ancient city in Perth, Australia are discovered to still be alive and a threat to the protagonists. The stories were written only three or four years apart, and I prefer to think of these similarities as the solidification of a theme that interested Lovecraft rather than lazy plotting. My final observation is that as much as I love Roger Corman’s 1963 film THE HAUNTED PALACE, “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” is very cinematic and deserves a more faithful film adaptation.

This collection of Culbard’s previously and separately published Lovecraft adaptations is a must for fans of graphic novels and H.P. Lovecraft alike. (I now find myself interested in reading Culbert’s adaptation of Chambers’ THE KING IN YELLOW as well.) One caveat, though: the hardcover is extremely heavy and quite thick, making it difficult to carry with you. You may find it easier to read at home in your favorite chair than to take it with you on a train or an airplane. But then, that’s probably the best way to read Lovecraft’s chilling tales anyway.

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Demons and Catwomen

I have a guest post over at SF Signal about demons in pop culture that I think readers will get a kick out of. Here’s a snippet:

You could be forgiven for thinking most demons in pop culture are little girl-possessing Pazuzu clones — hell, in the 1970s and ’80s the Italian film industry produced an entire subgenre of cheap, lurid Exorcist rip-offs because it was so immensely popular at the time — but in actuality, there are plenty of examples in entertainment of demons as corporeal creatures with their own bodies and no need for anyone else’s, thank you very much. One of my favorites is Etrigan from the DC Comics universe. This rhyming demon with superhuman strength and close ties to Hell has crossed paths with superheroes like Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, and even Batman. Unfortunately for him, Etrigan often finds himself allied with the forces of good — or at least often doing the right thing in the end — which makes him distinctly unpopular with his fellow demons.

And speaking of DC Comics, look what I got my paws on last night: Catwoman #35, written by my good friend Genevieve Valentine! (I managed to snag the issue with its Halloween variant cover.)

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I read it from front to back the minute I got someplace dry, because New York City last night was a friggin’ monsoon, and I loved it! It’s Catwoman like you’ve never seen her before. Go get yourself a copy!

The Watching of the Shows

There are only four new TV shows I’m interested in this fall season: GothamThe FlashConstantine, and Gracepoint.

What’s interesting — and certainly unexpected — is that none of them are original properties. One is a remake of a British series, and the other three are comic-book adaptations. Actually, four comic-book adaptations if you count Marvel’s Agent Carter, which I’m interested in checking out when it premieres in January.

But every other new show doesn’t look like anything I’m interested in watching. And as I get older, I have less and less patience for TV shows that don’t grab me right off the bat. Life is too short.

The Scariest Part: James Maddox & Jen Hickman Talk About THE DEAD

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Welcome to the inaugural edition of The Scariest Part, a new, recurring feature in which authors, comic book writers, filmmakers, and game creators tell us what scares them in their latest works of horror, dark fantasy, dark science fiction, and suspense. I’m thrilled to have James Maddox and Jen Hickman as my first guests. Together, they’re the creators behind the ongoing digital comic The Dead. Currently, they’re also running a Kickstarter campaign to fund a graphic novel print version of the comic. Here’s a description of the series:

When Sam opens his eyes after dying, he expects to see heavenly clouds or hellfire. What he’s faced with instead is “The House” – a surreal and often-dangerous afterlife of interconnected rooms. As Sam travels deeper into this new world, he finds the strange creators of these rooms aren’t the only residents of The House. Here there be monsters, and if he isn’t careful, Sam’s stay will take a horrible turn.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest parts were for James Maddox and Jen Hickman.

James Maddox, Story and Writing

The Dead is the story of what happens after you die. And before you ask, it’s not a zombie comic. Rather, our story drops readers into an afterlife made up of rooms that are customized by its individual residents. These rooms have the ability to encompass the entirety of any imagination, so as you may have guessed, the settings for this book can get dark and surreal at times. Some of the horror concepts that emerge in The Dead are graphic in their violence, but the scariest parts for me are more subtle and cerebral than simple gore.

In issue two, I decided to show these two particular approaches side-by-side (i.e. human versus natural horror). Here we find a gang of zealots, the Seraphim, who have banded together to kill one of our main characters, Velouria. Though V and her hatchet bloody the ground with viscera and gore at the beginning of the scene, the advantage quickly turns against her. Soon the strength of the Seraphim’s numbers overcome Velouria and the gang of bastards prepare to deliver her to a gruesome and painful death.

Just before the violence against Velouria kicks into high gear, a monster to which I allude in issue one is finally revealed. Called “the Frail”, it takes the ghostly appearance of a beautiful and gentle woman. In our story, the Frail are creatures that look inviting, but cause mental instability in the nearby population. In this example, the Seraphim begin to attack each other and themselves, allowing for Velouria’s escape from danger. One man tears out his eyes, while another is stabbed through his stomach, a victim of a crazed ally. While at first glance this may seem to be supernatural as opposed to natural, there is no real reason for the Frail’s effects. They are a natural and elemental force in this world.

Unlike a human act of violence, the Frail doesn’t cause horror because it hates or covets. As the scene unfolds, we don’t see her become angered or upset. In fact, she seems concerned for the people who are tearing each other apart thanks to her presence. It’s like a tornado: from a distance it is awe-inspiring and beautiful in its enormity; but, up close a tornado is one of the most horrific and terrifying things you could experience. And whether you are a bystander seeing it from a mile away or unfortunate enough to find yourself in the thick of its fury, the tornado doesn’t care in the slightest.

Violence inflicted on one person by another who holds different beliefs is something we can understand on some level. Wars are fought over differences in belief and (mis)understandings. Even if our understanding is that something is sick and demented, it’s still able to be put it into a framework most of us can fathom. Because I am able to wrap my mind around it, this approach to horror is made more real and visceral, but has less of an overall hold on my imagination.

Perhaps this is why I tend to lean more toward the natural force when I read horror and why the Frail are the scariest part of my own work. I get people’s reasons for violence, as dark and disturbing as they may be, but a force such as the Frail (or a tornado, or a sandworm, or a werewolf, or an earthquake,) can’t ever have reasons that can be understood by a human mind. It is the human mind that fills in the blank spots, and with our speculation we make these things more frightening. Is there anything more terrifying than the stories and details that swell in our minds to explain the things bigger and more strange than us? For me, there’s nothing scarier.

Jen Hickman, Illustrations and Colors

For me, fear in storytelling arrives at the moment when we remember just how vulnerable a character (and by proxy we ourselves) is. It’s that moment before anything happens, when your protagonist is standing in his PJs while a lumbering monstrosity chases after him, when all you can think is, “Oh god! He’s just a pile of delicate biological systems that almost anything could destroy!”

In The Dead our protagonist runs into a bunch of these situations, teetering on the edge of safety and danger. What’s fun about the story is that James doesn’t stick with just one type of peril– there’s a little bit of everything. Fear of heights, ineffable Frail, beastly Wretched, backstabbing, and good old-fashioned well-armed zealots. For me, the scariest part is that there are many, many opportunities to remember just how easy it is to die.

The Dead: Website / ComiXology / Amazon / Kickstarter (As of this writing, there are only 9 days left to support their project, so if you’re interested, hop to it!)

James Maddox
After completing titles like the critically acclaimed The Horror Show and Nightmare Unknown, Maddox has continued his comic career with stories like The DeadClown, and the wildly anticipated Blue Nemesis. A versatile and prolific writer/creator, Maddox has only just begun to find and impress his audience. He can be found online at jamesmaddox.net and on Twitter as @jamescmaddox.

Jen Hickman
Jen Hickman is a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design’s Sequential Art program. Her credits in the comic industry include the successfully crowdfunded publications The Playlist Anthology and the digital sketchbook Tip Jar. She can be found online at umicorms.com and @umicorms.

Remember, if you’d like to be featured on The Scariest Part, you can read the guidelines here.

 

 

 

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