Graphic Classics, Volume Four: H.P. Lovecraft


Originally for Raw, New Things #7, 2/1/2003

Graphic.jpg (266200 bytes) Who could resist the temptation of a cover that promised Graphic Classics: H.P. Lovecraft? Certainly not me. Especially with Todd Schorr’s cover depicting H P Lovecraft as a fried seafood vendor and what may be a child of Innsmouth wearing an Arkham Allstars baseball cap, and pouring "Cthulhu cocktail sauce" on a hotdog bun full of fried calamari. Signs on the vendor’s cart promote "Fresh Hot Cthulhu" and "Alhazred’s Secret Mystery Sauce." It’s a great cover.

The contents vary widely, as such things tend to. The first and most interesting section is Gahan Wilson’s introduction, which is simply stunning. Mr. Wilson once again demonstrates himself an able and intelligent observer of literature, and a wit on paper. What Lovecraft fan wouldn’t love Wilson’s cartoon of trenchcoated Wilbur Whateley as a flasher?

Following is a wildly strange three-page illustrated biography of Lovecraft by Greg Kuchar, the better parts of which are based on L. Sprague DeCamp. This not a compliment to Mr. DeCamp’s biography, but an indication of how odd the biography is. It’s a habit of mine to say that all strange cartoons from the sixties and seventies are drug-induced, and this unfortunately reinforces this prejudice. Certainly Mr. Kuchar didn’t have Joshi’s biography to rely on in 1975, but he seems to have gotten some rather funny ideas about Lovecraft and his family.

Next is a four-part adaptation of "Herbert West — Reanimator". Chapters three and four, "Six Shots By Moonlight" and "The Scream of the Dead" have not been included, although this doesn’t seem to affect the story very much. Each chapter is illustrated by an artist, and these are generally well done. 

Perhaps the height of the book is a portfolio by Tom Sutton, whose style anyone who read the original "Classics Illustrated" will recognize. Sutton adapts a few passages of "Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" with graceful, intricate drawings that skillfully mix the events of the story with a tangled, dream-like atmosphere. It’s quite beautiful. 

Devon Devereaux presents us with an adaptation of "The Outsider" which neither moved me nor revealed anything new about the story. I don’t know if the illustrator is mocking Goth culture by making so many overt Goth references in his illustrations, but I hope he wasn’t playing it straight.

More seriously, and better done is Matt Howarth’s "The Shadow Out of Time." And while Howarth goes have a good feel for the general story, his art does create the face of a compelling character with whom I could connect. Inexplicably, Howarth also switches around the ultimate revelations of the story. The revelation that the book is in Peaslee’s handwriting is set in chronological order, and the possibility of the nameless horror no longer imprisoned below the basalt city is the ultimate horror.

More successful is Onsmith Jeremi’s "The Terrible Old Man". Although I’m not enamored of Jeremi’s rather small and busy art style, he does manage to effectively tell the story, and this really is one of the stand-out match ups of the book.

Lisa K. Weber’s "The Cats of Ulthar" may, aside from Sutton’s work, be the most effective marriage of story to art style. Weber’s art is breezy and gives the feel of a children’s tale, but with a sinister edge to it. Unlike many of these presentations, Weber’s art compliments the story, showing us what she sees in the story, and giving us a chance to appreciate her vision of the story.

In "Le Chaos Rapant," Dominque Signoret moves Lovecraft into one of the few art forms where his influence has seldom been felt: rap music. This single-page strip has Nyarlathotep as a street rapper doing his thing, calling himself Le Chaos Rapant. The results come across as forced.

The book finishes with the "Fungi from Yuggoth" sonnet cycle, two poems on a page, and a full-page illustration on the opposite leaf. Some of these illustrations are directly related to the matter of the poems, others, such as Stephen Hickman’s illustration, are taken from Lovecraft’s other stories. A few of them don’t appear to be associated with Lovecraft in any way except that they are strange. As with the book as a whole, the "Fungi from Yuggoth" section is a mixed bag.

Ultimately, Graphic Classics: H.P. Lovecraft turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. I would have liked to see the entirety of John Coulthardt’s Dunwich Horror, or perhaps his adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu, which I understand is excellent. Instead we get a single panel from his Dunwich Horror, a make a point for Gahan Wilson’s introduction. This is essentially a book for those who have not yet been introduced to Lovecraft, but it unfortunately, doesn’t provide us with many of his better tales. The illustrations too seldom add anything to the prose of the story, and often do not, to my mind, compliment the story. Plainly put, this book is no great thing. Although some of the work is excellent, the vast majority is strictly mediocre, or subjectively interesting at best.