For a dead guy, H.P. Lovecraft certainly stays busy. Having created one of the richest and most enduring mythologies of the 20th century, he continues to influence storytellers in virtually every medium. A few enterprising novelists have even cast him as a character in their fictional works: Paul Malmont threw him under the proverbial bus to kick-start the plot of The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, while Thomas Wheeler imagined him as an ill-suited crime fighter in The Arcanum.
The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft, a new comic book series from Image Comics, drops the famously troubled writer into one of his own cosmic horror tales. If the first installment of the long-awaited series is any indication, Lovecraft fans are in for a creepy, many-tentacled treat.
Set in Rhode Island in the 1920s, the series launch finds the young author wrestling with writer’s block when he’d rather be wrestling with librarian-cum-flapper Sylvia. But poor Howard’s been jilted in favor of the wealthy, handsome Grayson, and his home life is equally full of suck: both parents have been institutionalized, and he shares a house with a couple of creepy aunts who are practically begging for confinement to the nearest attic. Cue the violent mugging, then wait for the unexpectedly—okay, maybe they’re more than a little expected—horrific consequences.
Readers hoping for the flying viscera and bouncing jugs that crowd the panels of most horror comics will be disappointed, though there is one rather spectacular dismemberment, accompanied by lots of “thunk”s and “splat”s. Writer/creator Mac Carter has taken a decidedly more subtle approach, opting for atmosphere over action—though I have a feeling there’ll be plenty of that in subsequent installments. A screenwriter and successful commercial director, Carter has a knack for visual storytelling, and he’s done an admirable job adapting Lovecraft’s antiquarian prose style for the book’s narrative boxes.
Artist Tony Salmons’ carefully composed and beautifully rendered panels could have been lifted from a Hitchcock film, and the pair frequently employ noir conventions and film editors’ techniques to make their book feel like a movie. (It should come as no surprise to readers that Salmons frequently works as a film storyboard artist.) Color palettes ranging from sepia tones to eerie reds and blues contribute to the retro vibe.
Adam Byrne, the book’s producer, contributes gorgeous and wonderfully evocative cover art in the style of the old magazines that first published Lovecraft’s work. For pulp fans, the covers alone justify the $4.99 purchase price.
The book strikes a balance between appealing to Lovecraft devotees and remaining accessible to those uninitiated in the Way of the Crawling Chaos. While the storyline never veers too far into the mythos weeds, the book is full of Easter eggs that will prompt knowing smiles from the Cthulu-oriented. From appearances by Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright and Lovecraft contemporary Clark Ashton Smith, to references to the sadly forgotten fantasist Lord Dunsany, there’s plenty of meat on these Lovecraftian bones.
So why Lovecraft? “Well, I sat down and thought to myself, ‘Who is the most notoriously impossible author to put on film, and has such a staunchly protective fan base that I can expect an unending stream of invectives to be hurled my way should I even flirt with his works?’ and I started there,” Carter says. “At least in retrospect that’s how it feels. As I started to read up on the guy, I quickly got the sense that there was real drama to be mined there: a prodigy-level intelligence, a supremely dysfunctional childhood, parents that both spent time in the local asylum, a virtually asexual life, an unacknowledged literary brilliance, etc. It wasn’t difficult to imagine a rich character emerging from all that conflict and misery. All I needed was a story hook, and the idea to entangle the guy in his own horror creations followed pretty quickly.”
Not surprisingly, film rights have already been glommed by Universal, with Carter attached to write the screenplay and Ron Howard possibly directing.
While the current story arc will play out over a four-issue miniseries, the future of the title is uncertain. “This funny-book work is tough stuff—and to think, in 1940 they sold 15 million a month,” Carter says. “In the indie world, the expenses are real and the margins are small. We have lots of ideas for where Lovecraft’s next strange adventure might take him, but because it’s a lot of work we’re anxious to see the initial audience response before we take any concrete steps. Of course, there’s no shortage of weird writings to plumb given Lovecraft’s enormous output, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it finds a readership.”
Me, too, Mac. Me, too.