The Lovecraft Anthology, Volume 1 recently landed on my doorstep, and, as a fan of the storyteller from Providence, I felt compelled to read it. I was well rewarded for my effort. The graphic novel retelling of some of Lovecraft’s greatest tales does not disappoint, providing a remarkable primer to Lovecraft’s strange and eldritch world.
One of the truisms in horror literature is that it is notoriously difficult to convincingly render the best parts outside the confines of your own imagination. This is especially true of stories by H.P. Lovecraft. The monsters in Lovecraft’s stories are meant to be so far removed from our reality that to merely look upon them is to risk insanity. It’s what is left out of the story that can be far more horrific than what is left in. Just as music is equally in the pauses between the notes, great horror fiction comes in what the reader sees that is only hinted at between the words. Lovecraft was a master of the genre, which explains why he is still revered 75 years after his death. Visually portraying his monsters, then, is generally dissatisfying, and the more realistic a creator tries to make them, the less convincing and sometime laughable they become.
When a graphic novel comes along representing some of Lovecraft’s greatest tales, it has a lot to live up to. I’m happy to say that the graphic novel compilation The Lovecraft Anthology, Vol. 1 provides the goods, weaving horrific and abstract imagery into solid, although expurgated, retellings of “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Haunter of the Dark,” “The Dunwich Horror,” “The Rats in the Walls,” “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” “Dagon,” and — my personal favorite — “The Colour Out of Space.”
“The Colour Out of Space” is an excellent example of both the genius of Lovecraft’s storytelling and how the author and artist of this retelling are able to capture that horror. In it Lovecraft imagines the effects a small meteor landing in a Dunwich family’s farm. At first the meteor causes the farm’s crops to grow large and lush, but with a strange glowing color. The family soon discovers that the food is disgusting to eat, is killing their livestock, and contaminating their water. What follows is the story of the steady decline and fall of the Gardner family as observed by their neighbor, Ammi Pierce. The family’s health — both physical and mental — deteriorates as they become increasingly isolated.
The most fascinating thing I find about this story is how close Lovecraft comes to describing the effects and symptoms of extreme radiation poisoning. While not unknown at the time Lovecraft was writing, the full horror of what radiation can do to living systems would not be understood until fifteen years later in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Lovecraft wraps these concepts in a veneer of the supernatural, placing much of the action “off-stage” but clearly describing the effects of the meteor.
David Hine and Mark Stafford capture the initial hope and gradual degradation of the Gardner family in “The Colour Out of Space” with a cartoonish art style that only highlights the creepiness of what Lovecraft wrote.
The secret of capturing Lovecraft graphically is not about realism, but capturing the surreal nature of what he was writing, using abstraction. The most successful stories in this anthology recognize this, boiling the text down to its core and then allowing the visuals to hint at the horror rather than presenting it in detail, and allowing our imaginations to fill in the rest.
A copy of The Lovecraft Anthology, Volume 1 (SelfMadeHero ; edited by Dan Lockwood; $19.95) was provided to GeekDad for this review by SelfMadeHero.