Lovecraft… stylish, polished, yet sadly lacking the chills

Published On April 19, 2012 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Reviews

The Lovecraft Anthology Volume II

Edited by Dan Lockwood

Jamie Delano, Steve Pugh, Chris lackey, Adrian Salmon, David Camus, Nicolas Fructus, Dwight L. MacPherson, Paul Peart-Smith, Chad Fifer, Bryan Baugh, Pat Mills, Attila Futaki, Benjamin Dickson, Mick McMahon, Simon Spurrier, Matt Timson, Dan Lockwood, Warwick Johnson Cadwell.

Cover by Francisco Francavilla.

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It doesn’t really pick up too well in the picture above, but the first thing that jumps out at you about the book is four very clever small bits of spot varnish on the yellowy glowing eyes of the shambling corpses of Francavilla’s cover. Nice little touch, and if it catches you at the right moment, the tiny chill should set you up nicely for what’s to come.

I never got around to picking up the first Lovecraft Anthology volume, although I’d imagine it’s pretty much carrying on in the same macabre vein. I’m very much a Lovecraft novice, having mostly experienced his works through audio-books and plays. But some of those audio works really do a great job of establishing a real sense of mood, of impending doom, of a creeping dark threat encroaching upon the world. They had the space, the length, to really develop the dread fear slowly, really make the creeping horror work, really get that spinetingling feeling going. Sadly, that’s not something that really happened here.

This volume contains 9 short tales, all described on the back cover in terms of “eerie“, “nightmarish tales of terror“, “power to astound and unsettle“, and “weird fiction“. And whilst The Lovecraft Anthology II may be eerie, unsettling, weird fiction that chills, there’s no out and out creeping terror here, and I was left wanting a little more darkness to go alongside my reading of these enjoyable supernatural tales of the unexpected.

The adapters certainly give it their all though, with a host of artistic styles at work, all very skillful and attractive, no-one letting the side down at all. Similarly the writers do a fine job, keeping the suspense suspenseful and the mood suitably dark.

(Pickman’s Model by Jamie Delano and Steve Pugh)

Jamie Delano’s opener has some of the nicest, cleanest, polished art I’ve ever seen from Steve Pugh, but part of me wonders if his raw, scratchy style might have been better suited to the story of Pickman’s Model, where he appears to be channeling his inner John Bolton. We open with Lovecraft’s very own Picturet Of Dorian Gray, and venture into the madness of an artist channelling something from elsewhere onto his canvas. But as with much of the works here, the horror is unseen, and a little too low in the mix to evoke any real chills. Likewise The Temple by Chris Lackey and Adrian Salmon is more a tales of the unexpected than horror, but more than makes up for that with Salmon’s ultra-stylised, block coloured art for a tale of a cursed WWI German U-boat.

And it goes on like this, low on horror, high on mild chills, high on quality for a lot of the book.

He by Dwight L MacPherson and Paul Peart-Smith nearly gets the chills going, as does Fifer and Baugh’s The Hound. Even Pat Mills, master of the 6-pager in 2000AD seems content to deliver something creepy and spooky, a kind of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Cthulhu.

I’m not saying there’s not enjoyment in here, there certainly is. But it’s not the sort of enjoyment I was really looking forward to.

(From Beyond by David Camus and Nicolas Fructus)

And that isn’t to say there aren’t some chills along the way; From Beyond by David Camus and Nicolas Fructus finally delivered, three stories in, a little of the scare and creep I was after. Lovecraftian shapes wheel and float all over the art as we venture into madness once more and join an inventor claiming to be able to see into the ethereal realms.

Now, whether it’s the tone of the individual stories, or a cumulative effect of getting this far along, the brain attuned to the Lovecraft vibe, or more likely somewhere in between, the final three stories are by far the most affecting in the book; The Picture In The House by Benjamin Dickson and Mick McMahon delivers a panel early on that really sets the teeth on edge, leading to a bloody discovery, along with great McMahon art. Rounding out the book is another nicely creepy tale, although even this I don’t think would have worked so well early on; The Statement Of Randolph Carter by Dan Lockwood and Warwick Johnson Cadwell.

The best of the lot was the penultimate tale; The Festival by Simon Spurrier and Matt Timson that delivered a creeping horror in spades:

(The Festival by Simon Spurrier and Matt Timson)

So basically, I’ve spent a few hundred words telling you what I suspected at the start, that attempting Lovecraft in comic short form is a fool’s errand. Or at least it is for me.

I want something chilling, creepy, spinetingling. I want to put a book like this down and have to turn all the lights on in the house before going up to bed. But that takes time to develop properly, it cannot be rushed. And sadly it seems that it needs a lot more than the 10 to 15 pages of comic art for each story here to deliver that. Cumulatively it does some of what I was after, but I never felt that moment of dread I wanted.

Going up to bed in the dark was accomplished without fear and my dreams were sadly unperturbed. Polished, stylish, yet ultimately a little lacking in the essential Lovecraftian chills I wanted.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton

– Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he’s written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard’s day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children’s graphic novel library in the country.

8 Responses to Lovecraft… stylish, polished, yet sadly lacking the chills

  1. John says:

    Just out of interest (and in non-combative way), Richard, has any comic ever spooked you thoroughly?

    • Richard says:

      John…..

      From Hell. And that did it because it was something that built and built and built across the entire series (when I read it first) and the collection that I’ll re-read every few years.
      It’s that length of work that was really missing here in Lovecraft I feel.

      And weirdly, in a completely different way, Evan Dorkin’s Dork Volume 2, was incredibly affecting, watching the author have something very worryingly like a breakdown right there on the page.

  2. Joe says:

    Lovecraft, like Poe, is not only hard to do effectively in any other medium, it also tends to divide people in my experience, some not really getting the pervasive sense of dread that creeps through most of the tale while others do. While reading the original prose works will always be better for me I have to say I enjoyed most of the comics adaptations here and thought several conveyed that sense of uneasy dread quite well.

  3. John says:

    From Hell, yes, I’m with you there, Richard. And it’s just occurred to me now that I have not revisited any issues of the Taboo anthology since first reading them. Many spooked responses to rediscover there, I’m sure.

    • Richard says:

      Badham, can I hire you as my official memory? Seems there’s a vacancy. Animal Man more shock than spooked, but yes, thanks for that!

  4. jock123 says:

    Ian Culbard’s highly atmospheric take on “At the Mountains of Madness” more than captures the feeling of the Lovecraft original in a graphic novel:

    http://forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/2010/and-then-vague-horror-began-to-creep-into-our-souls-welcome-to-the-mountains-of-madness-released-28th-october/

    • Richard says:

      Jock…. At The Mountains Of Madness… I have to say I didn’t think chills – and this is from the review of mine you linked to:

      “But if there’s one thing at fault with At The Mountains Of Madness it’s that it just didn’t give me the chills and fright I wanted it to. I wanted this book to unnerve and scare me, just like any great work of horror should. But as exciting and readable as it was, I didn’t get the thrill of being scared. A lot of this is down to Culbard’s artwork, which, great as it may be, just isn’t dark enough where it counts. The colour pallette is just a bit too bright, and it never really took me fully into the horror of the story in the way I really wanted.
      However, that’s the only thing wrong. Instead of a gorgeous, thrilling adventure descending into horror we’re left with merely a gorgeous, thrilling adventure with a touch of tension about it.”