Adapted from the original novel by H.P. Lovecraft, text adapted and illustrated by I.N.J. Culbard
With all the Lovecraft I’ve read so far, including Culbard’s At The Mountains Of Madness adaptation, I’ve bemoaned the fact that I never really got the chills and the creeps I was somewhat hoping for.
Page 39 of The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward. That’s when I got the chill I was after, a huge great chill, right down my spine. I nearly shouted out in excitement once it had passed. At last, at last, at last.
Here, have a look for yourself at the page that did it for me… but fear not, the actual showing of the page isn’t ruining anything, as the key to this, the reason why the chill set in, the reason it wouldn’t leave, isn’t because of any revelatory moment, nor any great shock – this is something that builds, slowly, cumulatively….. for me it just took until this page for the chill to make its way down my spine.
And seeing the moment I went “brrrr” as the shiver went down my spine shouldn’t spoil your considerable enjoyment of this because in truth, the actual plot of the tale is a rather obvious affair, easy to see where it’s headed from practically the first few pages…. but that doesn’t honestly matter, the journey is the thing here, and once the chill was there, it wouldn’t go.
The mood had been set, it ebbed and flowed a touch perhaps, and even though it never really passed through to terrifying, there’s no doubt that there was a delicious sense of creep to the experience this time.
Here you go… another perfect moment of “brrr” in a book rather full of them. By this point the chill had just taken up residence….
It’s 1918, and a young Charles Dexter Ward is engaged in uncovering just how deeply involved in the black arts his ancestor Joseph Curwen managed to get back in the late 17th Century.
When I say that Ward seems to resemble Curwen, and that Curwen was noted for his apparant lack of ageing it may start to point you in a certain direction. But as I said, it’s not the details of the mystery so much as the manner in which they unfold that matters here.
And what we have is an investigation, carried out by Ward’s family physician Dr Willett, called in by Ward’s naturally concerned parents.
Willett hears tell of ancient dark magicks and wizardry, otherworldly evils drawn down to Earth, macabre reanimations, body-snatching. Darkness piles upon darkness, and Willett soon begins to realise that his own investigations, just as did Wards before him, will see the initially sceptical Doctor coming far closer to the darkness than he may wish for, and where Dr Willett himself will prove to be a key player in the end -perfectly played out by Culbard (and of course Lovecraft), where Culbard has the skill to deliver something both final and yet deliciously open ended in its way.
All the way through the story plays out the twin threads so common in Lovecraftian mythos – madness and grande forces at work beyond our ken. Again, beautifully delivered by Culbard, tight focus on the madness encroaching upon the players is occasionally thrown into relief by explosions of otherworldly colour…
Culbard’s pedigree by now should be enough to make this an attractive book for you; his previous work adapting Lovecraft in At The Mountains Of Madness, or Sherlock Holmes (with Ian Edginton) certainly means he’s become rather an expert at this sort of thing. Getting the essential spirit of the work, condensing it, representing it in graphic form…. he’s so very good at it.
I have no idea whether he’s retained the essential Lovecraftian core of Charles Dexter Ward, I’m not that great a Lovecraft fan, and haven’t read the original. But it certainly feels like he has. It’s a classy, top-notch adaptation, reads beautifully, with a pace that gets ever more urgent as you go on, never allowing the sense of creep, of trepidation, of gathering menace and fear to evaporate.
Culbard’s artistic style in here is simply perfect for the tale he’s telling, a simple style on the surface, yet one which does such a marvellous job of grabbing your eyes and threading tendrils of artistic fear right into your brain.
Like I say, I haven’t read the original. Haven’t really ventured far into Lovecraft at all. But this just works, a deeply psychological chiller, beautifully done.