Saturday, February 16, 2013

Graphic Classics: H.P. Lovecraft

Graphic Classics: H. P. Lovecraft (Graphic Classics (Graphic Novels))Graphic Classics: H. P. Lovecraft (Graphic Classics by Tom Pomplun
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a sort of confluence for me. It was originally published in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, about 25 miles from home-base in the beautiful driftless area, where I often go hiking. So, yes, I approach this work with a bit of parochialism.

One danger in revisiting work in a different medium (and yes, I do count the Graphic Novel as a different medium than straight prose) is that each medium allows some certain freedom of mind to fill in gaps left by the medium itself. That's the primary reason why so many readers hate movies based on their favorite books. Their own mental/emotional/intellectual space is smothered by the director's/producer's/actors' interpretation of the original work. In this case, my familiarity with Lovecraft's work did not diminish my enjoyment of the stories presented.

That's not to say I liked every one of the pieces. There were some that I was under-impressed with. Others were impressive, but my feelings on the matter are not altogether uncluttered by my past. For me, Richard Corben's section on Herbert West: Reanimator and Matt Howarth's interpretation of The Shadow Out of Time stand out. This may have to do with my childhood fascination with Corben's work in Heavy Metal magazine and Matt Howarth's work on Konny and Czu (which is among my favorite comics of all time). Truth be told, Herbert West is one of my least favorite Lovecraft stories, so this speaks to Corben's impressive treatment of the story. On the other hand,The Shadow Out of Time is one of my favorite Lovecraft stories, so Howarth's artwork, wedded with Lovecraft's writing, is doubly good.

Of course, in such an anthology, there is bound to be some loving pastiche. Howarth does so by using the trite word balloons "gasp" and "choke" and plowing ahead into "(incoherent shriek)," "(mindless panic)," and "gibber". These comical interludes express something that falls between poking fun at Lovecraft (and the artist and the reader) and a quirky homage. Thankfully, it stopped short of the silliness of the "Cthulhu's Dreams" vignette, which I found inane. Other stories and poems were neither outstanding or terrible, but adequate to the task. On balance, however, the beauty of some of the illustrations and the dexterous interpretation of Lovecraft's work are weighted more toward excellence than mediocrity. Still, I felt that this could have been so much more. Maybe I'm just too demanding, an homage snob.

Speaking of homage, the volume ends nicely on Chris Pelletiere's original piece "Reflections from R'lyeh," an effective piece of surreal noir involving Lovecraft and his Deep Ones. It's a perfect conclusion to the volume, looping back in on itself and causing the reader to become lost, for a moment, in that strange interstitial space between metafiction, supernatural fiction, and biographical nonfiction. Ending the book with a beginning is a nice way to unleash the reader's freedom to fill in the gaps left by the medium, allowing the imagination, again, to take over. And if anyone can attribute auctorial intent to Lovecraft, one must thank him for the gift of breaking our minds open with terror and sending them soaring into new, dark worlds never seen by fleshy eyes.

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