Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, May 21, 2006
      ( 5/21/2006 11:14:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"FOR, INDEED, WE ARE AN UGLY ANIMAL!" – Been recently reading Peter Straub's Mister X – a doppelganger novel featuring a killer so enthralled with the work of H.P. Lovecraft that he treats its mythology as true – so I was feeling particularly attuned to the material in Boom! Studio's new Cthulhu Tales horror comics anthology. Lovecraft has been an irresistible lure to certain graphic artists in the past – back in the seventies, the undergrounders (Corben, Irons, Jaxon, et al) behind Skull Comix devoted two issues to adaptations of the man’s work – but he is not an easy writer to translate visually or even narratively. (The Lovecraft Skulls are the two weaker offerings in that comix series.) In comparison to the more grounded terrors of the company's zombie books, a good portion of Lovecraftian horror relies on horrors too vast for us to visually take in – so huge that any attempt at rendering them in a comic frequently diminishes them. Too, Lovecraft's pulp Victorian prose is not particularly easy to pull off (in Mister X, Straub gets around this problem by making his villainous Lovecraft imitator a bad writer), especially when it's cut into smaller snippets of panel-by-panel narration.

Unlike the Skull gang, Cthulhu's writers and artists (same basic crew responsible for the Zombie anthologies) don't do strict adaptations of Lovecraft stories, but rather pastiches grounded in his cosmology. The result is a neatly packaged set of horror comics that remain true to their inspiration without being excessively beholden to him. Though a scripter like Michael Alan Nelson may evoke the writer's prose rhythms in a story like "The Beach," he also works to modernize that voice to keep things from growing too musty. The book's most successful offering, John Rogers & Andy Kuhn's gruesomely oblique "Quality Time," skips narration altogether in its tale of a school play gone terribly wrong, as does Casey Grey & Mark Badger's "Cthulhu Calls." Keith Giffen's "The Oddly Amorous Phineas Flynn And The Troublesome Trouble He Got Himself In" laboriously attempts to tell its tongue-in-cheek horror tale in comic rhyme – perhaps too far a remove from the Lovecraftian tone – but you've got to appreciate the attempt.

The closest attempt at approximating Lovecraft's voice is Johanna Stokes & Filip Sablik's "Love's Craft," which utilizes a more serious poetic voice in its tale of a wife and mother driven to madness. Stokes' meter is not always up to the task, but Sablik's final full-page image of the story's heroine trapped in that hideous Lovecraft universe has some serious staying power. I'm thinking the readers who first came across his fiction in the Weird Tales pulps would've found the image familiar – more than Tales' more openly grisly or big monster visions . . .
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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