on April 8, 2004
The line between genius and madness is often difficult to draw, but especially so when considering the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Lovecraft, who died at age 46 in 1937, is best known for a series of horror tales surrounding a fictional book called the Necronomicon, a hellish text that could call forth any number of gruesome creatures. While the black magic book is merely a figment of Lovecraft's rich, twisted imagination, some believe the Necronomicon to be actual text dating back to A.D. 730 and even referenced by famed future predictor Nostrodamus.
Hans Rodinoff, Keith Giffen and artist Enrique Breccia explore the notion that the Lovecraft family was caretaker to the ghastly text in their superb graphic novel "Lovecraft", easily one of the finest graphic novels of the 21st century, perfectly blending Rodinoff's prose with Breccia's magnificent artwork.
While Rodinoff weaves plenty of truth about Lovecraft into his fiction - such as his oppressive mother forcing him to wear dresses as a small child - he creates a story of a slow decent into madness that might well have been penned by Lovecraft himself. Breccia's artwork perfectly pulls the reader across the planes of delusion and sanity by mixing media in an artistic achievement seldom seen in the comic-book genre. For sequences of delusions, Breccia works in a loose watercolor. Characters flow and bleed in bright, vibrant reds, greens and blues. In waking-world sequences, Breccia adopts a tighter pen-and-ink style with watercolor accents and a heavy cross-hatching shading creating a realistic study of Lovecraft's life outside of madness, where the watercolor highlights are more muted and controlled with tighter brushwork.
Rodinoff's choice of Lovecraft as a subject should hopefully shed more light on one of the great American horror fiction writers of the early 20th century. Lovecraft bridged the gap between Edgar Allan Poe in the mid-19th century and today's horror masters such as Stephen King. Lovecraft's stories often drew upon Poe's spiritual studies of the human condition while incorporating the twists from unintended consequences of the new scientific and technological era emerging in his time.
Lovecraft remains something of a counterculture fascination to this day. A Dungeon and Dragons-style role-playing game based on Lovecraft fiction is still played by devotees. The Necronomicon, and Lovecraft's writings, are referenced in countless pop music songs, most notably by Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult. And Lovecraft has inspired a handful of horror movies. Perhaps the most well-known is 1985's "Reanimator," the tale of a doctor who discovers a serum that reanimates the dead.
Rodinoff's treatment of Lovecraft's legend and legacy is a true and tender tribute. Rodinoff's story incorporates not only a fascinating study of the human mind and madness, but also a beautiful tale about the redemptive power of love and the struggles of a dysfunctional childhood.
Daniel P. Finney
St. Louis Post Dispatch(...)
on March 5, 2007
Enrique Breccia did "The Dunwich Horror" in an old issue of "Heavy Metal" magazine, which is great. His work in "Lovecraft" isn't as successful, though. But it's not his fault . . . mostly. He does draw HPL as a little boy saddled with that monstrous lantern jaw he didn't acquire until much older. This may make Lovecraft easy to identify as a child(the little girl clothes and locks might confuse you otherwise), but one wonders if this was Breccia's idea or the idea of the writers whom I wish to blame for everything else that's wrong with this book. The pacing of the story is just bad; it's like Lovecraft meets Manga. But I doubt this is Breccia's fault. He successfully illustrates "The Dunwich Horror" in far less pages in HM. The idea's a good one, interweaving HPL's life with his mythology, but I don't think the length of the book is adequate to really bring it off. It's too rushed to approximate the ponderous profundity of HPL (despite the ponderousness of that jawline!). I'm convinced that Lovecraft's unique effects depend on pacing. This graphic novel just crams too much into one story. Lovecraft's best stories concern themselves with only one of the many situations suggested here. To try including so many, undermines the pacing and strangeness of weird fiction that relies on primarily normal circumstances in which only one little thing may be wrong. It's just that whatever that thing is, it is profoundly wrong, irritating the brain until it forms a perfect pearl of cosmic realization that amounts to fixed and overwhelming terror. As with the oyster, the irritant must be very small and be given the time necessary to form and overwhelm the consciousness. The cover illustration works on this level, suggesting a plant that's not quite a plant. I do believe that what HPL does in unillustrated prose is unique, but one may at least aim at the same effects in other media inspired by him. The first "Alien" film is an excellent example of a film that inspires the same cosmic terror as does HPL's prose. It too gets more out of less. And it's possible in graphic form. On comic book terms, Breccia managed in the seventies with "The Dunwich Horror" (less words and more curious images left for the reader to associate) and Coulthart more recently with his "The Call of Cthulhu." Granted, these are adaptations of actual Lovecraft stories, but their success comes as well from an understanding of Lovecraft's pacing and the nature of the weird. Not only does "Lovecraft" lack an actual plot by HPL to undergird it, its writing lacks the understanding necessary to be "inspired" by him more successfully.
For the HPL purists out there: this is not for you. Trust me, I'm one of you (to some degree), though I also love a good graphic novel.
If you're willing to set aside historical accuracy and enjoy a good revisionist historical account of HPL's life and times from a suitably Lovecraftian standpoint, you might just enjoy this!
The art work is brilliant and macabre, and gloomy, and Lovecraftian, pseudo-Victorian and surreal. The story is HPL's life re-imagined as a Lovecraftian tale of cosmic horror.
Personally, I loved it. I'm glad of every penny I spent on it. Something I'm reticent to say of Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom or Poe & Phillips.
If you're willing to set aside historical accuracy for a good romp, this is probably the graphic novel to try out. Just my opinion. Great art. Great mood. Creepy, surreal, true to the spirit of Lovecraft, if not wholly life-accurate. ;)
on May 29, 2005
Let's talk for a while, while the oil-lamp gutters and the moon rises over the ridge, about the reclusive Hermit of Providence: Howard Phillips Lovecraft, better known to his readers as "H.P.", the crepuscular spinner of tales both terrifying and fantastic. Lovecraft served as midwife to "The Cthulhu Mythos", a name taken from Lovecraft's titular tentacled beastie, an Elder God of mind-bending evil and frightening power, mercifully bound in slumber in the antediluvian City of R'lyeh.
Sleeping, but not dead---for with strange Aeons, the Necronomicon told us, even Death may die.
That Lovecraft penned scores of these scarifying night-gaunt atrocities, conjuring up their teeming legions of cosmically indifferent interstellar monsters, their rural cannibals and warlocks practicing their antique and horrible appetites in dark thickets and remote outposts---that Lovecraft did all these things is a matter of historical fact.
As is his contention, made until his dying breath, that he wasn't superstitious in the least; didn't have a credulous bone in his body.
As a committed atheist fired in the feverish nihilism of a broken age, Lovecraft declared that, if anything, it was his own nihilism that he poured full-bore into his tales of the Bizarre: if the stars above us harbored interstellar Monsters, then no power of Heaven or Hell would protect us in a world bereft of either Good or Evil.
At any rate, Lovecraft said, it was all fiction. There was no Necronomicon, no Mad Abdul Al-Hazred torn apart by invisible demons for transcribing forbidden invocations: Lovecraft invented it, made it up out of whole cloth. The same went for star-spawned Azazoth, the Witch House, Arkham Asylum, Cthulhu and his minions---none of them were real.
All of it was fiction: the legendary book of evil, the star-spawned eldritch horrors, the works. They were Lovecraft's literary creations, after all, they didn't really exist.
In Hans Rodionoff's bracing, nasty, feverish graphic novel "Lovecraft", the Old Man of Providence has taken the Writer's Motto to heart: write what you know. Lovecraft knows that the lining between our world and Madness has grown thin and frayed. He also knows there are ways to tear the lining just enough to let the Things that gibber out in the Darkness into the Light, into our World, where they can giggle, and scamper, and Eat.
Most of all, Eat.
Rodionoff and artist Enrique Breccia have conjured up a pungent, potent, nasty, merciless little concoction of dread, horror, grue, and slaughter in "Lovecraft", a ghoulish tale the Master would have loved. Indeed, the Master is front and center here: rather than the atheistic tale-spinner he presented himself to be, "Lovecraft" assumes the scholarly recluse served as a kind of watchman at the gate between the worlds.
An unwilling and reluctant gatekeeper, to be sure: damned by his father's insanity and cursed with the Lovecraft version of the Family Bible---a copy of the accursed Necronomicon---young Lovecraft is forced to write the tales of the Cthulhu Mythos in order to keep the star-spawned monsters from getting through into this world. Talk about a writer's block.
Now: the things between the two hard covers of "Lovecraft" are the stuff of nightmares. Interspersed throughout Lovecraft's life---his discovery of Arkham, his complicated and ambivalent relationships with women, his collegial stint with Harry Houdini, his professional forays into pulp fiction---are intrusions by the denizens of that Other Realm.
The Gang's all here: the leering, cosmically wizened "Wizard" Whateley; the ravenous Brown Jenkin; beasts glimpsed in city streets, gone suddenly, subtly 'wrong', their faces masses of writhing, angry raw red flesh beneath top hats; Pickman's model makes an appearance, and even Yog-Sothoth itself shambles forth. It is true that for the devoted Lovecraft reader, much of the shock of reading the stories has worn off, and so many editors and imitators have settled in to stories that comfort rather than threaten.
It is a credit to the sublime, supreme artistry of Rodionoff and Breccia (along with adapter Keith Giffen) that they manage to make Lovecraft sick, warped, and disturbing all over again.
"Lovecraft" is no less than a revolutionary act: Rodionoff and Breccia have effectively bearded the Master in his den, by literally envisioning and rendering in illustrated form and shape what Lovecraft himself had declared unthinkable, nameless, formless and shapeless. They have caught the Night Gaunt leaping on its prey, tracked the ghoul to its gore-spattered feast, surprised the hunter of the shadows in the bowels of some forgotten Pacific island oubliette.
They have painted a vision of horror, death, and interstellar madness that might have sent the jaded artist Pickman to an asylum. Is it scary? Exceptionally. Is it good? Rippingly so.
I see, now that the oil-lamp light is dying, that you tremble---fear not, the lantern plays tricks with my shadow. Let me douse the light. That's better---now that it's Dark I have something to show you...