One of horror’s most unique and influential voices is coming to comics. The graphic prose stories of H.P. Lovecraft have been translated into comic form in a new anthology graphic novel titled The Lovecraft Anthology by the London-based publishing imprint SelfMadeHero. Although the writer himself never wrote comics, Lovecraft’s stories have proved to be a fertile setting for numerous comic adaptations and inspirations over the years - including DC’s Arkham Asylum, which was taken from Lovecraft’s stories.
“It’s partly his ability to generate atmosphere; something he gets from Edgar Allan Poe. But unlike Poe, he’s more likely to give you a visual pay-off - some sort of monster or strange creature, and of course comics thrives on that,” explains comic artist D’Israeli, who adapted ‘The Call Of Cthulhu’ with writer Ian Edginton. “It’s the balance of elements within his work that really swings it, I think - atmosphere, story, visual imagination - that’s probably why he’s lasted in a way that his contemporaries such as Clark Ashton Smith, whose work I also love, haven’t.”Released earlier this year, the first volume of The Lovecraft Anthology focuses squarely on Lovecraft’s shared universe known as the Cthulhu Mythos which D’Israeli succinctly describes it as “linking of the world of the supernatural with the theory of higher dimensions proposed by Quantum Theory.”
“Other writers had played around with the idea that mystical beings might be the inhabitants of other dimensions,” the artist points out,” but Lovecraft is the first writer to produce a large body of stories in this vein, ones that explore different ramifications of this new relationship between man and a much wider universe. That big concept has spread out into wider popular culture - you can see equivalents all across comics, in the Marvel and DC universes; it’s present in both the horror-genre stories Ian Edginton and I have done for 2000AD, Leviathan and Stickleback.”
D’Israeli and Edginton are just two of a group of creators editor Dan Lockwood brought together for this new anthology series. American fans will be familiar with David Hine who is adapting the story “The Colour Out of Space” with artist Mark Stafford, as well as the people behind “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, Leah Moore, John Reppion and Leigh Gallagher. Lockwood himself takes part in the adapting, writing three of the seven stories in this first volume. For the editor/writer, this is a project he’d been working towards subconsciously since childhood.“I’ve been a fan of H.P. Lovecraft since I first started reading his stories as a teenager,” Lockwood revealed. “There was something about his bleak view of a hostile universe swarming with uncaring alien monstrosities that I found appealing. I had been reading Stephen King and Clive Barker for some time by that point, and discovering an author who had obviously inspired them was very exciting to me. I revisited his stories a few years ago and fell in love with them all over again. So I approached this project as a fan. My aim was to put together the kind of collection that I would want to read, with a mixture of styles and approaches.”
When doing the initial planning for The Lovecraft Anthology, Lockwood tells Newsarama that he was unsure if it would warrant additional volumes so he went for the most well known Lovecraft stories straight away. Working with a set page count, he found a mix that revolved around the theme of invasion. As the editor puts it, “invasion: whether global, physical or mental.”
When it came time to revisit the actual source material – in this case, Lovecraft’s stories – the writers and artists took it as a challenge and as a gift. Lovecraft is known to be pretty imaginative in his prose writing describing scenes and monsters as well as his period dialogue, so it wasn’t just a simple adaptation.“Much of Lovecraft’s description is fairly loose and speaks to tone and atmosphere rather than detail, so as an artist you have a bit of room for maneuver,” explains D’Israeli. “Ffor example, I put my stamp on my version of the Cthulhu monster by giving it multiple eyes - Lovecraft’s description is loose enough that I felt I could get away with that. I took the line that the statue of the beast (which is described in detail and definitely only has two eyes) was the stylized product of mere human craftsmen who couldn’t capture the full horror of the “real” thing!”
For his part in adapting “The Call Of Cthulhu,” there were several specific moments that proved challenging for D’Israeli, with the artist finding solutions in surprising places.
“The biggest problem (since it’s described in the text) is the moment when a seaman is “swallowed up by an angle of masonry which… was acute, but behaved as if it were obtuse.”” The artist says. “I spent days going over various optical illusions trying to find a way to integrate them with the storytelling, and in the end settled for a perspective trick used in M. C. Escher’s Waterfall (in which the water that feeds a water-mill flows up a zigzag aqueduct from the pool at the foot of the same mill). If you look carefully at my drawing, you’ll see I worked the phrase “After M.C. Escher” into the alien decoration on the walls of the aqueduct.”
As Lockwood sees it, one of the biggest challenges was the dialogue – or lack thereof – in Lovecraft’s stories. As both editor and writer of this, he had to find an approach for both himself and to guide the creators he was shepherding for the book. What he came up with is in many ways symbolic of the adaptation process as a whole.
“Well, one of the major problems these stories pose for comic adapters is that there’s hardly any dialogue in them,” Lockwood reveals. ”Lovecraft’s protagonists tend to operate alone for the most part, sifting through newspapers or family histories. So you end up with a lot of narration, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself, but I know this was something all of the adapters were aware of. I think the main difficulty is retaining the atmosphere and core story while trimming down some of the detail.
“If you try to be too faithful,” the writer/editor explains,” you’d end up producing illustrated editions of the original texts. It’s inevitable that some detail and backstory will be lost in translation, but I think that’s the nature of adaptation. I hope that we’ve struck the right balance here.”The Lovecraft Anthology Vol 1 is available now, with Vol 2 coming in October 2012. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!