In August, BOOM! Studios premieres The Necronomicon, a new 4 issue mini-series written by William Messner-Loebs with art by Andrew Ritchie and covers by J.K. Woodward. BOOM! Studios’ E-i-C Mark Waid sat down with writer Bill Loebs to talk about the series and Loebs triumphant return to writing comic books!
Mark Waid: You're doing a new book for us, The Necronomicon. What's in store for the readers?
William Messner-Loebs: Something really dangerous. Lovecraft believed – and he was right – that the scariest things are those least understood. Thus he kept everything as vague as he could – the mythos, the monsters, even the horrid and grisly fates of his heroes. Well, my job, given me by the esteemed BOOM!, is to describe, explicate, explain and anatomize said book and lay its mysteries bare, all whilst causing as much havoc as I can. Even if I do it just right, I may just destroy it as a source of terror forever. Bwa-hah-ha!
I wanted to do it as a Lovecraft-like story, with an outsider in search of forbidden knowledge. However, in this case the hero is not Anglo-Saxon, but Arabic, Henry Said, a college student and language whiz in 1920s Arkham, Mass. who is hired by cultists to research the forbidden tome to get pure power. I plan to run him through all the Lovecraftian places and situations: Innsmouth, Dunwich, Boston, Paris and Yemen, as he traces the footsteps of that other Arab, the oddly named Abdul Alhazard, and discovers the world is not the solid place he thought it was. There will be car chases, secret plots, transformations, aliens from beyond the stars, a love story, torture and rotting flesh. And even humor of a sort.
MW: When the idea of doing The Necronomicon came up, I knew you were the perfect person to write it. Tell us about your history with the Lovecraft universe and Lovecraft fandom.
BL: Like most kids who were into fantasy in the very early seventies, I stumbled into Robert E. Howard and Conan first. Then seeing he was part of something called “The Lovecraft Circle,” I started reading Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Lord Dunsany and the others. Luckily, Lancer Books was putting out everything they could in an imprint called “Under the Unicorn’s head.” I read The Gormangast Trilogy, The Worm Oroboros, James Branch Cabell and even William Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites. Some of it was wonderful and lot was pretty tough sledding, but it was there I got my love of language and, I suppose, my love of irony as well. I reckon Lancer was publishing all that because J.R.R. Tolkien and his The Lord of the Rings was making waves, but I came to Tolkien late, as I traded books with other students at my college. Everyone was eager to introduce everyone else to their favorite authors. It produced the effect of a huge lending library, allowing us to sample many more books than we could possibly afford. Thus, in his way, Lovecraft introduced me to Lord Byron, Kahlil Gibran, The Morning of the Magicians, and Adelle Davis, the Natural Food Lady. It was an irony I hope he would appreciate. I later became the cover artist for Kalki, the magazine of the James Branch Cabell Society. Later still, I cut stencils to illustrate a mimeozine of Lovecraftia the name of which is lost in the mists of time. That, in turn, introduced me to Fantasy and SF fandom and eventually to comics. It all started with Lovecraft.
MW: What's it like working for an indie publisher who'll actually pay you?
BL: Pay is great. After being homeless for a time, with almost no prospects, pay is especially swell. There was a point, around the mid-nineties when it looked like even Marvel and DC were going to be indies, and we would all go down the rat-hole together. Since then I’ve actually been really lucky with the small press I’ve worked with. Yes, I’ve gotten my share of copies, tantrums and changed phone numbers, but Aardwulf and Pickle Press paid actual money and helped us out when things looked darkest. And COM Publishing, here in Michigan, has given me the chance to exercise my book-illustration muscles. Still for regularity, reliability and variety, BOOM! is the little engine that could!
MW: Besides the Lovecraft influence, there are also similarities to the old pulps in The Necronomicon, stuff that people would expect from Indiana Jones--what's your inspiration for this? What led you to wed Cthulhu with the pulp-adventure style?
BL: Don’t forget, Lovecraft was writing for the pulps, too. Robert E. Howard was a member of the circle (Lovecraft named him “Two-Gun Bob” affectionately for his ferocious action style). HPL’s The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath was really a sort of Tolkienesque epic adventure, but with canine-like ghouls instead of hobbits. Everyone in the Lovecraft group was trying to create something new; Howard took horror and invented-history and joined it to Oriental adventure to create Sword and Sorcery; HPL took Poe’s horror and Dunsany’s fantasy, added real science and science-like speculation to conjure the Cthulhu Mythos. I reckon if I take adventure and humor, and stir it into Lovecraft to make something else a little different, well, the Sage of Providence would approve. He pushed his friends to take his inventions and go their own way with them. And he had quite a dry sense of humor himself, even if he hid it very well.
Also I’ve been thinking a lot about the pulps lately. A good friend of mine, Rodney Schroeter, who is a pulp collector and author, has been working with me on the first of several adaptations of pulp stories in comics form, Human Interest Story, by Albert Payson Terhune. He also gave me many volumes of Lovecraft so I could brush up on the Master for this project. I think Rodney has a real future in comics if he wants it.
MW: Artist Andrew Ritchie was really eager to illustrate The Necronomicon, based on your name and rep, before he even saw one page of plot--what do you think of his work on the book?
BL: Wow. I love this stuff! It’s dark and rich and dense, and he really thinks when he draws. One of our characters is a college football star, and Andy drew him long and lean, not bulky and ‘roided out. Perfect for the ‘20s. It’s nice to have a partner you don’t have to watch all the time. And he draws the best haunted buildings in the business.
MW: You've been writing comics for thirty years, in a cyclical business with its ups and downs--are you comfortable being back in the saddle with BOOM!? How's that feel?
BL: It feels great. You know, the best work I’ve done in the business: Journey, Jonny Quest, Flash, Dr. Fate, was all done under editors who knew to leave their people alone. It’s not a state secret that comics are more and more written from the head office these days, and editors can’t figure out why freelancers seem not to produce exciting work anymore. Well, nobody likes to be poked and prodded like a trained seal. You (Mark Waid) come out of that environment and have taken the right lessons from it. Everyone should know that Mark’s a joy to work for. Yet he’s there to back you up with suggestions if you need them. I admire the way he’s designed the Zombie world so there are Zombie rules, but you have enough psychological room to tell whatever story you want. I am really looking forward to the things I’ll do for BOOM! in the future.
The Necronomicon #1 hits comic stands this August and has a Diamond Code of JUN083748.