Innsmouth (2019) by Megan James

I grew up reading the works of H. P. Lovecraft. I loved every fish monster, evil cult and doomed protagonist, frankly finding his affected writing style and weird creatures intrinsically hilarious because of how corny it all was.
—Megan James, Foreword to Innsmouth (2019)

H. P. Lovecraft, and to a degree his compatriot Mythos creators Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, and Robert Bloch, have seen their life and works adapted to the medium of comic books and graphics novels since the 1950s. These range from fairly straight adaptations a la Alberto Breccia, Richard Corben, John Coulthart, I. N. J. Culbard, Gou Tanabe, and Ben Templesmith (to name a few) to original re-imaginings of the Mythos such as Alan Moore & Jacen Burrow’s Providence, Matt Howard’s Con and C’Thulhu, Mike Vosberg’s Lori Lovecraft, and dozens of other offerings in a number of languages.

Megan James is in good company.

The tone of the story is reminiscent of nothing else than a particular scene in Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens:

Sister Mary Loquacious has been a devout Satanist since birth. She went to Sabbat School as a child and won black stars for handwriting and liver. When she was told to join the Chattering Order she went obediently, having a natural talent in that direction and, in any case, knowing that she would be among friends. (27)

The point being that at a certain point in the life of a church, the mundanity sort of grinds out the divine nature of the proceedings. Or, as is the case in Megan James’ Innsmouth, the end times when Cthulhu is summoned can’t be held on a Thursday because they’ve already got the potluck scheduled.

“Well, the Elder Gods clearly didn’t give the events committee proper notice.”
Innsmouth, issue #1

What we get in five issues is a re-imagining of Innsmouth where intermarriage with fish people is just accepted and maybe working toward the end times is not a major priority for most of them. But like certain outbreaks of Millenialism and Milleniarianism, a few folks are actually looking forward to (or actively trying to cause) the project of waking Cthulhu up in more than a theoretical Sunady-go-to-meeting sense. Which is a problem if you kind of like the world as it is, thank you very much.

The cast and crew assembled by the combination of slapstick and well-meaning anti-cult activities is not coincidental. The team that is assembled includes a female Innsmouth acolyte (Abigail), a female Muslim (Fatima Alhazred, descendant of that Alhazred), and a pair of homosexual African-American reanimators (Drs. Edward Herbert & Jason West). This well-rounded cast is a deliberate effort on James’ part:

While much of the book is inspired by Lovecraft, James said she did take a few of his common outdated themes and views on certain issues such as race and switch them up.

“I wanted to address that in how I’m treating these characters, updating that for 2016,” she said. “Kind of giving voice to some of the characters he shafted along the way.”

For example, in the author’s 1924 short story, “The Hound” he introduces the Necronomicon, which according to James is a book of evil which Lovecraft linked to Arabic heritage.

“That’s not really cool,” she said. “I have a character Fatima she’s Muslim and studies the Necronomicon and it’s part of her family heritage…kind of reclaiming the stuff that he’s messed up.”

—Amy David, Local Comic Book Artist Megan James Mixes Humor and Evil in Upcoming Book, Innsmouth (28 July 2016)

It’s worth pointing out, none of this feels forced. Having Abdul Alhazred’s descendant majoring in eldritch anthropology at Miskatonic University is a key plot point, especially since the Innsmouthian’s Pocket Necronomicon is only about 20% complete; she and Abigail score a couple of gags playing off of each other’s alienation to the culture at large. Each of the characters has their role to play and is a character in their own right, not a walking two-dimensional stereotype.

James expands on this in her foreword a bit:

Of course, Lovecraft stresses fear of the unknown. Unfortunately, as I realized more and more as I grew older, his unknowns included not only fungus planets and brain-snatching flesh spiders, but also anyone who did not fit the mold of a white, straight, educated, Anglo-Saxon. […] I wanted to pay homage to all the things I love about the Mythos, but I also wanted to reinterpret the more troubling aspects and have some fun along the way.
—Megan James, Foreword to Innsmouth (2019)

This is in many ways the meat of the book, and the issue that every contemporary writer and artist has to consider when working with Lovecraft and the Mythos today. There are things that Lovecraft wrote in the 1920s and 30s which passed for publication then, but would not and should not today. It is a good thing that new artists approaching the work are willing and able to engage with this aspect of his writing, to grapple with how best to approach the material and update it to fit the syntax of today.

With any luck…there will be more:

This is just the beginning of Randolph, Fatima and Abigail’s story. Ideally, by the end of Innsmouth, I’ll have crafted a story that Lovecraft would have detested…but truly, I have no interest in playing by his rules just because I’m in his sandbox.
—Megan James, Foreword to Innsmouth (2019)

H. P. Lovecraft is long dead, and cannot render judgment—but in the here and now, what matters is not what Lovecraft would have thought, but what the readers and audience think. Megan James has put together a fun, adventurous story with a group of likable (if not always competent) characters whose hearts are in the right place. Readers looking for seriously nihilistic cosmic horror would be better off looking elsewhere, but for those who can take enjoyment in something more light-hearted, it’s a good book.

Innsmouth ran for five issues from 2016 to 2018, published by Sink/Swim Press and available at the store on her website. The collected trade paperback edition, published by ComicMix in July 2019, is also available on Amazon.com.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

 

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