I agree with what you say about suggestion as the highest form of horror-presentation. The basis of all true cosmic horror is violation of the order of nature, and the profoundest violations are always the least concrete and describable. In Machen, the subtlest story—”The White People”—is undoubtedly the greatest, even though it hasn’t the tangible, visible terrors of “The Great God Pan” or “The White Powder”. But the mob—including Farnsworth Wright—can never be made to see this; hence W.T. will always reject work of the finest and most delicate sort.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 4 Oct 1930, A Means to Freedom 1.52
Comics and graphic novels (and increasingly film and television shows) which seek to adapt Lovecraftian concepts onto the page often face an immediate difficulty: not just how to balance the words and pictures, but how much not to show and not to tell. It isn’t just the question of whether the entity should appear, or only be glimpsed in part, or revealed in full. It’s a question of how far do you admit that there is an entity at all, how and when do you bring up the concept. How far can you get the reader’s imagination to run, and in which direction? How do you establish and maintain that horror-mood which pervades such stories as Arthur Machen’s “The White People”?
For Machen, much of the success of his “The White People” was in being very specific in many details, and very circumspect in others. He avoided proper names; gave few physical descriptions; yet the diary entries are detailed, vivid. The discussions around them are weighty and philosophical, the people discussing what has happened see more in what is going on than the individual who purportedly wrote them. There is more going on than it seems…
In print, an author might write out “indescribable.” How does an artist actually draw or paint that? Ibrahim R. Ineke in the 48-pages of this graphic novel shifts presentation and technique in a very Machenesque way. Stark blacks give great detail, except where they disappear into shadow; white gives terrific definition, until they became great blank swathes where bright sunlight has blinded the reader to all detail. The chiaroscuro gives way to color, kaleidoscopic in intensity and combination; pen-and-ink linework gives way to xerography. Style and medium both work to conceal many things, while throwing others in sharp relief. Like Machen, Ineke is feeding the reader details, while letting our imagination fill in the blanks, both light and dark.
It is all in service to the story. Not a pleasant story, but a disturbing one, laid out with all the care of a detective story. Ineke’s “The White People” is not a straight adaptation of Machen’s “The White People,” it inspired by, it carries some of the same energy, the same ideas, but it isn’t a retread of any particular story. It stands as a testament to what an artist can do in the medium—something between Bruce Jones and Berni Wrightson’s “Jenifer” and Jeffrey Jones’ Idyl I’m Age, and comparing very favorably to Black Stars Above (2019) by Lonnie Nadler & Jenna Cha.
Yet what makes Ineke’s “The White People” really effective is that like with Machen’s “The White People” it is essentially a kids story. Not a story for kids by any means (due to some graphic nudity), but about kids. Innocent, playful, not knowing what horrors are out there. That’s the essence of “The White People” as Machen wrote it, and it is in essence what Lovecraftian horror is like for all readers. To look where you shouldn’t, and have a bit of innocence stripped away.
Wherever there is horror, secrets are revealed. Ineke states this most directly when he writes “It’s always the woods, isn’t it?” Despite our continuous advances in science and reason, education and culture, the woods remain an untamable place—a site that is the very definition of nature, yet which continuously unleashes “unnatural” evidences. Despite Machen’s warnings, Ineke has found it necessary to re-enter this territory and present his findings to us.
—Amelia Ishmael, introduction to The White People (2015)