While many of H. P. Lovecraft’s tales have been adapted to the form of comics, and no few have been translated into other languages, it is comparatively rarer to see translations and adaptions of the revisions and ghostwriting stories into languages other than English. One of the very few such treatments is an adaptation of “Medusa’s Coil” (1939) by Zealia Bishop & H. P. Lovecraft entitled 「メデューサの呪い」(“Medusa’s Curse”) by 桜 水樹氏 (Sakura Mizuki), published in 妖神降臨―真ク・リトル・リトル神話コミック (1995), a collection of adaptations of comparatively lesser-known Mythos fiction by Robert Bloch, Henry Kuttner, and others. “Medusa’s Curse” is the final story in the volume, and begins with a preface:
The writers who during Lovecraft’s lifetime asked him to edit their stories are called ‘Lovecraft school’. Among this group the female author Z. Bishop left a most impressive work. Medusa’s Coil can be compared with Bishop’s other story “The Curse of Yig” which combines snake phobia and Native American folk tale. Due to its fine details, Medusa’s Coil is a special work that evokes mythological fear. Especially the outbreaking catastrophe at the story’s climax and the last unexpected twist take the reader into another dimension and leave him there.
Besides these two stories, Bishop also wrote the excellent story “The Mound” about the underground kingdom of K’n-yan and its cosmic terror. It is expected that this story will also be turned into a manga at one point.
—trans. Dr. Dierk Günther
The adaptation removes the original Southern plantation setting, moving the story into a contemporary American South full of late 80s/early 90s styles. This transition also removes many of the objectionable elements from the original, as there are now no slaves (or people of color) in the story, no references to Africa, and the final revelations are focused much more on the cosmic horror of Marceline Bedard.
Sakura’s art style throughout is very subdued, realistic, with the slightly effeminate bishonen look to the younger male characters Denis and Marsh. It effectively communicates the quasi-love triangle set-up of the original story, the interplay between Denis, his friend Marsh, and Marceline as wife and nude model for the painting. For most of the story, the action is purely on that psychological level, no hint of the supernatural.
While there are liberties taken with truncating the story to fit in the space, overall this is a very faithful adaptation, with lines of dialogue borrowed directly from the story (sometimes in abbreviated form). The art tells more of the story than the dialogue, as a good graphic adaptation always does; little details like the ligature marks of the blood on the floor where the body was dragged, the shape of the handle and blade of the sword taken from a tulwar…and, of course, the painting itself, which attempts to express the inexpressible.
One of the things the story adds is a literal emphasis on the serpentine aspect of Marceline Bedard and her hair which is lacking in the original story. Lovecraft and Bishop used the term “Medusa” metaphorically, the hair as an alien thing, perhaps closer to the strange tentacles of C. L. Moore’s “Shambleau” (1934) than to the monster of Greek myth. This becomes more obvious after her death, when the story goes from a bloody lover’s triangle to overt supernatural horror.
Note here how the narrator is in a panic, and the framework of the panels reflects that. No longer are they square and even, now everything is skewed and at Dutch angles, reflecting action and movement that the reader doesn’t see, but which happens in the gutters. It is a very effective way to show the disordered, chaotic state of mind, and is used to great effect on these pages. The very regularity and normality of the opening of the story makes it all the more jarring when the horror finally appears on the page.
All reference to Marceline as being mixed-race is gone, Sophonisba’s speech is gone, and with them all explicit references to Cthulhu and the Mythos. The story is certainly simpler for it, both from a narrative perspective and visually, while sacrificing none of the inherent power of the story. The tension builds nicely until the first bloody climax, and then the real horror begins… The final revelation now is less Marceline’s identity than the fact that the house had supposedly burnt down five or six years previously. Ending it in that way makes it more of a ghost story, similar to some of the tales in Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (1904).
Translations and adaptations are tricky, especially when going back and forth between different media and languages. How much did Sakura deliberately jettison from the starting text, which was probably a Japanese translation rather than the original English? There are obvious efforts to remain faithful to the general events and specific wording of the story, even as it is updated to a contemporary setting (as are most of the other adaptations in the manga anthology), lines of dialogue from the English original come through in recognizable form when translated back into English, which can be a remarkable achievement in itself.
「メデューサの呪い」(“Medusa’s Curse”) by 桜 水樹氏 (Sakura Mizuki), published in 妖神降臨―真ク・リトル・リトル神話コミック (1995); I have not been able to find any reprints or translations.
With thanks and assistance to Dr. Dierk Günther of Tokushima University for assistance and translation of the Japanese original.
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).