“This Weave of Witchery” (2019) by W. H. Pugmire & Maryanne K. Snyder

I’ve been working with Maryanne K. Snyder on a book of collaborative work, and she has proved an absolute delight to work with.  I prefer to write alone, collaborating is a lot more work for me; but often writing with someone else can take you to places you would never otherwise discover writing on your own. 
—W. H. Pugmire, “New Story Sale” (6 Oct 2010)

On the surface, “This Weave of Witchery” feels almost unfinished. Bits of pieces of Sesqua Valley and Lovecraft Country, dovetailed together into a kind of prose poem, capturing echoes of old moods: “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Silver Key,” “Born in Strange Shadow” and “Some Distant Baying Sound.” Imagine treading old, familiar territory, only to look back and suddenly see it from an angle you’ve never seen it before. Familiar, yet strange. That’s the prevailing attitude of “This Weave of Witchery.”

The plot feels like a deliberate reworking of “The Silver Key,” but from a different angle. Many writers have worked around the theme of losing the ability to dream—either literally, or in the sense of losing some creative urge or muse. Lord Dunsany wrote a bit about that in the end of “Idle Days on the Yann”:

Long we regarded one another, knowing that we should meet no more, for my fancy is weakening as the years slip by, and I go ever more seldom into the Lands of Dream. Then we clasped hands, uncouthly on his part, for it is not the method of greeting in his country, and he commended my soul to the care of his own gods, to his little lesser gods, the humble ones, to the gods that bless Belzoond.

Dunsany had followed this up in “The Shop In Go-By Street,” where the protagonist seeks once more to return to the Lands of Dream, only to find:

I would have waited three more days, but on the third day I had gone in my loneliness to see the very spot where first I met Bird of the River at her anchorage with her bearded captain sitting on the deck. And as I looked at the black mud of the harbour and pictured in my mind that band of sailors whom I had not seen for two years, I saw an old hulk peeping from the mud. The lapse of centuries seemed partly to have rotted and partly to have buried in the mud all but the prow of the boat and on the prow I faintly saw a name. I read it slowly— it was Bird of the River. And then I knew that, while in Ireland and London two years had barely passed over my head, ages had gone over the region of Yann and wrecked and rotted that once familiar ship, and buried years ago the bones of the youngest of my friends, who so often sang to me of Durl and Duz or told the dragon-legends of Belzoond.

There is something of this in Lovecraft’s “The Silver Key,” and perhaps in Pugmire & Snyder’s story something of Arthur Machen’s The Hill of Dreams:

He strove to rise from his chair, to cry out, but he could not. Deep, deep the darkness closed upon him, and the storm sounded far away. The Roman fort surged up, terrific, and he saw the writhing boughs in a ring, and behind them a glow and heat of fire. There were hideous shapes that swarmed in the thicket of the oaks; they called and beckoned to him, and rose into the air, into the flame that was smitten from heaven about the walls. And amongst them was the form of the beloved, but jets of flame issued from her breasts, and beside her was a horrible old woman, naked; and they, too, summoned him to mount the hill.

He heard Dr. Burrows whispering of the strange things that had been found in old Mrs. Gibbon’s cottage, obscene figures, and unknown contrivances. She was a witch, he said, and the mistress of witches.

He fought against the nightmare, against the illusion that bewildered him. All his life, he thought, had been an evil dream, and for the common world he had fashioned an unreal red garment, that burned in his eyes. Truth and the dream were so mingled that now he could not divide one from the other. He had let Annie drink his soul beneath the hill, on the night when the moonfire shone, but he had not surely seen her exalted in the flame, the Queen of the Sabbath. Dimly he remembered Dr. Burrows coming to see him in London, but had he not imagined all the rest?

Compare with:

It came as a wall of liquid blackness, an inky abyss in which he felt he would be drowned. There was something almost beguiling in its churning sentience, and he felt the need to speak to it, to name himself. Parting lips, he moaned his name as the blackness spilled into his mouth and shook him awake. […] Early sunset washed the sky over Sesqua Valley with muted color, and Thorley stood for a little while to appreciate the orange and pink effects that tainted the white stone of the titanic twin-peaked mountain. He had never thought to see that mountain again, and did not remember its effect on him, how it captivated one part of his mind and troubled another. He gazed at it until he felt himself grow faint, and then he remembered his mother’s words of caution, “It’s not wise to stare at Mount Selta for too long a time. Turn your eyes away.”
—W. H. Pugmire & Maryanne K. Synder, “This Weave of Witchery” in An Imp of Aether 211

These are old themes, paths well-trod, familiar territory for weird fiction aficionados. Donald Wandrei touched on such confusions of dreams and reality in the obscure Mythos story “The Lady in Gray”; and maybe there’s something of that in this weave of witchery as well.

If Pugmire & Snyder had done no more than write a prose poem in that tradition, one more bridge between the waking world and the Dreamlands, “The Weave of Witchery” would be an unremarkable yet solid entry. Yet they did manage to find a new perspective, one which Dunsany, Machen, Lovecraft, & Wandrei had not played with. Think back to “The Silver Key,” and Randolph Carter’s lament of what he had lost—and think of how it would change the story if he was wrong.

“This Weave of Witchery” is the fourth published collaboration between W. H. Pugmire & Maryanne K. Snyder, the others being “The House of Idiot Children” (2008), “The Hidden Realm” (2011), and “The Seventh Eikon” (2012). “This Weave of Witchery” was first published in An Imp of Aether (2019).


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

“Nora” (2019) by Angela Oddling

I asked all our contributors to choose a god from Lovecraft’s pantheon and tell a story about them. It could be a horror story, sure. But it could also be sci-fi, fantasy, action, comedy or anything in between, as long as it focused on the gods of Lovecraft…or in some instances a new Lovecraftian god they created.
—Russel Nohelty, Cthulhu Is Hard To Spell

There is no wrong age to discover Lovecraft.

Anecdotally, a lot of fans discover Lovecraft when relatively young; twelve or thirteen is a common age given. Old enough for a childhood love of monsters to graduate toward some of the more literary horrors, where happy endings need no longer be expected as default. Everyone has their first exposure somehow: a comic book, a tatty paperback, the helpful librarian, a passing reference in a cartoon that leads to clicking through a link on a wiki article and then…

In a lot of ways, Lovecraft’s body of work is almost all-ages. There’s no explicit sex, and not much violence and gore. There is the very occasional N-word, but the same could be said of Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn. The four-letter word scale of expletives tops out at “damn” and “hell.” Lovecraft didn’t need to say “fuck” to communicate his horrors. You don’t need to be nasty or profane to be Lovecraftian; though some authors have found it effective.

You can see this generally in the number of Mythos works which are produced for all different ages. There are hardcore adult pornographic Mythos works and there is C is for Cthulhu. While they share an inspiration, the age range of the audiences they’re going for are completely different. Other products are more ambiguous. They try to hit the sweet spot of being for both young adults and older adults; scary stories that can be read in the dark and enjoyed by anyone.

Which is the basic mentality behind the comics anthology Cthulhu Is Hard To Spell (2019), and its first entry “Nora” by Angela Oddling. Hitting that sweet spot between growing up and grown up. The book contains works suitable for…not all ages, but most ages. No nudity or nipples, no gore and not much blood, but not shying away from the suggestion of sex, violence, or blood. Art and storytelling that varies between the comedic to the serious and back again. It’s a good mix.

“Nora” by Angela Oddling is a story that might strike readers initially as aimed at the teenager or adolescent end of the spectrum. The art is polished, but “cartoony” rather than realistic; the character has big eyes and big fangs and only four digits on each hand—the same coding for the characters on The Simpsons or Mickey Mouse. It’s easy to mistake that kind of visual rhetoric as code that something is “for kids” rather than “for adults”—but as Matt Groening’s Life in Hell and Family Guy should show, that kind of coding can be deceiving. Disney’s Mickey is an anthropomorphic mouse, but so are the Jewish characters in Art Spiegelman’s Maus. It’s what the creator does with those characters that tells you what audience they’re aiming for…

Nora

Oddling hits the “sweet spot” for both young adults and older adults. Her story has overtones of Lovecraft’s “The Outsider” to it, and it works for much the same reason. Human beings are social animals. Conscious of their need to belong. To find their tribe. It’s not a deep or complex story, but at 8 pages long it is just as long as it needs to be to make its point, without feeling rushed or stretched out. There’s a Sarah’s Scribbles-esque quality in how it addresses an anxiety that is at once shared by someone growing up, and someone that is already considered a grown up in society.

In this sense, the “simplified” art works well to not limit or define the audience; we all can see ourselves as monsters, and see ourselves in monsters. Oddling’s palette is deliberately restrained: the white and blue and black make the pale yellow “pop” with emphasis on the page, and highlight the transitions from cold/alone to warm/together…and finally the very last panel, with its balance of colors, to show the strange acceptance. Not a complicated visual language, but again, it doesn’t have to be: a simple idea well-executed can be tremendously effective in communicating ideas visually, to complement the text of the story.

“Nora” was created by Angela Oddling and published in Cthulhu Is Hard to Spell (2019, Wannabee Press), edited by Russell Nohelty. The book was originally launched on Kickstarter, though you can still buy hardcopies on etsy and digital editions are available on Kindle/Comixology.


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

The Woman of Arkham Advertiser (A・Aの女): Article 01: In The Vault (2019) by Takata Yuki (高田 悠希)

It was the publicity attending this investigation which set reporters on the track of the Whateleys, and caused the Boston Globe and Arkham Advertiser to print flamboyant Sunday stories of young Wilbur’s precociousness, Old Whateley’s black magic, the shelves of strange books, the sealed second story of the ancient farmhouse, and the weirdness of the whole region and its hill noises.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dunwich Horror”

The public knows of the Miskatonic Expedition through our frequent wireless reports to the Arkham Advertiser and Associated Press, and through the later articles of Pabodie and myself.
—H. P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness

As was only natural under the circumstances, this piquant debating finally got into print in the form of letters to the Arkham Advertiser; some of which were copied in the press of those Vermont regions whence the flood-stories came.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Whisperer in Darkness”

Lovecraftian manga have been undergoing a recent renaissance in Japan, with the critically acclaimed reception of Tanabe Gou’s adaptations of At the Mountains of Madness, “The Hound,” “The Colour Out of Space,” and most recently “The Call of Cthulhu,” all of which have been or are being translated and published in foreign language editions: Spanish, Italian, French, German, English, etc. Other popular adaptations include the Cthulhu no Yobi Koe series by Chuuou Higashiguchi (中央東口), and related manga include the Minase Yomu and the Really Scary Cthulhu Mythology (水瀬陽夢と本当はこわいクトゥルフ神話) series by Yoshihara Masahiko (吉原雅彦), and the many Zone of Cthulhu manga released by the SAN-EI Corporation (三栄)—which includes The Woman of Arkham Advertiser (A・Aの女) series by Takata Yuki (高田 悠希).

The conceit of the series is simple: Alice Allan is a cub reporter for the Arkham Advertiser, the local newspaper that appears in several of Lovecraft’s stories, and her “cases” cover a number of Lovecraft’s stories, both Mythos and non-Mythos, as set around Arkham. The result is a series of adaptations with a twist: we get to see the stories from a new perspective, that of a young newspaperwoman investigating the odd happenings. The series is categorized as a seinen (青年漫画), aimed at young men (18-30s), being more realistic and less action-packed than manga like One Piece or Dragon Ball, but readers of all genders and ages can appreciate it.

Chibi
Chibi version of Billy, a supporting character.

The adaptation is played seriously, but with more than a few laughs thrown in, the figures sometimes reduced to small chibi-style exaggerated figures to emphasize the one-off joke, familiar from manga like Shirow Masamune’s original Ghost in the Shell. The translation by Amimaru Translation and Localization Services Ltd. is mostly solid, although every now and again a joke may fail to land due to some cultural crossing of wires.

The small details and stark contrasts in the illustrations really shine though. Takata Yuki has worked hard to express the America of the 1920s, full of newsboys and the transition from the small industrial city of Arkham to out-of-the-way rural community of Peck Valley is like traveling back in time. Done in simple black-and-white, the bright outside scenes are given white backgrounds, while the moment the intrepid reporters step into the vault, the page is dominated by huge splashes of stark black, a very effective presentation that accentuates the emotional response of Alice Allan and her associate Billy.

Alice herself is the major focus and driver of the plot. She desires to prove herself as a reporter, and this is her first real opportunity to do so, by looking into the morbid details around the mysterious death and quick burial. While her enthusiasm is sometimes played for laughs, especially when contrasted against her long-suffering friend Billy, it is very effective at cutting right to the heart of Lovecraft’s story.

The story is not exactly a straight adaptation; Takata Yuki wisely doesn’t attempt to mimic the style of Lovecraft’s prose, and takes a few liberties with the ending, hinting at this being a small piece of a bigger picture that the reporters know they can’t quite see yet. Which works very well; Alice Allan is an engaging, energetic, enthusiastic protagonist, and starting slow with one of Lovecraft’s more low-key stories as their first “case” was a wise decision on the part of Takata Yuki.

The Woman of the Arkham Advertiser is available in Japanese on Kindle, and in English on Manga Planet subscription service.


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

Kthulhu Reich (2019) by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健)

Yoth Tlaggon
A mysterious God. The first time the name was written was in a letter form H. P. Lovecraft to C. A. Smith, a close friend and associate of the American horror writer, dated April 4th, 1932. However, Father Lucio Damiani published a monograph on Ancient History entitled Visions of Kusha in which he writes that “In the days when Atlantis was still called Kusha, and Lemuria known as Shalarali, Yoth Tlaggon was named one of the Nine Princes of Hell.” Damiani could have had no knowledge of the Lovecraft letter, for it was not publsihed until 1970.
—Asamatsu Ken, Kthulhu Reich 228

Yoth-Tlaggon—at the Crimson Spring.
Hour of the Amorphous Reflection.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 4 Apr 1932,
Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 360

Kthulhu Reich (2019) by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健) is a novel from Kurodahan Press. It is comprised of seven interrelated short stories published between 1994 and 1999, and is presented here in English by translator Jim Rion. Each of the stories involves Nazi Germany, and involves the Cthulhu Mythos in some way, and though they do not form a single consistent narrative, together form a kind of occult history of World War II and its legacy.

Lovecraft died in 1937; he lived to see the rise of Mussolini and the fascists in Italy and Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party to power in Germany, and the opening shots of what would become World War II in the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Though he did not know it, Lovecraft also became aware of the opening stages of the Holocaust as Hitler’s government instituted laws discriminating against Jews in Germany, a practice which the antisemitic Lovecraft had mixed feelings with—approving as he did of Nazi Germany’s ultranationalism, but not their unscientific racial discrimination. He never lived to see how wrong he was regarding Hitler and Mussolini, never saw the true horrors of the Holocaust.

World War II has become fertile ground writers of weird and fantasy fiction; the Nazi interest with the occult and esoteric, based partially on truth, as detailed in books like Nicholas Goodrick Clarke’s The Occult Roots of Nazism (1993) and Kenneth Hite’s The Nazi Occult (2013). Works like Le Matin des magiciens (1960) popularized the idea of the Nazi occult for a new generation, and have led to works like the Indiana Jones adventures Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), the Hellboy comic books and film, and innumerable other appearances.

“Hitler’s a nut on the subject. He’s crazy. He’s obsessed with the occult.”
—Musgrove, Raiders of the Lost Ark

This has been true for the Cthulhu Mythos as well. Herbert West famously found employment in Nazi Germany in Brian McNaughton’s “Herbert West—Reincarnated Part II: The Horror in the Holy Land”; Charles Stross’ The Atrocity Archives (2004) deals with the occult fallout of the Nazi’s Mythos-delvings; Mike Mignola and Jim Robinson have Hellboy team up with Starman and Batman to face Neo-Nazis (and classical Nazis!) summoning Lovecraftian horrors in Batman/Hellboy/Starman (1999).

LovecraftKnew
Art by Mike Mignola, script by Jim Robinson, Batman/Hellboy/Starman #2 (1999)

The Mythos occult WWII angle had become essentially a Mythos subgenre with the release of the roleplaying games World War Cthulhu (2013, Cubicle 7) and Achtung! Cthulhu (2013, Modiphius), which in turn have led to new anthologies like World War Cthulhu (2014, Dark Regions), and even video games.

Which is a long way to say that Asamatsu Ken was a bit ahead of the curve when he first published these stories in Japan in 1994-1999. Some of the stories are eerily prescient as far as capturing the essential dynamic of the post-2000 Mythos WWII craze. Magic is real, the Nazis—deluded and arrogant as they might be, playing with forces they don’t understand—are often portrayed as a genuine occult threat to the entire world. The action is often pulpy, but Asamatsu Ken shows real research in trying to make sure the names, dates, and equipment are correct. The individual stories are like separate, individual episodes taken from a long, drawn-out conflict, but they are constructed with all the care of a good hoax. Mythos references are typically slid in alongside real occult names and texts, the Nazi’s actual activities provide the context for the stories.

In the first place, it is important that we realize that the term “racist,” as used today, has strong post-WWII connotations. We have become much more liberal and open-minded following the dreadful experiences and revelations of the second World War, and anyone espousing extreme anti-ethnic views today must surely be a reactionary, a redneck, or a nut. “Racism” has become extremely unpopular, and we associate the term with the horrors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
—Dirk W. Mosig, “Was Lovecraft a Racist?” in Crypt of Cthulhu #98 (1998) 4

One of the shadows looming over Kthulhu Reich (or any other Mythos WWII novel or story) is how it addresses the nature of racism and antisemitism in general, and the Holocaust in particular. No nation in the conflict was free from prejudice and discrimination, but the attempts at genocide which were such a hallmark of WW II present a subject that writers have to decide how to deal with. It is perhaps appropriate that Asamatsu Ken chooses to begin the collection with “The Corporal’s Self-Portrait”—a story which would otherwise seem a bit out-of-place in the anthology, dealing as it does with a contemporary postwar Japan and touching on the attitudes towards racism and how they’ve changed.

“I can take the Koreans and the Chinese. They’re like us, at least. But the day all these Thais and Vietnamese, Cambodians and Filipinios, and Indians and Iranians and Iraqis shoed up, this place became unbearable.”

“Hey, come on… That’s really racist!” I chided, unable to must any real force.

Hirata ignored me.

“They come here to Japan and take the jobs honest students used to be able to count on. Then they send our valuable yen back to their own countries. And then there’s our women! They seduce our women and sully the pure blood of Yamato!”

“Cut it out, you’re talking crazy!”

—Asamatsu Ken, Kthulhu Reich 7

Hirata doesn’t stop. The narrator at least protests, though his words fall on deaf ears. The incident gains sinister connotations as the story unfolds, much like the film Max (2002), yet the reader is shown this angry young man, whose life parallels that of the eponymous Boys from Brazil, and he can muster only ineffective rebukes to his obvious and appallingly vocal prejudice. Asamatsu Ken does not turn a blind eye to the horrors that the Nazis perpetrated. Nor to the real threat that racism and prejudice still form.

Jim Rion deserves accolades here for an excellent translation on what must have been a difficult job—combining as it does real historical elements, occult jargon, Japanese cultural references, the Cthulhu Mythos, the unusual episode “April 20th, 1889” that consists of a series of found documents, and some really well-done action scenes in “The Mask of Yoth Tlaggon.”


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

“The Nyarlathotep Experience™” (2019) by Miguel Fliguer

Nyarlathotep . . . the crawling chaos . . . I am the last . . . I will tell the audient void. . . .
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Nyarlathotep”

There is no one alive to read it. And there won’t ever be. Encased within the silicon chip, the text speaks forever into the void.
—Miguel Fliguer, “The Nyarlathotep Experience™” in Ancestors & Descendants 314

Rhetoric is not a lost art, but one which people often understand only intuitively. A horror novel, a corporate memo, and a brochure for a theme park are all written differently, even though their intended audience may end up being the exact same person. How those pieces of writing address that individual, their aims and what they do (and don’t) say help define them. You don’t normally expect corpspeak in a horror story; for example.

Yet all are forms of persuasive writing. The brochure wants you to buy a ticket, the memo wants you to buy into the idea, the horror novel wants you to buy into the mood. In “The Nyarlathotep Experience™,” Miguel Fliguer wants you to buy into all three.

As with  “Collector the Third: Charles Wilson Hodap (1842-1944)” (1995) by Kenneth W. Faig, Jr., there’s a strong metatexual element to Fliguer’s story. The assumption is that the audience is familiar with not just Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos, but with Lovecraft’s original story “Nyarlathotep”—that this is a piece of fiction that exists in the world, subject now to the utterly surreal process of being transformed into an amusement park ride 20 minutes into the future. The very mundane rhetorical approach to the subject matter is reminiscent of “Commencement” (2001) by Joyce Carol Oates. The utterly self-absorbed, amoral bitching about what “Legal” would allow and the ultimate escape offered as the ride ends and the customers are released through the gift-shop with the various Nyarlathotep dolls and merch on sale works. Isn’t that what some soulless corporate hack sound like?

There are bookends to the piece, however. The first is context. It comes at the end of the collection Ancestors & Descendants (2019), the pieces of which progress chronologically. So the reader of the book, if going through it from the beginning, knows before they even get there that they’re coming up on the end, as in, the penultimate chapter of the book. They’ve already passed through all the past decades. This is the future.

So when Fliguer opens up on the blasted, frozen remnants of Florida drifting quietly through the eternity of space, to this document that no-one is left to read, there’s a definite sense of anticipation. It can’t be just a ride, can it? There has to be more to it. Yet the farther it goes on, the more Fliguer keeps to the straight schtick—not without the occasional joke about how Legal won’t let them use psychedelic drugs or insists on there being an emergency exit—but the whole thing, the journey of the ride, is to relive the experience of reading “Nyaralathotep,” and a reader can easily get lost in that little mental game, remembering the old story, wondering how they would possibly turn it into a lived experience, with special effects and actors.

Then you get to the very end, the last page.

I’m reminded of Robert Bloch.

Lovecraft and Bloch famously created a triptych: “The Shambler from the Stars” (1935, Bloch), “The Haunter of the Dark” (1935, Lovecraft), and “The Shadow from the Steeple” (1950, Bloch). There is an image in that final story, drawn from Lovecraft’s “Fungi from Yuggoth” sonnets, number XXI – Nyarlathotep. Fliguer uses the same image, in homage to Lovecraft or Bloch or both…and there is a promise there, because it is taken from the end of the first stanza of the sonnet, readers who remember that may remember the rest:

Soon from the sea a noxious birth began;
Forgotten lands with weedy spires of gold;
The ground was cleft, and mad auroras rolled
Down on the quaking citadels of man.
Then, crushing what he chanced to mould in play,
The idiot Chaos blew Earth’s dust away.

A preview for the end of the world.

Miguel Fliguer’s “The Nyarlathotep Experience™” was published in Ancestors & Descendants (2019). His other Lovecraftian fiction includes the collection Cooking with Lovecraft: Supernatural Horror in the Kitchen (2017), also published in Spanish as Cocinando Con Lovecraft: Relatos y Recetas de Humor Sobrenatural (2018), his fiction has also appeared on Círculo de Lovecraft.


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

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).

 

“Ancient Astronauts” (2019) by Cynthia Ward

The movie missed some stuff. It didn’t mention the Old Ones or Cthulhu or the shoggoths. You hardly ever see Maine in books, unless they’re Stephen King books.
—Cynthia Ward, “Ancient Astronauts” in Weirdbook Annual 2: Cthulhu24

Meddling kids didn’t show up much in the pages of Weird Tales. The period of extended adolescence which would define “teenagers” as separate from children was just beginning in the 1920s and 30s, when the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew made their debut. It was and is something of a rare Mythos story to focus on the younger point of view, such as Arthur Machen’s “The White People” (1904), Robert Bloch’s “Notebook Found In A Deserted House” (1951), “The Thing from Lover’s Lane” (1996) by Nancy A. Collins, and “Lilloth” (2006) by Susan McAdam.

The teenage perspective is an interesting one for a Mythos tale. They are innocent of the world, although not necessarily in all the ways that grown-ups think. Cynthia Ward’s Joanna, Mike, and Bradley are boiling over with hormones, insecure about their place in the world, trapped in their small town lives, limited in their ability to go and do anything.

Ward’s kids can be gullible and insightful, precocious and hard-headed. They sit out at night listening to the horror-host on the radio, talking about ancient astronauts and how nothing ever happens in Maine, Joanna waiting for Mike to get a clue and see her as more than “Just one of the guys.” But there are stranger things afoot than unrequited crushes.

Technically, “Ancient Astronauts” is a much-delayed sequel to Lovecraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep.” Things are moving again in Maine, decades after Ephraim/Asenath Waite finally shuffled bodies one time too many and was pushed off this mortal coil. Old white men in robes, up at the standing stones in gray robes and waving daggers, and the kids are there to meddle with it. Yet—there’s a little more to it than that. Joanna and Mike only have their limited perspective; they don’t understand half of what they see, and what they do see they interpret through their own lens.

For Joanna, it’s “Ancient Astronauts.” Which is rather fitting. Lovecraft placed the standing stones atop Sentinel Hill in “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Thing on the Doorstep” long before Erich von Däniken wrote Chariots of the Gods? (1968); which ignited the contemporary phase of the whole “ancient astronauts” line of thought. Jason Colavito actually traced Däniken’s thesis back to Lovecraft in The Cult of Alien Gods: H. P. Lovecraft and Extraterrestrial Pop Culture (2005). More soberly, Dave Goudsward goes back to Lovecraft and examines his inspiration for putting ancient American megaliths in the Mythos in Lovecraft and the Great Altar Stones of New England (2016).

Which all runs into a familiar problem: Joanna knows about Old Ones and shoggoths, ancient astronauts and Stephen King; how can she live in a world which doesn’t seem very different than our own if so much of it must be different? Her world is a setting where Lovecraft and his fiction existed, but none of the fiction was fictional—there really is or was an Innsmouth, and people that come from there are different. There really is a pit up in Maine, with stairs descending into the lightless depths…and at the bottom? Well, no-one’s come back. So how did Lovecraft know, to write it in his story?

This isn’t a plot hole, at least not more so than any other story which puts Lovecraft’s fiction and his Mythos together. It is how Cynthia Ward frames the story: through the eyes of meddling kids who have grown up on a diet of ancient astronauts and Stephen King. That is how they see things. It is only the readers, as more widely-read adults, who recognize the different things that are going on in the story—both in terms of Mythos shenanigans and teenage crushes.


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