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, descendent 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 im 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 apects 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).

 

“The Elder Sister-like One, Vol. 1” (2016) by Pochi Iida (飯田ぽち。)

My days with her were everything to me.
—Pochi Iida ( ぽち小屋。), The Elder Sister-like One, Vol. 1

Ane Naru Mono / The Sister of the Woods with a Thousand Young / The Demon Who Became My Sister (姉なるもの), translated and published in the United States as The Elder Sister-like One is an ecchi manga written and drawn by female writer/artist Pochi Iida (ぽち小屋。), translated into English by Sheldon Drzka with lettering by Phil Christie. Th story follows the day-by-day life of Yuu, an adolescent orphan who inadvertently summons Shub-Niggurath, the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, and makes a pact with her…to become his big sister. The goddess takes a (mostly) human form and calls herself Chiyo, and strives to honor her obligation.

Adaptation and translation always carry with them layers of interpretation and reinterpretation, and the original syntax is often lost or re-envisioned, refitted to the appropriate cultural context. So Pochi’s take on the Cthulhu Mythos in this manga is definitely in the tradition of the supernatural/monstrous girlfriend trope of manga like Monster Musume (モンスター娘のいる日常) or Oh My Goddess! (ああっ女神さまっ), and the re-casting H. P. Lovecraft’s dark fertility goddess as a buxom young woman recalls works like the manga Fight! Iczer One (戦え!!イクサー1 ), the visual novel Demonbane (デモンベイン), and the light novel Nyaruko: Crawling With LoveHaiyore! Nyaruko-san (這いよれ! ニャル子さん) and their various incarnations as anime, manga, video games, etc.

What largely sets Pochi’s work apart from others is the bittersweet undercurrent that runs throughout the work. Told as a series of chapters (“First Night,” “Second Night,” etc.) the attitude of the first volume is one of discovery, as Chiyo adapts to the human world and strives to be a good big sister to the lonely Yuu, who is sometimes frightened by the glimpses of her inhumanity…and yet is so desperately happy to no longer be alone. Yet from the very start, we know that this happiness is to be somewhat fleeting. From the very first page, the reader is told that this co-occupation is only temporary. In the beginning, the seeds of the end are sown.

The bitter reminder is offset by the sweetness, however, and most of volume one is very light, and full of fanservice. Chiyo is buxom, and when she remembers to wear clothes tends to wear things that emphasize her breasts or curves, and Yuu is often faced with unexpectedly close circumstances (such as Chiyo hiding Yuu’s head under her skirt, giving him a point-blank view of her panties). Such fanservice is almost slapstick compared to the hints of a darker world which he story gives the reader as it progresses, but the balance and pacing are such that the themes blend together very satisfyingly. Readers will likely warm up to Chiyo and Yuu’s relationship as their attraction and understanding grows. All the more precious with the knowledge that summer must one day end.

It is worth mentioning that the story is published simultaneously in two separate “continuities.” The ecchi form above has plenty of exposed skin, but never any full frontal nudity or actual sexual contact—the attraction between Chiyo and Yuu is teased and developed along the lines of an eromanga where a teenaged boy might develop a crush on his kindly big sister. The hentai form released from the circle Pochi-Goya (ぽち小屋。) follows the same basic storyline but is sexually explicit, with Chiyo’s tentacles getting into all sorts of places and her relationship with Yuu being much more intimate (although censored in accordance with Japanese laws regarding depictions of genitalia, etc.) The dual release is a relatively mature approach to publishing: save the sex for the readers that are interested in it.

The actual Mythos elements are fairly light in the first volume. Chiyo is by and large the only blatant supernatural element, though at one point it is made clear that other monsters do exist in the world. There is no mention of the various tomes, Lovecraft country, other Mythos entities, etc. The question might be reasonably asked then: why use the Mythos at all?

The value may be that Lovecraft’s artificial mythology is explicitly inhuman, with only peripheral connections and parallels to traditional Buddhism, Shinto, and Christianity. If Chiyo was a succubus from a Judaeo-Christian Hell, or a traditional Japanese goddess or monster, the reader would have different expectations of behavior or interactions with humans, which would probably have to be explained away. Being Shub-Niggurath frees the character from those conceptual constraints or hurdles, allowing the emphasis is on personal development rather than world development, so that the story remains very focused on its two main characters.

Elder Sister-like One was first serialized in Dengeki G’s Comic in 2016, volume 1 and volume 2 have been translated and released in English in 2018 by Yen Press in both print and electronic format. Hentai volumes are released individually in Japanese by Pochi-Goya.


Bobby Derie is the author of Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014)