“La mano de la diosa” (2013) by Fátima Fernández & Paco Zarco

Lovecraftian horror appeals to a blind and sick cosmos where human beings are little more than ants. The abysses of the human soul that the tortured characters of Poe traversed, give way, in Lovecraft, to a struggle of inhuman powers, nightmarish deities that dispute the dominion of the living beings and that have, among us, their brotherhoods, their cults and their devotees.

Since the disappearance of the master, his fictions have gradually increased in popularity until they became, together with The Lord of the Rings, one of the most fascinating literary mythologies of our time. His influence on popular culture is still valid, demonstrating a surprising ability to adapt to the tastes and sensibilities of several generations.

The authors of CTHULHU magazine come together again to pay tribute and emotional tribute to what we can consider the father of modern horror and his pantheon of nightmare creatures and deities. A journey through 15 stories that demonstrate the variety and richness of a privileged imagination.
—Manuel Mota, Lovecraft un homenaje en 15 historietas (2013), back cover copy
Translated from Spanish

Diábolo Ediciones of Madrid has been publishing Cthulhu, a Spanish-language anthology of comics and dark fiction, since 2007. Despite the name, the majority of the stories in any given issue aren’t necessarily explicitly devoted to the Cthulhu Mythos, although most issues have at least some Lovecraftian reference. The focus is on horror and dark fantasy, and the editors are not afraid for the works to be gory or involve nudity, if that’s what the story calls for, but they also contain moments of light-hearted ghoulish fun like the episodes of El Joven Lovecraft by José Oliver and Bart Torress. Special issues have been devoted to William Hope Hodgson and Robert E. Howard.

In 2013, Diábolo Ediciones published Lovecraft en los cómics. Un homenaje en 15 Historietas (Lovecraft in the Comics, An homage in 15 stories). The creators all presented diffrent styles and approaches, from a straight adaptation of “The Transition of Juan Romero” by Juan Aguilera to original works, every mood from ghoulish comedy and satire to visceral body horror, styles ranging from neatly inked black-and-white to digitally colored works. It is probably the first Mythos comic anthology to include former president Barack Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton among its characters—which is to say, the book showcases not just the depth of talent that the editors of Cthulhu can draw upon, but the vast variety of approaches there are to the subject of the Mythos.

“La mano de la diosa” (“The Hand of the Goddess”) by writer Fátima Fernández & artist Paco Zarco is an original Cthulhu Mythos story, set in contemporary Spain, in a rather classical Cthulhu mode: a journalist after a story  finds themselves on the trail of something more than they expected.

No se trataba de seguir la logica, sino las pistas.
It was not about following the logic, but the clues.

The story is based on a real-life series of curious events. The Fuente de Cibeles (Fountain of Cybele) in Madrid includes a statue of the goddess Cybele—the Magna Mater of Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls”—by sculptor Francisco Gutiérrez. In 1994 and 2002, the left hand of the statue was broken off. The events were seemingly unrelated, the statue was repaired…

…pero nunca se recupero la mano robada de la diosa.
…but they never recovered the stolen hand of the goddess.

As setups go, this is a solid premise for a Mythos story. Fernández conveys the minimal amount of information necessary in a few succinct captions, as if the reporter was giving the voice-over on a film, and Zarco captures the mood of the events in an economical and effective manner. The focus of the panels is drawn to the statue of Cybele, to the stump of the hand, to the trenchcoat-wrapped reporter who moves between shadows on cracked pavement. This could almost be a Kolchak story…or, if it had been cast in stark blacks and whites, a noir. Essentially an occult detective tale, with a protagonist that doesn’t yet know it’s an occult detective tale.

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Turn the page, and the dialogue begins. Human players also complicate the simplicity of one person’s narration; readers now have to deal with multiple points of view, conflicting motivations, weigh each word and sentence carefully to look for hidden meaning. Who do you trust now?

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Mi madre era une persona gentil y hermosa en todos los sentidos. Pero ambiciosa.
My mother was a gentle and beautiful woman in every way. But ambitious.

Lovecraft had made a study of the detective stories of Edgar Allan Poe, and many of his Mythos tales follow a similar form of nested narrative. There is the story set in the now (here, the reporter investigating the missing hand of the statue), and there is the story in the past (the story being told to him); the story in the past is the nested narrative, like the manuscript uncovered in “The Mound” or Rose’s diary in “The Man of Stone.” The reader simultaneously is in the present, with the protagonist, but they are also looking over their shoulder and reading what they read. This narrative trick allowed Lovecraft to avoid the simple exposition of the narrator simply telling the reader (through some audience surrogate) what they have discovered, and takes the reader on the journey of discovery along with them. It also allows for a very effective reveal when the two layers of the narrative meet: past foreshadowing future.

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Paco Zarco’s artwork is competent, and he has an eye for panel layouts the emphasizes the repetition of key elements—portraits, eyes, hands—in a way the underlines the relatively sparse script. Considering relatively little is happening, this might seem like padding, but it feels more like pacing. At seven pages, “La mano de la diosa” doesn’t overstay its welcome or drag at all, but the Mythos twist, when it comes, is sudden.

In black and white, it might be much more effective; the digital coloring and shading, especially on the backgrounds, does little service to the linework and tends to emphasize the flatness of the faces rather than give them depth. That is a common issue with digital colorization, trying to achieve effects with the palette instead of the pen tends to catch the eye like a false note catches the ear.

Mi madra siempre me decía que las estatuas disponían de mucho tiempo para pensar y observar…
My mother always told me that the statues had a lot of time to think and observe …

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Zarco knows what he is doing when the actual supernatural element arrives onto the page; the clearly defined boxes of the panels give way to Dutch angles, ragged and uneven panel breaks and gutters. Like Jacen Burrows in Providence, this is visual rhetoric that informs the reader without telling them explicitly that they’ve entered a nightmare; like a horror movie when the killer’s motif begins to play, and the camera shifts from smooth movement to sudden and abrupt close-ups and shifts.

Algo mas fuerte que su ambicion se apoderaba de el.
Something stronger than his ambition took hold of him.

“La mano de la diosa” manages to evoke the Mythos without a single fhtagn, and very few tentacles; a particularly Lovecraftian figure makes an appearance in the final panels in a bit of a well-worn twist, for readers who have read enough Mythos stories to recognize similar endings. At seven pages it is neither too long or too short for the story it has to tell, getting the job done without rushing it or overstaying its welcome, and most of that is told not through the text, but by visual storytelling and unspoken hints. In the context of Lovecraft un homenaje en 15 historietas, it is the most subtle, the most understated of the stories…and one which is set in Spain, and couldn’t really be set anywhere else.

Lovecraft un homenaje en 15 historietas has not yet been translated into English.


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

“O que dorme” (2016) by Bábara Garcia & Elias Aquino

“O que dorme” (“What sleeps”) by writer Bábara Garcia & artist Elias Aquino is the final entry in the comic anthology O Despertar de Cthulhu em Quadrinhos (“The Awakening of Cthulhu in Comics,” 2016) by Brazilian publisher Editora Draco. The book was edited by Raphael Fernandes, who introduces the volume on the inside cover flaps:

The cult work of H. P. Lovecraft is the main inspiration for this collection with eight comics that will transfer the imagination to the darkest side of the human mind, a cosmic horror in white and green.

[…] The Awakening of Cthulhu in Comics and the horror that cannot be uttered, get lost in images and stories that shouldn’t have been conceived. Now there’s no turning back for those involved by the tentacles of despair, it’s time to wake up to a decadent reality tinged with just two colors.

All of the comics, including “O que dorme” are done in black, white, and green—and the addition of the bright, almost sickly green against the otherwise stark noir black-and-whites significantly enhances both the effectiveness of the individual stories, and the uniformity of the overall book—readers might compare the glowing green Loc-Nar from the Heavy Metal (1981) film, or the sickly yellow in Frank Miller’s That Yellow Bastard (1996)—it’s not that the Mythos are color-coded, since any entities that appear on the page can be seen in black and white as well, but only that the splash of color is used by the artists to convey subtleties of mood and atmosphere. Like in the title page, where the green is a faint tinge against the night sky.

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The setting is contemporary. The sensibility is postmodern. Captions and word balloons, but no thought bubbles, no sound effects. A rural community in the mountains which produces coffee. A young woman named Greta who can’t sleep, but stays up all night reading Edgar Allan Poe, a Bauhaus poster on her wall…

I always planned to leave as soon as I had money or a place to stay. Time passed and neither happened.

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Here, the green frames figures and offers contrast. Varies in depth and intensity, fading into the shadows on the corners, but distinct. It gives texture to what would be a blank wall, but doesn’t bleed past the outlines. The atmosphere is aggressively normal, yet something’s off. People talk about the heat, a bad smell, it hasn’t rained, the panels darken as it shifts to nighttime…most of the storytelling is expressed in these little details, showing rather than telling. Ordinary scenes and remarks receive significance only because they are what are being shown to the reader, in the same way as a David Lynch film or Mike Mignola’s Hellboy.

But the fact is that, little by little, everyone stopped sleeping. An entire city sleepless.

Things move quicker. The timeline grows uncertain, but within a panel the corpses appear, and things shift from uneasy to macabre. There is a Poe-like quality to the rapid downward spiral…but the reader knows there are pages left. How much worse can it get?

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The rain comes.

There’s nothing explicitly Mythos to any of this yet, no ancient tomes, not a whisper of alien entities or black stars. Everything that’s happened to this point, it could a disease, a toxic gas, simple madness as the heat and lack of sleep take their toll on frail human psyches. Then the rules change.

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The green in the story to this point had been balanced, contained, a highlight; this deep splash shows it as pervasive, all-encompassing…and a herald of what’s coming. Maybe it was always that.

The only ones who were saved were those who were lucky enough to be already dead.

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As narratives go, the twenty pages go by swiftly. This is a story all about mood and atmosphere, not explanations. No one is at fault, no one went poking about where they shouldn’t, or read the wrong spell and awakened the eldritch horror. There is no cult to worship the things that crawl down off the mountain. It isn’t a deep dive into the lore of the Mythos, though there is definitely some artistic influence from the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game on the design of the Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath. This is almost the definition of the Mythos as uncaring, not even necessarily malevolent, but simply destroying humanity by its very presence, like a tiger in the jungle stepping on so many ants.

“O que dorme” showcases the universality of the Lovecraftian experience. The liminal spaces we know are out there, the things that creep in from outside.

O Despertar de Cthulhu em Quadrinhos has not yet been translated into English.


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

“R. H. B.” (1978) by Andreas and Rivière

 

À Suivre (“To Be Continued”, 1978-1997) was one of the major Franco-Belgian comic magazines of the period, publishing such great European comics creators as Alexandro Jodorowsky, Milo Manara, Mœbius (Jean Giraud), François Schuiten, and Guido Crepax, a contemporary of magazines like Métal hurlant and Pilote, focusing on comics for a more mature audience.

“R. H. B,” by Andreas (Andreas Martens) and Rivière (François Rivière) was published in À Suivre 6-7, the July-August double issue for 1978. The title stands for Robert Hayward Barlow, friend and literary executor to H. P. Lovecraft. This coincides with the increased enthusiasm for Lovecraft in France, particularly the publication of LETTRES, 1 (1914-1926), which was published May 1978—a translation of Lovecraft’s letters, taken from volume I and part of volume II of Arkham House’s five-volume Selected Letters series. By comparison, Métal hurlant‘s Lovecraft special issue was published in September 1978.

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H. P. Lovecraft received a fan letter from a 13-year-old R. H. Barlow in June 1931; Lovecraft was then 41 years old, and the two continued corresponding for six years, until Lovecraft’s death in 1937. The two met in May 1934, when Lovecraft took a trip down to Barlow’s family home in DeLand, Florida, a visit which lasted seven weeks; they met again briefly in New York during the winter of 1934-1935, where Lovecraft was in the habit of meeting friends for New Years Eve, and Lovecraft repeated his trip to visit the Barlows in Florida in 1935, where he spent ten weeks with his hosts, but begged off the invitation to stay all summer. Their next visit was when Barlow came to visit Lovecraft in Providence, Rhode Island, 28 July 1936, when the teenager stayed more than a month at the boarding house behind Lovecraft’s residence. It was the last time the two would meet; Lovecraft would die of cancer on 15 March 1937. Lovecraft’s “Instructions in Case of Decease,” dating from 1936, named Barlow his literary executor…and it is through Barlow’s efforts that many of Lovecraft’s papers, unpublished stories, and letters were preserved at the John Hay Library.

The comic proper is presaged by an introduction by editor Marc Voline:

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At the time the Ides et Autres (“Ides and Others”) fanzine published an unpublished poem by Lovecraft (3), (A Suivre) presents a comic strip approach of the great writer universe. “Biography of Robert H. Barlow and his relationship with HP Lovecraft” is the first of a five-part series, collected under the title Mythographies. Andreas and Rivière designed this as a kind of oblique exploration, referential and ironic, of sometimes poorly known literary universe. As for Lovecraft the famous “hermit of Providence,” we wanted—they say—to prove that the legend that he would, during his life, never leaves the perimeter of New England was all simply false. From the thick and rather indigestible biography of the author of La malediction d’Ansmouth (“The Shadow over Innsmouth”) written by Lyon Sprague de Camp, we briefly identify with the existence of an endearing and terribly pathetic “fan” most assiduous without doubt Lovecraft. Robert Barlow well deserved homage …

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Most of the material in the comic would come from L. Sprague de Camp’s H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography (1975); this would not be available in French until 1987 when Richard D. Nolane translated it as H. P. Lovecraft ; le Roman de sa Vie, so the creators of “R. H. B.” were working through some linguistic hurdles and miscommunications. As Lettres 1 doesn’t have any actual letters from Barlow, essentially all of the material for “R. H. B.” was drawn directly from de Camp’s book, with many phrases translated directly from the English edition.

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Small issues of translation aside, this is a starkly beautiful comic, with fantastic linework by Andreas, who obviously referenced what photos of Lovecraft were available. Translation of the French above:

Robert’s is not a happy family. There are frequent conflicts between him and his father, who suffers from depression (he is paranoid and continually fears the coming of improbable enemies.) Bernice, the wife of the colonel, spoiled the only son and quarreled with his father.

In spring 1934, Robert makes a profit of the absence of his father to invite Lovecraft to De Land. In April this year, HPL makes this journey. Lovecraft, in contact with the hot climate of Florida, is in an unusual state. He presents himself to Barlow with hatless and coatless.

His first stay in the house of his admirer is as a dream thanks to Bobby, he will see for the first and last time in his life a river full of alligators, at Silver Springs!

By comparison, this is how de Camp described this encounter:

The family home was at De Land, Florida, seventeen miles inland from Daytona Beach. Barlow’s father, Everett D. Barlow, was a retired U. S. Army lieutenant colonel and something of a mental case. Subject to moods of intense depression, he suffered from delusions of having to defend his home against the attacks of a mysterious Them. He was cracked on religion and on sex.

Robert Barlow got on badly with his father. At this time, he told his friends that he hated the colonel; although later, after his parents had been divorced, he carried on a friendly correspondence with him. Robert Barlow’s mother, Bernice Barlow, spoiled and pampered her son (somewhat as Lovecraft’s mother had done with him) and quarreled with her husband over the boy’s upbringing.

In the spring of 1934, Barlow and his mother were at De Land while the father, in the North, recuperated with relatives from one of his attacks. In January, Robert Barlow began urging Lovecraft to come for a visit to Florida. By April, Lovecraft had planned the trip. […] At the Barlows’, the heat stimulated Lovecraft. In high spirits he went hatless and coatless and boasted of the tan he was working up. His one disappointment was in not being able to go on to Havana. He was consoled by a trip with the Barlows to Silver Springs. There he had his first view of a jungle-shaded tropical river and even glimpsed wild alligators.
—L. Sprague de Camp, H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography 393-394

There are some errors in de Camp’s portrayal, which were repeated by Rivière. Lt. Col. Everett D. Barlow had seen action during World War I, and may have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder; Lovecraft was aware of the elder Barlow’s mental illness and was notably more sympathetic than de Camp:

I surely am sorry that your father remains under the weather psychologically. These depressed states may be troublesome to others, & may seem exasperating when coupled with good physical health, yet they are really every inch as painful & unavoidable as any other form of illness. The victim can’t help himself any more than a victim of indigestion or cardiac trouble can. The more we know of psychology, the less distinction we are able to make betwixt the functional disorders known as “mental” and “physical.”
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 10 April 1934, O Fortunate Floridian! 125

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The narrative is, like most biographies, not some action-and-romance-packed account. Artist and writer manage to convey a sense time passing with the arrangement of the panels, particularly an extended shot of a kitten falling through perfect blackness that stretches out over several pages. While Lovecraft is the principal focus of the story because of the narrative, he dies in 1937…and Barlow’s story goes on, to his university education in Kansas, California, and then Mexico.

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He unfortunately suffers the cruel intolerance due to his particular sexuality, at present known to all. It is the subject of an odious blackmail as a result of links with a Mexican youth. On 2 January 1951, it takes a large amount of sedatives and falls asleep forever. He is 33 years of age.

There are large parts of Barlow’s life that are not included in this brief but poignant bio-comic, because de Camp was more focused on those parts of Barlow’s life that concerned Lovecraft. We don’t read much about his career as a poet or writer of fiction; the issue of his sexuality and how de Camp came to publicize it was touched on in “The Night Ocean” (1936) by R. H. Barlow with H. P. Lovecraft, and here we see an example of how information spreads.

Notably absent from “R. H. B.” is an accurate depiction of R. H. Barlow himself. De Camp didn’t include any photographs in his biography for Andreas to base his depictions on, and few photos of Barlow at that point had been published.

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Left to right: H. P. Lovecraft, R. H. Barlow, Bernice Barlow, unknown cat, Wayne Barlow

“R. H. B.” stands as an artistic achievement, and one of (if not the first) graphic adaptations of Lovecraft’s life to feature R. H. Barlow, who did so much to preserve his legacy. Others appear in Alan Moore & Jacen Burrow’s graphic novel Providence (2015-2017); Henrik Möller & Lars Krantz’s Vägan Till NecronomiconCreation of the Necronomicon (2017); Sam Gafford & Jason Eckhardt’s Some Notes on a Nonentity (2017); and especially in Alex Nikolavitch, Gervasio, Carlos Aón, & Lara Lee’s H. P. Lovecraft: He Who Wrote in the Darkness: A Graphic Novel (2018), which showcases Lovecraft’s first encounter with Barlow in 1934…and all of these showcase how Barlow’s story has assumed its own mythical proportion, entwined with Lovecraft’s own.

While it was not uncommon for works in À Suivre to be reprinted, other than the publication in À Suivre, the only other publication of “R. H. B.”  that I have been able to confirm is in The Cosmical Horror of H. P. Lovecraft: A Pictorial Anthology (1991), a tri-lingual guide to Lovecraft comics published up to that point, which reproduces six of the eight pages of “R. H. B.” and Révélations posthumes (1980), a collection of Rivière and Andreas’ biographical comics from À Suivre.


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

La Planète aux Cauchemars (2019) by Mathieu Sapin & Patrick Pion

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This is how you open a comic set in space.

When H. P. Lovecraft was writing science fiction in the 1930s, space was the province of rocket-men in slipstream vehicles that sailed from planet to planet, fighting wars between the stars with strange and terrible weapons from their clean, futuristic vessels of tomorrow…or they were cast onto some barbaric planet, to fight for their lives with sword and blaster, a la Robert E. Howard’s Almuric (1939) Lovecraft & Kenneth Sterling’s “In the Walls of Eryx” (1936). It was only the rare pulpster like Clark Ashton Smith in his Martian tales or C. L. Moore in her Northwest Smith stories that showed space as a little…grubby. A bit closer to the Wild West, where fortunes could be won and death was around every corner, where the “heroes” could be rogues and outcasts that shot first without conscience, and “civilization” and the associated laws, norms, and mores could be far away. Out on the borderlands of what is known, where things could get properly horrific.

The grimy, gritty, “lived in” nature of space opera is one of the hallmarks of Alien (1979). Space works very well for Mythos stories, and shown in “Elder Gods” (1997) by Nancy Collins“The Discovery of the Ghooric Zone” (1977) by Richard Lupoff & “In The Yaddith Time” (2007) by Ann K. Schwader, and the “Boojumverse” of Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette: “Boojum” (2008), “Mongoose” (2009), and “The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward” (2012). All of these are original works, pushing the Mythos beyond the present into a hypothetical future where humanity has at least begun to explore and colonize beyond their own planet. Extrapolating out past what Lovecraft & his contemporaries would have known of the universe.

La Planète aux Cauchemars (“The Planet of Nightmares,” 2019) is a bit different: it is a direct adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” only set entirely in space. This is a new dimension for Lovecraft country; the young woman trying to catch a cheap spaceflight to Arkham Beta takes a vessel from Newburyport through a planetary colony called Innsmüt, which has a bad reputation…

Mathieu Sapin wrote the adaptation (from Maxime le Dain’s translation of Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth”); Patrick Pion provided the artwork, Walter Pezzali the vivid colors, Jean-Luc Ruault the letters. As an adaptation, readers are basically familiar with the outlines of the story, and it’s not the plot that draws readers in—we know basically what’s going to happen, there are few surprises here on a strictly narrative level—it’s seeing what Sapin, Pion, & co. do with the idea. What does Innsmüt look like as a spaceport? How does that change the original story? What does that do to how our protagonist Agent Eva Orne interprets what she sees?

The cosmetic influence of the Alien franchise is there. Newburyport isn’t some pristine future. People worry about money, there’s dirt and grime, steam, rising up from vents before neon Japanese signs like a set-piece from Blade Runner, huge cables and tubes dominate the less-traveled sections, reminding us that space stations are, after all, mostly plumbing. Innsmüt itself is a dusty colony on the edge of a salty sea…a rundown future, a bare outpost of humanity (except the Innsmüt folk don’t look very human). Starscapes, stark and beautiful mark the transitions, and the panel layouts skew as Eva Orne drops down through the clouds to Innsmüt, where the Gilman hotel waits…and there are entire pages where not a word is needed to convey the action, because the silence works to the advantage here, letting the readers drink in the details and colors. The far towers of the Ordre de Dagon, the teeth on the dead fish washed up on the shores of the sea…Sapin knows not to drown a panel in paragraphs of descriptive text, that he can let Pion get on with the business of showing rather than telling.

The art for a lot of the bande dessinée is deliberately toned down—realistic in proportions, carefully planned and drawn, but the tones are flat, muted, the shapes largely sharply defined—until Orne dreams. Then the digital coloring makes a splash, the whole tone and lighting shifts to this dark quicksilver-tinted look, and the sharp inking give way to these beautiful painted pages that are gorgeous and hyper-real compared to the waking world. The shift is so abrupt that it makes the return to the waking pages jarring…but at the same time, if the whole book were done in that dream-like style, it would have not had the same impact. Keeping the shift in style to the dream sequence was the right choice. One of many good choices in this book, where Orne borrows more of her characterization from Ellen Ripley of the Alien franchise than from Lovecraft’s nameless protagonist.

The best lettering is what isn’t confined to the word balloons; I suspect this might be more of an issue where the creators were looking ahead toward potential translations, because there is plenty of space in the speech bubbles for the text, but it is mostly cramped and fairly prosaic. There are exceptions where the balloons convey the agitation and emotion of the speaker’s voice, but for the most part the dialogue comes across as very affect-less and probably the text is smaller than it needs to be. Easy to read, but doesn’t convey any emotion outside of one or two scenes, while the text written outside of the word balloons are very active and emotive sound effects—critch critch KLANG! FRRROUSHH!!! BOM BOM BOM—which are fantastic.

La Planète aux Cauchemars (2019, Rue de Sèvres) is a wonderful adaptation that really makes the most of its premise in a relatively brief 60 pages, and there are surprises there. It is only available in French at the moment, but I would be surprised if it didn’t end up translated before too long; unfortunately, not all the great bande dessinée works make it to the United States, but Dark Horse has done translations of Sherlock Holmes and the Necronomicon (2015) and Ablaze is currently translating Glénat’s Conan adaptations as The Cimmerian (2021), so perhaps English-speaking audiences in the US might get a chance to read this, which they should.

Mathieu Sapin and Patrick Pion previously collaborated on Les Rêves dans la Maison de la Sorcière (2016, Rue de Sèvres), an adaptation of Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch-House.”


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

The White People (2015) by Ibrahim R. Ineke

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…

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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)

Ibrahim R. Ineke’s The White People (2015) was published in regular hardcover and deluxe hardcover editions by Sherpa. A preview of the contents can be seen on Issuu.


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

HPL 1920 (2020) by Nick O’Gorman & Tales from the Cthulhuverse #1 (2020) by Zee Romero & Luca Cicognola

I repeat to you, gentlemen, that your inquisition is fruitless. Detain me here forever if you will; confine or execute me if you must have a victim to propitiate the illusion you call justice; but I can say no more than I have said already. Everything that I can remember, I have told with perfect candour. Nothing has been distorted or concealed, and if anything remains vague, it is only because of the dark cloud which has come over my mind—that cloud and the nebulous nature of the horrors which brought it upon me.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Statement of Randolph Carter” (1920)

The Lovecraft Mythos was written in a particular cultural syntax. H. P. Lovecraft never tells the reader, for example, that the characters in “The Statement of Randolph Carter” are white. Caucasian heterosexual male was the default state for pulp fiction, and for much of the popular fiction of the 20th century. Once a writer or artist realizes that this is the framework in which the Mythos was set during the time of Lovecraft and his contemporaries, it is easier to imagine how those same stories might look differently within a different context. So it is that adaptation can often remain relatively faithful to the original story in term of plot, characters, narrative, and dialogue, and yet add to the story by providing a different context which changes how the story is read and understood.

In comic books, two examples of this kind of adaptation are Nick O’Gorman’s HPL 1920 (2020) and Tales of the Cthulhuverse #1-3 (2020, Mythx Media). Both are indie horror comics that adapt three stories from H. P. Lovecraft—O’Gorman was specifically adapting stories from 1920, to be published on their centenary, while Tales of the Cthulhuverse aimed for more of an update on the classic Lovecraft tales by setting them in the 21st century. In both cases, the authors remained very faithful overall to the original story—but in both cases simple, subtle changes to presentation can drastically affect how the story is read and understood.

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HPL 1920 adapts “The Statement of Randolph Carter”—except now Randolph Carter isn’t an older white male, he’s an African-American teenager. This puts an entirely different perspective on talking with the police in any contemporary American context, and yet it doesn’t require any substantial change to how the story works—two people, searchers after horror, go into a graveyard and one descends while the other waits behind. The basic idea of “The Statement of Randolph Carter” is not particular to any particular race or culture; curiosity and breaking taboos are universal human traits. What changes the story is how we receive it when the person relating it is someone other than “the default”—African-American teenagers are subject to systemic bias by the justice system in the United States, which adds a layer of tension to the story…and O’Gorman plays with that, at least a little bit:

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Does a white male Randolph Carter in this exact same situation affect the reader in the same way—or is there a part of the story unspoken here, just in these two panels, because people of today can fill in the unwritten details? How would this scene have played out differently if it wasn’t two white cops? We can ask these questions because we’ve stepped outside of the cultural syntax which Lovecraft was writing in…and there are more possibilities to explore the Lovecraft Mythos than just changing up race.

It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to shew by this statement that I am not his murderer. At first I shall be called a madman—madder than the man I shot in his cell at the Arkham Sanitarium.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Thing on the Doorstep”

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Where HPL 1920 changes the race of the principal characters, Tales of the Cthulhuverse #1 changes the gender. Daniel Upton becomes Danielle, Edward Derby becomes Eve, Asenath Waite becomes Asa—there are a few other changes, since the setting is now contemporary Massachusetts (2020s) and the Danielle & Eve are college roommates of a similar age and unmarried; the plot is condensed down considerably—but the main change is simply a what if scenario:

How would “The Thing on the Doorstep” have changed if the genders had been reversed?

As with “The Statement of Randolph Carter” and HPL 1920, the initial response would be: not by much. Lovecraft’s original story already involves gender change due to body-swapping; in a literary shell game, it is largely irrelevant what the writer uses for shells, as long as the same relationships are in place. So it is in Tales of the Cthulhuverse #1, where much the same events as Lovecraft’s story play out despite changing the genders of the main characters. If that was all there was too it, the adaptation would be boring.

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Lovecraft’s frame for “The Thing on the Doorstep” is minimal: it’s a statement, but unlike “The Statement of Randolph Carter” it’s not to any particular party. Daniel Upton isn’t explicitly talking to the police; Danielle Upton in Tales of the Cthulhuverse #1 is. So like HPL 1920, there’s a specific dynamic of interaction being invoked—the police procedural dynamic, only this time a little more sympathetic. After all, Danielle Upton is a white woman…and so was Eve Derby.

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Domestic violence is not usually the first thing that springs to mind when reading Lovecraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep”—not because men aren’t subject to domestic violence and abuse, but because the audience is generally not used to thinking about his marriage in that context. Because Daniel Upton wasn’t talking to the police, they weren’t trying to fit two dead bodies and a bad romantic relationship into a context they understood in Lovecraft’s narrative. Change the genders, though, and suddenly this becomes a much more logical leap for the cops to make…and maybe another one.

Daniel Upton has a weird angle in Lovecraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep.” He is Edward Derby’s closest male friend, and Derby then marries Asenath, so Derby is caught between Daniel and Asenath. It isn’t explicitly a lover’s triangle because there are no indications that Daniel is homosexual (and if he is, being married and with a son indicates he’s at least in the closet), but the close relationships between men in some of Lovecraft’s stories have inspired homosexual interpretations of those stories (as explored in depth in Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos).

The exact same dynamic still applies in the Tales of the Cthulhuverse adaptation, and Zee Romero plays it as straight as can be (no pun intended)—there’s no explicit idea given that Danielle Upton is a lesbian or in love with Eve Derby in any kind of romantic sense. The story can be read as a perfectly platonic tale of shooting the bastard that stole the body of your best friend. That said, there’s also definitely enough subtext here to read it as a genuine lover’s triangle too—unlike Lovecraft, who gave Daniel a wife and baby to at least imply a heterosexual relationship, Romero doesn’t give Danielle any romantic interests at all. It is definitely an interesting way to re-imagine Lovecraft’s story…and that’s before the final revelations come out.

Ultimately, HPL 1920 and Tales of the Cthulhuverse are two parallel approaches with the same aim: contemporary writers and artists seeking to remain faithful to the core of Lovecraft’s narratives while also finding new things to say about those narratives in the way they present them. By and large they both succeed. If there’s a flaw in these comics, it’s not the approach, but sometimes the execution. Indie comics can’t always afford the most polished art, and it shows—the production values aren’t bad on either of these, but for Tales of the Cthulhuverse in particular the lack of detail in the gore and nudity feels like a misstep, or at least a missed opportunity. O’Gorman and Cicognola definitely know their material, because there are little allusions to the Gate sigil from the Simon Necronomicon and August Derleth’s version of the Elder Sign as popularized by the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game, but a lot more could have been done with these same scripts if Jacen Burrows, Kelly Jones, or Laci had been handling the material.

HPL 1920 was written, drawn, and colored by Nick O’Gorman, and funded through Kickstarter. Copies of the comic are available through his Etsy shop.

Tales of the Cthulhuverse #1 was written by Zee Romero, pencils and inks by Luca Cicognola, colored by Sean Burres, with a cover by Jeff Chapman, and published by Mythx Media. They are currently available for purchase on Comixology.


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

Black Stars Above (2019) by Lonnie Nadler & Jenna Cha

At length we observed a total change in their demeanour. From absolute stupor they appeared to be, all at once, aroused to the highest pitch of excitement, and rushed wildly about, going to and from a certain point on the beach, with the strangest expressions of mingled horror, rage, and intense curiosity depicted on their countenances, and shouting, at the top of their voices, Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!
—Edgar Allan Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838)

Of course common reading is what prepared us both to make the interpretation, though Danforth has hinted at queer notions about unsuspected and forbidden sources to which Poe may have had access when writing his Arthur Gordon Pym a century ago. It will be remembered that in that fantastic tale there is a word of unknown but terrible and prodigious significance connected with the antarctic and screamed eternally by the gigantic, spectrally snowy birds of that malign region’s core. “Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!” That, I may admit, is exactly what we thought we heard conveyed by that sudden sound behind the advancing white mist—that insidious musical piping over a singularly wide range.
—H. P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness (1936)

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Black Stars Above was published as a five-issue series from Vault Comics in 2019-2020, and collected in a trade paperback in 2020. The creative team was Lonnie Nadler (writer), Jenna Cha (artist), Brad Simpson (colorist), and Hassan Ostmane-Elhaou (letterer).

They tread rare territory.

Canada, 1887. Eulalie Dubois, a young Métis woman living on the edge of things with her family, trading moccasins and skinning muskrats. Yet at night she reads The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and hopes one day to escape this life. There’s fascinating intersectionality there—youth and gender and race, all mixed up and coming together. Then it gets weird.

There were Canadian pulp magazines. Not just the Canadian edition of Weird Tales, but home-grown pulps by Canadian artists, writers, and publishers, set in Canada. Where the United States had Westerns, there was also a market for Northerns, pulp stories and novels set in Canada’s Northwest Territories, often investigated by Mounties as in Tales of the North-West Mounted Police (Sep 1933). Like the Westerns, the Northerns were concerned with Canada’s frontier—the extremes of climate and survival that comprised man vs. nature, the stress on human relationships that added frisson to man vs. man, and out at the edge of the known world…sometimes things slip over into man vs. supernature.

There are a few “Weird Westerns” out there. Not so many “Weird Northerns.”

Contrast Jack London’s “To Build A Fire” (1902), which is a straight survival story with shades of psychological horror, and Algernon Blackwood’s “The Wendigo” (1910), where the extremes of the environment is only the beginning of the horror, the prelude to things. There are stranger things in the Northern woods, and plenty of mundane horrors—Nadler and Cha give us a taste of that in the opening chapter. A grandfather whose leg was cut off by Mounties. A mother discriminated against for being First Nations. A daughter sold into marriage, as long as she passes for white…

One of the key aspects of frontier fiction—Western, Northern, Sword & Planet, etc.—is the primary motivation for going into that frontier. Sometimes it is altruistic: Star Trek went on a mission to explore and investigate, to scribble in the borders of the map. Often, it’s meaner: people want to exploit the resources and indigenous peoples, make their fortune, and get out, as in H. P. Lovecraft and Kenneth Sterling’s “In the Walls of Eryx” (1939).

Black Stars Above plays with motivations very strongly and with great intent. Not just Eulalie Dubois in her mission, but everyone else in the story has some reason to be there, some hope or need or order that drove them beyond where they should have gone. Which drives them still, far past where they should have turned back. That is part of what makes the story work, above and beyond the weirdness that is very Lovecraftian but which does not make any attempt to tie in explicitly to the Cthulhu Mythos or any other; despite the reference to “black stars” and the obvious influence of Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow there’s no other direct connection to the Yellow Mythos as with “Slick Black Bones and Soft Black Stars” (2012) by Gemma Files or “While The Black Stars Burn” (2015) by Lucy A. Snyder. It borrows the weird cry from The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, but that is exactly all that it is: the cry of the weird. Out beyond the unknown, signifying something that can’t be deciphered.

There are great and terrible hints, but this is a narrative that does some of its best work by choosing to show rather than tell. Jenna Na’s art works well because when things are real, the panels are sharp and defined, close and intimate; and when she pulls back for the wider shots…when the gutters fade away…the dreamlike quality is stark and beautiful but somehow more epic in perspective.

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Brad Simpson’s colors add depth to the artwork. It would have been easy to leave this black-and-white, let the chiaroscuro hit the reader between the eyes, but the colors make the “real” portion of the story seem more real, and the “unreal” portions more strongly bizarre by contrast. There are a lot more shadows of darkness that can be shown with blues and reds than just white and black.

With the handwritten journal pages and Lovecraftian focus, it’s tempting to compare Black Stars Above with Alan Moore and Jacen Burrow’s Providence (2015-2017), and Lonnie Nadler does acknowledge the influence:

And just in terms of trying to do similar things, Alan Moore’s Providence. It’s definitely an influence on Black Stars Above, but I think it does different things, and more powerful things with responding to Lovecraft, in that it’s a direct response to Lovecraft and only to Lovecraft. (Well, I guess Chambers, too). I love that book. It doesn’t get enough credit in Alan Moore’s body of work. He said what he was trying to do was what Watchmen did with superheroes, Providence was trying to do for Lovecraft. And I think he very much accomplished that. And anyone who is a fan of Lovecraft, I think should read it, because it’s, it’s densely intelligent and rich. And I might like it more than Watchmen. And I say this, like, as someone whose favorite comic is Watchmen. I don’t know why, but people didn’t seem to latch on to that one like they do some of his other work. Maybe because Neonomicon was so off-putting to people.
—Robert Secundus, “Lonnie Nadler Part II: On ‘Black Stars Above,’ Margaret Atwood and why trains are weird” (28 Jul 2020)

Black Stars Above does do different things than Providence. For one, Eulalie Dupois does not follow Robert Black in suicide after the final revelations. Both of them faced the choices of simply going with the flow, to continue to exist without making waves. Neither of them could face that. Simply existing on the edge of things is not winning, even if the heart is beating and blood is pumping. Settling for a life of quite desperation on the end of everything, trapped in a life you don’t want…

For so many characters in such narratives, death is the only escape from the frozen hell.


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

“Unseen” (2020) by Claire Leslie

What if we focused an entire anthology on the gods and monsters of Lovecraft, instead of just the horror? How would that feel, especially since Lovecraft specifically kept the gods in the background, lest we look upon them and go insane?
—Russel Nohelty, Cthulhu Is Hard To Spell: The Terrible Twos

It is a popular trope—sometimes amounting to a complaint—that Lovecraft kept his most tremendous horrors off the page; that all of his bogeys and Mythos entities were impossible, indescribable, ineffable, and unnamable. The truth is a little more complicated. Lovecraft recognized that a reader’s imagination could go places which no artist could achieve with pen and ink, and often strove to put off showing the horror to let the terror build and build, to strengthen the atmosphere by degrees with careful excitation, to hint darkly to suggest certain things that were more effective for being unseen.

In this, Lovecraft was not alone. Guy de Maupassant’s “Le Horla” (1887), Ambrose Bierce’s “The Damned Thing” (1893), Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows” (1907) are all characterized by unseen or unseeable horrors; subtlety in description was characteristic of Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Machen, and M. R. James who were all influences on Lovecraft. Lovecraft was working within an established tradition when he held off from immediately describing the exact shape and form of some of some his Mythos entities in clinical detail…and yet, when the time came for them to appear, Lovecraft wasn’t shy about that either. Nor did the sight immediately drive the viewers mad.

Poor Johansen’s handwriting almost gave out when he wrote of this. Of the six men who never reached the ship, he thinks two perished of pure fright in that accursed instant. The Thing cannot be described—there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order. A mountain walked or stumbled. God! What wonder that across the earth a great architect went mad, and poor Wilcox raved with fever in that telepathic instant? The Thing of the idols, the green, sticky spawn of the stars, had awaked to claim his own. The stars were right again, and what an age-old cult had failed to do by design, a band of innocent sailors had done by accident. After vigintillions of years great Cthulhu was loose again, and ravening for delight.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”

“The Thing cannot be described”—then Lovecraft goes ahead and describes it.

Like many of the tropes of the Cthulhu Mythos, the idea of seeing a Mythos entity driving an individual insane is something that developed in the secondary literature, where authors were more likely to copy the more superficial aspects of Lovecraft’s work instead of the core themes that they served. Sandy Petersen in The Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game introduced the Sanity mechanic as a sort of mental equivalent to Hit Points in Dungeons & Dragons. In D&D, when your hit points run out your character dies and the game ends for that character; in CoC, when your Sanity runs out your character is insane and the game ends for that character. In games of Call of Cthulhu, seeing the monsters really does shave points off your Sanity. This has led to a lot of un-Lovecraftian behavior on the tabletop: player characters, wanting to continue to play, may deliberately avoid looking at the eldritch horrors as they toss a grenade or a stick of dynamite in that direction, or perhaps they might burn the ancient Mythos tome instead of suffering whatever Sanity it would cost them to read through the terrible pages.

In terms of illustrating the Mythos, this creates an obvious issue: how do you try to visualize and capture some of the indescribable quality of these entities and places? Some artists achieve at least partial success: John Coulthart’s R’lyeh in The Haunter in the Dark and Other Grotesque Visions springs to mind, the delightfully detailed morbid and erotic fantasies of Raúl Cáceres’ Insania Tenebris, probably a few others whose art isn’t afraid to tiptoe up to and past the point of taboo. Yet even if some of these images are haunting, they are ultimately just that: images. As with “The Picture in the House,” there’s not that sense that staring too long at them is going to shave off a few Sanity points or necessarily instill some terrible knowledge.

That is one of reasons that comics and graphic novels based on the Mythos are so interesting: it isn’t just a question of the technical quality of the artist, or even of the power of their conception and execution. It is the interaction of art and text which come together. Anyone can make a comic adaptation of a Lovecraft story; At the Mountains of Madness could be adapted on sticky notes with stick figures, and Lovecraft’s text would come through and hold the same power. The question is, what interplay is offered in the combination of art and text? How can one serve and enhance the other? What kind of stories can you tell in comic form, that would be impossible to tell with art or text alone?

“Unseen” by Claire Leslie is one such example. In four pages, Leslie manages a surprisingly complex narrative, not so much by what is spoken, but what is unspoken. The reader, looking at the page from without, sees more than one of the characters does—and there is plenty of room to read between the lines regarding what they want to say to each other, but can’t. As an exploration of a concept, the length is perfect: readers get a sense of the Lovecraftian goings-on, the slow build of intrusive elements, without getting tired of them. The whole story can be read in a few minutes, yet the reader might turn back to it two or three times and still find some new little detail to reflect on.

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Leslie’s style has a certain quality that’s somewhere between bishōnen and Tom of Finland, with a bit of a Gothic quality, reminiscent of Olivier Ladroit’s work for Requiem Chevalier Vampire, but with a more dreamlike quality to her digital paint technique, tight clothes on muscular figures, but with long, effeminate eyelashes and manicured hands. The art suits the writing; readers pick up on character traits without having to be told them directly, and this sells the idea of things left unspoken, or perhaps something else that one of the characters just cannot see but that the reader can.

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“Unseen” was created by Claire Leslie and published in Cthulhu Is Hard to Spell: The Terrible Twos (2020, 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. Leslie also did a separate mock cover for “Unseen,” which is available as a print from her etsy store.


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…

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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).

“Elder Gods” (1997) by Nancy Collins

Necronomicon,
freely translated, means the types or masks of death,
a museum of the most fabulous abominations and perversions.
The famous writer H. P. Lovecraft
was the first to mention this work,
in his Cthulhu mythology.
Many science fiction and fantasy writers have repeatedly mention this work
but it is only now, in
Giger’s Necronomicon,
that it has become reality for the first time.

—Opening statement to H. R. Giger’s Necronomicon (1992 edition)

In 1975, Swiss artist H. R. Giger, Dan O’Bannon, and Ronald Shusett were all working on Jodowrosky’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, but the production fell apart. In the aftermath, Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett would revive a script titled Memory, which then became a screenplay, at first under the working title Star Beast, which was eventually changed to the final title: Alien.

In 1977, as Star Wars blew up the box office (and showed the potential for science fiction films, so that 20th Century Fox greenlit Alien for production), Giger’s first major print collection of his work was published. Necronomicon borrowed its title from Lovecraft’s fictional tome, although none of the artworks within are explicitly based off of or depict anything in his fiction; some of the artwork came from the aborted production of Jodorowsy’s Dune.  A copy of the book made its way to Ridley Scott, who was directing Alien. Giger was brought on board the production to add his unique aesthetic sense to the design of sets and the eponymous extraterrestrial xenomorph itself. Dan O’Bannon would go on to direct The Resurrected (1991), an adaptation of “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” and is sometimes claimed to have been inspired by Lovecraft in writing the script for Alien—although as with Giger, nothing explicitly Lovecraft-related made it into the final film.

The slightness of the connection between Lovecraft and the Alien franchise may be one reason that critics consider Alien “Lovecraftian,” praising its atmosphere and approach as reminiscent of Lovecraft’s work, even as the film lacks any direct connection to the Lovecraft Mythos. As the Alien grew into a franchise with sequels such as Aliens (1986) and licensed comic books from Dark Horse (starting in 1988), more and more creators were drawn into the expanding Aliens mythosand at least a couple of them were keen on a more definite connection with Lovecraft and his works, if only for a bit of fun.

“Elder Gods” is a 16-page black-and-white comic story written by Nancy Collins, pencils by Leif Jones, inked by John Stokes, and lettered by Clem Robbins. It originally appeared in the one-shot Aliens Special (1997). Taking its lead from Aliens and Aliens 3, the script takes the reader to an off-world colony…but with a twist.

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Yes, Nancy Collins penned a tongue-in-cheek parody set in the Aliens franchise, where “Horace Payne Loveless” stands in for “Howard Phillips Lovecraft.” However, it is a loving parody. “Father Lumley” is a reference to contemporary Mythos writer Brian Lumley, and he inherited the mantle from “Father August” who was inspired by August Derleth, “Brother Ramsey” inspired by Ramsey Campbell, etc.; Loveless’ stories include “The Sign of Tulitu” (“The Call of Cthulhu”) and “The Abomination from Ipswich” (“The Dunwich Horror”), and so on and so forth. These are all Easter eggs for fans to spot in what is otherwise a very competent and workable Aliens sci-fi- horror comic; less of a distraction and more that little something extra.

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The art complements and expands on the script. “Elder Gods” is one of the few Aliens comics to never be colored, and the stark black-and-white works very well—Leif Jones has always had a talent for the chiaroscuro effect, and with Stokes’ inks they seem to just drink in the light from the page. The symbols of the cult throughout are reminiscent of the magical signs in the George Hay and Simon Necronomicons, but the Giger influence is also clear. Everybody knew what they were doing on this one, and it shows.

“Elder Gods” might be read as a stab at the “cult” of Lovecraft’s readers, or at least the occultists that take the creations seriously. However, there is no ironic twist, no comeuppance where the cultists realize that they’ve made an error. On the contrary, blind as they are to the realities and determined as they may be to try and fit what they see into their worldview…this is still an Aliens comic. What do you think is going to happen?

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Horror franchises, whether they be the Cthulhu Mythos or Aliens or whatnot, depend on the the audience knowing more than the characters in the work itself. While there can be plenty of surprises in store, part of the build-up of excitement and a sense of apprehension is recognizing what is going on before the characters on the page or on the screen. A sore throat by itself isn’t scary—but in an Aliens comic… It’s not a question of whether or not the xenomorph is going to appear. It’s when and how. The appeal of these stories isn’t necessarily in bloody bones and grue, but in the million variations on the established concept. Adding a Lovecraftian cult to the mix is definitely a new one.

The closing pages of the story are reminiscent of the transition from Alien to Aliens, where old sins and old threats have been forgotten, disbelieved. That is very Lovecraftian too. Lovecraftian protagonists tend to demand proof before they believe in the unseen things that challenge their worldview; cultists are more accepting, but still try and fit strange alien entities into a very limited, very human perspective. The reality of the xenomorphs is beyond both of them…and isn’t that true of the Alien franchise as a whole? It was a somewhat similar idea expressed in “At the Left Hand of Nothing” (2016) by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy, that the cults of Cthulhu and what not project human attributes and preconceptions onto entities that were never human to begin with.

Like a lot of the Dark Horse Aliens comics, this one has little lasting impact. It’s a little piece of a bigger franchise, often forgotten and overlooked—although it is worth pointing out that the idea of a xenomorph cult is not unique to “Elder Gods,” and who knows but that the story may have played its little part in seeding the idea further.

“Elder Gods” was first published in Aliens Special (1997), and has been reprinted in the Aliens Omnibus Volume 6 (2009) and is available as a digital comic from Dark Horse. Nancy Collins’ other Mythos fiction includes “The Land of the Reflected Ones” (1995) and “The Thing from Lover’s Lane” (1996).


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