In the early 20th century, Howard Phillips Lovecraft pioneered new territory in the horror tale. As society’s scientific understanding grew, his stories of cosmic horror advanced the boundaries of the unknown, from superstition to terrors more probable and horrifying: ancient beings from outer space that once had domain over Earth. As our knowledge of the universe’s greatest secrets expanded exponentially, so too did our conception of how little we really understood. Therein lies the key to Lovecraft’s enduring relevance.
A veritable cottage industry of Lovecraftian horror is alive and well today, especially in comics. This is despite the fact that it’s no easy task to adapt these tales. Much of their effect springs from Lovecraft’s anachronistic language, which doesn’t lend itself easily to a visual medium, and the vagueness of his descriptions of horrors the human mind can’t experience without going mad, of which any attempt to depict has to fall short, or risk losing one’s readers.
The folks at SelfMadeHero, a publisher who specializes in literary adaptations, undertake this challenge with The Lovecraft Anthology: Vol. 1. This collection focuses on the Cthulhu Mythos, loosely connected stories of tragically curious individuals who just can’t resist peeking behind the metaphorical curtain, usually chasing some rumor or ancestral connection that inevitably leads them to strange cults and encounters with these ancient and terrifying demigods from beyond the stars, and, from there, usually to madness and/or death.
Editor Dan Lockwood’s approach is to preserve as much of the first-person narration as he can without overwhelming the illustrations, and to employ a series of stylistically varied artists to attempt to capture Lovecraft’s singular combination of disquieting mystery, grotesque horrors and ancient, otherworldly artifacts.
It’s a juggling act, which is on the whole successful. While cutting down on the narration and dramatizing more of the events might make for a more effective comic, it would also make for a less Lovecraftian effect. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages, and Lockwood elects to go the route more faithful to the source.
The highlight, David Hine and Mark Stafford’s adaptation of "The Colour Out of Space," about a meteor that crashes in a rural community and begins to rot the vegetation and, eventually, the inhabitants, nails the nauseating grotesqueries of the story to great effect.
For the reader who wants to find out what Lovecraft is all about without parsing his at times tangled prose, The Lovecraft Anthology is a fitting primer. The diehard Cthulhu cultist will most likely enjoy the varied interpretations, if only to marvel at the infinite ways readers continue to draw on the author’s journeys into the unknown.