While H. P. Lovecraft’s stories are generally filed on the horrific side of the library, there’s no doubt that his writing is accessible to almost any age group. Unpleasant events in his stories generally happen behind a screen of cleverly structured sentences, spawning great unease in a timeless and highly atmospheric manner, and leaving enough to the imagination to scare the bejesus out of any reader. While most of his stories are not graphic in the modern horror sense, they are frequently about abominations squirming their way into humanity’s corner of the universe. This means that there are always lots of monsters in his work. And kids love monsters.
Bruce Brown takes advantage of this by creating two visually stunning graphic novels that follow the (we can only assume) fictional adventures of a young ‘Howard Lovecraft’. In ‘the Frozen Kingdom’, he innocently reads out forbidden passages from his asylum-bound father’s copy of the Necronomicon, promptly getting him flung into the ice-spelled lands of a Kingdom where the Elder Gods hold sway and deadly conspiracies abound. Howard must summon all his courage and daring to survive his journey there.
In the direct sequel, ‘Howard and the Undersea Kingdom’, (co-written this time with Dwight L. MacPherson), our young hero’s troubles only increase. Unpleasant beings from beyond are hunting him and his notorious book, and now his beloved mother is also in great danger. Luckily Howard’s knack for making strange alliances continues here too, introducing a fabulous policeman character who provides some much-needed heavy firepower. There’s also a cat which can more than hold its own against an oozing shoggoth or two, and plenty more insider references for old school fans to enjoy.
However, you don’t need to be a Lovecraft buff to get quickly drawn in by these stories. Although substantial liberties are taken with what’s known of H P Lovecraft’s life, this is a beautifully illustrated and often very funny introduction to the Cthulhu Mythos and its gruesome gallery of monsters. The dialogue is hilarious, and the increasingly terrifying situations are played with a tongue firmly in cheek, especially when Howard acquires his new best friend, ‘Spot’, who is an utterly charming and thoroughly unlikely side-kick. The powerful artwork also keeps the mood strange but wholly accessible.
In fact the illustrations, rendered in both novels by Renzo Podesta, are truly gorgeous. A lush approach to line and colour breathes sweeping life into the endless frozen wastelands and deep green undersea landscapes, as well as giving a vast scope to the towering eldritch abominations. The monsters look appropriately sinister, yet some are strangely appealing (Spot!). Happily there’s no skimping on the tentacles, or on the potential horror of the situations. This is adult horror gentled through a child’s eyes, playing on Howard’s joyful wonder and feeling more like a coming of age quest, or a decent 1980s teenage-orientated film with a very large budget. While there are somedark moments, there certainly aren’t any decapitated heads in here, but it doesn’t hide the bleak, shadowy nature of the dangerous dimensions where Howard winds up.
Bruce Brown’s graphic novels are a brilliant introduction to H P Lovecraft and certainly are suitable for ‘all ages’. You’ll laugh, you’ll groan, and you’ll cheer, and then quickly check the back of your sofa for shoggoths. A gorgeously presented collection, these two books really aren’t enough. Luckily, it seems likely that there’s another sequel on the way!
Lovecraft Week on the Haunted Eyeball:
Lovecraft Week themed week ends tomorrow, but horror and H P Lovecraft especially will always be a recurring subject here on the Haunted Eyeball!