Lovecraft Week! Review: ‘Howard Lovecraft and the…’

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!

Highly recommended.

View all my reviews

Also related:

You Know, For Squids…

Lovecraft Week on the Haunted Eyeball:

Review: ‘Future Lovecraft’ anthology by Innsmouth Press

1980s cartoons & Lovecraft: The Real Ghosbusters ‘The Collect Call of Cathulhu’

Bite sized Lovecraft stories by James Pratt

Lovecraft Week themed week ends tomorrow, but horror and H P Lovecraft especially will always be a recurring subject here on the Haunted Eyeball!

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Lovecraft Week: Real Ghostbusters ‘The Collect Call of Cathulhu’

People who love horror often started their fascination early on. For instance, if you grew up in the 1980s, it seemed you could scarcely move for cartoon monsters, demons and Dungeons and Dragons. Even My Little Pony had a particularly nasty beast at one point. But the The Real Ghostbusters in particular stand out from its animated peers. Spawned from the phenomenal success of Ghostbusters (1984), the early seasons of The Real Ghostbusters were created with the full blessing and influence of Dan Akroyd and co. It also had some very decent writers, most notably J Michael Straczynski. Upon revisiting, some twenty-plus years later, The Real Ghosbusters remains streets ahead of many similar shows at the time, especially in terms of unusual storytelling and enjoyably snarky adult characters.

Although the animation isn’t as lush or fluid when compared to modern cartoonage, it’s extremely well produced and the sheer inventiveness of the ghosts, and the cynical banter between the Ghostbusters themselves, are a real joy. The lesson here is that cynicism doesn’t age! No part of pop culture or ancient history, was out of bounds and it drew from anything and everything, ranging from Citizen Kane to Norse Mythology, and of course, good old Howard Phillips Lovecraft.

Which explains the episode ‘The Collect Call of Cathulhu’. Punning on Lovecraft’s famous Call of Cthulhu story, and written by Michael Reaves, we can assume that the misspelling of ‘Cthulhu’ in in this title is so the kids watching won’t be confused about how it’s pronounced. Equally, it could have been done to piss off rabid H P Lovecraft fans. Your call, Eyeballers.

Of course, the episode’s plot is just a little hokey – some mook from the Miskatonic University opts to display the notorious Necronomicon at the New York Public Library (did the Ghostbusters ever dispatch their first ghostly encounter there?) Of course the tome gets stolen, our guys are called in to find it, and the Ghostbusters soon face off against some aggressive and fast-regenerating Cathulhu(sic) Spawn underground. This sewer attack is actually played pretty straight, the guys look absolutely terrified (and they’re hardened ghost fighters after all!) so the Cthulhu/Cathulhu awakening is really a pretty big deal. It could even be considered pretty dark.

Cathulhu, Cthulhu, Ghostbusters, Collect Call of Cthulhu, H P Lovecraft, horror

However, including overt references to the Cthulhu Mythos (mainly from the August Derleth perspective, it seems) in a show ostensibly aimed at kids really isn’t so surprising. Let’s not forget that the first Ghostbusters movie is effectively a Lovecraftian movie all on its own. The live-action Ghostbusters battled Gozer the Gozerian, the Destructor, ender of reality and turner of innocent apartment dwellers into giant monstrous ‘dogs’. Oh, and several makers of the original Ghostbusters film also worked on Heavy Metal, an animated film not without its own blatant Chthulhu references (and a few more nekkid boobs, too)!

Including Cathulhu/Cthulhu in the plot here just seems like a natural step. It’s not taken too lightly, either, even though there are some priceless lines such as “Anything that looks like Godzilla wearing an octopus hat shouldn’t be hard to find.” – Pete Venkman.
To emphasise just how serious the threat of Cathulhu’s return actually is, Egon points out that Gozer is “Little Mary Sunshine” in comparison. Yikes. (Think how big that Twinkie must be!) This neatly provides viewers who’ve never heard of Cathulhu/Cthulhu (for instance, all the under-fives in the audience at the time of broadcast!) with a sense of the scale of a ‘dreaming’ god that could kick Gozer’s ectoplasmic rear back across infinity. Again, yikes.

So, how do the Real Ghostbusters cope with battling the greatest threat to humanity to world has ever known? Check out the video of the episode just below to find out:

For sheer fan service, The Collect Call of Cathulhu is an outstanding episode. From Pete Venkman lusting over Ms Derleth, then battling ‘Cathulhu’ with a proton pack from a moving rollercoaster, to Egon basically saying ‘we’re screwed’, and Ray’s love of Weird Science magazines helping them to win in the final showdown, frankly it’s all over a bit too fast.

Points if you spot the blatant Scooby-Do ending, too. Also, South Park also seem to have been influenced by this episode’s approach to the Mythos in their recent episodes. It can’t be a total coincidence that Cartman meets his own Cthulhu while he’s on a rollercoaster, can it?

Coming up tomorrow – Innsmouth Press presents Future Lovecraft stories

Coming up on Thursday – H P Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom by Bruce Brown

Don’t miss:

Lovecraft week, day one – James Pratt’s bite-sized Lovecraftian horror stories reviewed 

Also of interest

You know, for Squids!

Innsmouth Magazine Issue 8 reviewed