Thursday, January 19, 2012

Howard Lovecraft and the Undersea Kingdom

Howard Lovecraft and the Undersea Kingdom was sent to me as a preview copy.  Please be aware that this "Lovecraft" is a horror-fantasy character, so if you just read Mr. Joshi's magnum opus biography of HPL you might be a little confused.

In this alternate reality, Howard is maybe about 6 years old (his father is still alive) and the mighty sleeping one Cthulhu is named "Spot" by little Howard.  The images drawn by Thomas Boatwright are a radical mixture of minimalism, pastels, and abstraction.  The writers, Brown and McPherson are clever with asides and wit - like one might have in an old "What's Up, Doc" Chuck Jones cartoon.  It is not all whimsy, there is also a deadly and Lovecraftian seriousness about this graphic novel.  These characters could be killed, or suffer a madness that would be much worse than death.  The evil food chain ascends eldritchly upward so that even the devils themselves could be consumed if they fail in their unstated mission.

This is Lovecraft, so there is always a "book".  Whether the book is a book, or the book is a metaphor, it is immediately critical to the plot and the devil's missions.  But in this case, He Who Dreams and Should Not Be Named, is quite tame and kind of sweet.  The world is somehow very wrong, and this little boy, Howard, must somehow make it right.  That's quite a task, if this were really a little boy, but it seems that the boy is also a paradigm of wisdom and enlightenment.

How this plays out is not hinted at the end of chapter one, but rest assured the next chapters are equally entertaining.  However, here are a few hints of the energetic fun and horror in the next chapters.

In chapter two a very interesting character appears, one who would be perfect had he been a real actor in an old Basil Rathbone movie.   You may find the character funny, or eerie, but I found this character  one of my favorites.  Then "Spot" gets himself in – well – a spot.  Will he escape in time to save Howard?  We wonder if Howard's father is mad, or is he as sly as a warped Yukon Cornelius?  Then before chapter two ends, some very Innsmouthian manifestations occur.  And oh, my, what they do to good old 454 Angell Street!

In chapter three, as a cat lover, I cringed at what might happen to Howard's little black cat.  Then come the "bubbles".  Very clever of the artistic maestro to think of that!  Whether the writers or the artists are responsible for the many sound effects, kudos to each who had a part.  I live in the part of the country that has cicadas.  I hate 'em.  But I'd take a pack of them before I would that horrid winged thing that attacks our beloved team.  (I do believe in spooks, I do, I do!) Then as we close in on the end of the last chapter, we suddenly understand the title of the graphic novel!

I enjoyed the full panel scenes, and the way that the story boards were not just rectilinear predictability, but kept me on my toes.   I loved the small homages to many very old movies, or if that was unintended I suppose I'm showing my age and love of old films.

Bruce Brown and Dwight McPherson are masters of writing.   E. T. Dollman's lettering is clean, readable, and artistic in its own way.  Thomas Boatwright so captivated me, I had to go online and see more.  What I saw confirmed what I initially thought:  Not only can he do classic illustration, but he has a style all his own.  If he continues, hymns will be written about his artistic career.

The Undersea Kingdom is in this months "Previews" and can be ordered from comic shops right now.

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