Column: Global Ghoul: Young Lovecraft

By Dale Carothers

Young Lovecraft Written by: Jose Oliver. Art by: Bartolo Torres. KettleDrummer Books [in association with Diabolo Ediciones] (June 2009). USD $14.95. ISBN: 978-0-9778066-3-8.

Spanish creators Oliver and Torres take Lovecraft out of his pulp-era past and place him firmly in the present, so that he can suffer the same trials that I, and many of the other bookish, obsessive geeks who are now reading this review, suffered while in elementary school. Lunch-money-stealing bullies. Awkward interactions with girls. And a world that doesn’t understand our particular brilliance.

Young Lovecraft veers from light and funny to dark and macabre, without ever losing its feeling of consistency. And while Lovecraft’s problems are often familiar, his solutions – and the aftermaths that follow, are decidedly supernatural.

He responds to Big Joe’s bullying with a summoning, which goes awry because the demon has trouble understanding the social nuances involved in playground terrorism. Similarly, a homework golem fails in its task because it can only speak Yiddish, and because it lacks the educational background to complete the assignments.

If only I’d had access to young Lovecraft’s grimoires and demons while I was a boy (insert wistful sigh), the playgrounds of a certain Wisconsin school would, to this day, still be stained with burning bully jelly.

One of the funniest sections takes place during Halloween. Nobody understands the historical, or literary, specificity of Lovecraft’s costumes, leaving him frustrated and seeking new costumes that nobody will understand.

There are several one-page gags strewn throughout, where a young Lovecraft rewrites classic stories: Treasure Island, The Raven, Moby Dick, Don Quixote,and Dracula – wherein everyone meets a far more gruesome fate than in the original story. Often in the gaping maw of a tentacled beast.

These gags show Torres’s artistic flexibility. Most of the book is drawn in the stripped-down web comic style. Simple shapes and simple lines, with little in the background. Not to say that the art is bad. It’s goth-cute and moody. And the ever-present dark circles around Lovecraft’s empty little eyes seem to presage his coming isolationist madness. The gags (especially the ones near the end of the book) are more fully rendered, with thinner lines and more detail, giving them a delicate, but horrific, sensibility. I’d like to see what Torres could do with a serious horror book.

Oliver’s script is fast and funny. And even though the book has several one-shot gags, there’s an overall plot to follow.

This isn’t an historically accurate Lovecraft (as should have been obvious in the first paragraph of this review), but I think it’s worth mentioning. We geeks are an exacting lot, and take great joy in pointing out errors, while dazzling people with our encyclopedic knowledge of all things trivial. I’ve been on the receiving end of many of these pontifications and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy them. Oliver cops to his inaccuracies in the introduction, possibly to forestall the coming objections.

I know this sounds silly, but I’ve actually heard criticism of this kind spoken by the elder geeks where I live. I always listen because they outrank me; they geek at the Grandmaster level. And I’m already on thin ice with them for marrying outside the geekish faith. Though her love of Harry Potter and recent foray into George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series has earned her probationary status.

But accurate or not, it doesn’t matter; it’s the execution that counts. And Young Lovecraft is worth every penny. Matt Fraction attempted to forestall objections in much the same way in the introduction to The Five Fists of Science, but his execution of the story deserved a different brand of execution. The gallows or the guillotine? I haven’t decided.

Lance Hansen, publisher of KettleDrummer Books, has imported yet another book that was just plain fun to read. KettleDrummer Books now resides on my list of graphic novel publishers that offer something a little different. Like Fantagraphics, Top Shelf and Drawn & Quarterly, KettleDrummer is worth watching.

Rating: 8 out of 10