By Ben Cooper
Graphic novels have seen something of a growth in mainstream popularity in recent years. With adaptations of V For Vendetta, 300 and, of course, the long-awaited Watchmen, the red-headed step-child of novels has become slightly more acceptable to non-geeks. Over here in England, the shelves of bookstores now have dedicated sections for graphic novels, perched next to that other literary slum, SF/Fantasy/Horror, like a newly-erected shanty town, and that’s no bad thing. Graphic novels bridge that gap between comics, books and films in an, at times, highly-satisfying way, though, for every Watchmen, there are dozens of infantile anime spin-offs.
Arcana’s Howard Lovecraft and The Frozen Kingdom (from here on in, TFK to save my fingers and your eyes) is intended as an introduction to the world of good ol’ HP, and is primarily targeted at younger readers, seen as it is from the eyes of a very young Lovecraft.
The story follows a young Lovecraft visiting his father at an asylum for Christmas – a nice biographical touch as Lovecraft’s father was indeed committed and ended his days raving in such an institution. Whilst there, HP escapes from his mother and talks to his father, who pleads with him to destroy a notebook he has kept which contains many dark secrets and has driven him mad (a familiar trope from many of Lovecraft’s stories). But the book isn’t destroyed. Instead, it lands squarely in Lovecraft’s lap as a Christmas present and the secrets contained within break that thin veneer between our world and that of the Cthulhu Mythos, dragging the young Lovecraft into the realm that drove his father insane.
The writing is clean and simple, as you would expect from a graphic novel aimed at the younger reader, and the plot-line is straightforward and largely action-oriented. It teams Lovecraft up with a Cthulhu-like creature, Thu Thu Hmong, renamed “Spot” by the young HP, and who later becomes something much more sinister. Spot becomes indebted to Lovecraft for saving its life and the pair head out on a kind of buddy-movie-like adventure through the Cthulhu Mythos. The relationship that develops between the two has a real Calvin and Hobbes feel about it and there are some nicely humorous exchanges between the pair as they come to grips with each other’s very different worlds.
It has to be stressed that if you have even a passing knowledge of Lovecraft’s work, and the Cthulhu Mythos in particular, TFK won’t offer up anything new. However, what it does do is offer a fun and easy way for a younger reader to grasp some of the bigger elements and themes of Lovecraft’s world – such as: a cold indifferent universe, terrible things beyond the edges of our perception always waiting to rise again and, of course, some of the major names, such as: Dagon, Cthulhu and R’Lyeh. I’m not sure any young child could really come to terms with these ideas in a complete fashion, and reading Lovecraft for a modern child would be akin to waterboarding them; his thick, turgid prose (this is a fan talking!) is completely at odds with even modern adult fiction. So Brown’s attempt to distil the essence of Lovecraft and make it accessible to younger readers is, of course, limited but on the whole successful.
The artwork is as, if not more, important in achieving this rendering of Lovecraft’s world as the story and writing. Renzo Podesta keeps things fairly simple and bold, and TFK is all the better for it.
The use of strange angles and muted colours in the asylum scenes renders a strong feeling of the “weird” and Podesta has a good eye for detail, using close-up frames to make the reader acutely aware of Lovecraft’s discomfort in the asylum (the real HP had a life-long aversion to hospitals). Adult faces are also kept nondescript, helping to emphasise the divide between the child protagonist and the “real world” around him.
Podesta gives much more detail to the world of R’Lyeh, and his use of strong, simple colour schemes to emphasise the difference between the world of the Mythos, somehow more alive and vibrant to the young HP, and his life in Providence works very well. The feeling evoked by the artwork throughout is eerie yet, in many ways clean, as though seen through the eyes of a child unable to fully grasp the true terror around him.
It’s hard to recommend TFK to adult readers who are fans of Lovecraft’s work. It hurts to say that because I really enjoyed it. The story is fun and quick and the artwork is quite captivating, but for adult fans of Lovecraft, it doesn’t deal with the dense philosophy and dark elements of his world that make his work so enduringly popular. If you’re a collector of all things Lovecraftian, then it will make a nice addition to your collection but nothing more. However, as a primer for younger readers, this is an absolute gem, so I’m going to give my final verdict judging it on its intended audience and its own merits.
The verdict: Two tentacles up!