Many of the graphic novels I have read could rightly be described as comics. This is not a derogatory term just a description that puts them in the entertainment category. This work does not seem like a comic. It attempts a much grander claim to fame. If there was a category called graphic literature then this might be its first occupant.
The story is taken almost verbatim from the H.P. Lovecraft novella of the same name published in 1936. Lovecraft was and still is heralded as one of the godfathers of modern horror/ science fiction. His tale and the way he tells it evokes as much power today in this new format as the original short story did. Like many of his works it deals with normal, rational people uncovering otherworldly secrets that man was not meant to know. It concerns an Antarctic expedition that discovers something unexpected.
The original story is told by a narrator remembering the tragic fate of the expedition he was on. Much of it is told through reports, journal entries and frightening radio broadcasts. Whilst these don’t necessarily lend themselves to a visual retelling they have been captured with consummate ease. You do get the claustrophobic feeling that you are peering into another’s memory of the past. Like a grandfather’s tales of mysterious sea voyages this work manages to evoke an ‘edge of your seat’ wonder that Lovecraft used so well.
The art is exceptional. It really reminds me of Tintin in so many ways. There is less detail than many modern comics but more use is made of lighting. This story does not feel drawn but animated. Many of the panels are composed cinematically and you almost get the feel that the frames are illuminated, giving them an atmospheric flicker as the oil lamps sputter and cast sinister shadows over the characters. This is the first time I have seen such a technique used and it really elevates this work beyond any of its contemporaries. The colours are superb whilst maintaining the bleached landscape of the Antarctic and the grubby browns of a fir-clad expedition with oilcloth tents and wooden sledges.
Part of Lovecraft’s technique is that he describes alien vistas and creatures that can barely be imagined let alone drawn. When you actually see the monsters he describes realised on paper they look odd rather than terrifying. This is true of any work but this one rises to the occasion admirably and uses their depiction sparingly. I was not convinced by the interpretation of an alien city unfortunately. It did look as if someone has just cut and pasted Manhattan skyscrapers into the snow. This was a letdown but their interiors with strange carvings and murky lighting did help to persuade me.
Moving Lovecraft’s work to a visual medium virtually always fails as seen by the number of shockingly bad films out there. This work is not only the best of the bunch but an incredible success by any standard. Wholeheartedly I give this work a Double Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: Fort – Peter Lenkov