Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Visions of Monstrosity: Lovecraft, Adaptation and the Comics Arts

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Visions of Monstrosity: Lovecraft, Adaptation and the Comics Arts

Article excerpt

In the last five years, the number of graphic adaptations of Lovecraft's fiction has grown at a rapidly increasing rate. The comics publisher Self Made Hero has been especially busy, producing six volumes since 2010: At the Mountains of Madness (2010), The Lovecraft Anthology I (2011), The Lovecraft Anthology: Volume II (2012), The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (2012), The Shadow Out of Time (2013), and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (2014). Though most of these volumes cover individual tales, The Lovecraft Anthology takes on a more ambitious range of tales, including, among others, "The Call of Cthulhu," "Dagon," "The Colour out of Space," "Pickman's Model," "He," and "The Hound." Although these volumes help foster Lovecraft's ever-growing popularity, they also provide an opportunity to bring critical attention to the ways comics can shed light on our understanding of adaptation, of Lovecraft's fiction, and, perhaps, even of the weird itself.

In this article, I draw on selections from The Lovecraft Anthology to suggest that comics is intrinsically suited to conveying Lovecraft's distinctive and influential visions. I will begin, however, with a brief discussion of Lovecraft's personal interest in the visual arts and the ways he drew on them to enhance his descriptions of weird places and weird events. Next, I will discuss how adaptation theory can help scholars understand the inevitable practical and stylistic challenges, particularly in film, that occur when transforming Lovecraft's ornate fictional work into other media. Following that, I will turn to examples from The Lovecraft Anthology to suggest that comics may not only be the medium best suited to adaptation but that they can also underscore the broader connections between word and image so important to Lovecraft. Indeed, certain properties of comics, such as aforementioned interplay of words and images, not to mention the potential for readers to become completely immersed in the text, endow this medium with the power to engage readers in complex ways, perhaps even challenging conventional notions of reading itself. Given Lovecraft's own personal interest in the visual arts, not to mention his fascination with illustrated tales, graphic adaptations seem an appropriate way to help contemporary readers focus attention on the dynamic relationship between word and image and can even help them develop a better understanding of the weird.

Lovecraft and the Visual Arts

Lovecraft was captivated by the visual arts from his earliest years. In a 1916 letter, he comments on the way an edition of Paradise Lost illustrated by Gustave Dore not only fueled his imagination but was also the likely origin of the fearsome creatures he termed "night-gaunts," which, in "fretting & impelling [him] with their detestable tridents," frequently disturbed his childhood slumber and eventually found their way into his tales (Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner 68). As S. T. Joshi observes, "the utterly outre nature of [these] malignant entities" was to imbue Lovecraft's writing with a far-from-conventional aura of cosmic horror (A Dreamer and a Visionary 20). Dore's illustrations held a peculiar and enduring source of morbid fascination for Lovecraft, developed his budding "interest in the weird" and intrigued him with thoughts of the powerful connections between the visual and the literary (Joshi, "Explanatory Notes" 384). In 1928, Lovecraft again explained the power of the visual arts over his imagination. As he wrote to Vincent Starett, he found the "unholy abysses & blasphemous torrents [and the] terraced titan cities in far, half-celestial backgrounds" produced by the nineteenth-century English painter John Martin to be "a form of aesthetic appeal so especially potent to [his] individual imagination" (Lovecraft, "To Vincent Starrett" 219-220). Though he gave special praise to the lurid creations of Dore, Lovecraft also greatly admired the Gothic work of Henry Fuseli and the nightmare visions of Francisco Goya. …

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