Guest blogger: Matt Badham ‘A prime piece of Lovecraft real estate…’

I recently interviewed a whole bunch of people for a piece about SelfMadeHero’s new Lovecraft Anthology. The resulting article for the Judge Dredd Megazine included quotes from writer Ian Edginton, which came from the below interview. I’m grateful to Ian for his permission to publish the interview in full here on the SelfMadeHero blog:

Which story have you adapted?

‘The Call of Cthulhu’, and a prime piece of Lovecraft real estate it is too, if I may make so bold. I’m working with my old chum and artiste extraordinaire Mr Matt Brooker aka D’Israeli.

Lovecraft’s writing was as often about what he didn’t ‘show’/describe as what he did. How difficult is it to realise the ‘Lovecraftian’ approach in a visual medium like comics?

We were fortunate in that the classic Lovecraftian trope of having an ‘indescribable horror’ show up doesn’t really feature here. If anything, this is something of a noir story. It’s primarily a detective story with the protagonist pulling events together from a variety of disparate sources. It reminded me a great deal of the two HBO movies from the early 90′s, Cast a Deadly Spell and Witch Hunt. They’re set in 1948 Los Angeles but it’s a world where magic works and everyone uses it except private detective Philip H Lovecraft. They’re shamefully not available on DVD but I think you can find them to watch on-line.

But I digress…

Unlike some of the Lovecraft stories, we do get to see the creature in question but I know Matt was left with a bit of a poser when he had to draw the tomb it’s found in. It comprises this other dimensional architecture whose alien angles swallows some of the hapless sailors. Try putting that puppy on paper! To his credit Matt worked it out splendidly and it does make a wonderfully disturbing scene.

Are you a fan of Lovecraft?

Definitely. His influence crops in my work quite often, most notably in Stickleback and Ampney Crucis Investigates. I actually discovered Lovcraft via the wonder of Woolworths! Way back in the 1970’s Woolies would have remainder bins full of paperbacks and it was there I picked up a whole slew of Clark Ashton Smith novels with the outstanding Bruce Pennington covers. They were my gateway drug if you will that then led me on to Lovecraft, William Hope Hodgson, MR James, Algernon Blackwood and then, by extension, Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison, etc.

Why do you think his work has endured?

That Lovecraft’s work has endured is thanks in no small part to August Derleth and Donald Wandrei who collected his works and endeavoured to get them published after his death. When they didn’t get much interest, they founded Arkham House and published them themselves. I think Derleth came up with the term Cthulhu Mythos than encompasses the fictional universe Lovecraft (and later others) created.

Lovecraft has a wonderfully elegant prose style, melded with a pulp storytelling sensibility. The stories are tight and simple yet on a monumental scale. The concept of the ‘Elder Gods’ or the ‘Old Ones’ dwarfs humanity. They’re not necessarily out to get us — that for all our arrogance and imagined self-importance, we are nothing, we’re insignificant and that’s where the horror lies.

Conceptually, the stories were ahead of their time in their notion of multiple dimensions and so on, which of course these days we’d more readily identify as being allied to Quantum physics.

SelfMadeHero is a small publisher that seems to be making big noises; it seems to have generated both critical and commercial success. Why do you think this is (and in the midst of a recession too)?

They’ve been very canny in their choices. Picking titles that are not only commercially viable but also critically notable which helps them circumvent the clichéd tights and cape mentality that comics are forever burdened with and access the very lucrative schools and library markets.

On a personal note, I have been in the comics business for close to twenty years now and it’s only while working for SelfMade that the books I’ve written have not only been reviewed but specifically featured in the broadsheet newspapers. Last year artist Ian Culbard and I were invited to the Hay-on-Wye literally festival, we were supposed to talk to about fifty people but the demand was such that we were moved to and filled a marquee tent! And I guarantee the majority of the people there had never set foot inside a comic shop.

Emma, Doug and Lizzy at SelfMade (yes there are only three of them!) all hail from a background in book publishing and have a solid grasp on how to handle their publicity and promotion. With neither the budget nor staff to launch massive campaigns, they target their markets and concentrate their resources where they’ll do the most good and it’s paid off.

My only concern is that they’ll become a victim of their own success and as interest and demand grows, they’ll need to expand beyond their current business model and may lose some of that originality that makes them so unique.

Would you like to adapt more Lovecraft? Any particular stories and why those ones?

The Mountains of Madness but Ian Culbard’s beaten me to the punch, damn his eyes! Not only that, he did a cracking job too! Artists, writing! Where will it end!

What general challenges are there when it comes to writing horror comics? Can comics scare?

It’s depends on who’s doing the writing and drawing and what the material is, but I do think comics can still have the ability scare the reader providing it’s done right. The old EC horror type stories have pretty much passed into cliché and it’s more about ideas, about the concept and how it’s executed.

I remember reading an old issue of Hellblazer that creeped me out far more than I expected. It was a stand-alone issue written by John Smith and basically was about a group of little old ladies in a late night launderette awaiting the return of one of their number from the dead.

It seemed fairly innocuous enough, but Smith gradually cranked up the creepiness. When the old dear in question finally turned up at the end, all you saw were her feet, one wearing a slipper, one barefoot and the plastic carrier bag she was carrying. Inside it was something, heavy, dark, wet and dripping. Even now it gives me the shivers to think of it.

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Matt Badham is a freelance writer living and working in Manchester. His writing has appeared in the Big Issue in the Norththe Judge Dredd Megazine, 2000ADTripwire and Comics International. He has also provided online content for both the Forbidden Planet International blog and downthetubes.

Plus he’s sold a few comic scripts, although only two have been published so far (in 2000 AD and Commando Picture Library).

The Lovecraft Anthology – Volume 1 is available to buy from the SelfMadeHero online store and many, many excellent independent comics and bookshops nationwide.



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