Further to yesterday’s interview with writer Ian Edginton, here’s a chat I conducted with artist D’Israeli, aka Matt Brooker. Matt is Ian’s collaborative partner on an adaptation of ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ for the new Lovecraft Anthology from SelfMadeHero.
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?
‘Call of Cthulhu’ is a little different from some of Lovecraft’s other stories, in that it’s a sort of detective story, one man piecing together disparate scraps of information to uncover the truth. Everything significant in the story is reported third hand, so I’ve gone for a fairly prosaic storytelling style with relatively few odd angles (the standard way of generating a sense of unease in comics), and indeed the drawing style I’ve used precludes heavy use of shadow (another classic horror comics device.)
What is really difficult with Lovecraft is the occasional thing he drops in that’s just plain undrawable – for example, a “…monstrous acropolis whose very geometry was abnormal and loathsomely redolent of dimensions apart from ours” – I have to confess that despite a fair amount of thinking and work, I never really got to grips with that one! There’s also a bit where someone falls through an odd angle in a wall – I was really wracking my brains for a way to deal with that one, in the end I was reduced to pinching an idea from MC Escher!
Are you a fan of Lovecraft? Why do you think his work has endured?
I love Lovecraft and, funnily enough, I came to his work through a comics adaptation – Alberto Breccia’s ‘Los Mitos de Cthulhu’ (in which Breccia first uses the collage techniques that later inspired so much of my work on Stickleback for 2000 AD). I didn’t start reading the originals until eight years ago when I met my current partner, who has big collection of early horror and fantasy, so I’ve worked my way through most of Lovecraft, a fair amount of Poe and Clark Ashton Smith, and bits of William Hope Hodgson, Algernon Blackwood, and August Derleth.
In terms of endurance, Lovecraft has two things going for him, one conceptual and one stylistic; on the stylistic side, he welds together the elegant prose of Poe with the tight storytelling mechanisms of pulp fiction. On the conceptual side, the simple but brilliant idea of weaving the then-new theories of multiple dimensions from the new Quantum physics into a backdrop for most of his stories. The funny thing is, he seems to have cared little for consistency (often using terms like “Old Ones” or “Elder Gods” to mean different things at different times), yet that common backdrop gives his work a power that would have been missing had the stories been completely unrelated. It’s worth noting that the “Cthulhu Mythos,” which is often used to describe this backdrop, is a much more structured schema actually put together by the writer August Derleth after Lovecraft’s death.
SelfMadeHero is a small publisher that seems to have had quite a bit of critical and commercial success fairly quickly. Why do you think this is?
Well, for a start they’ve been smart in identifying a market in literary adaptation which gives their stuff a certain cache that helps it overcome the whole “comics ghetto” problem, meaning they have access to the lucrative school libraries market and are more likely to be reviewed in the media. A journalist with a degree in English literature will be much more at home reviewing a graphic novel adaptation of Shakespeare or Poe than an original work. The MetroMedia/SelfMadeHero/Eye Classics guys all come out of a background in book publishing, and as a result I suspect they have a much better handle on publicity and promotion than traditional comics publishers, who can be be a bit out of their depth when dealing with the world beyond Diamond. SelfMadeHero have been very good at getting their books reprinted internationally too.
Can you see Lovecraft’s influence in any of your other comics work; Leviathan perhaps?
Leviathan is part of the “Edgiverse,” which links together all the regular series Ian Edginton has written for 2000 AD, and that whole linked-universe idea is explicitly Lovecraftian. In fact it’s Stickleback (especially series two) that contains the most overtly Lovecraftian elements of anything I’ve worked on.
As far as art style goes, ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ owes a great deal to Leviathan, as I’m trying out a colour version of the Leviathan ‘Negative Glow’ art style on this adaptation.
Would you like to adapt more Lovecraft? Any particular stories and why those ones?
My reverence for those old Breccia adaptations means I’d want to pick something he never worked on – The Shadow out of Time would be a good one, there’s lots of cool other-worldly stuff to draw in that. I would have said At The Mountains of Madness, but Ian Culbard did such a good job on that recently that there’d be no point.
What general challenges are there when it comes to drawing horror comics? Can comics scare?
You’ve got to keep tight control of all aspects of your storytelling – angles, lighting, the body-language and expressions of your characters. It’s easy for all that to veer into either cliché or comedy, if you dial it up too far. The trick is to know what you’re aiming for – mystery or suspense, steady buildup or sudden shock – and make sure your storytelling tools serve that purpose.
As to “can comics scare?” Given the right material and good storytelling, of course. It’s tougher for an adult audience – as a grown-up I’m not going to be terrified of a drawing of a scary monster in the way I was when I was seven, but something more conceptual… take Junji Ito’s “Uzumaki,” for example, a horror book where the menace is a spiral! Sounds daft if you haven’t read it, but it’s brilliantly done, and it seriously freaked me out.
Matt Badham is a freelance writer living and working in Manchester. His writing has appeared in the Big Issue in the North, the Judge Dredd Megazine, 2000AD, Tripwire and Comics International. He has also provided online content for both the Forbidden Planet International blogand 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.
Lovecraft graphic novels from SelfMadeHero include INJ Culbard’s Eagle Award nominated solo adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness (available now) and look out for two more Lovecraft titles in March 2o12 – volume II of the Lovecraft Anthology and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, adapted and illustrated by INJ Culbard.