Not a dang thing new this week. Some weeks are like that, though the seeds have been planted for some good things to come.
Have a god weekend (right after you vote at Top Web Comics!)
This last Tuesday, Oct. 1st, marked the beginning of Lovecraft is Missing‘s SIXTH year on the web. I don’t know what the average life of a strip is, but I’m pretty proud of having stuck to it this long (and, yes, I’m going to stick to it until the end.) And in a week or two, I’ll be putting up the (gasp!) 200th page.
I figure about two more years to finish it all up, which is still daunting. But we are over the hill and things are starting to come together, though you might not think so yet.
No Lovecraftian news this week. In fact, if you want to stay up on the latest Lovecraft news, you need to be reading the Lovecraft eZine, or at least like their FB page. I don’t know how Mike Davis keeps tabs on all that stuff, but he does. Aside from being handy and entertaining, II don’t feel so bad about going off trail with my posts. I’ve really done that since the beginning, but tried to keep up with Lovecraft news. But Mike has the beat, so I bow to him, and I’ll pass on stuff I find of particular interest.
Nothing else of great interest at the moment. I finished Kings The Dark Tower series and hope to have a review up this next Wednesday.
Have a good weekend.
Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug. Over the long haul, it probably does work out to 50/50, but that doesn’t prelude long continuous runs in one camp or the other. I’m in my third week of bugdom, re: LIM. The page I posted this afternoon–which you won’t see for another month or so, has taken more time to complete than any other page of this entire run. I wish I could say it was something really fantastic, but at its best it was never going to be more than another page in the story. I’m not a perfectionist by a long shot, but I do have SOME standards, and this page just wasn’t reaching the lowest bar. I completely rewrote and redrew it three times, plus panel and dialog adjustments beyond counting, and finally got to a place where I could let it go and move on. But it cost me two weeks of time. I’ll be able to use some of the discarded panels here and there in the future, but all in all, it was a total drudge. If I didn’t need it to bridge the gap between the previous page and the next page, I’d dump it completely:-). But that’s the way it goes. All I can do now is look forward to being the windshield soon.
Yet another new Lovecraftian comic (new to me, that is) has raised its wiggly head, and I’m talking about The Cats of Ulthar, by Ben Granoff.
Last week I told you about a new Lovecraftian comic, Lovely Lovecraft, by Sara Bardi. Sara was kind enough to write a little blog post about herself and her comic, which I present to you below. But please note how similar this young lady’s experience is to most of ours. Fifteen seems about the right age to get hooked on Lovecraft, regardless of nationality or gender, and somehow we chosen always manage to stumble across a putative copy of the Necronomicon. Perhaps there IS something in the stars…..
I’m an Italian art student and I work as freelance illustrator and conceptual artist for books and games. I graduated with top marks at my hometown high school of arts and now I’m attending Entertainment Design and Animation classes at Nemo NT in Florence, Tuscany.
I published my first novel in 2008 and came back to the awesome industry of publishing this year with the ambitious project of “Last Face of the Moon” a fantasy novel set in Ancient Egypt that will be available in English in less than a year. If you’re curious, you can already check the Italian version here.
I speak Italian, some English and a bit of French; my favorite directors are Tim Burton and Guillelmo Del Toro; visual artists that have inspired me most are Keith Thompson, Mike Mignola and Shinichi Hiromoto.
Of course, my favorite author is Howard Phillips Lovecraft.
I read my first HPL tale at primary school (it was “The Outsider”, and the final twist deeply impressed me!) but my love for his writings actually exploded when I was 15 years old. High school had been a very strange period of my life, there was a sort of trend for occult among my peers ,and I and other classmates were part of a crappy wiccan coven. My interest was basically academic, since I’ve always liked to use esoteric stuff as inspiration for my stories. During my “occult researches” I found a PDF copy of the Necronomicon (actually a resource for roleplay, composed of extracts written by HPL and ritual formulas created by fans) and it sounded far more interesting than all the true essays of ceremonial magic I’d read up to that moment. At the beginning, I did even believe in its authenticity, because everything sounded extremely cool, ancient and complex. When I found out the truth on Wikipedia, I had to admit Lovectaft was a goddamn genius.
Lovely Lovecraft is a webcomic based on the life and tales of H.P Lovecraft. It is intended to appeal both to fans and to “uninitiated” and, despite the silly title, it is not a parody but a tribute. It re-imagines the world-famous Cthulhu Mythos (and the Dreamlands Cycle) under a new light, mixing cartoonish character design with dark thematics.
The plot, in few words:
Howard is a 12 year old boy who has just moved to the ancient town of Arkham along with his mother. His normal yet solitary life is turned upside down when, snooping in the attic of the old house once owned by a mysterious antiquarian named Randolph Carter, he finds a damaged copy of the Necronomicon.
After reading aloud some of the formulas, Howard’s mind opens to a new comprehension of reality and gains a dark knowledge sufficient to drive anyone mad … except him.
Helped by a mistakenly summoned Night Gaunt, Howard begins his journey through the mysteries of Arkham, where the terrible Outer Gods have been trapped and forced to live an human-like existence.
Used to waiting for aeons in the darkest regions of space, most of them take their new condition lightly , except for the eager and hyperactive Nyarlathotep, who desperately wants to break free of the curse.
The story will feature characters like Richard Pickman, Herbert West, Henry Armitage and all Lovecraftian terrible deities: Azathoth, Shub-Niggurath, Yog-Sothoth, Cthulhu, Dagon and more.
Bummer. I totally forgot to write my post for the day. Not that there’s much to relate this week, but still.
A week or so back I posted some pics of Marblehead, the inspiration for Lovecraft’s Kingsport (“The Festival,” “The Terrible Old Man”). There wasn’t a lot of response to it, which is fine, and I’m going to post a similar one of Gloucester and Rockport (the inspirations for Innsmouth) this week or next regardless, but I wanted to say something here about Lovecraft’s work that I think gets lost amidst the tentacles and alien words. Far more important to me than Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth is Lovecraft’s sense of place. Even in what some might call his lesser stories (pick your own,) the world in which the story takes place is always so carefully and vividly crafted. The isolation, the textures of peeling paint and decaying wood, the heaviness of the atmosphere….even when Lovecraft doesn’t provide lots of details, I can the places as clearly as if I’m only a step away from actually being there. The Witch House is very real to me, as are the streets and back alleys of Innsmouth and Boston’s North End. The reality is usually disappointing, though I can see glimmers of what Lovecraft was trying to communicate. From the lost islands to the forgotten rural roads of Vermont, to Leng and beyond, far too little attention is given to this aspect of HPL’s work. That’s because, I think, you can’t market it like you can a tentacled beasty. Although the current ubiquity of Cthulhu in media and merchandise certainly keeps the rest of the Old Gentleman’s work alive, there are a lot of people who ONLY know Lovecraft because of that great and terrible name. They’ve never read the original story, much less any of the stories outside the Mythos. It’s a shame. Lovecraft’s New England is as much a myth as the pulp’s Old West, and likely serves the same purpose: preserving fading traditions through the use of mild hyperbole. No question that Lovecraft amplifies (and simplifies) the attitudes and feelings of Old New England, but that’s the New England I long to visit.
Please vote for LIM at Top Web Comics. You can vote once a day, every day. All I get out of it (besides some satisfaction) is that more people become aware of the comic.
Have a good weekend.
Another one of the great things about doing a webcomic without the need to make money from it is that I can be totally committed to the idea of Lovecraftian comics without worrying about losing sales. Though the strips are successful on their own, I’ve been happy to plump for Francois Launet’s The Unspeakable Vault of Doom, José Oliver and Bart Torres’ El Joven Lovecraft and Jason Thompson’s various works, as well as printed comics. Now I want to add to that list with Sara Bardi’s Lovely Lovecraft. (And by the way, this is an international group. UVOD is from France, El Joven Lovecraft from Spain, and Lovely Lovecraft from Italy. Jason and I represent the U.S., plus LIM is now available in Portuguese. We’re taking over the world!)
She’s got the first seven pages of her opus up on Deviant Art –we need to get her onto her own comic site ASAP, even though it’s fun to see her other work–and it’s great to see another high-quality, totally original take on HPL and his work. No one is going to confuse any of the strips I’ve mentioned with LIM or one another. Maybe we need to form our own little Lovecraft comics hub!
Though it’s still in the future, her synopsis for the story arc reveals that it will deal with HPL as a child. Interesting that so many people want to explore the mythos through the young Lovecaft’s eyes. El Joven Lovecraft uses an almost Calvin & Hobbes approach, while Howard Lovecraft & the Frozen Kingdom tends to concentrate on the Dream World stories. But variety is the spice of life.
Of course, I’m in love with her color. I don’t know if you would say we have a similar approach or not, but I don’t see anyone else using the bright saturated colors for a horror story like Sara and I are doing. Works for me.
So enjoy this new addition to your reading list.
Many thanks to reader Don Simpson for calling this strip to my attention.
It’s been a very Lovecraftian week.
Ancient life forms found in the sediment of an antarctic subglacial lake! Sure, they are microbes….but have you ever seen an enlarged picture of one of those suckers? Who’s to say they don’t have Sea-Monkey technology that allows them to expand when exposed to the atmosphere?
I think there’s likely an unknown Lovecraft tale hidden in here as well, that is, in the world’s largest cave, Son Doong, in Viet Nam. It was only discovered in 1991, and explored in 2009. Shades of Pellucidar! Yet it’s creepy enough that there just might be a sister city to Leng (which, I know, is a plateau, but let’s not split hairs.)
And for the kiddies, going live this very day, The Littlest Lovecraft, a series of children’s adaptations of the stories.
It’s interseting how many versions there are of a little boy Lovecraft; it may be on its way to becoming it’s own sub-genre. In addition to the above, there’s El Joven Lovecraft, a Spanish strip (with an English version available as an option) by José Oliver and Bart Torres, and Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom, a fun graphic novel by Bruce Brown and Dwight L. MacPherson.Any others I should know of?
In just two short week, Lovecraft is Missing will celebrate it’s fifth anniversary! Can you believe it? I sure can’t. And a week or two after that, another milestone….which I’ll tell you about closer to time. But let’s say I feel another contest coming on…
Please vote for LIM at Top Web Comics. At least we’re back in the top 100!
Have a good weekend.
(Addendum: I found a couple of terrific old postcards of Marblehead that date from about the time the story was written, so I’ve added them at the bottom of the page. But I also stumbled upon a fantastic blog/photo gallery devoted to Marblehead by pro photographer Eyal Oren. They are so much better and so much more evocative than my tourist pics that I’ve added the above image, and the link to his site. He has posters for sale and some of these are perfect mood pieces for Lovecraft’s stories. Is that a beautiful picture, or what?)
Those that research Lovecraft’s use of real settings for his stories have settled on Marblehead as the basis for Kingsport, the small town where unnatural celebrations take place in Lovecraft’s story, “The Festival” (1923). I’ve been there a number of times, but this last trip I took a little more time to explore the by-ways and alleys.
I think I have a pretty good imagination, but it’s a bit of a strain to see Kingsport in Marblehead. Aside from the fact that Marblehead is today a tourist destination, all painted up in bright colors, any decay and dilapidation cleaned away by developers, it was originally a highly successful seaport. No matter how twisted the streets –and Massachussets was laid out long before city planners became obsessed with grid patterns–the houses were the homes of sea captains and merchants. It was a town built by and for the wealthy. Of course there were slum sections, though they are gone now. But you’d be hard pressed to find anything within the city proper that wouldn’t be well beyond the means of any middle-class citizen.
But the feeling of antiquity is definitely in the air There are over 300 buildings in Marblehead that pre-date the Revolutionary War. Some of these are landmarks that HPL referred to:
“I was glad I had chosen to walk, for the white village had seemed very beautiful from the hill; and now I was eager to knock at the door of my people, the seventh house on the left in Green Lane, with an ancient peaked roof and jutting second story, all built before 1650.” (“The Festival”)
However, this house sits at a wide intersection right off the main street, impossible to miss.Though the streets are less twisted than one might hope for, they do lead to a lot of odd blind alleys. Still and all, it’s fun to see the locations and imagine the Old Gentleman strolling down the street, perhaps splurging on a cup of ice cream.
There is also some evidence of the pagan religions Lovecraft refers to, though the context is clearer. As a village dependent on fishing, you’d expect pictures of Poseidon/Neptune to abound. Still, I got a pleasant shiver when I saw a sea goddess-like figurehead over a door and antique wallpaper tribute to the same god in a sea captain’s house.
I’ve posted a whole album of Marblehead pictures at the Lovecraft is Missing Facebook page if you care to see more. And below you’ll find “The Festival” in all its glory. Still one of my favorite Lovecraft tales after all these years.
|“Efficiunt Daemones, ut quae non sunt, sic tamen
quasi sint, conspicienda hominibus exhibeant.”
I was far from home, and the spell of the eastern sea was upon me. In the twilight I heard it pounding on the rocks, and I knew it lay just over the hill where the twisting willows writhed against the clearing sky and the first stars of evening. And because my fathers had called me to the old town beyond, I pushed on through the shallow, new-fallen snow along the road that soared lonely up to where Aldebaran twinkled among the trees; on toward the very ancient town I had never seen but often dreamed of.
It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind. It was the Yuletide, and I had come at last to the ancient sea town where my people had dwelt and kept festival in the elder time when festival was forbidden; where also they had commanded their sons to keep festival once every century, that the memory of primal secrets might not be forgotten. Mine were an old people, and were old even when this land was settled three hundred years before. And they were strange, because they had come as dark furtive folk from opiate southern gardens of orchids, and spoken another tongue before they learnt the tongue of the blue-eyed fishers. And now they were scattered, and shared only the rituals of mysteries that none living could understand. I was the only one who came back that night to the old fishing town as legend bade, for only the poor and the lonely remember.
Then beyond the hill’s crest I saw Kingsport outspread frostily in the gloaming; snowy Kingsport with its ancient vanes and steeples, ridgepoles and chimney-pots, wharves and small bridges, willow-trees and graveyards; endless labyrinths of steep, narrow, crooked streets, and dizzy church-crowned central peak that time durst not touch; ceaseless mazes of colonial houses piled and scattered at all angles and levels like a child’s disordered blocks; antiquity hovering on grey wings over winter-whitened gables and gambrel roofs; fanlights and small-paned windows one by one gleaming out in the cold dusk to join Orion and the archaic stars. And against the rotting wharves the sea pounded; the secretive, immemorial sea out of which the people had come in the elder time.
Beside the road at its crest a still higher summit rose, bleak and windswept, and I saw that it was a burying-ground where black gravestones stuck ghoulishly through the snow like the decayed fingernails of a gigantic corpse. The printless road was very lonely, and sometimes I thought I heard a distant horrible creaking as of a gibbet in the wind. They had hanged four kinsmen of mine for witchcraft in 1692, but I did not know just where.
As the road wound down the seaward slope I listened for the merry sounds of a village at evening, but did not hear them. Then I thought of the season, and felt that these old Puritan folk might well have Christmas customs strange to me, and full of silent hearthside prayer. So after that I did not listen for merriment or look for wayfarers, but kept on down past the hushed lighted farmhouses and shadowy stone walls to where the signs of ancient shops and sea-taverns creaked in the salt breeze, and the grotesque knockers of pillared doorways glistened along deserted, unpaved lanes in the light of little, curtained windows.
I had seen maps of the town, and knew where to find the home of my people. It was told that I should be known and welcomed, for village legend lives long; so I hastened through Back Street to Circle Court, and across the fresh snow on the one full flagstone pavement in the town, to where Green Lane leads off behind the Market house. The old maps still held good, and I had no trouble; though at Arkham they must have lied when they said the trolleys ran to this place, since I saw not a wire overhead. Snow would have hid the rails in any case. I was glad I had chosen to walk, for the white village had seemed very beautiful from the hill; and now I was eager to knock at the door of my people, the seventh house on the left in Green Lane, with an ancient peaked roof and jutting second story, all built before 1650.
There were lights inside the house when I came upon it, and I saw from the diamond window-panes that it must have been kept very close to its antique state. The upper part overhung the narrow grass-grown street and nearly met the overhanging part of the house opposite, so that I was almost in a tunnel, with the low stone doorstep wholly free from snow. There was no sidewalk, but many houses had high doors reached by double flights of steps with iron railings. It was an odd scene, and because I was strange to New England I had never known its like before. Though it pleased me, I would have relished it better if there had been footprints in the snow, and people in the streets, and a few windows without drawn curtains.
When I sounded the archaic iron knocker I was half afraid. Some fear had been gathering in me, perhaps because of the strangeness of my heritage, and the bleakness of the evening, and the queerness of the silence in that aged town of curious customs. And when my knock was answered I was fully afraid, because I had not heard any footsteps before the door creaked open. But I was not afraid long, for the gowned, slippered old man in the doorway had a bland face that reassured me; and though he made signs that he was dumb, he wrote a quaint and ancient welcome with the stylus and wax tablet he carried.
He beckoned me into a low, candle-lit room with massive exposed rafters and dark, stiff, sparse furniture of the seventeenth century. The past was vivid there, for not an attribute was missing. There was a cavernous fireplace and a spinning-wheel at which a bent old woman in loose wrapper and deep poke-bonnet sat back toward me, silently spinning despite the festive season. An indefinite dampness seemed upon the place, and I marvelled that no fire should be blazing. The high-backed settle faced the row of curtained windows at the left, and seemed to be occupied, though I was not sure. I did not like everything about what I saw, and felt again the fear I had had. This fear grew stronger from what had before lessened it, for the more I looked at the old man’s bland face the more its very blandness terrified me. The eyes never moved, and the skin was too like wax. Finally I was sure it was not a face at all, but a fiendishly cunning mask. But the flabby hands, curiously gloved, wrote genially on the tablet and told me I must wait a while before I could be led to the place of festival.
Pointing to a chair, table, and pile of books, the old man now left the room; and when I sat down to read I saw that the books were hoary and mouldy, and that they included old Morryster’s wild Marvells of Science, the terrible Saducismus Triumphatus of Joseph Glanvill, published in 1681, the shocking Daemonolatreia of Remigius, printed in 1595 at Lyons, and worst of all, the unmentionable Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, in Olaus Wormius’ forbidden Latin translation; a book which I had never seen, but of which I had heard monstrous things whispered. No one spoke to me, but I could hear the creaking of signs in the wind outside, and the whir of the wheel as the bonneted old woman continued her silent spinning, spinning. I thought the room and the books and the people very morbid and disquieting, but because an old tradition of my fathers had summoned me to strange feastings, I resolved to expect queer things. So I tried to read, and soon became tremblingly absorbed by something I found in that accursed Necronomicon; a thought and a legend too hideous for sanity or consciousness. But I disliked it when I fancied I heard the closing of one of the windows that the settle faced, as if it had been stealthily opened. It had seemed to follow a whirring that was not of the old woman’s spinning-wheel. This was not much, though, for the old woman was spinning very hard, and the aged clock had been striking. After that I lost the feeling that there were persons on the settle, and was reading intently and shudderingly when the old man came back booted and dressed in a loose antique costume, and sat down on that very bench, so that I could not see him. It was certainly nervous waiting, and the blasphemous book in my hands made it doubly so. When eleven struck, however, the old man stood up, glided to a massive carved chest in a corner, and got two hooded cloaks; one of which he donned, and the other of which he draped round the old woman, who was ceasing her monotonous spinning. Then they both started for the outer door; the woman lamely creeping, and the old man, after picking up the very book I had been reading, beckoning me as he drew his hood over that unmoving face or mask.
We went out into the moonless and tortuous network of that incredibly ancient town; went out as the lights in the curtained windows disappeared one by one, and the Dog Star leered at the throng of cowled, cloaked figures that poured silently from every doorway and formed monstrous processions up this street and that, past the creaking signs and antediluvian gables, the thatched roofs and diamond-paned windows; threading precipitous lanes where decaying houses overlapped and crumbled together, gliding across open courts and churchyards where the bobbing lanthorns made eldritch drunken constellations.
Amid these hushed throngs I followed my voiceless guides; jostled by elbows that seemed preternaturally soft, and pressed by chests and stomachs that seemed abnormally pulpy; but seeing never a face and hearing never a word. Up, up, up the eerie columns slithered, and I saw that all the travellers were converging as they flowed near a sort of focus of crazy alleys at the top of a high hill in the centre of the town, where perched a great white church. I had seen it from the road’s crest when I looked at Kingsport in the new dusk, and it had made me shiver because Aldebaran had seemed to balance itself a moment on the ghostly spire.
There was an open space around the church; partly a churchyard with spectral shafts, and partly a half-paved square swept nearly bare of snow by the wind, and lined with unwholesomely archaic houses having peaked roofs and overhanging gables. Death-fires danced over the tombs, revealing gruesome vistas, though queerly failing to cast any shadows. Past the churchyard, where there were no houses, I could see over the hill’s summit and watch the glimmer of stars on the harbour, though the town was invisible in the dark. Only once in a while a lanthorn bobbed horribly through serpentine alleys on its way to overtake the throng that was now slipping speechlessly into the church. I waited till the crowd had oozed into the black doorway, and till all the stragglers had followed. The old man was pulling at my sleeve, but I was determined to be the last. Then I finally went, the sinister man and the old spinning woman before me. Crossing the threshold into that swarming temple of unknown darkness, I turned once to look at the outside world as the churchyard phosphorescence cast a sickly glow on the hill-top pavement. And as I did so I shuddered. For though the wind had not left much snow, a few patches did remain on the path near the door; and in that fleeting backward look it seemed to my troubled eyes that they bore no mark of passing feet, not even mine.
The church was scarce lighted by all the lanthorns that had entered it, for most of the throng had already vanished. They had streamed up the aisle between the high white pews to the trap-door of the vaults which yawned loathsomely open just before the pulpit, and were now squirming noiselessly in. I followed dumbly down the footworn steps and into the dank, suffocating crypt. The tail of that sinuous line of night-marchers seemed very horrible, and as I saw them wriggling into a venerable tomb they seemed more horrible still. Then I noticed that the tomb’s floor had an aperture down which the throng was sliding, and in a moment we were all descending an ominous staircase of rough-hewn stone; a narrow spiral staircase damp and peculiarly odorous, that wound endlessly down into the bowels of the hill past monotonous walls of dripping stone blocks and crumbling mortar. It was a silent, shocking descent, and I observed after a horrible interval that the walls and steps were changing in nature, as if chiselled out of the solid rock. What mainly troubled me was that the myriad footfalls made no sound and set up no echoes. After more aeons of descent I saw some side passages or burrows leading from unknown recesses of blackness to this shaft of nighted mystery. Soon they became excessively numerous, like impious catacombs of nameless menace; and their pungent odour of decay grew quite unbearable. I knew we must have passed down through the mountain and beneath the earth of Kingsport itself, and I shivered that a town should be so aged and maggoty with subterraneous evil.
Then I saw the lurid shimmering of pale light, and heard the insidious lapping of sunless waters. Again I shivered, for I did not like the things that the night had brought, and wished bitterly that no forefather had summoned me to this primal rite. As the steps and the passage grew broader, I heard another sound, the thin, whining mockery of a feeble flute; and suddenly there spread out before me the boundless vista of an inner world—a vast fungous shore litten by a belching column of sick greenish flame and washed by a wide oily river that flowed from abysses frightful and unsuspected to join the blackest gulfs of immemorial ocean.
Fainting and gasping, I looked at that unhallowed Erebus of titan toadstools, leprous fire, and slimy water, and saw the cloaked throngs forming a semicircle around the blazing pillar. It was the Yule-rite, older than man and fated to survive him; the primal rite of the solstice and of spring’s promise beyond the snows; the rite of fire and evergreen, light and music. And in the Stygian grotto I saw them do the rite, and adore the sick pillar of flame, and throw into the water handfuls gouged out of the viscous vegetation which glittered green in the chlorotic glare. I saw this, and I saw something amorphously squatted far away from the light, piping noisomely on a flute; and as the thing piped I thought I heard noxious muffled flutterings in the foetid darkness where I could not see. But what frightened me most was that flaming column; spouting volcanically from depths profound and inconceivable, casting no shadows as healthy flame should, and coating the nitrous stone above with a nasty, venomous verdigris. For in all that seething combustion no warmth lay, but only the clamminess of death and corruption.
The man who had brought me now squirmed to a point directly beside the hideous flame, and made stiff ceremonial motions to the semicircle he faced. At certain stages of the ritual they did grovelling obeisance, especially when he held above his head that abhorrent Necronomicon he had taken with him; and I shared all the obeisances because I had been summoned to this festival by the writings of my forefathers. Then the old man made a signal to the half-seen flute-player in the darkness, which player thereupon changed its feeble drone to a scarce louder drone in another key; precipitating as it did so a horror unthinkable and unexpected. At this horror I sank nearly to the lichened earth, transfixed with a dread not of this nor any world, but only of the mad spaces between the stars.
Out of the unimaginable blackness beyond the gangrenous glare of that cold flame, out of the Tartarean leagues through which that oily river rolled uncanny, unheard, and unsuspected, there flopped rhythmically a horde of tame, trained, hybrid winged things that no sound eye could ever wholly grasp, or sound brain ever wholly remember. They were not altogether crows, nor moles, nor buzzards, nor ants, nor vampire bats, nor decomposed human beings; but something I cannot and must not recall. They flopped limply along, half with their webbed feet and half with their membraneous wings; and as they reached the throng of celebrants the cowled figures seized and mounted them, and rode off one by one along the reaches of that unlighted river, into pits and galleries of panic where poison springs feed frightful and undiscoverable cataracts.
The old spinning woman had gone with the throng, and the old man remained only because I had refused when he motioned me to seize an animal and ride like the rest. I saw when I staggered to my feet that the amorphous flute-player had rolled out of sight, but that two of the beasts were patiently standing by. As I hung back, the old man produced his stylus and tablet and wrote that he was the true deputy of my fathers who had founded the Yule worship in this ancient place; that it had been decreed I should come back, and that the most secret mysteries were yet to be performed. He wrote this in a very ancient hand, and when I still hesitated he pulled from his loose robe a seal ring and a watch, both with my family arms, to prove that he was what he said. But it was a hideous proof, because I knew from old papers that that watch had been buried with my great-great-great-great-grandfather in 1698.
Presently the old man drew back his hood and pointed to the family resemblance in his face, but I only shuddered, because I was sure that the face was merely a devilish waxen mask. The flopping animals were now scratching restlessly at the lichens, and I saw that the old man was nearly as restless himself. When one of the things began to waddle and edge away, he turned quickly to stop it; so that the suddenness of his motion dislodged the waxen mask from what should have been his head. And then, because that nightmare’s position barred me from the stone staircase down which we had come, I flung myself into the oily underground river that bubbled somewhere to the caves of the sea; flung myself into that putrescent juice of earth’s inner horrors before the madness of my screams could bring down upon me all the charnel legions these pest-gulfs might conceal.
At the hospital they told me I had been found half frozen in Kingsport Harbour at dawn, clinging to the drifting spar that accident sent to save me. They told me I had taken the wrong fork of the hill road the night before, and fallen over the cliffs at Orange Point; a thing they deduced from prints found in the snow. There was nothing I could say, because everything was wrong. Everything was wrong, with the broad window shewing a sea of roofs in which only about one in five was ancient, and the sound of trolleys and motors in the streets below. They insisted that this was Kingsport, and I could not deny it. When I went delirious at hearing that the hospital stood near the old churchyard on Central Hill, they sent me to St. Mary’s Hospital in Arkham, where I could have better care. I liked it there, for the doctors were broad-minded, and even lent me their influence in obtaining the carefully sheltered copy of Alhazred’s objectionable Necronomicon from the library of Miskatonic University. They said something about a “psychosis”, and agreed I had better get any harassing obsessions off my mind.
So I read again that hideous chapter, and shuddered doubly because it was indeed not new to me. I had seen it before, let footprints tell what they might; and where it was I had seen it were best forgotten. There was no one—in waking hours—who could remind me of it; but my dreams are filled with terror, because of phrases I dare not quote. I dare quote only one paragraph, put into such English as I can make from the awkward Low Latin.
“The nethermost caverns,” wrote the mad Arab, “are not for the fathoming of eyes that see; for their marvels are strange and terrific. Cursed the ground where dead thoughts live new and oddly bodied, and evil the mind that is held by no head. Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes. For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth’s pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.”
I’ve found a way to do t-shirts that makes some sense to me, that I can also actually manage. I’m still working out details, but this is basically how it will work: From the day I post the notice that they are available, people will have two weeks to get their orders in. All sizes will be available. At the end of two weeks, no more order will be taken for that particular design. Once I have the money, I order the shirts, and send them out, a process that I am told will take about a week total. If ten people order, I make ten shirts; if a thousand people order, I make one thousand shirts. All future t-shirts will have a clearly different design. In essence, these t-shirts will be limited edition prints.
The reasons I like this approach is that I don’t have to be out a lot of cash, ordering a variety of sizes that might never sell; I don’t have to carry an inventory — I don’t want to be a shop operator, I want to do a comic; and I’m being told I can keep the cost for a top quality t-shirt below $20, which includes shipping. All the other places I’d looked at online previously wanted so much per shirt that, even if I didn’t make any money on it, the cost would be over $30 for a shirt. I wouldn’t pay that for a t-shirt, and I wouldn’t ask anyone else to either.
I’m currently reading Wordslingers, An Epitaph for the Western, by Will Murray. It’s obviously not Lovecraftian, but it’s a history of the western pulp genre, told through liberal quotes from the writers and editors who participated in the 40 year adventure. I have a large collection of western pulps, and the book makes me want to drop everything and get to reading them. I’m holding back on gorging, but I have started sneaking a few short stories at night. As pulp history, it’s a first rate book and I recommend it to all fans of the genre.
I’m also going to work up another contest sometime before the end of the year. I have a couple of terrific hardcover books (Lovecraftian ones, I might add) for prizes. I just have to think of something that might get you folks excited enough to participate. The last two contests I had had only a handful of entries. Not much of a contest.
Have a good weekend, and don’t forget to vote for LIM at Top Web Comics.
Dead Space is, in modern parlance, a brand. Though the three video games are the foundation, there are a number of comic books, two direct-to-dvd animated movies, on-line games, special content, some novels and a couple of expensive toys. Empire building is the name of the game, but this one is foundering a bit.
I’ve played all the games (creatively titled Dead Space, Dead Space 2, and Dead Space 3), read most of the comics and have seen one of the two animated films. I love the initial concept. Dead Space was a terrifying game, very Lovecraftian in its look and execution, and one of my favorite entertainment experiences of the last dozen years or so. The game creators cite Resident Evil 4 as their main inspiration, a fact I find odd given that RE4 bordered on the silly for me. Midgets dressed in colonial costumes, bad voice acting, and looking for randomly scattered chicken eggs for health are just some of the reasons. But it’s third person shooter pov and the basic gameplay definitely made the transition to Dead Space.
Alien is the other obvious, if less often stated, source behind the game. The basic story of Dead Space: a rescue ship approaches a planet-cracking mining ship that sent out a distress call, then went silent. Once on board, the rescue crew finds devastation and death. While trying to activate an entryway, engineer Isaac Clarke is separated from the others. He trips an alarm, and through the clutter of debris, he watches as horrific, long-limbed creatures attack his crewmates. Before he can fully assess the situation, one of the creatures is upon him, and he escapes deeper into the ship. The rest of the story deals with Isaac communicating with those crew members who evaded the monstrosities, who guide him as he searches for the means to get the hell off the Ishimura.
At every point he is confronted by ever more twisted monsters, most of whom have some slight resemblance to humans, and recordings and clues gradually reveal the back story. The Ishimura was ostensibly a planet mining ship, but had been secretly crewed by followers of a bizarre religious cult, Unitology. Their true mission was the recovery of a “marker,” a large stone shaped like a twisted pair of ram’s horns, that is the foundation of their faith. Finding the marker, though, has unleashed a plague of sorts that turns dead bodies into grotesque, monstrous caricatures of humans, which kill other humans, who turn into more grotesque, monstrous caricatures, etc. This transformation is all the more horrifying in that the core of Unitology is the belief that the markers grant immortality; they are right, but in a totally wrong sense. Infected will live on, yes, but as hive-mind progenitors of these alien life forms.
Isaac Clarke is your basic cypher, an armored suit with a variety of weapons at his disposal and a working knowledge of the engineering on board spaceships. He never speaks, and is only seen without his helmet briefly at the beginning and end of the game. His only motivation for even being on this journey is that his girlfriend was a member of the Ishimura‘s crew. He takes all his orders from Commander Zach Hammond and Computer Specialist Kendra Daniels. Both of them may (or may not) have ulterior motives for all that takes place. Isaac is essentially a pawn.
Uniquely, the creators looked to their character and environment to craft the various weapons. Clarke is an engineer, the Ishimra is a mining ship. Consequently, the weapons are mining tools adapted for offense and defense.
As the action and the monsters, called Necromorphs, increases, darker conspiracies emerge, and I doubt I’m giving anything away by telling you Isaac is the only survivor, and all the elements for a sequel are firmly in place.
Ben Wanat, the brilliant art director behind all three games, proudly cites Lovecraft as an influence, and it’s hard to imagine a more successful execution of Lovecraftian notions of alien life. Some of the variations on the Necromorphs are more successful than others, but overall they are fear-inducing marvels of design, their only resemblance to humanity imposed by the obvious source material, human bodies. The most disturbing to me are the pods, which are human in appearance except for gigantic lung-like sacks that protrude from their backs, sacks that pulsate and glow with the life (or anti-life, if you prefer) within. The sound design is fantastic throughout, but the effects for this breathing” still gives me chills.)
The only way to defeat the majority of Necromorphs is by a process called “strategic dismemberment,” that is, shooting off their arms, legs and other appendages. Head shots are largely wasted. The most gruesome tactic requires you/Isaac to stomp or shoot the legs off any dead bodies you encounter, to prevent them from suddenly morphing into a necromorph
(As an aside, I’ll tell you that the game also mad many innovations in game play and HUD display, but this review is about the brand, not the specifics of each medium. It’s a terrific game, and I recommend it without reservation.)
As with any successful new Intellectual Property (how fancy the terms have become!), the immediate problem is that of sequels and spin-offs. The fans want more of the same, only different. The usual response boils down to bigger=better, though the history of movie sequels seems to go against this notion. Still, a formula is a formula. Sort of. It’s a given that you are always going to piss someone off.
For the spin-offs -the movies, comics, novels– it was apparently decided that they would be peripheral tales, stories involving brushes with the marker and its progeny as experienced by crews and characters other than Isaac Clarke. I think this strategy is largely successful. Not being tied to a particular continuity, or the need for a character to live, even at the expense of the suspension of disbelief, the comics and films are free to tell truly original stories within the universe.
Just prior o the original Dead Space release, an online game, No Known Survivors was released. It was broken into two parts, Misplaced Affections and Thirteen. The first is an alternate reality game within the DS universe, while the second begins at a point about midway through the main game. Dead Space: Extraction , a prequel, was released as an exclusive on the Wii2. Much as I love the game, I’m not up for buying a separate gaming system for one game.
Dead Space: Downfall , another prequel, was the first of the two animated films released. I was impressed with production values and enjoyed the film, but the cracks in the concept started to show here. These are not necessarily the ruination of the franchise; the same cracks can be found in any zombie movie. Dead Space is the story of a frightening infection (really, a totally alien life form) seeking to spread across the universe. Every story you tell is going to be the same story, no matter how many variations on the Necromorphs or varieties of bloody death one comes up with. The only new information will be about the Unitologists and their motives and actions to facilitate the spread of the infection. Unfortunately, the Unitologists are far more interesting the less that is known about them.
The second film, Dead Space: Aftermath, which I have yet to see in full, takes place between the first and second of the main games. It looks to have the same high production values.
Dead Space 2, the second game in Isaac Clarke’s continuity, goes the bigger is better route. In fact, the horror starts within the first minute, as Isaac awakes in a medical facility three years after his experience aboard the Ishimura. He is on the Sprawl, a colony on Saturn’s moon, Titan. His medical aide steps up to help him, is attacked by an Infector Necromorph, and transforms. Isaac breaks free and, bound in a strait-jacket, avoids the latest Necromorph outbreak as he scrambles for freedom. Eventually he obtains a new engineer suit, a new ally and new missions. Isaac is giving speaking lines and begins his evolution into truly tortured hero. It seems that the new marker responsible for the current outbreak, was somehow constructed from information buried deep in Isaac’s psyche. This is never fully explained, but rather than enhance the story’s tension, it muddles it. This is the problem all creators or weird and imaginative fiction face when they try to explain impossible events. Some can pull it off; most sound silly, throwing the audience out of the story. Though Dead Space 2 is a good game, it never achieves the terror of the first game. The monsters are more familiar now, but even the new additions are slammed at the player so hard that the only tension is physical, the tension of getting your shots off, rather than emotional. Isaac eventually returns to the Ishimura, now in dry dock, and the art team did a magnificent job of refurbishing the interior sets with worklights and spatter, guards, etc. It’s new, but familiar. Isaac obtains a new girlfriend in Ellie, who is a tough fighter but not as macho as other game heroines (though she is still built like a fifteen year old boy’s fantasy.)
Another hit the game takes is the abandonment of the Gothic trappings of the original game. The Sprawl is an indoor mall, and all the low-lighting effects in the world can’t quite transform the setting into a place of terror (short of, perhaps, adding a Hello Kitty store, an opportunity missed by the game makers.) Though superbly designed and detailed, the mall is a far more comfortable place than the dark, twisted hallways of the mining ship.
Dead Space 2:Severed is a downlaodable short game, which is a sequel to Dead Space: Extraction, and a sort-of prequel to Dead Space 2. (What did we do in the days before wikis?)
The various comic series, collected as Dead Space , Dead Space: Salvage and Dead Space: Liberation. Now hold onto your plasma cutters for this one: Dead Space, the comic is a prequel to Dead Space:Extraction, DeadSpace:Downfall and the original game, Dead Space. Salvage is a prequel to Dead Space the game. Liberation is a prequel to Dead Space 3, relating the backstory of Isaac’s new partner, John Carver. There are different creative teams on all three books, and the books are all from different publishers, but amazingly, they are of fairly equal quality. Although there is a point at which isolated Necromorph outbreaks become so common that it’s impossible to believe they were ever a secret (or that Unitologist still think there is a positive side to the Markers) the stories are all enjoyable and reliably bleak in their outcomes. I have heard that there is also a Dead Space Extraction comic, that is a (gasp!) prequel to that prequel, but I’ve never seen a copy.
Two novels, Dead Space:Martyr and Dead Space: Catalyst, both by B.K. Everson, are the ultimate prequels, set hundreds of years before the events of the first game, chronicling the origins of Unitilogy and its founder, Michael Altman. Haven’t read them, but my gut feeling is that I know more about the Unitologists now than is good for my basic enjoyment of the series.
This last summer, Dead Space 3 was released, the biggest and most expensive iteration of the Isaac Clarke saga to date. Those cracks I mentioned are beginning to widen. At the behest of marketing geniuses, in order to rope in a wider audience, the basic concept of survival horror was transformed into an action-adventure format. While a beautifully crafted game, the essence of Dead Space is cast to the wind in favor of more characters, personal conflicts and more talking. The dialogue is well written, the acting well above the standard for this genre, and the action fast and furious. But the drivers of the plot are the Unitologists and their nefarious plans, and the difficulty of the earlier games has been toned down. I played the first one on Easy mode, managed to struggle through the second on Normal. DS 3 was so minimally challenging on Normal mode that there was never a question of running low on ammunition or health packs. Even replaying the game on Hard didn’t equal the challenges of the first two games. Add to that the fact that the best Necromorphs are now quite familiar, and the new ones nowhere near as engaging. Compare a crawling torso dragging a scorpion like tail and a dislocated jaw with fangs the size of basketball-player footwear with a giant tarantula and you’ll see what I mean. Not surprisingly, the game failed to sell as projected.
This time Isaac is more or less kidnapped by a team of remaining EarthGov forces, one of whom is his now former girlfriend, Ellie. They believe they have found the Marker homeworld, an icy planet known as Tau Volantis. A reluctant Isaac goes along with the mission, hoping to end the Marker’s affects forver…and maybe, jsut maybe, get back together with Ellie, though she is now with another member of the crew. Tau Volantis is a much brighter place, and though the constant snowstorms add variety and conceal imminent attacks, the environment only detracts from the horror and the atmosphere established in the first game. Se? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Most galling, a piece of downloadable content contains what is really the ending of the DS 3 story arc, meaning that you pay sixty dollars for the game and another ten or twenty to see the ending. Not a good strategy for building customer loyalty.
There is, of course, talk of a Dead Space movie, though I can’t imagine what it can offer above and beyond what has already been established. The level of graphic design in the original game is going to be hard to beat, and without the personal involvement of dismembering Necromorphs (and random dead bodies of people you might have known) it’s hard to see how the tension will be maintained But then, the audience for the game is much smaller than the potential film audience. Perhaps the film-makers can move beyond the lackluster video game to movie conversions emobodied by Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Tomb Raider to make something memorable. Different. But the same.