Yep, only six more days until Lovecraft is Missing…..uh…returns? Comes back? Well, the strip returns, but Lovecraft is still…well, you know what I mean. Anyway, I’m ready to get back on a regular schedule. I’m still plugging along on the color, though I stopped to rewrite a section of the story. Little thing, but made it better for me.
But I don’t want to wait until next week to mention the William Hope Hodgson blog recently started by author, scholar and pal, Sam Gafford. Sam knows more about all things Hodgson than anyone else in the known universe. His careful study of Hodgson’s style led to the radical but now widely accepted notion that Hodgson actually wrote his four novels in the reverse order of when they were published. And if you haven’t read Hodgson’s four novels, then whatt are you waiting for. Get started…right after you bookmark Sam’s blog. (And find his treatise on Hodgson; it’s a great read all by itself.)
See you in a few.
New pages will start going up Monday, August 20, 2012. That’s the Old Gentleman’s 122nd birthday. Since it’s a Monday, there will also be a Friday post that will get us back into our regular schedule.
Thanks for all your patience with me. My mom passed away June 16, after a long and complicated decline. It was just impossible to keep the comic going, do my work, go to school and be with her. The comic was the low priority,but I’m behind in everything else as well. But life goes on, and we put one foot in front of the other and fall back in step with it.
We have a lot of ground to cover to finish out Book 5, another40-50 pages at least. Between now and the start date you might want to go back and re-read at least this issue, to bring you back into the flow of things.
See you Agust 20.
I’m reminded of an apocryphal story about James Joyce. When asked at a party how much he had written that day, Joyce supposedly replied, “Seven words.” The other guest was astonished ay such a small output, when Joyce further confounded him by adding, “Oh, I knew the seven words this morning. I just didn’t know what order they went in.”
What started out as twelve pages of script turned into seventeen pages of comic, but then I got caught up in re-ordering stuff, drawing new panels, trying to get the flow to work better. More than three-quarters of these pages are all from one sequence, in which a lot of information is conveyed and I wasn’t about to let it get boring. I think I succeeded, but you’ll know soon enough.
I’ve stopped drawing now to start coloring the pages. As soon as I feel I am far enough ahead to do so, I will start posting again. I am anxious to get on to the next sequence, as it is one that I have been looking forward to since I started the comic. Of course, I’m not going to tell you about it.
Sorry to say I’m still not ready to start posting again BUT I have 12 pages inked and lettered. I grab a half hour here and forty-five minutes there. It’s hard to work up a head of steam. I think I said this before, but I’m aiming to finish the current sequence I’m on (it’s keeps growing) but should have it wrapped up in another two weeks. Then I will go back and start coloring, and as soon as I have enough in the bank to know that I won’t run into a situation like this last one again, I’ll start posting. No firm date just yet, but as soon as possible.
My mom continues to hang in there, though she is slipping away slowly. Fortunately, not a lot of pain.
Most of the reading I’ve done lately has been for my MFA, so there hasn’t been a lot of genre stuff on the agenda. Stephen King’s 11/22/64 was a snooze, and I’m in the middle of World War Z, which strikes me as more of a great marketing concept than a good read. I’m finding it pretty dull going, not so much from the clichés of zombie stories but from the pedestrian prose.
On the plus side, though, I just received my copy of S.T. Joshi’s I Am Providence, the two-volume HPL biography. At $100 it is an indulgence, but you have to do what you have to do. Don’t know when I’ll get time to read it.Oh, and here’s a word of waring for all of you who do business by mail: Delivery Confirmations are a waste of money and worse, a lie. I actually ordered Joshi’s book last month and it never arrived. I’ve dealt with the book dealer for years, great guy, and he sent me the tracking number. The Post Office shows that the book was delivered, so either someone stole it off my porch or it was delivered to someone else who didn’t bother to return it. I get multiple packages every week and I’ve never had one stolen before, so I think this is unlikely. I suppose someone could be lazy enough not to return a hulking big package that is addressed to someone else, but the real point of this is that all a Delivery Confirmation does is show that the package is delivered SOMEWHERE. They keep no other records, so for all we know it was left in a field somewhere. What the hell good is that? And here is the kicker: the USPS employee told me that the insurance I paid for ENDS with the delivery. So even though it was ‘delivered’ somewhere other than my front door, I am probably not going to be able to get the insurance for it. And they wonder why they are losing ground financially?
Anyway, have a good week. Until we meet again. Soon.
Hi, everyone. I thought it only fair to give you a little update. Things are still chaotic here, but I work on the book whenever I can. I have seven pages and most of an eighth inked and lettered, but coloring of course takes the longest. However, it’s also the easiest to do in short increments. To tell and pace a story, I have to get into a groove for a period. Doing a panel every other day keeps me all fragmented, but I am working it out. I’m right in the middle of a sequence now, with three-four pages left to go, so I’m going to finish that and then go back to start color. Still not going to set a date for the come back, but I wanted you to all know that it IS coming. And seriously, I think the best is yet to come. Keep the faith!
The Casebook of Miles Pennoyer by Margery Lawrence, Ash Tree Press, 2003
Excepting Algernon Blackwood and William Hope Hodgson, Margery Lawrence is far and away the best writer of those authors thus far examined in this series on occult detectives. Her evocations of location, from wild, rolling forests to conventional drawing rooms to the shattered remains of bombed-out London, and her ability to make some otherwise very unremarkable characters both believable and interesting deserves a big round of applause. Her stories in this volume are much longer than your standard occult detective tale, novellas more than short stories, and there are a scattering of moments of exquisite other worldliness and horror that rank with the best of the best.
All of which makes me wish that this talent had been used in the service of something beyond extended soap operas and occult pedagogy. While these six long stories, novellas really, are all eminently readable, they are still rather tame ghost or occult stories and don’t offer much to a horror fan.
Miles Pennoyer is a likeable, decent fellow, but, as usual, the least developed character in the series, as if possessing great psychic knowledge were enough. He is, for the most part, another know-it-all, though far less annoying than John Silence or Dr. Taverner. His chronicler, Jerome Latimer, is sharper and better developed than most of his kind, not quite so given to exclaiming “ Dash it all, Pennoyer, what the deuce is going on?”at every dip and turn in the investigation. He’s no more well-informed than Hubbard or Dodgson or the others, just more confident that his friend has things under control.
The Casebook of Miles Pennoyer is the first of two volumes collecting Lawrence’s Pennoyer stories. (Ash Tree Press has published three other collections of Lawrences’s supernatural fiction, The Floating Cafe, Nights of the Round Table and The Terraces of Night.) The second volume has not been scheduled as yet.
The first story, “The Case of the Bronze Door”, gets off to an eerie start as Pennoyer visits an old friend recently married and returned from the East. On his travels, the friend purchased a large antique Chinese bronze door and had it installed along one wall in his apartment. Since that time, trouble has been brewing between him and his wife, who loathes and fears the door.
Even Pennoyer can immediately see that his friend is obsessed with the door and the psychic doctor’s own keen senses detect a destructive force beyond the door. He knows that if he were to break the lock and open the door he would not find the wall behind it but the entrance to another world.
As Pennoyer relates the tale, he off-handedly refers to several of his technique, all of which are enticing : the Ritual of Hloh, the Min Yiu process, the Yimghaz test. None of these is ever mentioned again, at least in the five remaining stories.
The moment building to the opening of the door and its mysteries are first rate, reminiscent of the best Carnacki adventures. Any hopes for a thrilling denouement are quickly dashed, however, as the doors open and a beautiful Chinese princess enters the room. The story quickly devolves into that of a romantic triangle spread out over several reincarnations and thousands of years. Though the Chinese princess is fierce and obsessed with reclaiming her lost lover, Pennoyer sets things right by talking her out of it! It seems Pennoyer is also a reincarnated soul from that same period and at one time was the woman’s teacher. Pleading patience and the time needed for the young man to work out some misdeeds from his previous life, Pennoyer convinces the girl to go back behind the door and wait until the natural reunification on the psychic plane.
“The Case of the Haunted Cathedral” pretty much gives up its game in the title, and paints a pretty tedious portrait of the psychic detective’s job, essentially a prolonged stakeout. It’s the least affecting story in the collection. The dark reasons behind the haunting are strained and Pennoyer’s involvement in the climactic exorcism amounts to sitting in the pews while sending psychic support to the officiating priest.
One recurring Lawrence archetype in these stories is that of the money loving, social climbing, cold hearted upperclass bitch that tries to control all those around her for her own selfish ends. “The Case of Emma McLeod” presents the prime example of this in the character of Lady Angus, lately married to a friend of Pennoyer’s. She is one of the most powerful characters in the book, yet she serves little purpose in the story save to put pressure on her maid servant, the homely, love-starved and lonely Emma McLeod. Almost from the moment we see her tending the wounded paw of a stray dog in the forest, the denouement is clear. Pennoyer is at his most ineffective, a largely passive bystander who fails to offer any useful help to the maid despite his liking and sympathy for her. The story is not a failure; in fact, I enjoyed it despite its fairly preachy tone, but as an occult detective tale, its almost not worth noting.
“The Case of the White Snake” is another story that delivers an example of Lawrence’s prowess as a writer of the fantastic, offering an entertaining read and a few moments of true wonder despite an outcome that is fairly predictable and a plot which, minus its occult elements, would serve as a thread for As the World Turns. The coincidences which bring an unidentified orphan and her lost father together at a country orphanage run by Pennoyer’s cousin are minimized by believable, sympathetic characterizations, but the resolution could have been handled by any modestly talented detective.
At eighty pages, “The Case of the Young Man’s Scar” is the longest tale in the book, and again it is a testament to Lawrence’s writing skills that this otherwise tepid tale holds one’s attention. A young man with an unusual scar on his arm, a scar that lately has been turning red at odd moments, seeks Pennoyer’s aid. Unless the strange circumstances of the scar can be cleared up, the young man feels he cannot marry his true love, the daughter of one of Pennoyer’s old friends and fellow occultist.
Like A Study in Scarlet, the explanation is so complex that it is related as a story within the story, and while interesting, it also hovers just above that soap opera level with its romantic triangle and romanticized notions of ‘Red Indian’ mysticism. The standout character, Francine Legros, is the ultimate expression of Lawrence’s evil woman, driven by shallow yet powerful motives. But there is no terror in the story, just a mystery with occult overtones. Pennoyer has little to do but apply a few psychic balms along the way.
“The Case of the Leanabh Sidhe” has a climactic scene of terror that rivals the best of the best, though the story surrounding it, well written and told, is still a fairly drawn out tale of a changeling. Interestingly, Pennoyer gives a nod to the Electric Pentacle as a defensive device, but unable to use one in the wilderness where he he faces down the King of Fairies, he uses a Holy Rope instead. I have no idea if there is such a thing as an Electric Pentacle or whether this was a bit of a nod to Hodgson’s Carnacki, but it softened me a little more toward Pennoyer.
These stories first appeared after World War ii, and the war is referenced several times, but the spirit of times past inhabits every nook and cranny. A nostalgia for an England lost forever? Or simply the best setting for these types of tales?
In the end, if the tension and horror are what you seek, this is not the book for you. Pennoyer is more a psychic Marcus Welby than an adventure hero. These stories are the workof someone who, in a gentle but direct way, are advertisments for the occult cause. But if you’re a fan of genre fiction in general, you’ll pass a handful of enjoyable hours with Ms. Lawrence’s creation. I’m looking forward to the second volume, and to reading her other collections.
Shiela Crerar, Psychic Investigator, by Ella Scrymsour, edited by Jack Adrian, Ash Tree Press, 2006, in a limited edition of 500 copies, $44.00
Christopher and Barbara Rodens, the dedicated fanatics behind Ash Tree Press, bestow so great a gift on fandom by publishing rare and obscure supernatural fiction in beautifully designed limited editions that it seems almost curmudgeonly to write a less than glowing review of one of their books. But some works are obscure for a reason other than poor marketing. Much as I am personally glad to have all these stories to read, that doesn’t rescue the mediocre and worse from their lack of quality.
The six Sheila Crerar stories are a case in point. They first appeared in the Blue magazine from May to October, 1920. The Blue itself is so obscure that you are unlikely to ever run across a copy yourself outside of a very thorough English library, or the stacks of a major and long-time collector. The Crerar stories, along with most of the stories that appeared in the Blue, have never been reprinted. Unless the editors happened to get a cast-off story from a popular writer like A.M. Burrage, the quality level of the fiction was apparently snake-belly low.
But these six stories have been rescued from oblivion by Jack Adrian, and author Scrymsour manages to insert a number of interesting notions into her first several stories before running out of steam. And outside of Luna Bartendale, the psychic heroine of Jesse Douglas Kerruish’s The Undying Monster(1922), I can’t think of another female psychic sleuth, and certainly none prior to Sheila Crerar.
The first story, “The Eyes of Doom”, presents not only an origin story, however maudlin, but a few enticingly scary scenes. And over the course of the series, Sheila develops a shallow-as-veneer relationship with a smitten admirer, Stavordale Hartland(!) which culminates in marriage, officially ending the series (though some enterprising young author might consider picking that thread up and running with it. “Excuse me, dearest, supper shall be a bit late this evening as I have a gibbering spirit to lay to rest in the west of Scotland.)”
In “The Eyes of Doom,” where a young Sheila, perhaps 18 or 20 years old, has been left an ‘orphan’ by the death of her uncle, she turns to psychic sleuthing solely out of the need to put bread on the table. Leasing the ancestral manor of her uncle to pay off debts, she wonders how she will make a living and goes to London, where she finds there is no work to be had. As her account dwindles, she is approached by a mysterious, elderly man, never seen again, who advises her to use her psychic gifts for the benefit of mankind. With no better proposals on hand, she promptly puts an ad in the paper…and waits. And waits. And just when it seems like there will be no answer, she gets a summons to return to her beloved Scotland to put the ‘Kildrummie Weird’ out to pasture.
From that point on, the story devolves into a fairly stock ghost story, with generational deaths, ancestral misdeeds and spirits craving justice, except that the actual appearance of the weird itself is powerfully imagined:
As she sat, she became aware that someone was looking at her, and she turned sharply round.
A pair of eyes was gazing at her, eyes so mournful, so full of grief that Sjeila felt her own fill with tears of sympathy.
And as she met the piteous gaze, she became suddenly conscious of the fact that the eyes were not framed by a face! She rose with a startled exclamation of horror, and turned away, but to her right another pair of eyes appeared, eyes this time that were mad with hate; eyes so filled with loathing and malevolence that Sheila backed away from them in fear. But now the whole chapel seemed filled with the ghastly sight. Eyes with expression, eyes without! Eyes kind, eyes cruel! Eyes imbecile, eyes fanatical! Eyes with every expression in them that man could conceive.
Sheila put out her hands to beat the swelling mass away, but even as her arms were extended in front of her they were caught in a ghostly vise, and she was dragged to the vestry door.
“The Death Vapour” is so complex for a fifteen page story that it would take almost as long to describe it as to read it. The primary gimmick is the will of a recently deceased gentleman that stipulates his wife must remain in the house for a full year after his death in order to obtain the inheritance. Mysteriously, all the crucifixes have been removed from the house. Add a ghost that can only be seen in a shaft of moonlight, a vicious attack on Sheila that leaves her slimed, badly burned and blind, with something invisibly dining on her blood,plus a hidden crypt, monks walled up alive for performing the Black Mass and a just plain nasty ex-husband and it’s just a ding-nabbed shame that the story isn’t better than it is. But it never drags, I’ll give it that.
The quality takes a big dip in”The Room of Fear” as a room that has been sealed up for ages proves NOT to be an ideal guest bedroom, due to the ubiquitous iniquitous crime performed there centuries before. quakity then falls of a cliff to land on “The Phantom Isle.” I swear, it just doesn’t pay to be a lineal descendant of anybody anymore; despite the gruesome history of the family and the island, this adventure almost has more in common with Brigadoon than standard ghost story fare.
“The Werewolf of Rannouch” is the biggest missed opportunity in the collection. It is even more jam-packed than “The Death Vapor” and reads almost as if it were a synopsis for a novel. It starts in medias res, with Sheila already on the job, tracking down a mysterious killer in the wintry countryside around the little village of Dhuvhair. Cattle and sheep, pigs and dogs and chickens have been found disembowled, their throats torn. Thye first assumption is a mad sheep dog, but the disappearance of children calls for closer scrutiny and darker theories.
Of course, Sheila’s first thought is that it is a werewolf, though her conception of the creature is unusual:
“It is another form of the “Jekyll and Hyde” theory, that’s all, only a much worse form. The astral spirit leaves the body in a sleeping condition, while it assumes an animal shape itself. Thus free, it roams round the world at will and lengthens its existence by drinking fresh, warm blod drawn from a new kill.”
When she first gets sight of it, she, true to her nature, charges it, but it escapes. Still she stays on the case, and though the period of time isn’t tied down definitely, internal evidence points to the passing of at least several weeks.
The identity of the werewolf is apparent from the first page of the story, though Scrymsour manages the deft trick of almost leading the reader astray with two other suspects before falling back on the secret that only the characters in the story could fail to have guessed.
“The Wraith of Fergus McGinty” is one of those unusual and usually unsuccessful “nice” ghost stories, where the spirit of a faithful servant looks out for the best interests of another of those pesky heirs. The story stands out more because it officially wraps the series up, as Sheila decides to forego further ghost huntings and grant Stavordale’s heartfelt wish to love, cherish and protect her until death they do part.
Despite the basically hack writing, there is an odd attractiveness about Crerar. She tends to rush towards every evil spirit she meets, like the spring on a rat trap at a very heavy rat; this makes her either incredibly brave, or stupid. None of Carnacki’s careful preparation for her, even after she is almost killed by such a move in “The Death Vapor.” She has no well organized theories of psychic phenomena, which is preferable to the long-winded, cobbled-together nonsense of one John Silence, but still unsatisfying. Yet somehow, she still manages to come across as more interesting than most of the cardboard sleuths that stalk this peculiar fictional niche. Perhaps it’s her youth and incredible naiveté that does it. In any case, I’d read any new adventures that turned up, whether by Scrymsour or an admiring fan.
As is usual in these psychic detective volumes from Ash Tree, the most entertaining part is the long introduction (it takes up 28 pages of the volume’s roughly 130 pages) by editor Jack Adrian. It rambles around more like a fireside conversation than an actual essay, but Mr. Adrian convinced me long ago that absolutely no one on the planet knows more than he about popular, and in particular, supernatural, fiction and the magazines that featured them from the 19th century through the 21st. I am hereby starting a campaign for Mr. and Ms. Roden to commission a complete history of at least the popular fiction magazines from 1880 to 1960 from Mr. Adrian, so that all this incredible information can be found in one place instead of having to hunt through dozens of introductions to piece it all together.
Sâr Dubnotal vs. Jack the Ripper, anonymous, translated by Brian Stableford, Black Coat Press, 2009
The Conquistador of the Invisible!
The Napoleon of the Immaterial!
The Grandmaster of Psychognosis!
I’m not going to kid you, this is at best cheap dime novel fiction, originally published in 1909, but how can you not like a story that jumbles up haunted houses, buried yogis, Jack the Ripper, spiritualism, possession, gruesome murder and the Flying Dutchman? Who ever said that story had to make sense? Norvell Page got away with this same technique for years in The Spider magazine. And even Raymond Chandler said that when things got slow or complicated in a detective story, just have someone come through the door with a gun in their hand.
Whether the entertainment factor of this serial novel is due to some unseen underlying strengths in the characters and story or to Brian Stableford’s translation, there is an energy and sense of the weird that is missing in far too many more famous occult detective stories. The byline actually says “adapted by Brian Stableford rather than “translated by”, but though he slips in a reference to the Necronomicon, a Saamaa Ms. that recalls Carnacki’s favorite ritual and, I suspect, moved the hero’s London HQ to Cheyne Walk, overall the prose reads quite authentically for the period. It’s hard to fake the insane, by-the-seat-of-your-pants plotting and state-the-obvious dialogue.
Sâr Dubnotal, aka Severus el Tebib, originally appeared in a series of twenty paper covered booklets over the course of 1909. Although Black Coat Press’s promotional material refers to them as pulps, they are closer in format and writing style to our Nick Carter and England’s Sexton Blake dime novel adventures.
The stories were written anonymously, and except for the five novels that make up this collection, all were stand-alone tales. Needless to say, the originals are very rare, so rare in fact that no copy of the middle novel of this serial, issue no. 8, could be located. The events are summarized in the body of the following novel, but, as in most dime novel fiction, the loss doesn’t weigh very heavily on the comprehension or enjoyment of the storyline.
Like Nick Carter, and later, Doc Savage, the Spider and the Shadow, Dubnotal has a band of stalwarts who assist him. Rudolph is his redoubtable assistant, a student of the master’s mysteries and the man who keeps the bags packed for the almost constant immediate travel needs; Annunciata Giametti, a nervous psychic who seldom speaks on her own and, in a rare bit of character development, gives the impression that she would really rather not go through this stuff again; Naini, a Hidu servant; and Otto, Frank and Frejus, three investigators (German, English and French) who are masters of their craft, who have left private careers to do the master’s bidding. The friendly bickering amongst them casts the shadows of Monk and Ham.
Trying to coherently summarize the outrageous, convoluted story is a fool’s errand. Each episode’s storyline is distinct from the others, though without the sense of having been planned out that way; there is far too much obvious flailing about in the plotting to indicate much planning of any kind. It’s possible that the books weren’t even planned as a serial to start. So let’s give it an incoherent summary….
Book One , The Haunted Manor of Crecc’h-ar-van, revolves around a haunted house that looms above a French seaside village. Mysterious deaths claimed the lives of two of the former occupants, Count de Tréguilly and his aging father. Only the Comtesse Tréguilly and her two daughters survived and they left the province after the first reported sightings of the ghost(s). The house has been unrentable since that time.
Sâr Dubnotal, vactioning with his entourage in the area, looks into the haunting first in order to show up a pushy non-believer in the holiday crowd, but as details reveal themselves, his unerring sense of justice comes to dominate. For love of a mysterious Russian noble, the Comtesse betrayed both her father-in-law and her husband, murdering both of them for the inheritance. Sâr Dubnotal takes up the trail.
The master villain beind it all, Tserpchikopf, whom we will discover is also a master hypnotist, the King of the criminal gang known as the Chessmen AND Jack the Ripper (Pile it on thick, o Anonymous One!) is off stage for this first act.
Book 2, Tserpchikopf , the Bloody Hypnotist, has Sâr Dubnotal following the trail to Paris, where Tserpchikopf is working Parisian spiritualists with his hypnotism act — the two ideas are essentialy merged into one here. Sâr Dubnotal exposes him, thus earning the Russian’s undying enmity.
Book 3, The Astral Trail, is the missing novel. The synopsis in Book 4 peels the psychic onion down another layer, revealing that Tserpchikopf is the criminal mastermind/master strategist behind the Chessmen, a criminal gang that has been plaguing Paris.
That next novel, The Quartered Woman of Montmartre, kicks off with a gruesome murder, as an unknown woman is found quartered in a hotel hallway, having been tied between an elevator and its cage; the force of the moving car tore her apart. The police are baffled, and to make matters worse, the body of the unidentified woman is stolen out of the morgue by a mysterious Man in Black wielding awesome hypnotic power. Could it be, dare we say, I think we might, Tserpchikopf?? The woman was the former Queen of the Chessmen, now replaced by the Comtesse.
Without any apparent rhyme or reason, the trail veers to London in Book 5, Jack the Ripper. Tracking the fiend to one of his underground layers, the heroic group are soon compromised and arrested as a collective Jack the Ripper. Fortunately, Dubnotal has a signed note from one chief of police or another and goes along with the gag only to draw Tserpchikopf out into the open. The ruse succeeds, but through his mastery of disguise, Tserpchikopf manages to escape their clutches once again. Surprise! It’s only temporary! While in custody, Dubnotal, via Annunciata, sent a telepsychic message to Frejus, one of his investigators. Frejus tracks the villain even as he (Tserpchikopf, of course), thinks he is evading Dubnotal’s reach! Frejus tracks Tserpchikopf to Whitechapel, where the villain is leading yet another false life, this time as a friendly and evidently helpful neighborhood doctor!
Playing on this compassionate side of the fiend, Dubnotal lures the doctor into the local saloon, where Annunciata, in a gesture worthy of Harry Potter, flicks her wand and suspends Tserpchikopf against the ceiling. Tearfully, Tserpchikopf announces that he set up the Ripper murders to distract Sâr Dubnotal from tracking him down on the other charges.
You figure it out.
And there is still one novel left to go!
Book 6, Posthumous Hatred relates the sad fate of the Comtesse – you remember her, don’t you? — and Tserpchikopf’s attempts to inflict his nasty temper from beyond the grave.
Like Doc Savage, Sâr Dubnotal has a rehabilitation center, Redemption Island, where those criminals capable of being taught a new life are sent rather than to jail. The Comtesse de Tréguilly, also knwon as Azilis, has been there for many years – did I fail to mention that this long adventure takes place across the span of 15 years, from 1890 to 1904? — and she is now well enough to be reunited with her daughters, whom Dubnotal has had raised privately — did I mention that he also possesses great wealth, drawn from his discovery of how to transmute metals into gold and ‘exploitation’ of the pearl beds of Ceylon?
Yet she (or possibly, her conscience) is haunted by the demonic spirit of Tserpchikopf, a larva, according to the odd definition of the author. On the voyage back to France, accompanied by Naini, the passenger ship is beset by a mysterious fog bank, out of which sails the Flying Dutchman — honest! The phantom ship passes through the passenger ship, its sole purpose apparently to deposit a large black Newfoundland on deck. It is immediately friendly to the Comtesse. (In a later lunatic passage, Sâr Dubnotal surmises that the black Newfoundland actually booked passage on the Flying Dutchman for this very purpose.)
Yes, Tserpchikopf is back, his agenda less clear than at any time previously in the tale; he quickly abandons the dog’s boneless carcass to take up residence in one of the Psychogogue’s pet birds.
How can I even do justice to the battle of birds that follows? Yes, battle of birds. An owl and a curlews, Dubnotal’s pets, one possessed by the spirit of the Bloody Hypnotist, the other by the long-buried yogi, Ranijesti, whom the good Sâr occasionally calls on for help.
But wait! There’s more! Azilis dies upon meeting her children, crushed by the shame of her past actions. And as if that weren’t bad enough, Sâr Dubnotal finds it fitting that her sould should be forever paired with Tserpchikopf’s, so that she might prevent his larva from doing any more harm.
As goofy and stilted as the ‘story’ is, some weird, evocative scenes are salted throughout the narrative:the aforementioned encounter with an unfriendly ghost (the anti-Casper?) in a family crypt, a conversation with a buried Yogi, both transmitted through the reluctant Annunciata; the details of the murder, the morgue at the police station, Jack the Ripper’ underground layer, and even the vision of the Flying Dutchman.
As is the norm, Dubnotal has little characterization. His ‘powers’ are vague, ranging from launching “effluvia” at people he wishes to hypnotize (the term refers to a psychic liquid that carries the mesmeric influence) to psychic empathy, but he relies mostly on his mediums and a few mechnical devices like his psychic camera/projector.
Black Coat Press is the brainchild of the L’Officier brothers; thanks to the miracle of print on demand, they have done us all a great service by making incredibly obscure French fiction available, as well as new tales and a history or two. The adventures of the Nyctalope, the Blak Coats, Fantômas and others are both reprinted AND continued by a stable of writers. A few of these gems are targets for future reviews.
The only downside is that for their relatively high price ( Sâr Dubnotal vs. Jack the Ripper is $24.95 for 355 pages), the BCP proofreading is embarrassingly bad, often with two or three typos to a page, They are all of the kind spell-checkers wouldn’t catch — widows for windows, grinds for grounds, and so on; they can easily be figured out, but to have so many is really annoying.
Evening things out a bit, even if you don’t enjoy the bad fiction as well as I do, there are the terrific and informative introductions that detail the history of the magaazines and characters. Stableford’s introduction to this volume includes a survey of French occult history that is more than worthwhile.
Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: In the Service of Angels by Mike Mignola & Ben Stenbeck, Dark Horse Books, 2010, $17.99
It’s not often that Mike Mignola fails to deliver an entertaining story, but nobody bats 1000. But even his decidedly uneven first novel, Baltimore, had flashes of his immense talent. This first in what presumably will be a series of Edward Grey graphic novels falls flat in almost every respect, though I am willing to allow that future stories might reveal some carefully hidden clues in this one that are too inscrutable for me at this time.
Oddly, considering the sparseness of dialogue in Hellboy, In the Service of Angels is talky – never a good thing for a comic book. There is so much explanation, exposition and back story that I found myself skimming over it, then having to go back and reread it lest I miss something important. I didn’t. There are also a lot of pious religious quotes that all muddle together despite being from diverse texts. I don’t believe a word of it, also not a good sign.
Though Dave Stewart uses his excellent color sense to keep Grey in the Hellboy universe, and Ben Stenbeck’s artwork has just enough Mignola in it to be familiar yet enough flair to stand on its own, there is a remarkable lack of atmosphere. Despite all the Victorian details, I never feel like I am in Victorian London.
The origins of events that will happen ‘later’ in the Hellboy and B.P.R.D. books provide the foundation for this story, but even if you aren’t keeping up with those books, there is little here you haven’t seen before: an ancient lost city, troglodytes, a little spiritualism. Twists and turns feel lead-footed even when they are interesting.
Far and away the biggest drag on the book is Grey himself, a humorless, dull fellow, Christian yet neither a fiery Puritan ala Solomon Kane nor an eccentric like Carnacki. His own defenses against the powers of darkness are some rather tired, prayerful soliloquies and silver bullets, though neither are particularly effective; he gets the most bang out of a pagan Hyperborean sword, and though he expresses mild misgivings about it, his religious beliefs are evidently liberal enough to accommodate it. A love interest struggles to develop between Grey and a medium, there is evidence of a hellish curse attached to the ‘witchfinder”, and several of his previous cases are briefly related, but none has the originality one is accustomed to savoring in a Mignola book. Even the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra, so interesting in B.P.R.D., lacks intrigue, its agents showing up at opportune moments like stock villains. Two new characters, the Captain and Gustave Strobl, don’t have a lot to offer either.
The story is told in normal fashion until the very last page, when it abruptly switches to a literary past tense, as if there was some rush to wrap the story up quickly, condensing the rest of Grey’s life into a couple of paragraphs.
Hellboy has evolved over the years and, as I said, it’s quite possible that future stories will take Sir Edward Grey down some more obscure and interesting paths, and reveal some incidents in this story to have been set-ups for more intriguing possibilities. But Hellboy was also interesting from the very start. Grey has a long way to go to catch up.
Mike Mignola, with his game on, can hurry Grey along. .I hope he’ll double-time it, I really do. The world needs a really top-notch Victorian occult detective.
..And that is where we have to leave the story for awhile. I’d like to give you a date that I’ll be back, but the uncertainty around my mother’s deteriorating health –she’s in hospice now– keeps me from making promises. Please know that I am continuing to work on the comic, I just can’t meet the one page a week deadline right now. I have three pages inked, and I’m laying out more, but the coloring is what takes the most time. Rather than put up a page sporadically, I’d rather wait until I can get back to a regular schedule.
The Walking Dead is still dragging its feet (ouch) and giving us too little forward momentum per episode, but it’s still one of the best series on tv. I tried catching up on Fringe, but even with the return of Mr. Jones I can barely keep my attention focused on it.
For my job I am developing some curriculum for 3D modelers and animators who want to go into games. Games are not really my generation, so I have some catching up to do. I got an xBox for Christmas and a couple of games. The only one I’ve made it all the way through is Bioshock, and let me tell you, it was terrific. For $14, the price of the game used, I got more enjoyment and more emotional involvement than the last ten contemporary horror films I’ve seen. I have Bioshock 2 waiting for me, as well as Dead Rising, but I am really puzzled as to why there are no Lovecraftian games, or so few and so unpopular that I’ve been unable to locate them.
Don’t forget me. I’ll be back as soon as I can.