(Introduction by LL
I mentioned a few weeks back my surprise at how diverse the world of Lovecraftian comics was, but in my wildest dreams, I never imagined there was a FUNNY Cthulhu comic strip, much less that it would actually BE funny, and still less that it would originate in France. That’s not to diss France; it’s just that in my typical American, self-centered way, I never gave a thought to HPL having a following elsewhere in the world (even though I have lately been feasting on French silent serials like Fantômas, Les Vampires and Judex, so I am not completely isolated from the world.) My bad, but my horizons have been broadened by The Unspeakbale Vault of Doom by Francois Launet, aka Goomi, a nickname which he says comes from a Japanese word meaning “garbage, but which also means “condom” in German. Like the rest of us, he has a day job, as a professional illustrator and designer, and has done some flat-out spectacular “straight” Lovecraftian art, some of which is included below. But being an obvious over-achiever, he’s taken it upon himself to enlighten us with a history of the whole French tradition of Lovecraft in the comics. Loosen your hat-band and enjoy the ride….)
Artists working on Lovecraftian things are often asked how it started. For me, it’s very simple, I discovered HPL through role-playing, and soon after, I dived into his books. Yes, there was (and there still is) a Role playing game based on the Cthulhu Mythos, Call of Cthulhu, written by Sandy Petersen), and it was something very different from the other games, often based on Tolkien-like Heroic-Fantasy (By RPG I mean: dices, paper, imagination and improvisation, not computer games, of course)
I was a simple teenager, living in a small town lost in the countryside, and a suddenly, a whole new dark and exciting universe opened, engulfing my imagination. I quickly read all the related books I could find (and unfortunately all the Derleth’s contributions, which lead me to some kind of indigestion). At the same time, I was also discovering comic books. I now have to explain a few things for the US readers: in Europe, comic books (called Bandes Dessinées) had a very different image: Since the 60s , the Bande dessinée is called the “9th art”, as it has taken a very diversified and mature path. In the 70s and 80s, a large array of stories were available, for children but also for adults, with an impressive variety of form, in art and writing – It’s difficult to describe, but it was much more diversified than the classic Super-Hero comics/Underground stories that were available in the US.
I was quite lucky: while my school companions were reading only the most known and widely spread series, such as Tintin or Asterix, I had access to a huge collection, owned by a good friend (well, it was my parents’ friend, but he soon become mine as well), and was able to browse through a good snapshot of the comic production at this moment – mostly from France and Belgium, along with the best US productions, from Eisner to Crumb.
And I was surprised: Lovecraft’s Mark was clearly visible in a large number of tomes! The most obvious references were present in the “Metal Hurlant” generation. It was a bunch of authors, loosely organised around the periodical magasine Metal Hurlant, translated as screaming or howling metal, which would become Heavy Metal in its US edition in 1977), gathering people like Moebius, Druillet, Bilal, Caza, Gimenez, Giger or Corben among others. Most of them have included clear references to the Mythos, or even directly illustrated Lovecraftian stories, creatures or situations. There was a mythical special Lovecraft issue of Metal Hurlant (Sept. 1978), summarizing a lot of now rare stories, and original works from the mentioned authors (complete list of stories here). This is a collector’s item, full of original works never reprinted, essential for any fan, but hard to find.
Philippe Druillet is a very eclectic creator, with a highly personal graphic style. He made superb Necronomicon pages (which, I must admit, influenced me a lot!) and recurring references can be found in his early Fantasy or Science Fiction Stories, such as in Elric the Necromancian or Lone Sloane. Most of his works can be viewed in his personal website, and most Lovecraftian drawings can be found here.
Moebius‘ internationally known creations are less marked, but he still made some related comics and illustration. Here’s the first page of “Ktulu”, a very parodic story done for the Metal Hurlant Lovecraft issue, maybe the first comic interpretation of HPL I read.
Philippe Caza, though a bit less known than Moebius, drew several illustrations and book covers in his very peculiar style. He’s also known for having illustrated the “Call of Cthulhu” RPG Cover.
Young Enki Bilal, now known for his superb graphic novels and movies, made a few stories directly influenced by Lovecraft. Here’s a page from the one of his first published compilations of short stories. More pages here.
One of the best translator of HPL’s atmosphere and sense of doom is Andreas, a German author who worked mainly in France, a bit less known than the previously described. This very gifted artist built, in a few esoteric albums, the Rork series and the Cromwell Stone cycle, an impressive and very personal interpretation of HPL’s themes, often without using direct names from the mythos. Alien places, weird artifacts, giant, unreachable entities gather in some very graphic stories, with great power and efficiency. Andreas is not well known in English-speaking conutries, and that’s a shame.
Something was at work: Lovecraft was already (I’m talking about comics written between 1965 and 1980) an institution in the Fantastic/Science-Fiction Circles in France at that time. It seems that a group of faithful fans imported Lovecraft’s work here by the 50s – years after their first publication in the US, but with real writer status. There were pros and cons, but it was a pure literary debate, no one blaming the “Pulp” aspect of his works. In France, Lovecraft was brought as a “Realistic Fantasy” writer, something much more valuable than a Science-Fiction writer at that time. I could speak about those Bringers of the Lovecraftian Light, such as Louis Pawels, Jacques Bergier, Alain Dorémieux, Francis Lacassin or Francois Truchaud among others, but that’s not the point here. Anyway, Lovecraft was considered as a pure literary object and not a mere entertainer. This is important, because his image was rather “high”.
Another rare book to be found by french readers is the famous Cahier de l’Herne from 1969, with a compilation of original texts by brilliant minds, and a few new translations.
Special Issue of “Les cahiers de l’Herne”. Cover by Philippe Druillet Orignally edited in 1969 (reprinted in 1984), this rare books in known as one of the more interesting compilation of text, studies and essays by the best French specialist at that time.
But by the middle of the 70s, “Science-Fiction” had become too shiny: it became a full “sub-genre”, with its own big successes and growing mythology, and became associated with loose writing, cheap art, teenagers and pop-corn… It brought down HPL’s “Literary” Aura, sending his works into the cheap books cemetery. HPL was then seen as a simple “pulp” author, dealing with cheap horror, pompous style, ridiculous monsters or weak storylines by most of the literary world – which was just discovering this “sub-genre” and mostly despised it.
Luckily, HPL kept his altar status among the small (but growing) science-fiction/fantasy “nerds” of this past age. When learning about all of this, I was like an archaeologist, finding a single bone, and starting to dig and unearth the whole skeleton of a cyclopean, unknown, fascinating creature. I could easily spot the shadow of the Master over a lot of different creations and later on, I myself became a modest “Bearer of the Unspeakable Torch”, by building my own illustrations and works.
In 1990, I started Art studies, pushed by my will to illustrate those fantastic worlds I had read about. I worked a lot around Lovecraft. In the beggining, it was not very good: too illustrative and basic. But I didn’t give up; after sudies in a Fine Art School, I specialised in computer graphics, and integrated a CG Master Class in the CNBDI : The “National Image and Comic Books Center” (Yes, there’s such a center, in France , set in Angouleme, known for its famous Comic Book Festival.) My classes had nothing to do with comics, but in the Building there were all the “National” things related to comic books: a lot of obscure administrative departments, the National Comic Books Deposit Center (where all published comics published in France must be sent) and overall a HUGE library, opened for the Students. I could then finished my comic book “culture”, reading about 15 or 20 volumes each night. I discovered at that time (around 1994), many works from other countries; it was the full boom of US graphic novels, and the “new comic” generation, with artists such as Frank Miller, Geoff Darrow, Alan Moore, Mike Mignola and many others.
And the Mark of the Cyclopeans Gods was still here, sometimes very clear (Who said Hellboy?), sometimes more subtle.
When, with the rise of the Fantasy/SF genre (mainly due to the success of The Lord of the Rings film adaptation), obscure writers were brought to light, the Mythos Cultists were ready: they invaded all the available medias, from Video-Games to Comics. They are now assaulting the Hollywood fortress, with, it must be confessed, not much success. The Providence Master is still waiting for his own LOTR.
But today, informations and pictures can travel faster and it’s now easy to share good things. For the Lovecraft Fan it’s a blessing, if you can pass the language barrier. This time French-reading cultists have access to a lot of original and interesting material available only in this language (something quite rare, most archives being in English), from the past or written by today’s French-speaking cultists. Just check at renowned writer Michel Houellebeque’s vision of HPL ( A copy in English is available here ) – it’s a very personal interpretation of HPL’s life, but it shows that his “literary” status is still alive. More info about French Lovecraftian Comics can be found in the Popular Culture Section of the H.P.Lovecraft Archives in French.
Guillaume Sorel is another comic artist that produced an impressive series deeply marked by HPL’s influence and his own passion for romantic painting: “L’isle des Morts” (Island of the Dead, based on the famous classical painting by Böcklin), in the 90s. Very active in the Role-Playing circles, he also worked on many rulebooks illustrations.
I’ve already blogged a lot about my own production: how it started (I witnessed a crowd a crazy fans running for Cthulhu plushes, and thought World was ready for a serious parody of Mythos and Lovecraftian gimmicks), and my own relationship with Comic Creation; I’m a pictural man, I make pictures, paintings, illustrations or 3D models, but I’ve always avoided something: getting bored. And drawing twice the same character or set, in a different position/point of view is not a pleasure for me. I chose to make a short comic strip, with very simple characters, easy to copy, in order to go fast and to focus on the humorous writing. Is it so sick to look for humor in the Mythos Universe? I guess it’s needed, to have a counterpart to the infinite dakness and the hopeless condition of human beings. The heavy Lovecraftian Style, the recurring, caricatured situations, the lovingly described unspeakable creatures, all those gimmick need somehow a parody, a counterpoint, maybe for the sake of the reader’s sanity…
A simple, rudimentary drawing, with simplified sets and anatomies, along with plain, vivd colours was needed, for speeding up the creation process and to contrast with my usual gloomy/realistic/seriour works and the serious mood expected for this kind of subject. Well, by now, I must say I’ve lost the battle: drawing and overall colouring a strip of the Unspeakable Vault (of Doom) takes me a lot of time, much more than expected, and images get more and more complicated. The Comic itself seems to have his own life, and don’t want to be a simple compilation of “Cut-and-Paste” characters on standard backgrounds. Good for the readers – but it slows down updates… I’m also facing another issue: how long would it be possible to be still funny with this rather limited subject? Only Yogzotot can tell…
My two different styles in one single image…
Just a few more words and figures to finish: the Comic industry in France (plus Swiss and Belgium) has never been so productive: more the 4.300 different titles were published in 2007 (and by title, I mean a full 50 pages, hard-cover book – monthly soft covers are quite unknown) – about 1300 being Mangas/Manwas translations and 253 coming for the States. So, about the third of those books are original, french-writen works, in all kind of themes and genres. In 2007, Total sells reached euro 320 million ($413 million), for 33.6 million book copies sold (US market at the same time generated between $600 and $400 million – figure depends of sources) For a small country, those sales figures are huge. Creativity is immense, even if standardised series and long-running best-sellers take a large part of the market. There are some dark gems (polhyedrons?) to be found on the crowded shelves such as this Reanimator adaptation by F.Calvez , U29 (Calvez/Rotomago, the adaptation of HPL’s “The Temple” short stories) or Julien Noirel’s Nyarlathotep (some images here)