‘Dyer and Danforth wouldn’t look out of place in one of the adventures of Tintin’ – At the Mountains of Madness by HP Lovecraft & INJ Culbard

I’ve wanted to get my hands on this delicious graphic adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s classic tale of horror for a wee while now – and I am glad to say that it doesn’t disappoint (although, saying that, it wasn’t quite as I imagined it would be). For the uninitiated, At the Mountains of Madness is a horror tale in the vein of John Carpenter’s The Thing (and I say that in the full knowledge that there must be at least a couple of dozen reviews of John Carpenter’s The Thing that say it’s a horror tale in the vein of HP Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness): an expedition to the wasteland of the Antarctic (written in the days when that would have been thought impossible) that results in horror, death and a long frozen world of alien intrigue.

The tale is told retrospectively by a Professor Dyer, a Geology Professor from the Miskatonic University. His expedition lands on Ross Island on 9 November 1930 and quickly fractures after rocks with curious triangular patterns are discovered, sending half his party off on the trail of whatever the rocks could mean – a journey that leads them straight to ‘mountains surpassing anything in imagination’: ‘It’s like a land of mystery in a dream, or a gateway to a forbidden world of wonder.’ The pilot reports back to Dyer at base, saying there are strange whistling caves in the mountainside that look as if they’d been hollowed out and ‘strange cube-like formations on the highest slopes’. Dyer, who was fiercely opposed to dividing up, gradually comes around as the other men in his expedition appear to make incredible discoveries, including, eventually, strange dead alien life forms that drive their dogs crazy. It probably comes as little surprise to learn that Dyer loses radio contact shortly thereafter and, travelling with his faithful companion Danforth to see what happened, chances across a scene of brutal mayhem. When Dyer and Danforth set forth to try and get to the bottom of things they start to unravel a mystery that gets right to the heart of Lovecraftian folklore, the Necronomicon, and a bizarre lineage of otherworldly creatures.

In this day and age, anyone familiar with, say, Dark Horse comics knows that Lovecraft’s influence has continued to be felt many decades after his death (Lovecraft is one of those writers who only ‘made it’ when he kicked the bucket) – and it would be easy for Culbard to try and ape the likes of Mignola in fashioning his adaptation of Lovecraft, but he doesn’t do that. The closest antecedent of his graphic style is probably Hergé – Dyer and Danforth wouldn’t look out of place in one of the adventures of Tintin. But it’s reductive and does the book a disservice to try and claim it’s Hergé’s Lovecraft. Culbard has a powerful and distinctive way with images that chimes nicely with what Lovecraft was trying to do – you only have to look at the cover of the book to see how powerfully he can conjure sophisticated mystery from the Antarctic dreamscape of Lovecraft’s imagination. The reiteration of the noise the beasts make – TEKELI-LI!! TEKELI-LI!! TEKELI-LI!! – resonates like the pounding of Poe’s ‘Tell-tale Heart’. The beasts themselves (more Wyndham’s Triffids than HR Giger’s Alien) are chilling enough although this reader couldn’t help but feel that sometimes a little more detail would go a long way (sometimes shadow overtakes Culbard and it leaves you with a desire for a hard scratched line when you’ve been offered a thumb smudged bit of pastel). This is a minor quibble though.

Self-Made Heroes’ line of literary adaptations have taken this reader by storm (you’ll remember we enjoyed the adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness published in 2010) and if At the Mountains of Madness is the level at which they continue to appear all the better. I for one will be sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to see what Culbard and Self-Made Hero come up with next.

Any Cop?: A great first introduction to Lovecraft and a very satisfying graphic adaptation for long-time fans. A winner all round.

5 comments

  1. […] The heroine of the book is, of course, Nemo’s daughter Janni who regular readers will know has been obliquely involved with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen during the recent Century trilogy (1910, 1969 and 2009). Opening in New York in 1925, we learn that she has double crossed a rather stern gent and a rather powerful lady, a Queen no less, who has a tendency to lose her temper and tear the entrails from servants whenever they displease her (Charles Foster Kane and H Rider Haggard’s She if anyone is keeping score) . Three men, Tom Swift (here spelled “Swyfte”), Jack Wright and Frank Reade Jr, are hired to hunt her down (each of whom have been pulled from the pulpy pages of history) – but Janni has already set off on a journey of her own, following in her late father’s footsteps. The ensuing narrative – which as you can see from the delightful annotations produced by Jess Nevins  takes in penny dreadfuls like Broad Arrow Jack from 1866,  Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, Metropolis, Nicolas Edme Restif de la Bretonne’s La Découverte australe Par un Homme-volant, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym and Jacques Futrelle’s The Problem of Cell 13 as well as countless others – climaxes with Moore once more embracing HP Lovecraft in a brief, furious flirtation with The Mountains of Madness. […]

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