‘Anyone with a passing interest in the Hellboy-offshoot BPRD should make a beeline for this’ – The Shadow Out of Time by HP Lovecraft and INJ Culbard

tsootinjchplThe latest HP Lovecraft story to be adapted by INJ Culbard for Self-Made Hero is The Shadow Out of Time, a novella which was first published in a 1936 edition of Astounding Stories. As with The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, which Culbard also adapted, the story concerns possession, of a sort, and madness and is related via ancient arcane book lore, letters and conversations, audacious non-linear narrative leaps and nods and winks to other HP Lovecraft stories (Dyer, for example, from At The Mountains of Madness pops up in The Shadow Out of Time).

Nathaniel Peaslea is a professor (at the famous Miskatonic University in Arkham) who wakes to find that he cannot remember the events of the five previous years – or rather he can remember snatches of the five previous years but they in no way relate to the actions ascribed to him by his family, friends and colleagues for the same period of time. It eventually comes to light that Peaslea’s consciousness was switched with the consciousness of a representative of the Yithians, an ancient race who travel through time acquiring all of the knowledge of the cosmos. There are complications, however. What we ‘see’ as the Yithians are not in fact the Yithians, as they adopted the bodies of another ancient race a great many years earlier in order to escape the creatures who destroyed their home world. Eventually we learn that the Yithians had died out moons ago (destroyed by the same ‘half-polypous’ creatures who had been pursuing them). All of this is backdrop, however, to Peaslea’s own attempts to understand what he had been through and, eventually, uncover what remains there were of the Yithians on Earth (he and Dyer end up in Australia’s Great Sandy Desert on the trail of an immense library).

In some respects, then, The Shadow Out of Time is a tougher read than, say, At The Mountains of Madness because where the latter tsootinjc1hints at vast world outside of the reader’s ken, the former in many ways hinges upon at least a rudimentary grasp of Lovecraft’s stylistic fascinations – but this should not put you off necessarily (it’s good to get the grey matter churning). Certainly anyone with a passing interest in the Hellboy-offshoot BPRD should make a beeline for this. The art is more conventional than you’ll find in Dark Horse comics but this too is no bad thing and helps give the book a sense of the time in which it was written. You could argue that Culbard’s visual imagination is stretched to its limits (the dream vistas Peaslea encounters are not as striking as they could be but some of this could be down to the way in which the pages soak up the ink, a harder, more definite edge might make all of the difference) and that he is more comfortable mining the seams of complex narratives than he is conjuring up breath-taking alternative realities but for all that his Lovecraft adaptations remain a solid joy.

Just about the only thing I’d recommend for the future is a leaf taken out of The Man Who Laughs – it would be great to have a short epilogue from Culbard about the challenges he faced adapting the book, what he felt he had to keep, what he had to lose, what he added etc.

Any Cop?: One of those graphic novels that truly repays the investment you make, improving both with every read and also your own knowledge of Lovecraft.


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