Unpublished in his lifetime and part of what is famously known as the Dream Cycle (over 20 works of varying length written between 1918 and 1932, concerning a vast alternate dimension that can be entered through dreams, which includes both works that INJ Culbard has previously adapted graphically for Self-Made Hero – such as At the Mountains of Madness and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward – and works featuring Randolph Carter, who is the hero of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath), the latest HP Lovecraft graphic novelisation might just be the wildest ride yet (and seemingly indicative of a surge of wild, out there, quest-y graphic novels Self-Made Hero are publishing at the moment, such as Frederik Peeter’s epic Aama).
The story opens amid golden clouds, a city shining in silhouette, a place our hero Randolph Carter has travelled to three times already. We get the sense he is pushing through his dreams, trying to get back to this place that calls to him. He beseeches the Gods of Dream – and he is heard (in frames that recall Marvel’s Secret Wars from way back when) – and from here on in, he’s a-questing. The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath is basically an exercise in which Lovecraft gave himself carte blanche to create worlds: and so he is confronted by waxy faced Egyptian footsolders in a cave, wide-eyed mouse creatures in a forest where he is instructed, Breaking Bad-like, to ‘tread carefully’, by galleons that fly, by God-like cats, by vast dark monolithic buildings, by dragons, by inscrutable runes, by gummy, fleshy monsters, and eventually by the figure who adorns the cover of the book. There are pages – in which Carter, for example, communes with the moon – where you hang on to the narrative by the tips of your fingernails – but that’s fine. You don’t read Lovecraft for the sense it makes. You read it for the vision. It’s a wild ride and made all the more fun by re-reading the other Culbard Lovecraft adaptations too (so that, for example, you can draw parallels between the climax of At the Mountains of Madness and the climax of The Dream-Quest…, as Culbard, and we imagine Lovecraft himself, wanted us to do).
In a sense Culbard is rescuing Lovecraft, showing how each work contributes to the other, reflecting him through eyes that have maybe dabbled with works themselves influenced enormously by Lovecraft, such as Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. The fact that Self-Made are giving Culbard the opportunity to engage with Lovecraft in this fashion, even as he is granted free rein to produce original work, feels vital, important and interesting. What’s also great, of course, is that you don’t need to read anything else to start here. These works function as both interlinked and standalone works, so if your interest is piqued, you can start right here. And, to paraphrase Barry Norman, why not?
Any Cop?: It’s a thrill ride of headfuckery, as Lovecraft surely intended, and the antidote to anyone currently in need of a literary kick up the behind.