guttergeek formerly discontinuous review of graphic narrative; now just discontinuous

I.N.J. Culbard & H.P Lovecraft, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (Self Made Hero, 2013)


I will surely need to turn in my geek badge when I confess that I have never really gotten the whole Lovecraft thing. And I have tried, told over and again by friends, students and my own kids that I am missing something profound and life-changing. It's not that I don't find the stories wildly imaginative and compelling in their earnest drive towards myth and, well, precisely the cult-status they would achieve many years later. "He's the heir to Poe," my students insist. But in the end, Poe could write a masterful sentence. Lovecraft could not. Try as I might, I have a hard time getting past that.

Fortunately, Ian Culbard has come to my rescue, taking some of the most influential stories I have never been able to finish reading and transforming them into graphic novels that make me, for the first time, able to appreciate the unique vision of H. P. Lovecraft. Culbard's first Lovecraft volume, A
t the Mountains of Madness, was an adaptation of Lovecraft's 1936 remarkably influential (and ponderous) novella. This month, Culbard's second Lovecraft adaptation for the British imprint Self Made Hero was released in the States, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Here we have everything wonderful about Lovecraft's vision brought to light, and the unfortunate prose stylings transformed on Culbard's page into something simultaneously beautiful and horrifying. (As an added bonus: all the Lovecraftian racism is wonderfully excised for your reading pleasure.)

This is the story of an investigation into the case of a man dedicated to obscure genealogy, research and magics, a story made up of lots of talking, incantation, and people researching things—in other words, not the stuff a graphic novelist usually dreams of. What Culbard does in distilling the story visually such that it never feels plodding despite the need to history, explication and length backstory feels at times like its own kind of alchemy. For example, there are extended scenes in the novella of detective work while our Charles' doctor and father try to find a pattern in the articles Charles has been clipping from his family's newspaper. They are rendered here simultaneously with narrative economy and visual energy:


For me, the real pleasure of reading this book was watching a different kind of magic than the dark magic at the center of the story—the magic of an artist and a fan revealing the essences of a storyteller whose gifts I could not receive in their original form. This was true in Mountains of Madness as well, although that story offered far more in the way of visual spectacle and gut-spewing gore for the artist to play with and so I was not as struck with that first book by the achievement. For the first time in my life, I am looking forward to reading more Lovecraft (Culbard's next volume, The Shadow out of Time, is due out in the fall). If I didn't know I owe it all to Culbard, I might now be ready to declare myself a Lovecraftian after all.