The Shadow Out Of Time by H.P. Lovecraft and illustrated by I.N.J. Culbard (graphic novel review).
While HP Lovecraft himself had problems writing ‘The Shadow Out Of Time’ and never considered it entirely satisfactory, subsequent critics have generally regarded it as one of his masterpieces. Part thriller, part monster story, part psychological study and part political manifesto, ‘The Shadow Out Of Time’ is in its entirety a superb piece of Science Fiction that reads as well today as it did when first published in ‘Astounding Tales’ in 1936.
Turning the story into a graphic novel may, at first glance, seem an unusual thing to do. For a start, a great deal of the story depends upon the protagonist, Nathaniel Peaslee, recounting dreams that are at first fleeting and obscure, but over time reveal more and more about his experiences. In the text, Lovecraft allows Peaslee to only make suggestions that hint at what might be going on and it’s only after several pages do things become clearer and Peaslee truly grasp that what he’s recalling are not dreams but suppressed memories.
INJ Culbard actually manages to illustrate these gradual revelations rather well, but to do so has had to make some adjustments to the story. This isn’t a straightforward comicbook version of the novella with a frame by frame adherence to the original text, but the structure is true to Lovecraft’s story, particularly with regard to the framing story that has Peaslee retelling (to whom, if anyone, is not clear) his story on the way back from the dramatic visit to Australia.
On the other hand, the pacing of the earlier part of the novella is a bit different, with a bit less of the Peaslee’s speculations that his dreams were to do with myths or folklore and instead Peaslee more or less smoothly slides into treating his dreams as memories, accepting what he’s seeing at face value. More than anything else, this condenses what are, in the novella, two or three sections where Peaslee recounts his visions into pretty much a single narrative, tightening up the story considerably, but leaving a bit less space for the uncertainty that characterises this part of the original story.
Of course, graphic novels do allow illustrators to present their versions of imaginary landscapes and invented life-forms and this Culbard does very well. The cityscapes are beautifully done, featuring many of the details that Lovecraft includes in his text, such as the rooftop gardens, but it’s Culbard interpretation of the Great Race that are the most striking. Looking very different to the more familiar versions seen in, for example, the ‘Call Of Cthulhu’ role-playing game sourcebooks, they fit the textual descriptions tolerably well but Culbard does tweak them a little, but not unreasonably so.
In terms of style, Culbard uses a ‘ligne claire’ style that uses black inks, solid colours, judicious use of crosshatching for shaded areas and a subdued palette of colours that gives the artwork a flat but very atmospheric feel. Some use is made of solid black areas, but often crosshatching is used instead to suggest dark and claustrophobic situations illuminated only poorly with flashlights. The later part in the story where events move between the hot, dry Australian desert and the caves beneath it are particularly well presented and atmospheric.
To summarise, ‘The Shadow Out Of Time’ is a first-rate interpretation of a great Lovecraft story and though Culbard has nipped and tucked the story a little, he’s retained the cosmic horror goodness that has made ‘The Shadow Out Of Time’ so popular. Highly recommended.
(pub: SelfMadeHero. 128 page small softcover graphic novel. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-90683-868-3)
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