Why Lovecraft?

I’m often asked why I love Lovecraft. This article is my attempt at trying to explain this. Whether or not I will answer the question, we shall see!

A little bit of back story. Back in the day I was well into role-playing and I used to get the one magazine that dealt with RPGs: White Dwarf. In one edition they discussed a game called The Call of Cthulhu, complete with illustrations and a little extract from a Lovecraft story. I loved what I read but now came a problem. There was no place to get hold of his books or stories (this was back in the pre-internet days) and so his work became this mythical thing, a holy grail of horror. It built up in my mind that this Lovecraft thing was just going to be amazing. When I finally found a collection of his stories I was so excited. Seriously, really excited. On the bus home I read Dagon and was….underwhelmed. Maybe I’d built it up too much in my head, maybe it was trying to read on a busy bus. Whatever it was, I wasn’t impressed.

I stuck with it, read a few more. Slowly, I started to get it. The depth of the stories grew on me, the sense of cosmic dread crept up from the depths and I was hooked. The sheer volume of ideas infused in his stories even now amaze me. Even now, when I read and re-read his stories I’m floored that there are so many original ideas and concepts from one person. Before Lovecraft I’d read a lot of horror but this was the first time there was this whole cosmic thing going on. The sense of who vast the Universe is, and how small and pitiful we are.

But let’s address some of the questions people often ask me about Lovecraft.

Firstly, the pace. These books were written a long time ago. Presumably, life moved at a different pace. I had to slow my impatience down, take my time to read the stories, process the concepts and really absorb the tales. Once I did that, I began to really enjoy the works.

Secondly, the writing. Well, yeah, I believe the term “purple prose” gets banded around quite a bit. Sure, he did get a bit carried away from time to time. A lot of stories drag out to the inevitable conclusion that you worked out quite some time ago. You’ve just got to let go – flow with it and enjoy the ride!

Thirdly, the racism. There’s no getting away from this. It’s been discussed by far more intelligent people than myself. The only thing I have to say on the matter is that his xenophobia must have influenced his writing in some shape or form, creating that fear that exudes in his stories. “Write what you know” and Lovecraft must have known fear.

Finally, what’s with all the tentacles? To be honest, I’m not sure. Tentacles don’t really feature that often in Lovecraft’s work (if at all?), but for some reason it’s been picked up as the key motif of his work. I’m guilty of using tentacles in my own art. It’s an easy way of putting something odd, almost alien, into an image – something that doesn’t quite belong. But if you read Lovecraft, you might see that this is a very misleading piece of imagery. But it exists, so I live with it.

So there you have it. Maybe it doesn’t answer any of the questions, but I hope it gives you an idea as to why, even now, I’m still obsessed with Lovecraft.

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Art, Graphic Novels and Me

This post is probably going to meander a bit so in order to try and keep things readable I’m going to try and keep it chronological. The point of it is to try and look at my own journey with art and graphic novels, maybe try and explain what has influenced me along the way and where I am now.

The start of it all has to come from my Dad’s collection of science fiction paperbacks. They all had these amazing covers by Bruce Pennington and I would sit and look at these covers for hours, imagining what was in those books. I was too young to read them, but I was hooked. Even now, the work of Bruce Pennington is a massive influence on me.

It wasn’t too long after that I discovered the beauty of Lovecraft. I’m not going to talk too much about Lovecraft here but his work has affected me in many ways that I’ll try and address in another of these rambles.

Next on the list has to be 2000AD. In the 80’s a lot of us would read 2000AD – Judge Dredd, Rouge Trooper, Slaine – all great characters. Rouge Trooper was illustrated by Dave Gibbons, who went on to illustrate another great influence: The Watchmen.

Watchmen was a bit of a landmark in the world of graphic novels. It took apart the genre, expertly written by Alan Moore. When I first started to read it I was disappointed at these old saggy super heroes who weren’t really super. But as I continued, the story evolved with layers upon layers of depth. As it grew so did my appreciation of what a graphic novel could really do. I’ve never looked back.

This next bit is going to be a bit random, but keep with me. In the early 90’s, I was looking for a new T-Shirt. I found this t-shirt with the most amazing artwork. It was for the Grateful Dead’s album Aoxomoxoa. If you’re not familiar, the artwork was by the surfer/artist Rick Griffin. I bought the album first (which I loved) and then bought the t-shirt. Yeah, a bit random but hey, it worked! From there on, I developed a love for Rick Griffin’s art. I bought one of those Paper Tiger books of his work, which started talking about Zap Comix.

And so…Zap Comix….where to begin? This was like an explosion inside my head when I bought my first copy. It had a beautiful Rick Griffin cover but the inside was just mental. Not all good, some downright hideous, but it made me aware of such amazing talent like Robert Crumb and Gilbert Sheldon.

Whilst I have my reservations about Mr. Crumb (based purely on the brilliant documentary Crumb!), his art work blew me away. His work in the Kafka book has to be one of the most perfect alignments between art and words that I’ve ever seen.

Gilbert Sheldon is perhaps best known for the Freak Brothers comics. Obviously a bit naughty in their subject matter, I was in my University days when I discovered those ribald chaps. I loved every single one of their comics. The earlier comics had an art style I loved, a style that seemed to change in the later editions. But still, even now, they remain one of my all time favourite comics.

By this time I had discovered the joys of punk rock and was fully immersing myself in all things punk. This led on to me discovering how punk rock worked its way into comics. I was intrigued by the works of Raymond Pettibon, who provided the legendary icon for Black Flag as well as numerous covers for SST bands like Minutemen. But this wasn’t quite enough. So when I stumbled across Love and Rockets I was instantly hooked.

Jamie Hernandez, the artist responsible for Love and Rockets, created two (at least) of the most engaging characters: Maggie and Hopey. I’m not ashamed to say I had a crush on both of these tear-aways. Probably still do. Hernandez drew them so beautifully, explored their personalities, their strengths, their weaknesses, in a way I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in a comic. Truly inspiring stuff.

Whilst not a great an artist, Pete Bagge also produced one of the more memorable character in Buddy Bradley. Hate was (is?!) a fantastic comic. I wouldn’t say I identified with every part of Buddy but there were definitely certain aspects of his character I could relate to. His love of music, for one.

That pretty much takes us up to when I left the country. For about 10 years or so, I was away from England and lost connection with what was going on in the comic world. I’ve since gotten back into comics and graphic novels, but I’ll go into that in more detail in another post. If you’re still reading, thank you for making it this far! Let me know what are your favourite graphic novels/characters/artists in the comments below…I’d love to hear what else I’ve been missing out on.