Kus! Week : Martin Lacko’s “The Call Of Cthulhu” (Mini Kus! #49)

The last item under our metaphorical microscope for Kus! week is Mini Kus! #49, one of the more curious entries in a series that justly prides itself on curiosity and eclecticism, Martin Lacko’s MS Paint-rendered adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s “purple prose” horror classic, The Call Of Cthulhu.

At first glance, this deliberately crude Cliffs Notes-on-crack truncation of a seminal text may seem irreverent in the extreme — Lovecraft and brevity don’t go together naturally, after all — but a closer examination reveals it to be anything but : by boiling the story down to its indivisible components, playing up its inherent absurdity, and completely neutering its forced “dark grandeur” before replacing it with a kind of (forgive the contradiction) light-hearted cynicism, it actually shows how endlessly inventive Lovecraft’s core ideas are under any circumstances.

Besides, for those of us interested in a dense and thoughtful consideration in comics form of what fans simply refer to as “The Mythos,” there’s always Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence, which is probably the last — and best — word on the subject. As well as on all subjects within the subject. Lacko has neither the time nor the space for that, and instead performs a deconstruction-by-sledgehammer that goes about its business with such sheer glee that only love for the so-called “source material” can possibly be its animus. He simply wouldn’t bother to blunt every tool in Lovecraft’s box if he didn’t both understand and respect the power inherent in the work itself on a purely conceptual level.

No slap in the face is intended here, then, despite appearances, but it should be noted that those appearances are pretty goddamn — unconventional, to put it kindly. Illustrated both quickly and digitally, Lacko here communicates in a visual language every bit as unsophisticated as Lovecraft’s prose, with the key distinction being that he’s engaged in juvenalia by design, rather than arriving at it by sheer accident in an ill-considered attempt to achieve literary greatness. The best example of that is the Cthulhu monster itself — where Lovecraft spent pages and pages describing a creature that he openly stated was frankly indescribable, Lacko cranks out an image that looks straight from an early-1980s video game that the kids probably would have chuckled at even back then. Disarming? No doubt. But hardly a “piss-take,” more like a distillation of essential elements into something just as effective, if for entirely different reasons.

All of which means, of course, that this comic is one of those rarely-arrived-at-moments of successfully utilizing “dumb” means for “smart” — in fact, deliciously clever — aims. The point may be so buried beneath its attention-stealing method of delivery that it’s lost on some, particularly the depressingly literally-minded, but it’s undeniable just the same. I won’t hold it against you for needing it to be pointed out — but you know what? You’re plenty smart people (whoever you are), and I have full confidence that you’d have arrived at the same conclusion without me being here to conveniently point it out to you. I’m just, ya know, doing my job and all that.

And the final part of that job is to tell you to pick this comic up ASAP. Lacko’s not a talent I’m terribly familiar with, but in the space of just 28 pages, he proves beyond any shadow of a doubt (or over Innsmouth) that he’s one of the best deconstructionists and, crucially, reconstructionists working in the comics medium today.

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The Call Of Cthulhu is available for $6 (worldwide shipping is free!) from the publisher at http://www.komikss.lv/

Also, please consider supporting my ongoing work by subscribing to my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. The link for that is https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

Eurocomics Spotlight : “Lovecraft : The Myth Of Cthulhu”

On the one hand, this is an extremely easy book to review — and on the other, it’s an extremely difficult one.

Chances are, you see, that most readers going into Spanish comics master Esteban Maroto’s IDW-published hardback Lovecraft : The Myth Of Cthulhu are going to be well familiar with the three H.P. Lovecraft adaptations collected herein — “The Nameless City,” “The Festival,” and “The Call Of Cthulhu” are, after all, the first three entries in the legendary “Cthulhu Cycle,” and have been translated into the comics medium a good number of times already (despite the rather curious claim made in Jose Villarrubia’s otherwise-fine introduction to this volume that Lovecraftian works are rarely adapted for comics) — and therefore what’s of primary interest here is not so much what’s being presented as how it’s being presented. The usual plot recaps and the like that accompany most self-respecting reviews are, therefore, probably not strictly necessary in this case (forgive me, then, if we duly skip them over), but some type of analysis of how successfully this material “makes the jump” from the world of the purely literary into the world of graphic storytelling under Maroto’s direction is absolutely necessary if we’re to determine whether or not this book is worth 20 of your hard-earned dollars. So let’s get right to that, shall we?

Certainly the path these stories have taken to finally seeing print has been a circuitous one — Maroto is no stranger to most American comics readers, having enjoyed a healthy run on Marvel’s Red Sonja in the 1970s (for the record, the chain-mail bikini was his idea) and his name being a regular fixture in various Warren black-and-white horror magazines around the same period, but these strips were originally commissioned in the early ’80s for a publication in his home country that folded up shop before they could see print. The rights to them, as well as the original artwork, then fell into the possession of another Spanish publisher, who gave them decidedly short shrift by running them as backup features in a non-horror series, and then they sort of disappeared down the memory hole until they were essentially re-written by Roy Thomas (I’m sorry, but that’s just cruel) for inclusion in a little-seen small press Lovecraft-themed TPB anthology collection earlier this century.

The good news is that in the years since, the artwork has all been returned to Maroto’s possession one way or another, and as such, the reproduction quality of this volume is simply outstanding, with all the pages looking as sharp, clean, and striking as one would expect given that they are taken directly from the originals. IDW has long excelled at the presentation of archival-quality vintage material (okay, fair enough, apart from their Craig Yoe-edited projects), and this book fits well within that tradition, presenting hard-to-find material essentially thought lost to the ages in a manner that makes it look, for all intents and purposes, brand new.

And, of course, for many readers — myself included — these adaptations, if not the stories themselves, are brand new, as no one outside of Spain has ever seen them presented as Maroto originally intended, with “his own” (by way of Lovecraft, of course) words accompanying his masterful illustrations. And that’s where the heavy dichotomy sets in : Maroto’s black-and-white art is lush, detailed to the point of obsessive, and intensely atmospheric, with fear and terror literally dripping from every panel. His expressive faces, rich use of shading and tone, and thick, inky blacks combine and coalesce to form imagery that straight-up oozes dread, and his imagination is more than up to the task of depicting otherworldly malevolent forces that Lovecraft himself, let’s not forget, was always quick to remind readers were well beyond the ability of the human mind to fully comprehend or accurately describe. I’m not prepared to say that Maroto’s iteration of Cthulhu, for instance, is the “definitive” one, since there’s no such thing, but if there were —

Unfortunately, the scripting leaves a whole hell of a lot to be desired, the stories coming across as a series of rather dry “Cliffs Notes”-style condensed re-tellings of their (I hate this fucking term, but) “source material,” heavy on entirely unnecessary description, so if you’re of the mind that both story and art better be pretty good in order for a book to be worth your time and money (in no way an unreasonable position to take), then I’ll tell you right now to avoid this one as you’ll just be disappointed. If, however, you’re prepared to let yourself get swept up by (or maybe that should be subsumed under?) wonderfully, nightmarishly grotesque (in the truest sense of the word) visuals and to let them do all the storytelling work, then Lovecraft : The Myth Of Cthulhu isn’t just a damn good collection of horror comics, it’s probably an essential one.