Sunday 7 August 2011

Review: At The Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft and I.N.J. Culbard

A tale of terror unlike any other: The barren, windswept interior of the Antarctic plateau was lifeless, or so the expedition from Miskatonic University thought. Then they found strange fossils of unheard-of creatures, carved stones tens of millions of years old and, finally, the unspeakable, mind-twisting terror of the City of the Old Ones.

I first discovered Ian Culbard's work through the brilliant graphic novel adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes novels he has done with Ian Edginton. What struck me the most about these books was how Culbard managed to capture perfectly the atmosphere of these stories, and how he portrays the famous lead characters of these stories better than anyone has on film. So last year when I discovered that he was publishing a graphic novelisation of At The Mountains of Madness, a story by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft I was intrigued. Since I started writing this blog I have done Q and A's with quite a few horror writers and many of them have mentioned Lovecraft either as a major influence in their work, or simply that they are hige fans of his writing. I read one or two of his short stories many years ago, but looking back I think I needed to a good few years more before I could really appreciate them. I had been intending to give them a try and decided that Ian Culbard's volume would make the perfect starting point (especially as I had spotted, and managed to get, the limited bookplate edition from the brilliant Gosh Comics in London).

The premise of the story is a familiar one and has been imitated a number of times since the original novella was written: members of a scientific expedition to the Antarctic discover an alien creature. The story is set in the 1930s, giving Mr Culbard another chance to do what he does so well: produce atmospheric artwork that truly reflects the pulp origins of the story. The book opens with a scientist from an earlier expedition discovering, to his horror, a newspaper article about a new venture to the Antarctic. What follows is the recounting of the events that took place several years earlier during the original expedition, where the team discovered remains dating back more than five hundred million years. Despite objections from some members of the party a decision is made to investigate further using their small fleet of light aircraft (stunningly realised by Ian Culbard), with the occupants of one such craft reporting excitedly about: "Mountains surpassing anything in imagination.It's like a land of mystery in a dream, or a gateway to a forbidden world of wonder". 

As readers we are crying out "Noooo! Don't go!" as the scientists take off in their planes on their quest for more evidence, but then again, thanks to the atmospheric artwork, as readers we have also been experiencing a sense of creeping dread from the moment the characters set foot on the barren continent.These explorers go on to discover the remains of something truly amazing, but with this wonder also comes the discovery of something so horrible and that feeling of growing dread increased exponentially the moment that one of the characters, young Darnforth, uttered the words "Those thing, Professor... they weren't dead, were they? They were only sleeping."

Ian Culbard's retelling of the story is worth buying for the artwork alone (his depictions of what we would assume to be a barren land of ice and snow are breathtakingly gorgoues), but coupled as it is with such a great story this is well worth spending your hard earned money on. Since reading this graphic novel I have had bought for me a copy of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft and I have read the original story as written by the author. It is hard going at times as Lovecraft was not the most economical user of words, and due to this at times the pace can really drag in what is in essence a very exciting science fiction horror story. However, I persevered and I am truly glad that I did so, although I have to admit that a small part of me really did prefer Ian Culbard's version. Sorry Lovecraft fans!