Newest Review: ... the tip of the (ahem) iceberg. "I could not help feeling that they were evil things - mountains of madness whose farther slopes looked... more
Member Name: Jake Speed
Illustrated Classics: At the Mountains of Madness - H. P. Lovecraft
Advantages: The clear line art
Disadvantages: Loses something in translation
This is a 2012 graphic novel adaptation by INJ Culbard of HP Lovecraft's classic chiller At the Mountains of Madness (which first appeared in 1936). At the Mountains of Madness is one of Lovecraft's most famous and enduring stories and remains hugely influential. It's a nice idea to turn it into a graphic novel and it works relatively well for the most part. The story is set in the lonely windswept interior of the Antarctic plateau and told by Professor William Dyer - a geologist from Miskatonic University. Dyer's terrible tale is a warning to a planned scientific expedition of Antarctica not to travel to this frozen outpost and follow in his footsteps. He led a team of scholars from Miskatonic University there to extract geological and biological specimens but what they found was so horrifying that his official report had to be censored. Ancient pre-human alien life forms, a lost city, biological engineers who dissect humans for experimentation, creatures so indescribably hideous that one look at them would lead to insanity, and giant, er, penguins. Generally, Lovecraft's pantheon of Elder Things and his rather bleak take on the universe. A vast random indifferent place without any spiritual meaning where man is inconsequential. Dyer and his team have barely hit the ice when their dogs start to act strangely and bark all the time. Strange blob creatures millions of years old are found in a cave and this will merely be the tip of the (ahem) iceberg. "I could not help feeling that they were evil things - mountains of madness whose farther slopes looked out over some accursed ultimate abyss..."
The art here is pitched somewhere in between Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Tintin. Some might find it a trifle cartoonish to convey the full dread of the story but I personally enjoyed the use of Herge's clear line style and found the art crisp and effective. Culbard has adapted Sherlock Holmes stories into the graphic novel format and is adept at period pieces and conveying a certain old fashioned Boy's Own aura. This spirit of adventure is enjoyable here and still present despite the darkness of the story. At times, some of the art reminds one of Tintin in Tibet although Professor Dyer and his team have a far stranger time of it than Tintin and Captain Haddock. A Yeti would be the very least of their problems. I really like the illustrations of the expedition ship on ice crusted waters and some of the other panels here. Old sea planes across a yellow sky, the lights from a torch spearing the gloom of old caves, the vast expanse of white nothingness that surrounds the barren location. The novella takes its time to build suspense and curiosity and the graphic novel does the same too, slowly revealing more and more. Some knowledge of Lovecraft and Cthulhu Mythos might be an advantage but I don't think it's by any means essential. It doesn't matter if you don't know a shoggoth from Noel Edmonds. Think of this as an old fashioned horror yarn along the lines of The Thing From Another World although Lovecraft will not give you quite what you expect when it comes to the conventions of these types of stories.
He has a more clinical and detached personality and it adds to the general intrigue. Some of the nuance of the story is lost but I think this was a noble attempt to translate the story into a comic. Does Culbert's ligne claire style detract from the oppressive atmosphere that this story is supposed to generate? Unavoidably it does a little (this is a story that is best left in your imagination) but there are some excellent spooky dark cave and shadowy corridor panels and the snow bound setting is always sort of creepy too even in this form. The characters don't have a huge amount of detail in their faces but, like Herge, Culbert gives them personality and the background detail is often impressive. Stone walls, the shadows and wings of a plane, old books on a shelf in dimly lit study. I'm not an expert on the source material but I have read it a couple of times and the comic seems to stick to the original story is a faithful way and also use a lot of Lovecraft's text. There is no reinvention here which is just as well really as it would have been irritating I think if they'd changed anything too much. What Culbert does do is shave the book down to its core premise and play up the sense of adventure (soon to turn nightmarish of course), taking us back to a time when polar science was much more of an unknown quantity and there was much that had never been explored. Lovecraft's more archaic flourishes are negated and excised and his far out story is obviously more accessible in this format. This should be a companion piece I feel. Read the novella first and then the graphic novel later.
There is a nice HG Wells Conan Doyle steampunk feel to the graphic novel with the very Victorian looking characters and their old ships and scientific equipment. I love the retro bookends too with the tiny isolated figures in the frozen wilderness. It looks like a scene from a fairy story but is of course very deceiving. The art in the last part of the book as the discoveries of the expedition become ever greater is very impressive at times. Subterranean panels are excellent although the reveal of creatures while fun can perhaps never be completely satisfactory as Lovecraft's creatures are best to imagine for yourself rather than see rendered through another imagination. Mind-twisting terror is obviously much harder to convey in a comic than a novel. I wouldn't have minded a bit more shock value here at times though. At the Mountains of Madness is ultimately a good solid comic though with some impressive art and is one of the better "classic adaptation" graphic novels I've read. Lovecraft obsessives will find more to nitpick than casual readers but this is an attractive and well designed book and a decent read. At the Mountains of Madness runs to 124 pages and at the time of writing is available to buy for about five pounds.
Summary: Enjoyable adaptation
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