Book Reviews from the Staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House


December 10, 2023
Two Graphical Adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft in 2023
In the last quarter of 2023, the staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House read two very different books adding illustrations to the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. The fourth volume of Lovecraft illustrated by François Baranger features the story, "The Dunwich Horror". "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" is the most recent manga adaptation by Gou Tanabe. We review each briefly below.

Disclaimer: H.P. Lovecraft (August 20, 1890 - March 15, 1937) lived in an era when expressions of overt racism remained acceptable in mainstream American culture. Moreover, in his fiction, Lovecraft described a cosmos in which the universe was intrinsically inimical to the interests of man. That men themselves should embrace an analogous animus in dealing with their own kind exacerbates the stereotypes and prejudices that were otherwise a part of the mundane world of his time. The stereotypes present in the two works under review here, "The Dunwich Horror" and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", predominately express contempt for rural people (irrespective of race) by urban residents.

The Dunwich Horror - François Baranger (Free League, 2023)

"The Dunwich Horror" was written in 1928 and first published in the April 1929 issue of Weird Tales. This version illustrated by French artist, François Baranger (b. September 28, 1970), is the fourth in his volumes of Lovecraft works and was published in the United States by Free League on October 31, 2023. Today the works of Lovecraft have been freed from intellectual property constraints and reside in the public domain. The lavish illustrations of Baranger are first published in France with French translations of Lovecraft. In the United States, we wait a year or two for the subsequent publication of an English language version, in which Baranger's volumes return to the original text (to our knowledge without adaptation or censorhip). The story/novella is distributed over 64 pages in this edition, with Baranger choosing the break points to associate passages with particular illustrations. Most paintings span the full two pages over which the text is overlaid, covering portions of the graphic.

In the year 2023, the staff of the Poison Pie Publishing house read few newly published works of fiction, perhaps none. Instead, we reread classics of the twentieth century, including The Plague (Alfred A. Knopf, 1957) by Albert Camus (November 7, 1913 - January 4, 1960) and Mariamne (Chatto & Windus, 1968) by Pär Lagerkvist (May 23, 1891 - July 11, 1974) and short stories from Cosmicomics (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968) by Italo Calvino (October 15, 1923 - September 19, 1985) and The Monkey's Wrench (Summit, 1986) by Primo Levi (July 31, 1919 - April 11, 1987). There is however a special pleasure in rereading a classic newly illustrated. We experienced a spine-tingling thrill in rereading "The Dunwich Horror" while examining the careful illustrations of Baranger, which perfectly capture the haunting mood of Lovecraft. The limited color palette is in keeping with an artistic esthetic intended to be sympathetic to the Lovecraft ethos. This oversized hardcover, measuring 11 in. x 14.25 in., is surely the definitive edition of "The Dunwich Horror" for readers both new to and long familiar with Lovecraft.

We showcase several covers illustrated by Baranger from this series in a gallery of H.P. Lovecraft cover art.

The Shadow over Innsmouth - Gou Tanabe (Dark Horse, 2023)

"The Shadow over Innsmouth" was written in 1931 and first published in November 1936. Guo Tanabe (b. 1975) is a Japanese artist who has been adapting Lovecraft stories and novellas to the manga graphic novel format. Some (but not all) of these adaptations have been "re-translated" back into English. "The Shadow over Innsmouth" is the fourth manga by Tanabe, published in English by Dark Horse on December 5, 2023.

In contrast to Baranger, the graphic novel does not reproduce Lovecraft's text verbatim. Rather, the descriptions of the places and creatures are replaced entirely with illustrations. Select dialogue is reproduced in text bubbles. This adapatation is massive, running 450 pages. Tanabe is faithful to the original, skimming over nothing, and adding wholly consistent visual extrapolation from his own imagination. The creativity of Tanabe as an artist has seamlessly added to the Lovecraft original. That we should have, in Baranger and Tanabe, two essentially perfect illustrations of Lovecraft that couldn't be more different than the other is a testament to the artistic vitality on an Earth in which eight billion human beings reside, some of whom have the inclination and opportunity to express an unfettared, unique vision with the precise refinement of a practiced artist. We did nothing in 2023 to deserve such end-of-the-year riches.

The sole criticism of this volume is its miniscule format. Dark Horse publishes the Lovecraft manga in a 5 in. x 7 in. paperback "digest" format, which frankly is two small to see the detail of his drawings. The artwork of Tanabe is absolutely worthy of the oversized hardcover treatment analogous to that which Baranger has received. Still, we get what we get and we don't pitch a fit. This version illustrated by Tanabe is far and away the best graphical version of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" available today. We delighted in the hours spent flipping (backward, i.e. right to left in manga style) through this book.

We showcase several covers from this manga series by Guo Tanabe in a gallery of H.P. Lovecraft cover art.


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