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NaNoNoWriMo: Day 17 - Following Neil Gaiman

Graphic Novel Round-up: At the Mountains of Madness

Not a full round-up - a spotlight on one great book:

At the Mountains of Madness At the Mountains of Madness (Lovecraft / Culbard): When Herge-style artwork meets one of Lovecraft's most popular works, the result is going to be notable - either as a resounding failure or a genius success. Fortunately for everyone (especially the reader), INJ Culbard's ballsy re-interpretation of At the Mountains of Madness is definitely the latter.

Mr. Culbard effectively dons two hats.

First, he's forced to turn one of Lovecraft's longest works into a graphic novel. "At the Mountains of Madness" is a big short story (actually, serialized novella). As well as the adventure component, the heart of "Mountains" is an entire history of Lovecraftian Earth. Imagine the challenge when it comes to converting this to a graphic novel. Keeping Herge in mind, it would be the equivalent of a Tintin adventure in which the intrepid reporter stumbles into a pyramid and finds the whole of Egyptian cosmology written on the walls... 

As the writer, Culbard avoids the tempting, self-indulgent trap of making his interpretation all about the Mythos. The pseudo-history is an enticing sub-section of the graphic novel, but where he succeeds (and, arguably, Lovecraft failed) is with the adventure story. Lovecraft couldn't write an empathetic character if his tortured life depending on it. Culbard manages to take Lovecraft's succinct clues and actually populate his book with a proper cast. 

Artistically, Culbard's style is a surprisingly suitable fit. Lovecraft toyed with the reader. He believed that horror was about the "scratching of black wings", not actually showing the tentacle monster in its hideous glory. Lovecraft teased with the monster, but then generally obfuscated it behind his cryptic vocabulary and dramatic ellipses. Too often, the artistic decision in comics is to bring hideous glory to the printed page - invariably falling short of the reader's imagination. Culbard's indicative style is a welcome change from the melodramatic over-detail of, say, Jacen Burrows. He cues the monster, but his (weirdly adorable) style lets us fill in the lines.

That's not to say that At the Mountains of Madness is either stark or minimalist. This graphic novel has one of the most-thoughtful designs I've ever seen - each double-page spread is essentially a massive landscape splash page, with the action taking place in smaller, inset boxes. It is easy to read, but I can't even imagine the amount of planning that had to go into this graphic novel.

At the Mountains of Madness was the word-of-mouth star of BICS, and I'm not surprised to see that the flood of early reviews (including the Guardian) have followed suit. Like 2009, (Phonogram: The Singles Club), it has taken until late in the year to find the year's best graphic novel - but, as far as I'm concerned, the search is over.

(9/10. The same score I'd give Lovecraft's original novella. No higher praise than that.)

[Editor's note: Also, Culbard included the giant, subterranean penguins. That's right - Lovecraft. Penguins. Cthulhu-shmothulhu, this is the man that gave us Morlock penguins! And they're absolutely adorable. (Wuk-wuk!)]