Tag Archives: lovecraft

Search for Hu banner ad

Fear of the Known: Lovecraftian classic Cromwell Stone goes beyond the unknown to find terror

Cromwell Stone

Whenever a book, a movie, or a comic book claims to be a work of Lovecraftian horror, certain storytelling worries and expectations crop up. Will it open with the overused Lovecraft quote on the oldest and strongest fear of mankind being fear of the unknown? Does it look like it’s bound to be an affair between tentacled monstrosities and madness? Or will it be about a single person living in a house that’s located on the exact coordinates where cosmic horror lies buried?

One would think that the extent of Lovecraftian horror lies within those questions, but for French comics auteur Andreas (born in Germany and then relocated to France) the very core of this kind of horror lies beyond the unknown. Instead, it might lie in the realization that what we truly fear is what we can’t understand, and whether our attempts at understanding it will ever bear fruit.

This is what Andreas contemplates in his classic horror trilogy Cromwell Stone, a story about strange objects and old gods that might be too alien for our minds to comprehend but must still be studied and pursued. The real danger is in the discovery process for Andreas and his main character is the vessel through which we come to this realization.

Cromwell Stone can currently be found in a collected edition containing all three volumes of the story—the opening entry titled Cromwell Stone (1986), followed by The Return of Cromwell Stone (1994) and The Testament of Cromwell Stone (2004). This edition was published by Titan Comics in 2019.

The story sticks close to Lovecraft in focusing on a select group of characters that might or might not be trying to lead the titular character into otherworldly places not meant for humans. It starts with Cromwell searching for a friend that suddenly stopped corresponding with him after years of consistently doing so. The existence of a key-like object that has the capacity to change some aspect of reality among those who possess it guides Cromwell in his search. The entire saga gravitates around the effects the key generates.

Cromwell Stone

Were this a very strict Lovecraftian story, Cromwell’s search would slowly progress towards an encounter with a race of strange creatures or old gods whose mere presence signifies a violent change on the very concept of reality. Life can never be the same again once we realize things that weren’t meant to exist actually do.

In The Call of the Cthulhu, for instance, gazing into the mountainous monstrosity that is Cthulhu means either death by shock or being entirely consumed by madness. The mind quite simply breaks.

The unfortunate ones that get to witness this get their entire worldview shattered and they know that nothing will ever help put the pieces back together. In other words, once the unknown reveals itself, there’s very little left to hold on to for those who were in its presence. Reality becomes a slippery thing.

Cromwell Stone adds a considerable wrinkle to the formula. In Andreas’ story, being confronted with the unknown does not mean the end for those involved directly with it. Instead, the unknown becomes a doorway that pulls those closest to it in, offering an assortment of strange questions without guarantee any answers lie at the end of anything. The questions, though, are exquisitely enticing and demand nothing short of obsession over the particulars from those that seek answers.

Cromwell Stone

Andreas makes sure this attempt at understanding the unknown isn’t just relegated to dialogue and narration. In fact, the process is at its most impressive and challenging in its visual component. There are very few pages throughout the entire saga that offer a clearly delineated and rigidly structured environment for a characters to move around in. There’s a weird geometry that engulfs the story and its characters and it turns each panel into a reflection of the complexities of the mysteries at its core and how difficult they are to make sense of.

For Andreas, living with the knowledge of cosmically terrifying things means a complete transformation of the world and how one perceives it. It turns the book into a puzzle that requires one also obsess over details to decipher its possible meanings.

The first Cromwell story, for instance, contains a massive house that changes its physical dimension just enough to cast doubt on reality. And yet, Andreas doesn’t shy away from recognizing the veracity of such changes among his characters. Instead, it becomes a phenomenon that deepens the mystery and demands further descent into the unknown. Everyone involved is in on the proceedings and gets consumed by them.

Cromwell Stone

Andreas makes each become more claustrophobic as the story unfolds, as if the weight of the new things he discover are overwhelming enough to box Cromwell deep within his mind with little to no chance of escape. Sharp lines cut vertically and diagonally in key sequences and become a new burden upon those whose minds are attuned to the secrets of the universe.

Fans of Bernie Wrightson will find a lot to appreciate in these scenes. Andreas’ attention to detail is, not unlike Cromwell, obsessive, but it’s all at the service of creating a deep sense of existential dread within the story’s world. One is left with little choice other than to be consumed by the worlds contained in each panel. In the process, we come to better understand the toll it takes to pursue even a base understanding of things infinitely more complex than we are. The result is a kind of horror that hypnotizes its subjects rather than drive them away.

The second volume of the series focuses on a voyage at sea that reveals crucial information as to the existence of ancient gods, but theirs is not an existence purely bred for the destruction of humanity. Their presence in relation to humanity can even be framed as a matter of inconvenience due to accidental clashes of energy that ground drive these beings into our planet and imprisons them.

Cromwell Stone

The story takes a step away from popular Lovecraftian ideas by giving these beings a less defined physical shape. They are not the squid-like, tentacled horrors of the source material. They are somewhat more symbolic in nature and also invite more complex questions to be lobbed at their behavior.

By the third story, Cromwell himself is presented as tragically illuminated with forbidden knowledge. He’s more concerned with his findings and whether others will take up his never-ending search for answers, knowing future candidates will most assuredly be destined to become tragic scholars of the forbidden who will never be satisfied with what they find. As such, they would take up the burden of learning a fraction of the mysteries of the universe and then hope others continue their work.

Cromwell Stone

This obsessive search for answers, despite the horrors that hide in the questions, is not entirely divorced from Lovecraft’s own idea of fear, but Andreas does give the concept a more complete and convincing shape. For Lovecraft, all roads lead to madness. For Andreas, some roads lead to dangerous knowledge.

These two destinations aren’t meant to be mutually exclusive, but Andreas’ story suggests there are more terrifying things beyond the unknown. Instead, searching for answers to try and explain the impossible is where true terror resides.

Preview: Lovecraft: The Myth of Cthulhu

Lovecraft: The Myth of Cthulhu

Esteban Maroto (w & a & c) • Santi Casas (cover colors)

Illustrated in haunting black and white over 30 years ago, these comics are re-presented in a new edition, adapting three of H.P. Lovecraft’s most famous stories involving the Cthulhu Mythos.

“The Nameless City” is considered the first story of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, detailing the discovery of an ancient city in the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula built by an unnamed race of reptilian beings. In “The Festival,” a man arrives at the sea town of Kingsport, Massachusetts during Christmas but finds a place eerily empty and centuries out of date. “The Call of Cthulhu” is perhaps Lovecraft’s most famous story, describing a man who, after finding the notes of his granduncle, is lead on a journey around the world in search of a mysterious and disturbing phenomenon.

HC • BW • $19.99 • 80 pages • 8” x 10-7/8” • ISBN: 978-1-68405-125-0

We Talk Rat God with Richard Corben

ratgod01Richard Corben‘s name is synonymous with comic book art.  In the era of the comic code and before the mainstream companies were even daring enough to start deconstructing their own universes, Richard was pushing the boundaries in Heavy Metal and other magazines.  He has continued his long and talented career since then.  His most recent offering is Rat God which he wrote and illustrated himself.  We got a chance to talk with him about the new series

Graphic Policy: Rat God #1 still leaves a lot open as to where the story is going as it incorporates in three different groups of people.  It does tie in some common themes though, such as travel, love and being an outsider.  Which themes are the most important in this series?

Richard Corben: Of those Love is the most important. In a series of this length, there is enough space to explore several themes and how they relate to the lead character.

GP: Is it easier to both write and draw a series?  Does it make it easier to realize the full story, or can it be easier to have another creator work on the story or art?

RC: For me it is certainly not easy to write and draw a story.  But it is much more fulfilling to have complete control over my work, at least as much as is possible. I enjoy visualizing other writer’s stories, but when I write myself, I keep having further ideas about a scenario and I’m free to utilize them.

GP: This is a story from different times, from both the unknown setting for the natives and an earlier time for the driver and the academic.  Is it hard to balance the narrative when changing the era of writing?

RC: Obviously, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. My idea is to start in a prehistoric setting, and then try to make some connections to later events.  The narrator character, Mag the hag, is one way of creating continuity between story events widely separated in time. I’m not so much trying to make a balance as to create a unity between the first book and later books.

GP: Why did you choose New England as the setting for this story?  And why also choose a real place but then use a fictitious one for the city (Arkham)?

RC: My intention is to correlate several settings here.  I admit part of my goal was to create a pastiche of some of the themes used by Lovecraft; Arkham and the Miskatonic University are obvious Lovecraftian links.  There are also other instances where I use real things as well as fictitious ones, such as the real Indian tribe, the Tlingits, and a made up one, the Cthanhluks.

GP: The conflict here seems to not only be man versus man, but also man versus wilderness, as the characters struggle without fire for warmth or being stuck in a snowstorm. Are there challenges to writing when a protagonist is the natural world?

RC: In this case I’m drawing from my own anxiety and awe of the vast Northern forests. It is a common practice to isolate characters in a remote setting.  I wanted to escalate this idea and put them in an extremely remote setting. Much of man’s efforts are spent on conquering nature. I want to show that in some cases, nature can’t be conquered.

GP: Race plays a part in the narrative here as well.  Of course the characters are showing signs of their own prejudice, but how do you approach this as a writer to make the characters still approachable?

RC: Racial bigotry has always been with us. In the time period that I’m portraying, it was common even among intelligent sophisticated social groups.  I don’t want to give away an important plot conclusion, but Clark’s prejudices will haunt him further in the story, hopefully in unexpected ways.

GP: There are a lot more questions than answers after this impressive first issue.  Any clues on where the story might be going?

RC: The plot will become more entangled  with more sinister characters in more atmospherically moody settings before Clark can figure out and fight his way through the situation. The writing and drawing is still a challenge to me. I hope the readers enjoy it as much as I do creating it.

Almost American