Dutch illustrator Erik Kriek has created an ornamental and heavily inked fifties horror comics vision of five Lovecraft stories in his most recent comic book „Vom Jenseits und andere Erzählungen“ („From Beyond and Other Stories“), published November 2013 by Berlin based avant-verlag.
Works of literature from „Faust“, to Mary Shelley's „Frankenstein“ have always inspired ambitious comic book artists and induced them to create bizarre or suspenseful works of their own. H.P. Lovecraft, unchallenged master of sublime horror, is another source of inspiration for numerous comic book illustrators like Bernie Wrightson or renouned underground artists like Richard Corben.
It is quite an elitist community, now enrichd by another creative mind: Erik Kriek, born in Amsterdam, in 1966. His visions of Lovecraft appear detailed, ornamental and heavily inked and follow the classic old school style of 1950s CREEPY comics. In his drawings you will find a touch of modernism like that of Charles Burns oder Bernie Wrightson, and maybe a little of old-established artistis like Domingo Mandrafina. Krieks interesting artistic mix proofs his European origin, but, like his storytelling, is mostly affected by US comics culture.
The beautifully designed and partly UV coated title of this hardcover comic book and its symbolic and agreeably coloured illustration fuel high expectations. On the fist pages director Gerard Soeteman greets the reader in a foreword, which he mostly dedicates to the nature of horror. He also tries to come up with an explanation for modern pop culture's high appreciation of the „unexplicable“ and its most influential agent H.P. Lovecraft. Soeteman dwells on this famous horror author's general impact – a thought picked up once more in the epilogue of the book. Lovecraft, who died in 1937 was known for his anglophilia, an affinity he was inclined to stress with his choice of words and a language heavily dominated by adjectives.
Up until today, Lovecraft – despite his being vastly ahead of his times creative wise – is simply labeled „pulp“ by most literate academics. A curse of the horror genre.
He never reached a status as „man of letters“, the way E.A. Poe did. Most German translations of his narrations still mirror this unappreciative attitude – thus rarely living up to the original texts. In his literary imagery and iconography Lovecraft drew much inspiration from the fine arts and even mentioned his favourite artists like Butler Yeats, Beardsly, Füssli, or de Goya in his tales. His influence on contemporary artists like H.R. Giger, comic book writers like Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman and illustrating artists like Mike Mignola is an undisputable fact. For many years countless biographers, directors, script writers, musicians, etc., have taken on and transformed a good deal of H.P. Lovecraft's oevre, thus adding their ideas to the overall picture which now largely influences our views of his work and its almost omnipotent impact on contemporary culture. There is hardly a single person among us, who can truly state that they never once encountred one of Lovecraft's iconographic images.
Judging any newcomer to the Lovecraft universe, as well as the universe itself, becomes indefinitely harder, knowing all that. „Vom Jenseits“ (From Beyond) is a book confronted by highly biased readers with the highest expectations.
It scarcely happens that a literary role model throws this long and dark a shadow, when it comes to visualization.
It is a shadow only few artists have transcended. To read Erik Kriek's Lovecraft comic book adaption without at once taking the original stories as benchmark, simply seems impossible.
Not all of Lovecraft's stories are superb, though. Many miss the brilliant conciseness of Poe, and sometimes they even miss a plot. Adapting them into a graphic story, the storyteller will almost always need to add and remove certain elements, which Kriek did to the point. Still there is one aspect in which Lovecraft remains unrivaled: the description of inconceivable horror. No other author has ever managed to fill a book's pages with a comparable sense of creeping discomfort. And yet, it is never on the page, but always within the beholder, and this is a hard thing to visualize.
Many artists have failed, when it comes to imagining the „unspeakable horrors, yet unseen“. In this respect Kriek, quite understandably, also has had a hard time, keeping up with the great master and his reader's idealization of the horrific. He merely touches the surface of the original's core.
Whereas outside the contextual spheres of Lovecraft, Kriek's stories do appear as brilliantly structured and exremely phantastic little tales of the obscure and are supported by the illustrators excellent and precise craftsmanship.
Kriek deeply honours the rules of the comic book medium. His creatures go along with early Creepy and Warren titles. The only problem with that is, probably, the overall presence of such creatures in modern fiction. Today we meet gruesome zombies around almost every corner. This leaves the artist without the slightest chance to show us something unknown or out of the ordinary in the realms of description. It even may be his reason in the first place, for choosing a very classic illustrative style – one in which he is quite accomplished.
How can one put into imagery a certain unease that creeps into the mind, when the sunlight subtly changes in a weird place? Lovecraft's choice of words activates all our senses, creating powerful images with the potential to steal at least a few hours of sleep. They originate in our personal cognition – memories triggered by a special colour or the perception of a distinct smell.
Bunches of artists have worked themselves endlessly to create and visualize such potent images – and were doomed to never reach them. In Erik Krieks stories the weird is covered by the mondane. Mostly he even asks whether a story can be real, or may simply be a figment of a distorted mind. Contrary to that, Lovecraft's original horror speaks from every line of writing – questioning its reality never even slips into the mind
This and more must be taken into account, if we want to judge Kriek's five comic book stories. Their superb quailty is definitely best valued as a „free adaption“ and stand-alone work. Of course the stories have been cut and simplyfied to comply with the necessities of the medium. It is a legitimate and even necessary practice and mostly forwards the plot. But it seldom supports the view of what's beyond it – its essence. This is undoubtedly the case in „Die Farbe aus dem All“ (The Colour Out of Space) – one of Lovecraft's most fascinating stories originating in 1927. Whereas Kriek achieved his goal best in „Schatten über Innsmouth“ (The Shadow over Innsmouth) , pobably because the original story already meets the requirements of a fluent narration itself.
Lovecraft lovers will definitely find a worthy piece of graphic art to complete their comic book collection.
As always, avant-verlag has taken all the necessary steps to sustain their high quality standards, by choosing a fine paper on which all the black tones and detailed illustrations appear in excellent print quality. The fact that Lovecraftian horror needn't always be black and white is a purely personal issue. For me it has always been kind of dark green with lots of black and very little white.
A detailed list of Lovecraft comic adaptions: http://www.hplovecraft.com