Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #118: Young Lovecraft, Vol. 1 by Jose Oliver and Bartolo Torres

Howard Philips Lovecraft is endlessly fascinating to the SFF world: half because of his creepy, adjective-stuffed work, with its dark vision of the universe and man's place in it, and half because of the man himself, nearly incapable of living in the real world, alienated and alone and neurotic and hating everything that isn't him only slightly more than he hates himself. Even though he was clearly a racist and anti-Semite and misogynist -- even for his era, which is worth noting a century later -- his work retains energy and power eight decades after his death, and his life remains of interest even while his personal views make modern readers squeamish.

The misanthropic HPL makes an unlikely candidate for a webcomic, even one using him as a creepy little boy: sure, the broad outlines fit, but the real HPL was practically an invalid in his childhood and actually less tolerant than he became in his later years. One would expect that webcomic to just use HPL's name and head off rapidly into generic neo-Burton dark whimsy. But that's not at all what Jose Oliver and Bartolo Torres' Young Lovecraft, Vol. 1 does: it takes something very much like the real HPL, hating others and being hated in turn, grumpy and alone and seeking bigger things, and sets him against an more whimsical, but still creepy, version of his own mythos.

Of course, this is a comedy, so the ghoul he meets ends up masquerading as his dog, Glenn. And there's the inevitable perky goth girl, Siouxie, to act as his foil and complement -- the uncaring bullies and laughers of his school can only go so far, since they don't understand or appreciate anything little Howie does.

So, in the strips collected here, HPL creates a golem, conjures various body parts of the dread Rammenoth, dresses up as Harun al-Raschid for Halloween, rewrites various classic books to add more Cthulhu, travels via byakee to visit Poe (and discovers that Baudelaire and Rimbaud are already visiting, for an impromptu drinking-and-poetry party), and saves his garden from Glenn's explosive attempt at setting up a barbecue. It's all a bit more adult and serious than you might expect -- there's even some implied sex in the background (not involving the kids, but part of the world, as it is part of a world).

Given Lovecraft's racism, it's amusing to speculate what he'd think of this book -- particularly since it's written and drawn by two Spaniards, one of the many ethnic groups he didn't like. And it's interesting to trace the history: Lovecraft's work was translated into Spanish so Oliver and Torres could encounter it (though, from Oliver's introduction, heavy metal music in English might have been an even more important vector), then they created their version of his youth, which was eventually translated into HPL's own tongue, English. But even if Lovecraft wouldn't have approved -- and we have to remember that there was very little in the world that he did approve of -- we can appreciate and love Young Lovecraft, which takes his work and makes it more global, dragging it into the modern world in a different guise and shape but with some essential Lovecraftianism intact and still as compelling as ever.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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