The DEADcomic Overlook #140: Lovecraft Is Missing
“The end is near. I hear a noise at the door, as of some immense slippery body lumbering against it. It shall not find me. God, that hand! The window! The window!” — H. P. Lovecraft
I’ve got a confession to make. By an large, I am not that huge a fan of H.P. Lovecraft. I can count the short stories I’ve read on one hand: “Dagon,” “The Statement of Randolph Carter,” and parts of “Call of Cthulhu” (which I tried to reread before writing this review). I also generally liked the movie Dagon, which was apparently based on a different short story entitled “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” (Dagon was probably deemed the catchier title by studio execs.)
However, I understand why there are plenty of Lovecraft admirers, whose ranks include Neil Gaiman, Benecio Del Toro, Stephen King, and the members of Metallica. The horror imagery is creative, enduring, and highly influential. Movies like Alien, comics like Hellboy, and games like Halo 3 are covered with Lovecraft’s fingerprints. No wonder the internet’s in love with him. Google “Cthulhu,” Lovecraft’s infamous deity with the “pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque scaly body with rudimentary wings”, and you get 4.3 million results. Meanwhile, “Leopold Bloom” only gets you 88,900 results. Take that, Joyceans!
Still, I’m man enough to admit that I’m a relative newcomer to the Lovecraft mythos. Yet, here I am, reviewing Larry Latham’s Lovecraft Is Missing. Maybe I’m not the right guy, stripped as I am of any Trekkie-like obsessive knowledge of the Lovecraft mythos. But the new Star Trek movie thrilled both hardcore Trekkies and newcomers alike. Dare I hope against all hopes that Lovecraft Is Missing provides a gateway to the world of eldritch horrors for the uninitiated? (Incidentally, the phrase “eldritch horrors” will pop up multiple times in this review. It’s sort of required when you’re writing something about Lovecraft.)
In an origin story wholly appropriate for a webcomic, Lovecraft Is Missing started off as Larry Latham’s proposal for a CD-ROM game back in 1994. What, you kids don’t know what a CD-ROM is? Pull up a rocking chair and let Old Man Santo tell you a story, then. Before Apple killed ’em off, like, yesterday, CD-ROMs were like these tiny plastic dishes that stored programs of up to 650 Megabytes! I know, I know, that’s the size of a digital photo these days, but back then you could store lots of stuff. You may be familiar with an actor named Will Smith? You may be surprised to find out that not only was he once a rapper (seriously!), he also penned a song that included a shout out to the “101 Dalmatians” ON a CD-ROM! That’s hella tight.
But Disney wasn’t the only thing to show up on these magical plastic disks. You could store stuff like spreadsheet programs, screen savers, and even VIDEO GAMES! (Or as you kids call ’em, “vidja gaems.”) Back in the day, video games came in all shapes and sizes: they weren’t all just your first person shooters like you’re used to, like you Wolfensteins and your Bioshocks and your Super 3-D Noah’s Arks. There where also things called adventure games. These games were like cartoons (which, once upon a time, were in two dimensions!), only they weren’t funny, your characters moved slower than sin, and you threw your flip flops at the screen when you found out you wasted 30 hours of gameplay because you didn’t pick up a stupid key that was laying on the table in the now inaccessible living room back on the first level.
Anyway, Larry Latham abandoned his idea at some point when CD-ROMs became unfashionable (which was foretold by Apple, iMac, and Steve Jobs), and he decided to play around in different formats. He first pitched it as an animated cartoon, and then as a print comic. And now here we in are the version that finally did make it to the public: webcomics. Ironically, this happened right around the time iPad-compatible digital comics became the new hotness.
Oh, Apple. Will you ever stop killing older technologies?
By the way, Mr. Latham doesn’t elaborate as to what sort of game Lovecraft Is Missing was to be. I made a pretty big assumption that it was an adventure game. It was, though, an educated guess. Mr. Latham’s style have a very strong King’s Quest/Monkey Island vibe to them. (Or, for you young’ins, Professor Layton.) The characters designs are simple, cartoony, and fresh-faced — a contrast to the cold, grotesque designs of the Lovecraftian horrors. Cats, with their simple designs and textured furs, somewhow occupy the design range in between.
Also, like the aforementioned adventure games, the surrounding environment is meticulously detailed. While closer inspection shows that they’re composed of simple lines, you feel as if you can see individual bricks in the cityscapes, embossments and cracks covering the tombstones, and peeling wallpaper barely clinging to the wooden walls.
The color, in particular, is particularly eyecatching stuff. It places less emphasis on realism and more on conveying the mood. The Oklahoma farm scenes are awash in a warm reddish-orange glow, recalling both the parched desolation of the Dust Bowl and the tight-knit aura of a small town. The New England cityscapes at nighttime, though, are bathed in sickly green and bright purple hues to convey a feeling of feverish alienation, as if there’s always something off kilter. When Latham switches from telling the main story to adapting something written by Lovecraft, he brings on the inks and adopts a style similar to something you’d find in pulp novels. The experimental coloring extends to even the word balloons. They look a little like stained parchment paper, perhaps even with flecks of blood. These small touches keep the reader on edge, lending a sense of dread and foreboding in otherwise domestic scenes.
The webcomic is set in the world of the roaring 20’s, which, in the real world, is around the time H.P. Lovecraft first got published. However, Lovecraft from Lovecraft Is Missing isn’t merely a novelist. His books are actual accounts of the eldritch horrors that burrow beneath the realms of of public knowledge.
At some point Lovecraft goes missing. Man, who’d a thunk! And it’s at a rather inconvenient time, too. He’s wanted by a librarian for wanton defacement of a book he checked out. A couple pages have been unceremoniously torn out. What could Mr. Lovecraft have wanted with those pages? Was he reading the book on the loo when he ran out of toilet paper? Who knows … but spunky ace librarian Nan Mercy is on the case!
She’s joined by Orwin Battler, an aspiring pulp fiction writer recently arrived to the East Coast from Oklahoma. Orwin writes science fiction stories, eventhough he could be making more money writing westerns. He’s also scrappier than his wiry frame suggests. Orwin had a letter correspondence with Mr. Lovecraft (perhaps mirroring the real life correspondence between Lovecraft and Conan creator/Texas native Robert E. Howard). He’s here merely for a social visit, but he gets roped in fairly quickly to the world of arcane spells and wicked voodoo magic.
Their journey together to find our missing author will take them to places of unspeakable terror. They come face to face with their fair share of secret cults and strange butt-naked beasties. Is it possible that there’s a certain tentacled Great Old One who is a friend to small children in their future? SPOILER ALERT: the big guy has not made an appearance yet in the story, though frankly that’s probably faithful to how most Lovecraft stories go.
The story was not without its faults. Don’t get me wrong: Lovecraft Is Missing is actually less rambling and far more lucid than most Lovecraft I’ve read. (Typical Lovecraft: “I have encountered a terror so unspeakable, and yet I have no time to tell you about it because I will die soon, either by my hand or by another’s, but take my word on it it’s so terrifying that no description I make can ever convey the true horror!”) In fact, the story is rather straightforward: Lovecraft is missing. Let’s find him! Ah, he’s carelessly left a piece of paper on the ground. Let’s follow it to see where it takes us! Have a bottle that contains people’s souls? Well, lets hold it in our inventory until the right moment to use it!
You know what this sorta sounds like? The Sierra adventure games I mentioned earlier. Lovecraft Is Missing crafts a world that would be interesting to explore, yet its characters seem to have little motivation beyond getting from Point A to Point B. As a result, any sense of peril or danger is oftentimes subverted.
For example: there’s little motivation for why Orwin is getting so deep into all the arcane stuff. You’d think after being visited by the first eldritch horror, his first instinct would be, “Well, the big city’s nice, y’all, but I think I’ll be moseying back down to Oklahoma now, y’hear.” Frankly, it’s the kind of response that would befit his mild-mannered personality. But no: he’s got that key (i.e., letter) from Level 1, and logic dictates that you need to follow it to the keyhole that unlocks the next level.
Despite not feeling the danger, though, I did enjoy reading Lovecraft Is Missing. The action scenes are dynamic, the protagonists are pleasant enough, and the artwork has style to spare. It might not even matter if Cthulhu shows up or not… though I do have a feeling the guy will be rearing his big old octopus head before the last chapter goes online.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Posted on October 21, 2010, in 4 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, gothic, horror webcomic, mystery webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged H.P. Lovecraft, Lovecraft, Lovecraft Is Missing. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.