Filler content with picture books

Two reviews that originally appeared in Black Static #35:-

SELFMADEHERO

Founded in 2007, SelfMadeHero is a publisher of high quality graphic novels (and yes, it does appear to be all one word).

Most horror readers will be familiar with H. P. Lovecraft’s THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME (SelfMadeHero pb, 120pp, £14.99). It’s the story of Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee, an academic who one day faints in class and then for the next five years behaves very strangely, showing interests and accomplishments that were previously beyond him. Peaslee has been possessed by a member of the Great Race of Yith, who can project their intelligence through space and time. While the Yithian hosted in his body explores the Earth, Peaslee himself is one of many disembodied intelligences trapped on the Yithian home world (Earth, some 250m years ago), donating his knowledge to one of their great libraries. Returned to his own time and body, Peaslee thinks that all he has experienced must be the sign of some psychotic breakdown, but he is tormented by dreams and visions, forced to explore for proof of the existence of the Yithians.

For many this is Lovecraft’s most awe inspiring work. The idea of a race that can project itself through space and time, and by doing so ensure its own survival for eternity, is a fascinating concept, and artist I. N. J. Culbard’s adaptation captures perfectly the feel of the piece in its varied moods, ranging from the normality of Peaslee’s life through to the madness of his years of possession, and then the horror he experiences on learning that all his nightmares have truth behind them, with panels that are entirely black except for the character’s shocked expression conveying the claustrophobic feel of his existence. However, it is in his depiction of the many alien races and the splendour of their cities, the visions of a star strewn night sky and the potential of the universe, that Culbard’s art is seen at its best, a stunning evocation of the ineffable. See Lovecraft through new eyes.

Kafka’s novel THE CASTLE (SelfMadeHero pb, 144pp, £12.99) on which this graphic adaptation is based, is of course one of the great classics of twentieth century literature, a masterpiece written on the theme of alienation. The protagonist K arrives in an isolated village overshadowed by a giant castle and takes on the role of surveyor, because a surveyor is expected. All his efforts are aimed at getting access to the faceless bureaucrats of the Castle, but they continually elude him, and so K passes his time in liaisons with local women and jobs that are beneath his dignity.

And this is pretty much all that happens, as Kafka died before he could complete the novel, albeit the lack of a concrete resolution is entirely in tone with what has gone before. Underlying everything is a sense of the futility of life, that nothing we do is of any significance, will never bring us to the attention of those who could advance our cause, but at the same time there is no alternative to attempting to curry favour. Had Kafka been writing today K would probably be a musician undergoing endless auditions for The X-Factor in the vain and futile hope of catching Master Cowell’s eye.

Writer David Zane Mairowitz has done a fine job of condensing Kafka’s novel, retaining the essential elements and mood of the story, while Jaromir 99’s artwork captures the feel of the narrative perfectly with a style reminiscent of linocuts, black and white panels in which details veer from crystal clarity to somewhat less opaque renditions that mirror the secrets of the book. I wouldn’t say that this is a story to be enjoyed as such (Kafka was a miserablist before anyone had heard the term), but it is a powerful and effective work of art, one that this adaptation makes more accessible to the casual reader while illuminating some hidden corners of the plot.

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