Filler content with pictures

Reviews of three graphic adaptations that originally appeared in Black Static #61:-

WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS, MORE OR LESS

Meet Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. Hap is an East Texas white boy with a weakness for women who did gaol time as a conscientious objector, while Leonard is a gay, black Vietnam vet with some serious anger management issues. The two are best friends and occasional partners in mayhem; they don’t look for trouble but it has a habit of finding them. The pair recently graduated from the pages of fiction to their own TV series on the Sundance channel, so I guess the time felt right for HAP AND LEONARD: SAVAGE SEASON (Short, Scary Tales Publications hc, 140pp, £39.95), a graphic novel adaptation of the 1990 novel in which writer Joe R. Lansdale introduced the pair to the world.

Trouble this time enters stage left courtesy of Trudy, the long lost love of Hap’s life who wants his help in recovering a lost stash of bank robber’s loot. Trudy and her friends are still chasing the ideals of the sixties, only they’ve swapped flower power for firepower and need the money to buy guns. Hap has long given up on changing the world and will settle for a share of the cash, so agrees to help with Leonard as part of the deal. Which is when things get awfully complicated.

Adapted from its source material by Finnish artist and graphic designer Jussi Piironen, this is a rip roaring adventure tale with pulp antecedents. The plot is full of the expected cross and double cross dealings, and some that are not expected at all, while underlying this is a feeling of sadness at the lost idealism of the hippie era, the way in which only violence seems to change the world, not the power of love. Hap has grown up, but Trudy and her friends are still seeking simple solutions; only their methods have changed, from love and peace to shock and awe. The characterisation is spot on for this kind of work. Trudy is the quintessential femme fatale, a combination of smouldering sex appeal and Machiavellian duplicity, with the rest of her cadre divided between the hopelessly naïve and ruthless killers who are larger than life and twice as nasty. The heart of the book lies in the interplay between Hap and Leonard, two men who respect each other’s differences, but not to the point where they won’t take the piss out of each other, with their no holds barred banter perhaps the greatest of the many delights on offer. They are perfectly matched sparring partners, the concept of bromance taken to another level. Piironen’s artwork captures the feel of the story with a muted palette, predominantly of muddy browns and septic greys that convey mood and detail with equal aplomb. He has done Lansdale proud, and overall this is a mighty fine package, as Joe himself might say.

The book is available in a “Signed & Numbered Oversized Deluxe Limited Hardcover” edition of 270 copies worldwide, and hopefully it won’t be the last of Hap and Leonard’s adventures that we see in this format. For full details check out the publisher’s website at sstpublications.co.uk

I. N. J. Culbard is probably most familiar to genre readers for his award winning adaptations of stories by H. P. Lovecraft, but now he turns his talents in the direction of a lesser known writer, but one of importance to weird fiction and highly praised by Lovecraft himself. In his lifetime Robert W. Chambers (1865 – 1933) was primarily known as a writer of romantic fiction, but to posterity he is chiefly remembered for the highly influential short story collection THE KING IN YELLOW (SelfMadeHero pb, 144pp, £14.99) containing several weird tales linked by a play with the same title that is credited with driving people mad. Culbard adapts four of these stories.

Leading off is ‘The Repairer of Reputations’ set in a (then) future USA and told from the viewpoint of unreliable narrator Hildred Castaigne, who believes that one of his acquaintances is the organiser of a vast conspiracy that will usher in The Imperial Dynasty of America with Hildred as King. It is a story rich in mystery and madness, with the perverse psychology of both Castaigne and society itself under the microscope and an elusive plotline that tantalises with the possibilities contained within its warp and weft. Next up we have ‘The Mask’, an uplifting tale of love and transformation with a twist in the tale, while in ‘The Yellow Sign’ an artist is pursued by the night watchman of a local church, a nightmarish figure who is something other than human. The cycle ends with ‘In the Court of the Dragon’, whose protagonist is stalked by a preternaturally pale and thin church organist, culminating in a visionary and cosmic finale.

The stories are far more complex than my summations might suggest, with a wealth of incidental detail and visual treats. Culbard deftly weaves clues and story links into the work, with the minatory play and its signifiers implicit in the text, while his artwork perfectly evokes the feel of the monstrous rubbing against the everyday, the sense that our happiness is never solid and assured, but always something that exists at the whim of forces we cannot understand and are undone by should we ever perceive them. This is a book that will be appreciated by those familiar with the source material, while at the same time sure to win new converts to Chambers’ oeuvre through the force and clarity of its vision.

Also from SelfMadeHero we have GHOST STORIES OF AN ANTIQUARY, VOLUME 1 (SelfMadeHero pb, 64pp, £9.99) adapting four stories from M. R. James’ seminal volume of ghost stories. The book opens with an introduction by Ramsey Campbell, who succinctly sums up the importance of James (1862 – 1936) to the field of supernatural fiction, followed by four stories adapted by Leah Moore and John Reppion, with a different illustrator in charge of each text.

‘Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook’ is the tale of an Englishman abroad who stumbles across a cursed manuscript, the story beautifully illustrated by Aneke, whose vibrant art put me very much in mind of the glossy comics of my youth, and strips such as Dan Dare and The Trigan Empire. There’s a much darker tone to Kit Buss’ illustrations for ‘Lost Hearts’, the story of an orphan boy whose benefactor has sinister motives at back of his charity, with superb use of shadow and a growing sense of unease engendered on the page. ‘The Mezzotint’ is illustrated by Fouad Mezher, mostly in shades of brown that mimic the muted tones of the mezzotint technique, a clever conceit that brings to life this gripping tale of a curious illustration which changes overnight to the bafflement of its owner. Finally we have ‘The Ash-tree’ with its account of a witch’s curse superbly realised on the page by Alisdair Wood, who renders the eerie feel of the material with consummate skill and conveys the underlying sense of wrongness.

The book serves James well, Moore and Reppion illuminating what was essential in the original works and, in combination with the artists, presenting the reader with evocations of the classic ghost stories that remain faithful to their source but at the same time add an extra frisson of fear and shivery delight that is all their own work. I should also add that Ghost Stories of An Antiquary, Volume 2 was released in October, with four more stories given the graphic treatment – ‘Number 13’, ‘Count Magnus’, ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’, and ‘The Treasure of Abbott Thomas’ – and four more artists given the opportunity to strut their stuff. I’ve not seen the book personally, but the publisher has done a sterling job with Volume 1 and there’s no reason to think they’ll drop the ball for this follow up. And for those who believe ghost stories and Christmas are a match made in Heaven or thereabouts, or have friends on their gift list who feel that way, the timing of this release would seem highly fortuitous.

 

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