SiStan ChapLee

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Off Topic: Madness requires intelligence

The already classic comic-strip version of HP Lovecraft's 1931 novel At the Mountains of Madness [SelfMadeHero, 2010; in Italian, Le montagne della follia, MagicPress, 2013] by I. N. J. Culbard is all the more striking because, to tell a cosmic horror story, it starts from a style that is just slightly more 'adult' than Hergé's Tintin. And yet, you are completely captured by the events, even if you have been long familiar with the HPL nightmares.

Well, right this is the secret, as it was recommended by the Providence writer, on the other hand: the setting is as normal and daily as possible, and this makes the foray of the supernatural all the more shocking. Culbard uses with a wonderful talent the basic means of comic art: the expressions of the faces and the postures of the bodies, the lights and shadows, a documented accuracy, the timing, the framing. One's empathy with the main characters and the succession of gigantic, empty, silent rooms convey a sense of anxiety that is then suddenly "lighted" by the appearance of alien creatures or dismembered corpses. Surely John Carpenter drew much on Lovecraft's novel for his 1982 movie The Thing, but Culbard, in his turn, could draw on Carpenter. Tout se tient.

It is significant to compare this Lovecraftian operation with Alberto Breccia's. The two artists follow opposite strategies: ligne claire (clear-cut lines) vs. collage, etc. As long as Breccia, surreal and experimental as he may be, carried on his superb skills in the rendering of the human shape and feelings, as well as of the environment, he was practically unbeatable. When he became a bit too self-referential, twisting all elements alike, he made the overall effect weaker instead of strengthening it. But this was a problem that emerged mainly after his historic HPL comic book.

One last remark on the Italian version -- a detail that is often left aside -- is that it is well and pleasantly translated by Giorgio Saccani.