A few weeks ago (as of when I write this in October) I came to learn that the most popular tabletop RPG in Japan right now was neither D&D nor a homegrown RPG like Sword World, but Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu. Also, I learned Dark Horse Comics had released a collection of adaptations of the works of H.P. Lovecraft by artist Gou Tanabe and had announced a planned release of Tanabe’s adaptation of At The Mountains of Madness. Thus, it seemed appropriate to read the first of Tanabe’s adaptations and get a feel for his take on Lovecraft’s work.
The Hound & Other Stories contains adaptations of 3 of Lovecraft’s short stories – “The Temple”, “The Hound”, and “The Nameless City”. The three pretty much cover most of the archetype of the Lovecraft story, while not necessarily containing any of what I’d consider any of the go-tos of his work (no “The Call of Cthulhu” or “Pickman’s Model”), but I think that works in the collection’s favor. It removes some of the preconceived notions of what a Lovecraft story should be – and they eschew some of the more… distasteful elements of Lovecraft personal views, which come up in his other works.
“The Temple” is a simple descent into madness – a member of the crew of a German U-Boat (a World War I ship in the original story but moved up to a World War II ship in this adaptation – possibly because there’s just more reference for U-Boats during this period) picks up the head of a statue from the the body of the crew member of a ship they sank, and the crew slowly descends into madness before the captain – the sole survivor of the crew – discovers the ship has drifted underwater to (what he thinks is) Atlantis, and he sends up his logbook in an oxygen-filled bubble to tell the tale of his fate and the fate of his crew.
The second story, “The Hound”, features two occult enthusiasts who have taken to robbing the graves of other deceased occultists for kicks, only to end up being pursued by a horrific monster, shaped like a winged hound. Note: not a Hound of Tintalos. The final story has an explorer journeying by himself to a long lost ruined city and discovering what wrought that city’s ruin, before barely escaping with his life. These two stories include references to the Necronomicon, but they don’t particularly invoke the Mythos in any other significant manner.
Tanabe’s art really works well with these three stories. He does a fantastic job of emphasizing the claustrophobia of the submarine in “The Temple” and the titular “Nameless City”, along with the oppressive shadows of “The Hound”. The art and the selectively sparse captions also help to mitigate some of Lovecraft’s more excessively florid and purple prose. There is no excessive use of “cyclopean” or “non-Euclidian” here.
It’s also helped by the fact the threats within two of the three stories are not entirely physical. What destroys the crew of the U-Boat in “The Temple” could just as easily be interpreted as purely psychological instead of having an occult tie. The lingering menace of “The Nameless City” was as more ethereal and carried on (and manifesting through) the wind, while still having something of a physical presence.
That said, there are some weaknesses of Lovecraft’s text that the Tanabe just can’t avoid. For example, the U-Boat in “The Temple” is described as having a “porthole” – which submarines just don’t have (for the obvious reasons), and “The Nameless City” lacks the bite of his other stories.
Still, the art really works well in the book’s favor, and I’d definitely consider giving the book your time – and again, this particular collection eschews enough of the more problematic elements of Lovecraft’s work, that you can safely read it without having Lovecraft being a racist fuck slamming you in the face like a wet carp, like some of his other stories do.
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