July 28th, 2010


H.P. Lovecraft's Nyarlathotep

My favorite comic book shop, Rocketship, is going out of business, and yesterday was the last day of their clearance sale. One of the books I picked up was H.P. Lovecraft's Nyarlathotep, a graphic novel adaptation of Lovecraft's classic prose poem "Nyarlathotep," illustrated by Chuck BB.

It's been ages since I've read Lovecraft's tale. For those who haven't, it tells the story of a mysterious Egyptian magician, Nyarlathotep, who travels the world as a one-man magic show and leaves only ruin and madness in his wake. The story is related by an unnamed narrator, the only survivor of the day Nyarlathotep came to his city, "the great, the old, the terrible city of unnumbered crimes." (One wonders if Lovecraft means New York City, where he lived for a short time despite his loathing for it. References to subways make for a strong case.) Of course, in later stories like "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath" and "The Whisperer in Darkness," Lovecraft reveals that Nyarlathotep isn't just a "swarthy, slender, and sinister" man from Egypt who "was of the old native blood and looked like a Pharaoh," but is actually one of the Great Old Ones, an ancient and malevolent deity also known as the Crawling Chaos. Here, though, he more suitably stands in for Lovecraft's own xenophopbia, the dark-skinned foreigner who destroys civilization simply by coming into contact with it.

Chuck BB's illustrations are creepy and evocative. His art is angular and stylized rather than naturalistic or comic-booky, and as such it reminds me a lot of the animation style used in the Samurai Jack cartoon.

H.P. Lovecraft's Nyarlathotep makes a great gift for the Lovecraft completist, or for a friend you'd like to introduce to Lovecraft's work. At just 30 pages, half of which are full-page illustrations, it's the perfect primer for cosmic terror.