Writer(s): Robert W. Chambers, I.N.J. Culbard
Artist: I.N.J. Culbard
Release Date: 28th May, 2015
“Oh, the wickedness, the hopeless damnation of a soul who could fascinate and paralyse human creatures with such words.”
With Robert W. Chambers’ seminal work The King In Yellow recently undergoing something of a resurgence as a result of its inclusion in the first season of HBO’s True Detective, the table has been set perfectly for this sequential adaptation of the story from acclaimed artist and writer I.N.J. Culbard.
Culbard has shown a measured approach to his adaptations in the past – including the likes of Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath – continually managing to stay true to the author’s original vision while adding his own subtle creative nuances along the way.
The titular King in Yellow is a fictional play that, when read, induces feelings of despair and madness in the reader. This book features four distinctive-yet-interconnected stories that display the full effects of the play’s influence as we are shown several different characters reacting to its inflicted insanity in different, disturbing ways.
Chambers’ words flow beautifully throughout, giving a sense of poignancy and resonance to the stories. That said however, the dense nature of some of the dialogue may turn off the more casual reader, as Culbard retains the bulk of Chambers’ original prose in the re-telling of this story. Those looking for an accessible, ‘pick-up-and-read’ horror title are also likely to leave disappointed, as The King in Yellow is a far more involved affair, filled with subtlety and a creeping, growing sense of tension and unease throughout. This is a book that requires a little extra effort to absorb and digest, but is also one that offers a significant amount of reward to those who are willing to make that effort.
I’ve championed Culbard’s work extensively over the years, and his efforts here are no exception. His outwardly simplistic style continues to convey an almost uncanny level of expression – it’s difficult to adequately describe just how much emotion and tension Culbard can convey with just a pair of staring eyes – and his layouts and sense of sequential narrative are simply second-to-none. The story flows smoothly throughout, and several significant beats are given additional resonance by virtue of his impressive artistic creativity.
With horror titles these days increasingly relying on schlock and gore to get their message across, it’s refreshing to see an adaptation of a book that adopts a far more cerebral approach, creeping its way under your skin and lingering there with a deep-rooted sense of unease, punctuated with flashes of visceral violence and insanity.
A powerfully unnerving read, it’s easy to see why Chambers’ work has inspired so many other horror authors – H.P Lovecraft included – over the years, and with this adaptation, I.N.J. Culbard continues to cement his reputation as one of the most skilful and almost unnaturally talented creators on the scene today. Culbard’s The King in Yellow provides a beautifully unsettling recreation of one of the most influential pieces of horror prose ever written, and is an absolutely essential purchase for fans of the genre.
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