Review – The Shadow Over Innsmouth: Part One (Blue Fox Publishing)

Publisher: Blue Fox Publishing
Adaptation by: Simon Birks
Artwork: RHStewart
Letters: Lyndon White
Funding on Kickstarter until Thursday December 10th (CLICK HERE)

During the winter of 1927-28, the Federal Government embarked on an investigation of unusual and unwholesome practices in the decaying seaport of Innsmouth, MA. Led to Innsmouth by the frantic and terrified reports of one Robert Olmsted, the investigation resulted in large quantities of the local community being moved to incarceration in undisclosed locations, the strategic demolition of certain areas of the town and, most bizarrely, reports of depth charging in the abyss behind Devil’s Reef. Years later, in an attempt to prove his own sanity and justify his continued fears, Robert Olmsted wrote an account of his brief time in Innsmouth and the horrifying personal revelations that he still has to face.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth is arguably one of H.P. Lovecraft’s most famous stories, and one that has been adapted many times, as books, comics, films, radio plays and even computer games. In fact, this particular adaptation by Blue Fox Comics isn’t even the first comic adaptation of the story in 2020 (Caliber Comics released an adaptation earlier this year).

With a story as well-known as this one, it’s very difficult to produce an adaptation that isn’t going to be put under a magnifying glass, and unfortunately for me this adaptation doesn’t quite hit the mark, and it’s one of those rare occasions where I would strongly suggest reading the actual novella before diving into this.

Now as I’ve said, this is a very well-known story, certainly it’s a story that I first read about 30 years ago, and I’m very familiar with the narrative and the characters. However, even with 30 years’ worth of familiarity with the story, I found myself confused about what was happening in this first issue. I think a lot of this seems to be that there is almost no dialogue, no narration, no inner monologue. Once you get past about page 8, the story is told almost exclusively through the artwork. Now, with this being the point when Olmsted actually reaches Innsmouth, this seems an odd place to shut off an articulation of Olmstead’s thoughts and feelings. While I’ve seen this approach work in indie movies, I think that if you aren’t familiar with the story you’re really going to struggle to follow what is going on.

The artwork by RHStewart has some really good moments, but there’s not a lot of consistency. As an example, there are places where the architecture is really well rendered and others where the same effort doesn’t seem to have been put in. Unfortunately, these are areas where the detail would have been great to see as these are predominantly the buildings seen on Olmstead’s tour of the town. RHStewart has also chosen to make our protagonist look like H.P. Lovecraft himself, but as with the narrative, if you’re going to choose someone so recognisable, you need to be consistent with that depiction and unfortunately this isn’t the case here.

The other issue I have with the art, perversely, is that the more outré elements of the story are too outré. There is something known as the “Innsmouth Look”, a narrowing/elongation of the skull, bulging eyes, watery eyes, coarse greyish skin, unusual folds of the neck suggestive of gills etc. This should be a reasonably subtle affliction, a sense of otherworldliness, enough to make you feel uncomfortable without being so horrific as to make you run screaming. The denizens of Innsmouth that we are introduced to in this book, however, are so immediately identifiable as monstrous that there is none of the creeping sense of dread that is the trademark of Lovecraftian horror. No subtle trap that the protagonist fails to see until it is too late. They’re obviously sinister. I appreciate that there has to be a certain suspension of disbelief in storytelling but one look at this depiction of the bus driver Joe Sargent and you’d immediately turn tail and head straight home, do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars…

On the whole then, I’m sad to say that this isn’t a great adaptation and lacks the essential qualities that I would consider to be Lovecraftian. There is no creeping terror, no existential dread, no indescribable cosmic horrors. The creative team have somehow managed to take this impressive vehicle and drain all the tension and narrative out of it, and have instead opted for a more overtly and immediate horror in the imagery. I’m not even going to comment on the inexplicable use of a full page “jump scare” on the last page.

If you want to explore Lovecraftian Horror done really well, look at Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows, Lonnie Nadler & Jenna Cha, Alex Cormack, John Lees, Ryan Lee, Gou Tanabe. These are all writers and artists that have produced comics that fully embrace the Lovecraftian genre and understand the defining factors that make a story Lovecraftian.

The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek ‏

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