Comic Review: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward / Writer: H P Lovecraft / Art: Ian Culbard / Publisher: SelfMadeHero / Release Date: Out Now
SelfMadeHero are proving themselves to be the comic book equivalent of Stuart Gordon when it comes to HP Lovecraft adaptations. Just as Mister Gordon is the go-to guy for screen versions of Lovecraft's work, the publishers are equally reliable with colourful print adaptations of the author's catalogue. Here, they tackle The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
Illustrator I.N.J Culbard is himself no stranger to all things Cthulu, having previously adapted At The Mountains of Madness in graphic novel form. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is one of Lovecraft's less well known works (and one the author himself reportedly disliked), but it lends itself well to graphic novel treatment here. Based on the short novel of the same name, it tells the story of Charles Dexter Ward, a curious young man who becomes obsessed with his own ancestry. It'd make for a brilliant episode of Who Do You Think You Are? Ward becomes particularly fixated upon wizardly relative Joseph Curwen, a man famed for frequenting local graveyards and never apparently ageing. Fascinated by the man, Ward begins researching and soon attempting to replicate his experiments. It's a slippery slope though, and Ward soon finds himself undergoing a very Lovecraftian transformation. Doctor Marinus Willet visits Ward during his incarceration in a mental asylum in a vain attempt to diagnose the young man's ailments. The horror he uncovers is far more insidious and much more cosmic than anyone could have expected.
Geographically, the story is on a smaller scale than the Mountains of Madness, but the story is far more ambitious. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward juggles multiple protagonists and timelines to great effect. As is typical with Lovecraftian horror, the emphasis is on the unseen rather than the visible. While the occasional monstrous figure does appear (the story marks the induction of Yog-Sothoth into the Cthulu rogues' gallery) slowly building tension, morbid mystery and mental unravelling are largely the order of the day. The illustration is strangely appropriate – going a more realistic, darker route could have made the long dialogue and exposition scenes seem boring. The story is convoluted and a little difficult to follow – maybe too niche for non-fans of the author – but Culbard's adaptation is passionately done and classy, like old Hammer horror. Again, there's less to look at than you'd find scaling the Mountains of Madness, but Culbard does a fine line in atmospheric gloom, Gothicism and portending doom. One might not see much of Yog-Sothoth and its buddies, but The Old Ones' presence is always well felt.
As cinema struggles to get Lovecraft right, SelfMadeHero and their output is looking increasingly definitive. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is one well worth cracking.