“You have to ask yourself, am I a part of your dream or are you part of mine?”
The latest H.P. Lovecraft adaptation from I.N.J. Culbard and SelfMadeHero is a take on the classic horror writer’s greatest dream story, The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath. Culbard delivers a lovely adaptation, suffused with surreal logic and some very intriguing storytelling choices, though for new readers this story may be a bit too strange and ethereal for them to fully appreciate.
The thing is, this book is a truly dreamlike state, with shifting perspectives and eternally changing storyline. Just as you get a handle on the events seems to be happening in front of you, the storyline turns. The focus of the narrative is elusive, always twisting in the way that hallucinations are elusive and ever-changing. For instance, there are bizarre animals with vertical mouths on one page and off the next and your mind wishes to make sense of that. A reader wants to think that maybe the animals appear as foreshadowing or as echoes of mood or have some sort of deeper significance.
That may be true, or not. They may return or not return later on in the story. That’s the nature of dreams, and the nature of why Lovecraft is such a beloved author. His work has a deep feel of the reverie about it, full of reverberations of everyday daily life that resonate symbolically through the imagery that is presented. Old friends reappear with different faces and new friends show up saying things that they couldn’t possibly know; otherworldly vistas present themselves; the protagonist falls and drowns and is caught by strange creatures… and all of it has the feeling of unreal reality, or maybe real unreality; whatever it is, it’s as real as the concepts that we carry in our heads that haunt our secret selves.
Ah, Lovecraft, by showing us our inner selves you make it hard to live as our external selves.
I.N.J. Culbard has adapted several Lovecraft stories as graphic novels, so he’s obviously a big fan of the dark genius’s literary works. Culbard’s linework and coloring is is gorgeous and haunting. I was most struck by the color palette he chose for his adaptation, mainly pastels but frequently with full, bold lighting in scenes of full sunlight. I generally see these stories as suffused in darkness, though that may be more his stories of Cthulu and other eternal creatures than the dreamlike stories. The brighter colors present a fascinating choice in this tale because the coloring gives Unknown Kadath a kind of seductive quality. It feels somehow more real than reality; inviting, peculiar, exotic and the perfect escape from a quiet life in a small Massachusetts town.
If you’ve never read Lovecraft before, you probably won’t want to start with this book. The lack of a conventional plot might drive you crazy and make you feel like the storyline is tedious. But for the experienced fan who’s looking for an interesting adaptation of one of Lovecraft’s greatest stories, this is well worth picking up. Then again, if you’ve been reading I.N.J. Culbard’s Lovecraft adaptations, you’ve probably dreamed of this Dream-Quest.