Mankind in its blind arrogance assumes it’s the most important being in the universe. However, lurking in the darker corners of reality are beings far more powerful than man. They are the Old Ones, horrific beings of such unimaginable power that even a mere glimpse of them is enough to shatter the fragile human mind. The Old Ones are the creation of writer H.P. Lovecraft, who revolutionized the horror story with his tales featuring the cosmically menacing Old Ones, their ghastly spawn, and their sinister followers. Lovecraft’s tales came to be known collectively as “The Cthulhu Mythos,” named after one of the most notorious Old Ones.
Lovecraft was a prolific writer and many of his Mythos tales appeared in the Pulp magazine “Weird Tales” during the 1920s and ’30s. Lovecraft encouraged his friends and fellow authors like Robert E. Howard to expand upon the concepts and characters he created. Since his death in 1937, a number of writers have expanded upon the Cthulhu Mythos. This April, the Old Ones and their ilk invade the four-color world of comics with the release of Boom! Studios new anthology “Cthulhu Tales.” CBR News spoke with two of the writers involved, Andrew Cosby and Johanna Stokes, about their tales of cosmic, mind bending terror.
“Cthulhu Tales” was spawned at last years Comic-Con International in San Diego during a moment when Cosby and Stokes minds were in perfect synchronicity. “We were doing a signing at the Boom! booth for the ‘Zombie Tales’ anthology, when Ross (the publisher) asked if anyone had any ideas for other anthologies,” Cosby told CBR News. “Apparently, ‘Zombie Tales’ was a big hit for Boom!, and he was hoping to expand the line. Jo and I looked at each other and then both blurted out ‘Cthulhu Tales’ at the same time. It was weird. I mean, what are the chances, right? It’s not like someone was asking for our favorite color or something. ‘Cthulhu’ is a bit of an obscure go-to. But we went to it anyway, and that’s what got the ball rolling.”
Cosby’s first exposure to Lovecraft’s work wasn’t through the author’s actual stories. “As much as I hate to admit this, I seem to recall that my introduction to Lovecraft wasn’t through his books, but through others’ adaptations of his mythos,” he explained. “I think the first time I became aware of him was through the movie version of ‘The Dunwich Horror.’ It was either that or from watching ‘Night Gallery.’ ‘Pickman’s Model’ if memory serves. Rod Serling sure loved his Lovecraft. At some point I picked up a copy of the ‘Necronomicon’ and that was it. Bugs speaking their own dark language and divulging the secret history of the world? I mean, come on! Sold!! It was like pulp meets Poe. I started reading everything I could get my hands on – whether it was Lovecraft or just something that smelled a little like him. I even played the ‘Call of Cthulhu’ role-playing game, where you lose your mind long before you lose your hit points. Couldn’t get enough of the stuff. Been in love with tentacles ever since.”
Johanna Stokes discovered the stygian world of The Old Ones through the works of other authors. “I think the first stories I read in the Cthulhu Mythos were by modern day writers paying homage to Lovecraft,” she said. “I later delved into his works and found them to be all sorts of wrong – in a good way. I quickly learned I couldn’t read them right before I went to bed or my nightmares would be filled with tentacles.”
Both writers’ tales of tentacles and terror will run eight pages. Cosby’s story takes place in present day Boston. “Which, to my mind, is the perfect setting for a
Cthulhu tale,” he explained. “The whole upper East Coast has this great sense of old and new worlds colliding – urban grit mixed with a sense of history, like you could scrape back the dirt and grime to discover layers of time hidden just beneath the surface. That’s what horror is all about – stuff lurking beneath the surface. And when you go looking for it, you become part of it, whether you want to or not.”
The protagonist of Cosby’s story is a man whose life has been ripped apart by the things lurking beneath the surface. “I don’t want to give away too much here. After all, it’s only an eight-page story,” Cosby stated. “But I will say that he’s a man who’s suffered incredible loss at the hands of something he’s only just beginning to understand, something the rest of the world doesn’t even believe exists. He’s given up his normal life in pursuit of the abnormal, driven to find answers about the unknown, hoping in this quest that he’ll also find some peace. He probably won’t, but hey – that’s Lovecraft for you. In comic terms, I guess you could say he’s sort of a ‘supernatural Punisher.’ Pulp adventure wrapped in a noir horror package.
“We’re catching up to this guy on his quest,” Cosby continued. “He’s learned a lot since the bad thing happened, so he’s a bit of an ass-kicker now. Of course, in the face of Lovecraftian horror, that’s not saying a whole helluva lot. It basically means you’re not locked in a padded cell, talking to the cracks in the plaster while sitting in a pool of your own sick. At least, not yet. There’s a bit of action, a bit of intrigue, some emotion and a horrifying discovery at the end. Like I said before, I think it’s a satisfying, stand-alone story, but it’s also an origin of sorts – a launching pad for other tales to follow.”
Cosby’s tale will pit his lead character against a number of vile abominations. “They’re nasty. Big and nasty,” He stated. “But the ‘who’ and ‘what’ of it aren’t nearly as disturbing as the ‘why.’ The ‘why’ is the reason I’m telling this story. I think my protagonist’s motivation is very unique and something with which everyone will be able to identify or empathize.
“This is very much a solo concept (remember, ‘Supernatural Punisher’) about one man against impossible and terrifying odds,” Cosby added.
Johanna Stokes story in “Cthulhu Tales” also involves one person whose life has been shattered by the machinations of the Old Ones. “In the story there is a calendar on a desk that says March 1925 and a sign in front of a building that says Arkham Sanitarium,” Stokes explained. “Arkham was Lovecraft’s fictional town based on Salem, Mass. And ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ talks about a period of time ranging from late February to early April in 1925 when Cthulhu was rising and people were being driven mad. I wanted to tell a story that coincided with those events.
“‘The Call of Cthulhu’ is such a detailed story with many different characters being affected in their own way by the awakening of this dark God, I wanted to tell the story of the woman who fell through the cracks,” Stokes continued. “She reaches into the darkness and once there, she cannot escape. But the world would never know the true reason behind her madness. No one would suspect she had touched the shadow of Cthulhu and it had broken her mind. And sadly, no one would care.”
It wasn’t just the eldritch and alien power of the Old Ones that lead to the shattering of the woman’s mind. “The woman, who has for so long lived with her husband’s betrayal that she has become numb to the world, seeks out a way to destroy him,” Stokes explained. “When she dreams of the City of Cthulhu, she cannot let go of the hold it has on her and eventually ends up destroying herself, instead. She is her own worst enemy. After reading Lovecraft stories, I wanted to try to do something in the same vein of storytelling. Lovecraft’s characters are curious and go looking where they shouldn’t go looking. There isn’t a great deal of conflict; it’s more horrific and weird things happening to the main character, not things brought about by a string of choices or actions. So this story is a little different from the way I usually tell a tale.
“Hopefully it is a creepy, lilting, cautionary tale of horror,” Stokes continued. “I say lilting because, for some reason unknown to me, (perhaps it was the madness of
Cthulhu,) I decided to write the story in verse. Also, as I researched Lovecraft I learned so much about his life that I wanted to put subtle references into the book as little Easter eggs for readers who are devout fans of the author. For example, some say that
Lovecraft was influenced by Hieronymus Bosch and certainly the two creators worked in the same tone. Bosch’s most famous work is “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” So, a line in my story, about a woman whose husband is stepping out on her is as follows:
‘Much did I wonder how oft’ he enjoyed
Her Garden of Earthly Delights?'”
That the madness of Cthulhu is still motivating writers to tell tales about him and his foul brethren almost seventy years after Lovecraft’s death is a testament to the enduring power of the Mythos stories. Both Stokes and Cosby feel Lovecraft’s approach to the unknown is why the “Cthulhu Mythos” tales continue to fascinate and terrify readers to this day. “I think Lovecraft taps into the dark space of the universe and, like his characters, even though we know we shouldn’t, we just can’t resist taking a look,” Stokes explained. “He also usually sets his narrator up as someone who so staunchly disbelieves that anything around him could be caused by supernatural effects and will argue sane and scientific reasons instead of even acknowledging the possibility of some cosmic darkness, essentially he Scullys it, so that as the reader, we find ourselves making the argument for the supernatural. By trying to convince us of the impossibility of such things, he actually convinces us not only of the possibility but of the absolute probability. It’s a very clever writing technique.”
“I think it’s his unique approach to horror, which is essentially man’s helplessness in the face of the unknown and unknowable,” Cosby said. “Lovecraft wasn’t big on the morality tale or heroes triumphing over impossible odds. I think he took a very realistic approach to his unrealistic subject matter. When facing the supernatural, we’re babes in the woods. And we’ll be lucky to come out of it with our mind intact. More often than not, his heroes don’t. I dig that.”
Cosby feels that the stories in “Cthulhu Tales” by him and his fellow creators should appeal to those who dig Lovecraft’s work and readers who may have never heard of the author and his famous creations, but love a good, solid, four color yarn. “I can guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the stories the writers have crafted,” he stated. “And the art will speak for itself. This isn’t slasher fic, and it certainly isn’t your typical horror comic. There’s a ton of talent in this little anthology, and I’m just proud and thrilled to have been asked to be included in their company. Grab a copy when it comes out. You won’t be disappointed.”