Carter & Byrne on Lovecraft's Strange Adventures

While the title itself gives a good idea of what to expect, writer Mac Carter prefers to leave the details of what goes in the pages of his new miniseries, "The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft," for readers to discover when the Image Comics miniseries debuts later this year. "Call me a full-blown geek, but comics that don't explain themselves, that engage me thoughtfully, are the ones I always enjoy most," Carter told CBR News, name-checking the likes of Moore, Gaiman, Morrison, Ellis, and Dysart. "In other words, mining the intent of a writer is half the fun of any reading experience, so I don't want to give away too much of my thinking along those lines.  

"But I can say this: first and foremost, the book is about a deeply complicated and conflicted man: a brilliant thinker, an innovative writer, a neurotic, an introvert, and a very, very lonely guy. Poor old Howard.  Seventy-odd years after his death, we've dragged him from the grave and plunked him down in the middle of a story that reads, on its surface, like a classic men's adventure magazine.  Such an ignoble circumstance for such a cerebral fellow.  He certainly deserves a more highbrow setting than that.  Alas.... There.  He.  Is."

Cver artist Adam Byrne was a bit more open about the book's premise. "It's really about taking H.P. Lovecraft, the writer and his troubled history, and asking the question: what if the inspiration for his unique fiction came from some irrational, unexplainable horror mixed up in his real life?  We've tried to take Lovecraft's biography--he's such a compelling character--and blend it with his bizarre mythology, which is vast and mind-bending.  You might think of the story like 'Shakespeare in Love,' but instead of Shakespeare it's Lovecraft, and instead of 'Romeo and Juliet' it's the cosmic horror of Cthulhu."

While Lovecraft himself is front and center in the story, Carter has set in motion an entire Lovecraft universe. "[It's] a rich stew of real world figures and fictional characters from his writings, everyone from Alhazred to Houdini," the writer said. "Of course, we've taken more than our share of creative license with everyone involved, and we've made up a few new characters, too."

Carter continued, "The engine driving this first arc is a love triangle between Howard, Sylvia (the cute, bookish girl he's loved from childhood), and Grayson (the town's Gatsby figure, and Sylvia's fiance).  Howard wants Sylvia.  Sylvia wants true love and finds herself torn between the two men.  Grayson very much wants Howard to just go away.  

"Add to that mix two more characters of import: Dr. Brand, a psychiatrist fascinated by the run of insanity in the Lovecraft family, and lastly, the Horror.  Strange, perhaps, to think of the Horror behind the series as a character, but it's more than just a tonal cast, it's a palpable player in the lives of everyone in the story."

Before giving any thought to the genre he wanted to write in, Carter said he "simply set out to create a book similar to the ones I love and admire.  I wanted to write a story populated by rich characters that would be equal parts action-adventure and horror, not unlike the world of 'Hellblazer.'  Ultimately, I guess, it's our hope that it satisfies the many devoted fans of Lovecraft's writings while remaining accessible to the casual reader.  To that end, we've sprinkled in lots of references to his life and works; when possible, I've tried to flavor the horror to his eerie taste; and for those less interested in all-things-Lovecraft, I've set him in the center of what I hope is a dramatic and frightening conflict (brandishing Grampa Whipple's revolver but, sorry, no bullwhip).  Of course, to have it considered 'Lovecraftian' by readers would be the ultimate compliment.  But that's a very high bar."

Carter didn't need to search very hard, far, or long for the inspiration to write about the famous horror author as the main character of his own adventures. "Give Lovecraft's wiki page a quick read," said Carter. "I mean, what a life!  All his wonderful and weird writings aside, he is an endlessly fascinating character. And, man, what a family.  The poor guy was doomed long before he was even conceived.  With all due respect, the sandbox of Howard's life is a fun one to play in, and for that reason, we started there.  Then, in the same way 'Shakespeare in Love' treats The Bard as a character bound up in the writing of one of his own plays, we stuck Howard into the middle of a drama that pulls ghoulish details from a number of his stories, letters, and musings.  As I've told the many fans that I've talked to about this comic, I love the guy's tales, but better than any of them is Howard's own life story."

Using a real world figure for the basis of a story meant a certain level of research. Given that the character is question is Lovecraft, it also meant there was a degree of scrutiny to contend with. "First, let me pay my respects to his fans out there.  They are legion.  And they know all.  All!" Carter remarked. "How did I come to learn this?  Because, I've been rightly corrected in my work by many of them.  To each of you good people, thank you. " 

"Beside his stories," Carter continued, "there is no shortage of writings on Lovecraft out there.  The Sprague de Camp biography was essential.  But having read it, and a lot more, I set everything aside and went about crafting a character that worked in the framework of the conflict.  Truthfully, I didn't have to tweak too much.  He was a tragic guy and it wasn't hard to imagine him having all sorts of problems.  Of course, his stories themselves provide lots of fun details and Easter eggs for the fans, but I don't want to give any of those away."

"The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft" has spent the better part of a decade in forming, and it was cover artist Adam Byrne who was instrumental in putting all the players in place. "I met Mac Carter and [his friend] Jeff Blitz while working at Platinum Studios on some web animation projects in 2000," he said.  "I was fresh out of college and, though I was gainfully employed, I was looking for something better worth my energy.  At the time, I was shocked these guys were knocking around in animation. Jeff and Mac seemed to me the best-kept secret in Hollywood.  They were extremely meticulous, thoughtful, and modest, contrary to all my other Hollywood experiences.  I busted my butt on their projects. I worked with them, putting in sixteen-hour days for four weeks straight, sleeping under my desk, etc. We came to be close friends, and walking around the San Diego Comic-Con later that year, badly hung-over from cheap sake, we hatched the poorly conceived idea of doing an animated project together all on our own; the internet was abuzz with content sites in those days.

"When we got back to L.A., we pitched each other several projects.  I immediately latched onto Lovecraft.  The first time I heard the pitch it gave me shivers up my spine, literally, and it's taken nine years to exorcize it from my system. I think.

"In the meantime, Jeff and Mac lost their status as best-kept-secrets--they've won multiple awards for their work in commercials, and Jeff was nominated for an Oscar for his documentary, 'Spellbound,' and made the feature film, 'Rocket Science,' with another of our friends.

"As time wore on, 'Lovecraft' took on many unfinished forms - 10-minute animated short, video game pitch, and my own pass at the artwork for the miniseries--until we realized the workload was too much for a struggling artist with a mortgage. Everything changed when I met [artist] Tony Salmons at WonderCon in 2006.  Tony and I spent a memorable evening walking around the Tenderloin (there may have been higher planes of consciousness involved), with me trying to convince him his luck could change.  He bought in, and 160-plus pages later we have our first arc."

Carter is equally pleased with Salmons' work on "The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft." "Can we all just acknowledge, for the record, that Tony is one of the greatest comic book artists alive? In short, his work is fucking awesome.  Google some of his pin-ups - they'll blow you away.  So many great artists of today cite him as an influence. The storytelling and images that come out of his head are nothing short of inspired and I can't wait for everyone to see his crazy cool stuff."

For "The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft," Salmons designed all of the monsters and, says Carter, "They are super freaky.  He also has a knack for breathing life into characters and scenes like no one else.  He makes Lovecraft's world feel absolutely real and that was crucially important to me given the element of biography involved. Tony's a brilliant man and an incredible artist and I can't impress upon your readers enough how talented he is.  Sadly, he works so rarely.  He deserves much more attention than he's received to date. We got really lucky that he was willing and able to do it. And what a feat - over 160 pages!  I think everyone will agree Tony was a perfect fit for the book and did an unbelievable job. Adam calls it Tony's magnum opus."

Byrne himself is also contributing his unique visuals to the series. "How amazing were the pulp covers of the '20s?" he said. "I love everything about them: the colors and textures, the amazing font work, and the dames--wow! I'm trying to honor those covers and talented artists, specifically the pulps that featured Lovecraft's original works-the issues of 'Weird Tales' from the 1920s.  And not just the content of the images, but the quality, too. For example, all our covers have a painted paperback quality and feature conceits like aged edges and dog-eared flaps. It's been a great challenge, and a ton of fun (as well as many hours at the computer), to strike just the right balance between those old time pulps and an image that captures the attention of the modern reader."

Carter comes to comics as a successful commercial director. Do his experiences in that visual medium translate to his writing for the visual medium of comics?

"Yes, is the short answer," he said. "I absolutely wanted the experience of reading this book to be a cinematic one.  As I wrote it, I imagined the moments as filmic scenes. But my directing/filmmaking has always been fed by my love of comics.  Way before I could afford to run film through a camera, I was sitting for long hours in my bedroom penciling tales of my favorite childhood heroes; absolutely any character ever drawn by Kirby, Kane or Ditko, to name just a few.  More than the great writers of comics, my particular visual style and filmic storytelling is a direct result of my love of comic art.  How many of us as avid comic book readers dreamed of seeing those awesome characters on film?  We all did!  That passion inspired me to get into directing, as I'm sure it has many filmmakers, and now Lovecraft brings the whole experience full circle.  I guess I owe all of those artists big time."

Carter sees "The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft" as appealing to a wide potential audience, but there are certain segments that come to mind. "There should be an obvious appeal for the fans of Lovecraft, but I don't want to be presumptuous.  Some of my choices they may vehemently disagree with.  I just hope that they feel I've been true to the spirit of his work.  That has always been my intention.  If you know Lovecraft and his writings, you'll get a little more out of the series.  If you don't, there's plenty of action and adventure and horror to entertain.  And maybe, just maybe, the series will whet the appetites of those who know absolutely nothing of Lovecraft for the man's work.  That would be a great bonus. 

"But I'll tell you, independent comics are a tough business.  Anyone who doesn't think so hasn't been through the launch of a new book.  It's a roller coaster ride. But with any luck, we'll find that following any new comic needs to survive. The final pages of the final issue should give readers a strong hint of where we'd like to take the series next."

"The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft" goes on sale April 8 from Image Comics.

Did Superman Just Murder An Innocent Person - For the Greater Good?

More in Comics