Portrait of Cthulhu as an Old God: Woodward & Ritchie on "Necronomicon"

Last week, writer William Messner-Loebs stopped by CBR News to discuss "Necronomicon," a four-issue miniseries chronicling the fictional history of the cursed book referenced in the works of horror legend H.P. Lovecraft, and the misfortune that comes to a twentieth-century reader seeking after its forbidden knowledge. "Necronomicon" features the parallel narratives of the "Mad Arab" Abdul Alhazred's journeys leading up to his writing the Necronomicon itself, and an Arab student in the 1920s who travels to America seeking after the heart of the book's mysteries.

Continuing our coverage of the BOOM! Studios sproject, we spoke with cover illustrator J.K. Woodward and interior artist Andrew Ritchie about the mysteries of "Necronomicon," issue #1 of which ships in August.

Andrew Ritchie, a former illustrator for White Wolf Games, has already contributed to stories for "Cthulhu Tales" and "Fall of Cthulhu" in BOOM!'s Lovecraft line. The artist told CBR he's enjoyed the chance to draw the mythical Old Gods. "I've always been a big monster fan, and Lovecraft created some great ones," Ritchie said. "Often they're described as looking like parts of creatures we are familiar with. As an illustrator, this offers some wonderful character designs. He also gave us giant monsters before Godzilla and King Kong. Once I started on 'Cthulhu Tales' and 'Fall of Cthulhu' I became aware of the human nature side of his work. It seems to bring out the best in people."

Though Ritchie indicated he wasn't necessarily looking to become a horror comics artist, he appears quite pleased to have found his niche. "With the look of my work, I don't know if I ever had a choice," he said. "I never tried to create a style to draw horror. I just let my work develop and that's where it seems to fit best. I'm not a super hero artist trying to draw a scary book. It's the genre where I've found work and it makes me happy when I do it."

That said, the artist went on to suggest that his style was still flexible depending on the needs of the story, "I've approached this differently then I did Steve Niles's 'Pieces for Mom' story. That was an in-your-face zombie gore book. The horror here is more subtle and I tried to bring that into my pages. I relied more on body language, expressions and shadows than a gnarly piece of flesh lying on the floor. There's definitely some good gore and monsters here, it's just a little more subtle."

In addition to mastering both gore and subtle horror, "Necronomicon" required that Ritchie acquaint himself with two distinct historical settings, an ancient vision of Arabia and a more recent vision of America. "Before I received the script I asked about the setting and headed down to my public library. The web is also a huge reference library that didn't exist 15 years ago," the artist explained. "I used to have a large collection of reference material, but I just don't need hard copies any more. The 1920s is a great period to draw. I've always loved the buildings from this time. It's also great period in fashion with all the hats, ties and suit coats."

After so much research and toiling, Andrew Ritchie is decidedly pleased with his work on "Necronomicon." Said the artist, "It's definitely some of my best work. It has my usual line work and heavy blacks contrasted by my old school comic book colors. It's great working with William Messner-Loebs, a veteran writer who understands sequential timing and space. It's allowed me to create some good panel to panel storytelling."

Cover artist J.K. Woodward, too, expressed excitement about the project. "I was at Wizard World doing a signing with Peter David for the 'Fallen Angel' monthly series I'm working on. I ran into Ross [Richie, publisher of BOOM! Studios]. I hadn't done anything with BOOM! for months and asked Ross if he had any projects," Woodward said. "I had been dying to do something with BOOM! for a while but had been tied up with other stuff, and so this chance meeting was a hell of an opportunity. A week or two later, I got a call from Ross who told me about 'Necronomicon,' and, being a fan of the Lovecraft mythology, I jumped at it!"

Woodward also told CBR that all four covers, created in watercolor and " a bit of airbrush," have already been completed. "I did them all at once--I was having a good time and didn't want to break up the pieces," he said.

The "Necronomicon" covers will feature "iconic images" of Lovecraftian characters. "This job was very fulfilling for me, because it was more like the classic painting I did before getting into advertising or comics," Woodward said. "It was a chance for me to have my say. The idea was to have four paintings expressing what I thought was relevant to Lovecraft's creation. I think the idea was that it was all going to be covered so there was no 'wrong' way to paint it. I went into the history of the book with a painting of the 'Mad Arab,' I had one with Cthulhu (that was a no-brainer. I mean, how could you not), and I even painted a cover in a modern setting so that it wasn't all just history."

Woodward also indicated the covers would share something of a guiding principle: death. "I know that if the Necronomicon is really about one thing more than anything else, it's about crossing barriers. Dimensional, Spiritual, whatever. Going over to others, or more commonly, bringing things from there to here, that sort of thing. But since 'Necro' is actually in the title, I would say that death is a good metaphor for this crossing.

"So I put a lot of decomposition, textures, anything that would visually bring out this look of decay. On one of the covers, I actually lit some scrap paper on fire and put it out with coffee, crumpled it up, dried it in the sun, scanned it in and applied it as a texture to the corners of my painting. It gave me just the look I wanted and it was fun to do! It's not art if you're not making a mess."

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