This August, writer William Messner-Messner-Loebs and artist Andrew Ritchie reveal the secret history of legendary author H.P. Lovecraft's book of forbidden knowledge in "Necronomicon," a four-issue miniseries from BOOM! Studios that tells the story of the book's creation. CBR News chatted with the veteran writer about his latest comic book work, the particulars of Lovecraftian lore, and... "Burger Time."
In Lovecraft's mythology, the Necronomicon is a book of forbidden knowledge written by the "Mad Arab" Abdul Alhazred. Messner-Loebs, who is perhaps best known for his lengthy runs on DC Comics' "Wonder Woman" in the 1990s as well as his work with Sam Kieth on "The Maxx," said knowing just what forbidden knowledge might actually be contained in the Necronomicon has always been tricky. "It's basically a book that you just draw things out when you need them, is the short answer," Messner-Loebs told CBR News. "The long answer is, it's a history of the four or five pre-human races that linger around the edges of the world and cause us trouble. And also various instructions on how to summon those guys and how to send them back. Although nobody seems to have ever caught on to the fact that when you summon these people they don't usually give you time to send them back. And also, you get skills in moving between dimensions. Angles and certain ways of drawing lines on the wall give you power.
"[BOOM! Editor-in-Chief] Mark [Waid] has asked me to a bit further research -- if you can call it research, to me it's pleasure -- reading all of Lovecraft and seeing if there are a couple more things in there I can spring on people. I found one or two more that I'm holding close to my vest."
Messner-Loebs indicated that, even as presented in Lovecraft's original stories, there are some intriguing problems with the Necronomicon's origins. "It's described as being written by the 'Mad Arab' Abdul Alhazred," Messner-Loebs explained, "and we think that probably that Lovecraft had some Hazards in his past family history. And so it was just sort of self-referential. Since Abdul is not a real Arabic name, I think Abdullah is the actual name. So I thought it might be interesting to actually have this particular 'Mad Arab' be actually a mad Englishman who is wandering around, sort of like Lawrence of Arabia.
"It turns out that just about the same time as Abdul Alhazred was supposed to be writing the Necronomicon, Saint Boniface was chopping down the Thor tree in Germany, basically destroying the religious faith of a bunch of Vikings and other Germans. So [in my BOOM! miniseries,] I have a sort of German monk getting shipwrecked and eventually converts to Islam and is just wandering around just trying to find the meaning of life and poking in to all these places over in Yemen, like the Nameless City that Lovecraft talks about, where you're never supposed to look, and ends up writing all these things down. So that's one of the things I'm looking at in the book.
"I've also come up with the idea of a modern day -- modern in terms of the 1920s -- young Arab college student, who is pressured by his father to become an engineer and bring his talent back to, at that point, a fairly poor and destitute Arabia. So he meets up with a bunch of theosophists, who seem to be the group that Lovecraft refers to most often as seeking after hidden knowledge. He has sort of parallel adventures, trying to get used to America and trying to poke in to these different sites in America that Lovecraft brings up, like Arkham and Innsmouth and Dunwich and all those places."
Clearly, Messner-Loebs in no stranger to the world of Lovecraft. "I was quite the Lovecraft fan when I was in college, and I was quite caught up in the whole Lovecraft school, of Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard," the writer said. From this base of expertise, Messner-Loebs has written short stories for BOOM!'s "Cthulhu Tales" anthology, also based on the work of Lovecraft, and has further flexed his horror writing skills on "Zombie Tales." "So when I got this assignment," he continued, "I had been writing just off the top of my head for the short stories. But now that I've been looking at [Lovecraft's mythology] in depth I've found that there is quite a lot to explore and to talk about. There are several different alien races that are influencing the world that we know, and several different talents that are ascribed to people reading the Necronomicon."
The writer had high praise for "Necronomicon" artist Andrew Ritchie. ""I was blown away by the artwork," Messner-Loebs said. "And he's drawing the damn thing almost faster than I'm writing it."
In addition to "Necronomicon," Messner-Loebs has been keeping busy with several other projects. IDW Publishing will be reprinting his early series "Journey: The Adventures of Wolverine MacAllistaire," and the writer has also dabbled in new media. "I wrote a movie for the internet," Messner-Loebs said. "It was for a website that owns the rights to a bunch of really old video games. They had several of us to write and draw comics based on those that could be played, or cartoons that could be played in Flash on this website as a different way for them to bring in members. And mine was based on a game where you assemble hamburgers, ['Burger Time']. So I put it together as a guy who comes into the plant and is going nuts, and has to assemble hamburgers or they're going to destroy the town. Playing it much like the episode of 'I Love Lucy' in the chocolate factory."
Messner-Loebs credits his benefactors at the Hero Initiative for landing him this unusual assignment. "When we had the comic book crash in the middle '90s, I was sort of thrown out of work and I lost all the books I was writing, and eventually lost my house," the writer said. "I became homeless and had to go on welfare for a while. Not only were they able to give me immediate financial help, but they were able to find some different jobs for me," like the online animation gig, Messner-Loebs said. "They also lined up a couple of comic books that I did. So they've been incredibly helpful."
Recently, Messner-Loebs attended the Motor City Comic Con in Detroit, signing and sketching at the Hero Initiative booth, and, he said, "thoroughly enjoying that."
"Necronomicon" #1 is on sale in August from BOOM! Studios.
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