Tentacles & Madness: 10 Comics That Continue H.P. Lovecraft's Horror Legacy

Books Lists
Tentacles & Madness: 10 Comics That Continue H.P. Lovecraft's Horror Legacy

Few writers have sustained the sort of lasting influence that H.P. Lovecraft boasts. While the writer may not occupy a seat in the vaunted halls of literary legend, and history may remember him as a complete racist, he is undoubtedly a horror god. Though he died largely unknown and broke in 1937, published only in obscure sci-fi/horror pulp magazines, Lovecraft did more than just influence generations of horror writers — he created a whole mythology and sub-genre for them to inhabit.

In some ways it’s easier to be a fan of Lovecraftian horror than of the author’s original work. Huge blocks of dry exposition with very little dialogue may have characterized his prose, but the ideas behind them have always been compelling. Lovecraft has become synonymous with such frightful themes as cosmic hopelessness, mental frailty and human insignificance. His monsters, heavily tentacled and mind-shatteringly horrid, set the standard for grotesquery. Much like the many writhing arms of one of his beasts, Lovecraft’s influence stretches across multiple media and their biggest icons, from horror heavyweights Stephen King and Clive Barker to Guillermo Del Toro, H.R. Giger and even Metallica.

The world of comics has always lied among the most fertile grounds for those seeking that bleak, gut-churning terror — from EC (Tales from the Crypt) Comics to Arkham Asylum (named for one of HPL’s fictional madness-laden towns). And if today’s comic landscape is any indicator, that won’t change any time soon. So, with fish-people and tentacled torments in mind, here are ten Lovecraftian reads, just in time for Halloween.



1. Hellboy

From cosmic terrors to Earth-bound frog monsters, Lovecraft’s influence has colored the pages of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy from its start. In opening story Seed of Destruction, the persistently insane Rasputin tries to free the immortal Ogdru Jahad (or Apocalyptic dragon) from its ethereal prison. Modeled very much after the Great Old Ones from Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, Ogdru Jahad is an amorphous mass of tentacles bearing horrifically unthinkable power. Upon its return, mankind would be wiped off the face of a burning Earth like so many insects. Much like in Lovecraft’s many tales, the real horror lies in how insignificant humans truly are.



2. The Wake

The sound of minds being blown swept across the comics world last year with Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy’s aquatic thriller, The Wake. When the crew of an ocean-floor laboratory complex is stalked by ominous sea-creatures that make them hallucinate, the result is a sci-fi horror sundae with sprinkles of Alien and Cthulhu. And, with the post-apocalyptic second act, Snyder took it beyond the Lovecraftian fear of what lurks unseen and showed us what happens when those great powers finally do reveal themselves.



3. Neonomicon

Given his predilections toward mysticism and the occult, it’s no real surprise that Alan Moore counts Lovecraft as as one of his many influences. In his 2010 story Neonomicon, Moore sought to make explicit many of the euphemisms used by the “sexually squeamish” Lovecraft. It’s the story of two FBI agents who stumble upon a New England cult, the Esoteric Order of Dagon, and — to say the least — madness ensues. With appearances from orgiastic cults, fish-men and the Old Ones, it’s a crime-horror yarn infusing the psychological terror of Lovecraft with the visceral fetishism we’ve come to expect from Moore.



4. Fall of Cthulhu

BOOM! Studios dove into the mythos with this modern reimagining of what may be Lovecraft’s most enduring tale, “The Call of Cthulhu.” Much like the narrator in the original story, the protagonist embarks on a quest for answers in the wake of his uncle’s mysterious death, uncovering forgotten horrors of an unknown world. The series goes on to explore dreamworlds, warring gods and the “corpse-city” of R’lyeh. Of course none of this would be complete without tentacled monstrosities.



5. Fatale

At its best, hard-boiled crime fiction is visceral, but real. Having written such noir-ish gems as Criminal and Incognito, Ed Brubaker knows this firsthand. On the other hand, who says you can’t throw in some demonic creatures. Following the life of Jo, an immortal bombshell, Fatale also bucks the conception that, sultry as they may be, femme fatales need to be dimensionless plot drivers. Chased throughout her long life by a Lovecraftian cult of monster worshippers, she wields a hypnotic power over men, and destroys more than a few lives.



6. The Squidder

If you’re still up for more tentacle imagery, Ben Templesmith’s The Squidder has it in spades. The titular Squidder is a Mad Max-style hard ass in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by squid monsters. Written, drawn, colored and lettered by Templesmith, the comic goes to show how valuable a unified vision can be. The Squidder moves on an artistic axis that caries it from creepy to horrific. While Templesmith does play with notions of destruction at the hands of otherworldly powers, The Squidder is more concerned with the Lovecraftian creature-feature tradition. And tentacles — lots and lots of tentacles.



7. Locke & Key

Joe Hill’s graphic horror epic follows the Locke siblings, who move with their mother to Keyhouse (get it?) in the wake of their father’s death. The large, old place is chock full of magical keys and dimensional gateways. While the obvious link is only superficial — the story takes place in the fictional town of Lovecraft, Massachusetts — there may also be an oblique reference to H.P. Lovecraft’s 1929 short story “The Silver Key.” In the narrative, a man laments losing the vivid dreams of his youth in place of the dreary logic of waking adulthood. His late grandfather visits him in a dream to tell him about a hidden key that allows him to go back to his life as a ten-year-old. Reliving adolescence … the horror.



8. Neil Gaiman’s Only The End of the World Again

This comic adaption of Gaiman’s original short story drops Wolf Man Lawrence Talbot into Lovecraft’s shadowy, half-abandoned town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts. Naturally, the townsfolk are engaged in a ritual to raise Cthulhu and poor Larry stumbles right into the middle of it. In Lovecraft’s story, “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” the town is populated with repulsive fish people who make sacrifices to a race of sea-creatures in exchange for gold. Between the extensive lore laid out by Lovecraft and Gaiman’s penchant for merging and manipulating mythologies into cohesive worlds, this one has Halloween read written all over it.



9. The Chronicles of Dr. Herbert West

Lovecraft’s 1922 short story “Herbert West – Reanimator” may be another of his most well-known works, if not for its place in the literary history, then at least for the 1985 film adaption. Though a truly great addition to the horror film canon, The Reanimator had to limit its scope. The original story sees Dr. West move from college to med school, even enlisting in the military to gain access to the freshest possible corpses for experimentation, before dying at the hands of his own abominations. The Chronicles of Dr. Herbert West, is a modern telling of the brilliant med student who, while trying to defy death, succeeds only in creating vicious monsters. But will that stop him? Luckily for readers, West is just the right amount of psychotic to ignore that question entirely.



10. Colder

After the appearance of Nimble Jack, a mysterious humanoid creature that feasts on insanity, average dude Declan’s body temperature inexplicably keeps dropping. He also realizes his power to enter the broken minds of psychiatric patients, seeing their insanity and even fixing them. Insanity and creatures that toy with minds were pet themes of Lovecraft’s, and both are fully realized here. The nightmarish cityscapes that Declan refers to as the “hungry world” even call to mind Lovecraft’s alternate dimensional Dreamlands. But don’t think the monstrosities are in short supply — just look at the cover of Paul Tobin and Juan Ferreyra’s new follow-up, Colder: Bad Seed #1, which hit shelves earlier this month.