The evils of man

I’ve never actually read anything by H.P. Lovecraft. I’m definitely planning to, being a horror fan and all. But everything I know about Lovecraft’s works, I know from the authors he inspired – and there are plenty. If the horror genre was a crime scene, you’d probably see about as much of Lovecraft’s fingerprints on it as you would Bram Stoker’s. Here’s one Lovecraft-inspired book that makes me want to read H.P.’s notoriously weird tales.

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Set in the 1950s, during the twilight years of the Jim Crow era, Lovecraft Country follows 22 year old Atticus Turner as he investigates the case of his missing father. Accompanied by his uncle and his childhood friend Letitia, Atticus sets out to follow his dad’s trail, only to get tangled up in a cult ritual. As he witnesses some unearthly events unfold, he soon realizes that racists aren’t the only demons living in America.

Lovecraft Country is one of the most enjoyable horror books I’ve read. I always found stories about cults extra creepy for a number of reasons. We know these groups actually exist, and that in itself is quite unsettling. Then there’s the idea that they study the occult, and that they do rituals to communicate with or actually bring forth entities from beyond our realm. (Honestly I’d rather not know what they’re doing.) Cults represent a tangible sort of evil, and in horror, the closer you are to the threat, the scarier it becomes.

What I really like about the book is the way Matt Ruff tells the story. Each chapter is like an episode of the Twilight Zone wherein you get a creepy stand-alone tale. As the story progresses, you’ll see how each of these mini stories converge to form a delightful tapestry of horror. And then there’s the social aspect of the book. It’s quite clear that Ruff intended to shed as much light on racism as much as he wanted to write about the supernatural. There are several elements in the story that are based on how things were in 1950s America, and I feel like the author gave a good depiction of what a lot of people went through during that era. Apart from being an exceptional work of horror, this book is a brutal reminder that men are more than capable of being monsters, too.

For more about this book, and to know more about the author and his works, visit bymattruff.com.

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Fatal attraction

This week, I’m rereading the first volume of the crime/mystery/horror series Fatale from the ultra-talented duo of writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips. It’s been over a year since I read it and I just recently got a hold of the second volume so a little refresher is in order.

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Fatale Deluxe Edition Volume One. Collects the first two story arcs Death Follows Me and The Devil’s Business.

The story revolves around Josephine, a woman with an obscure past riddled with very deadly secrets. She doesn’t age, and she has the apparent ability to charm men into doing whatever she wants – just some of the side effects of a curse placed on her decades ago. And of course, that kind of power comes with a lot of trouble. Dirty cops, occult worshipers, demons and pretty much every manner of shady individuals want a piece of her.

It’s quite hard to find a series where the level of art matches the level of storytelling – even more so when both are on an exceptional level. The story is multi-layered. You have so many things intersecting, so many plot threads coming together to weave a beautiful noir tapestry. That, in itself, is a treat. If this were prose, I’d still read it. But then you get art like THIS and everything feels perfect.

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Phillips’ illustrations fit the story extremely well. Most of the first story arc takes place in the 1950’s and you feel like you’re transported to that era when you read this book.

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The attention to detail is astounding; from the clothing, to the hairstyles to the cars and the scenery. It’s like reading one of those classic films where everyone looks so elegant – but with a dark, gritty twist.

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I don’t always reread previous volumes before getting into the next one, but this series deserves the attention. I’m actually enjoying it more the second time around and I’m seeing some details which I might have missed or forgotten. More than anything, I’m getting really pumped up for volume two, which should be another great read.

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Awesome cover art for the second volume. Collects the last three story arcs West of Hell, Pray for Rain and Curse the Demon.

The Baltimore series

I just finished reading Baltimore: The Plague Ships, the first volume of the supernatural series by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden and Ben Steinbeck. The graphic novel is a continuation of the novel Baltimore, or, the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, written by Mignola and Golden.

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I read the book last year and enjoyed it immensely, which is why I was really excited to get started on this series. You know how, when you read a good book, you wish the story could go on forever? In most cases, you’re left to imagine what happens with the characters after everything that had transpired in the novel. With Baltimore, you get to find out.

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It’s also nice to see the characters illustrated and in full color. Steinbeck’s art complements the macabre story really well with its gothic vibe.

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Reading it at night makes the experience that much more enjoyable too.

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As with his other works, Mignola managed to make the occult fun without losing its darker aspects. Baltimore is horror mingled with lots of action and enriched by elements of fantasy and mysticism.

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The series is already six volumes in with The Cult of the Red King released last month – a seventh volume entitled Empty Graves is already in the works.

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Overall, volume one did a great job transitioning the story from its written form to the illustrated medium and ended with a good set-up for the next arc. But as enjoyable as it was, I get the feeling the creators were only getting warmed up when they made it. I’m excited for volume two and I am definitely looking forward to seeing how far they can take the Baltimore mythos.

The Mignola novels

If you’ve never picked up any of Mike Mignola’s works, you’re definitely missing out. Who is he, you ask? Well, you might have heard of his insanely successful comic book series Hellboy, which already has two big-screen adaptations and countless comic book spinoffs which continue to do extremely well in today’s market. Considering the fact that very few comic book titles even reach issue 100 these days, what he has done with Hellboy, and the world he has built around it, is beyond impressive.

Last weekend I finished reading one of his lesser-known works; an illustrated novel called Baltimore, or, the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, which he co-wrote with Christopher Golden.

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The story revolves around three strangers who were summoned at a rundown tavern by our protagonist, Lord Henry Baltimore – a soldier who had a run-in with a vampire during an ill-fated campaign which forever changed him. As they await his arrival, the three acquaintances swap tales of their own encounters with evil and how each one came to know Baltimore.

Every chapter is in itself a short story and this makes the book very engaging. Mignola is a genius when it comes to horror/fantasy, borrowing from classical literature as well as folktales and mixing them with his own ideas, creating stories that are both familiar and new. In this novel, Mignola pays homage to classics including Hans Christian Andersen’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

And did I mention the book has pictures? Mignola’s art fits the genre so well. His simplistic illustrations and effective use of light and shadows complete the dark atmosphere of the book. Whether he’s drawing monsters, people, buildings or landscapes, his art never fails to enchant his work with his trademark eeriness.

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Baltimore is the first of three illustrated novels by Mignola which was released in 2007 and was later on continued as a comic book series. In 2012, he and Golden released two more illustrated novels: Joe Golem and the Drowning City and Father Gaetano’s Puppet Catechism. I read Joe Golem a few years back and it was one of the first few novels I read when I was starting to seriously get into books. While Baltimore drew inspiration from the classics, Joe Golem closely resembles Mignola’s Hellboy series, pitting a humanized golem against occult forces and a god-summoning cult leader.

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I have yet to get my hands on the third Mignola novel so for now I’ll be satisfied with the idea that there’s at least one good book that’s still out there waiting for me to snatch it up. Hopefully I’ll find it on one of those random days in a random bookstore at a time when I don’t expect to find anything good. (I love it when that happens.)

You may check out more of Mike Mignola’s art on his amazing website.

The creepy comics of Emily Carroll

A couple of weeks ago I picked up Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. I didn’t know what to expect. The cover looked innocent enough to be a children’s book and it wasn’t until I read the back cover that I found out it was a horror book. And I’ve never encountered or heard of Carroll’s work before so it felt like a gamble when I decided to get this one.

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But boy did my gamble pay off. Her stories are extremely entertaining and her style definitely sets her apart. I like how her illustrations are brilliantly laid out on the page with the text, flowing seamlessly from page to page. Her seemingly childlike illustrations  give her comics that storybook feel, but this only adds to the creepy vibe of her work.

The book features five short stories which are perfect for those nights when you just want a good quick scare. Cleverly written, eerily drawn, and overall a great read. You may also check out her web comics for free at http://www.emcarroll.com/.