Gou Tanabe Delivers Stunning Manga Adaptations with “H.P. Lovecraft’s The Hound and Other Stories”

You may purchase H. P. Lovecraft’s The Hound and Other Stories here.

My dear unknown friend,

I believe we are now in Halloween season and as such, I plan on doing a deep dive into Lovecraftian comics and manga in the days leading up to that beloved holiday. I can think of no better work to kick off this enterprise than this volume, recently released by the venerable Dark Horse. I doubt that I need waste time explaining manga and its slight differences from North American comics, yet even if you are heavily versed in the culture of manga and anime I would still recommend this fascinating two part video exploration of the topic by one of my favorite YouTube creators:

I’m going to start this review by displaying the front cover to Gou Tanabe’s work so you may drink in the exquisite line work and composition you will soon find yourself immersed within.

TheHound

There is a compulsion in Gou Tanabe’s work that in my mind calls forth Nick Blinko. At the end of The Hound and Other Stories Gou Tanabe wrote a note that I shall include here in its entirety as I feel it demonstrates his passion and sincerity for this project:

A sleepless night. A presence at the door. A whispering, barely heard. An anxiety and fear such as you haven’t felt since you were young. An intuition of primordial death. Lovecraft was a writer who crafted such unknowable darkness—a priest of his own Mythos. I know fear even at the richness of his creativity.

By illustrating his stories, I intend to become an apostle of the gods he made. I do not feel my work is yet complete. The images swell in my mind. “If I draw it like this…” “If I do it this way…” I hear the divine voice, commanding me to continue.

I am blessed that you are reading this. You have my gratitude.

1014, High Summer
Gou Tanabe

In Japan Gou Tanabe was primarily known for Mr. Nobody, a series concerning a mysterious private detective known only as Nobody, and his adaptations of the literary works of Chekhov and Gorky. It is to our great benefit that he has now turned his focus to the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Dark Horse has imported and translated The Hound and Other Stories and At The Mountains of Madness Vol I at the time of writing. Let’s hope for success of these volumes so future works will continue to make their way to these shores. A quick internet search will reveal art for “The Haunter of the Dark”, “The Colour from Outer Space” and others. Most seem to hit the Italian market before reaching the English speaking shores but fingers crossed.

haunter2

The Haunter in The Dark

Gou Tanabe’s style brings to mind the work of past greats Bernie Wrightson  and George Pérez. When called for he is not afraid to lay back and sink the page in enormous voids of black ink that threaten to swallow the page whole, yet at others he works obsessive details into complex, two-page spreads that likewise overwhelm one’s senses as you attempt to drink in each and every detail. I’ve deliberately left out my favorite pages from The Hound and Other Stories, the immense yet detailed architectural layouts that Gou Tanabe seems to take a particular delight in portraying.

Gou Tanabe starts with “The Temple”. This is a particularly wise choice as the claustrophobic interior of a German U-Boat is already an emotionally charged atmosphere to operate within.  This setting also allows him the opportunity to show the large black voids of ink that threaten to swallow the submarine whole and the exquisitely wrought details of the psychological pressure exerted on the crew within.

Those familiar with “The Temple” will note that Tanabe has moved the story from WWI to WWII. Why he chose to do this I have no idea except to note this is a rare move on his part. In nearly every other way he is meticulous in staying close to Lovecraft’s original vision. In fact, writing for readers of this site releases a large burden on me personally as most reviewers for comic sites have to grapple with not only their own expectations but those of their audience as well.  Here we not only have a deep familiarity with the source material, we aren’t reliant upon the tropes of the manga forms. In the case of the former I’ve seen reviewers struggle with the idea that the characters within these tales aren’t “fleshed out”, with fully explored backgrounds, character arcs and other conventions that have come to be expected within genre fiction over the past few decades. As fans of Lovecraft’s work we understand these tropes do not apply, instead, as Mark Fisher so aptly put it, it’s a sense of fascination  mixed with dread that is the hallmark of a Lovecraftian tale. The character’s exist merely to demonstrate the irresistible lure of forbidden enlightenment. As for the latter, manga fans expect the convention of a final page turn which reveals the horrific conclusion of the story, a rhythm Tanabe dismisses that was held against the artist. Reviewers did not bother to consider that Tanabe, like the man whose work he was adapting, is more concerned with the tone and atmosphere of terror than portraying the cause of horror.

TheTemple2

In particular with this volume I would like to also point out the incredible job of lettering and touch-up provided by Steve Dutro. With artwork that is awash in fields of black which also, in some panels, bear kanji denoting sound effects in key positions, providing legible lettering in a sensible fashion must have been a daunting task. Dutro more than proves himself on this project. In his seminal masterwork, Comics and Sequential Art, Will Eisner writes at length of “letters as image” and how the text blocks are read as an image. Eisner uses an example taken from his work A Contract with God in which the text is presented as an actual block with text chiseled into it as in a tablet.

acwg

In another masterwork,  Hirohiko Araki’s Manga in Theory and Practice, Araki several times writes of utilizing a kanji dictionary to discover kanji that either contain the basic elements of one another to suggest familial relationship, or when utilizing them as sound effects within a panel to reinforce a character’s flow of action or the golden ratio of the page layout itself.  Previously when providing translations of these kanji for English readers Dark Horse placed them at the back of the book which was truly disruptive, or in an improvement seen in the recent Bezerk Deluxe ,they moved the translations to the inner panel gutters.  However with The Hound and Other Stories Steve Dutro provides the translations within the artwork, alongside the kanji original, with appropriate illustrative quality. This is an impressive accomplishment, one I hope to see him recognized and rewarded for, and one I hope to see Dark Horse and others continue as manga continues to outsell North American comics.

While I was attempting to uncover reasons as to why Gou Tanabe changed the time frame in which he placed The Temple I found this wonderful article by David E. Schultz in an archived copy of Crypt of Cthulhu entitled ‘Exploring “The Temple”‘. Anyone interested in taking a deeper dive into this overlooked and frankly fascinating tale from Lovecraft’s oeuvre will discover a treasure trove of insight in this brief article. 

thehound

Here I owe you an apology. I realize two paragraphs above I was writing about Steve Dutro’s superb work in lettering the translated text of The Hound and Other Stories and now I present you with an untranslated page from the second work, “The Hound”. The reason I did this is the only pages available for display were either of the titular creature or poorly scanned in washed out grays. Given the fact most agree the creature in “The Hound” was the progenitor for the ghouls in Lovecraft’s later work, I believe there’s an added weight to not casually tossing away the delight of this revelation. Also, if you think for one second I’m cracking the spine on my personal copy in order to scan a page for this review you’re as mad as most of Lovecraft’s narrators.

“The Hound” stands out in Lovecraft’s body of work for being the first tale which mentions the Necronomicon. In addition to the Necronomicon, Lovecraft here links its authorship to Abdul Alhazred, drops lines to Edgar Allen Poe and has the characters of the story reading the works of the decadent writer Joris-Karl Huysmans: Au Rebours and La Bas. Brian Stableford has remarked that Decadence of the 1890’s didn’t die, it merely moved to America with Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. If you wish to see evidence of this, look no further than “The Hound”.

TheTemple

“The Nameless City” is likewise notable for being the first Cthulhu Mythos tale, the first in which Abdul Alhazred is named, and the first to contain the now famous couplet;

That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons, even death may die.

I chose to start this dive into Lovecraftian manga with Gou Tanabe and not Junji Ito for those readers unfamiliar with manga’s form and conventions. While Ito is the magnaka closely associated with Lovecraft in the Western hemisphere his work is highly stylized and he is influenced by Lovecraft’s mood and ideas whereas Tanabe is adapting Lovecraft’s stories and utilizing an art style readily familiar to Western audiences and thus provides an easy entry point for North American readers. For those unused to reading manga all they need do is readjust to the convention of reading back to front, right to left, a reading order Dark Horse helpfully charts within the inside flap of the book. (Have no fear though, Junji Ito will definitely be making his rightful appearance as we rush towards Halloween.)

In a similar fashion Tanabe has skillfully chosen a perfect trio of stories to begin his exploration of Lovecraft. I’ve seen people complain they wish he had adapted “Dagon” or other works first.  However, as we’ve seen, these three works have not only allowed Tanabe to highlight the psychological pressure faced by Lovecraft’s protagonists but also the transcendent terror of the vast vistas of Lovecraft’s imagination. Likewise these three tales laid the foundation stones for what Michel Houellebecq has dubbed “the great texts”. I would argue Tanabe has utilized the “show don’t tell” dictum to demonstrate that he’s an artist as obsessed as any of the narrators Lovecraft ever dared pen and created a tome well worth your hard-earned ducats.

You may purchase H. P. Lovecraft’s The Hound and Other Stories here.

Soundtrack for this review.

Review written by Acep Hale.

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