Archive for October 25th, 2012

October 25, 2012

Thomas Ligotti, Stuart Moore, Ben Templesmith, Joe Harris, Ted McKeever,Colleen Doran, Michael Gaydos, The Nightmare Factory

The above is proof that this blog’s author comma title format is a bit flawed with certain sorts of books.

I’ve read the Ligotti originals of some of the stories in this collection before, and found most of them a lot more effective than these adaptations. I’m tempted to go back and reread now. Perhaps a Hallowe’en treat.

 

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I’m only an occasional horror reader and so am less evangelical about great writers who work within that tradition than I would be otherwise. But one criminally underrated author in the genre is the American short story writer Thomas Ligotti.

In 2007 Fox Atomic Comics published The Nightmare Factory, a collection of graphic adaptations of four of Ligotti’s stories. Each piece was introduced with a short essay by Ligotti himself, and four different artists brought four very different styles to the author’s work.

“The Last Feast of Harlequin”, written by Stuart Moore and with art by Colleen Doran, was the first of these stories. An anthropologist with seasonal affective disorder travels to a remote town to learn about its strange midwinter rituals, and finds himself horrified by what he learns. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft might find this rather familiar, but then the story is dedicated to him. As Ligotti notes in his introduction it’s a staple of the Lovecraft story to have the protagonists go mad as a result of the horrors to which they have been exposed. But the focus of “The Last Feast of Harlequin” is on its narrator’s mental health from the start. It is this focus on the inside of his head that makes this story work so well; and some of his interior monologues have a lyrical power to them that is startling. Yet in a sense this is the weakest of the adaptations; its biggest strengths are all things it takes from the original story.

This might also be the case with the second story, “Dream of a Mannikin”, also written by Moore but with art by Ben Templesmith. This seems to be the one-sided correspondence between a psychiatrist and his lover, who has been doing some rather alarming psychological research of her own. Dreams form a large part of the story. Templesmith’s art, with its wonderful use of golden light, gives it an appropriately dreamlike feel. Yet “Dream of a Mannikin” only inspires admiration for its clever premise and beautiful artwork; there is no fear. Ligotti’s introduction is a meditation on the ways in which dolls, mannequins and other human-shaped, non-living objects are used to inspire horror. It’s clear that he understands how this works, so why doesn’t it work here? I’m not sure.

For me, as I expect is the case for many readers, the most effective horror is something sensed obliquely. However tired a sentiment this may seem, things depicted graphically tend to be less awful than those the imagination can provide. Doran’s art, in the first story of the book, comes the closest to realism – and serves its accompanying story the least. The opposite is true of Ted McKeever’s artwork for “Dr. Locrian’s Asylum”, written by Joe Harris. McKeever’s depiction of Ligotti’s haunted town is just this side of normal, but faces and buildings frequently slip over into the grotesque. This is perhaps the only case in which Ligotti’s original story is genuinely strengthened by the shift in form; the ghostly silhouettes are chilling.

“Teatro Grottesco”, also written by Harris, has art by Michael Gaydos. Gaydos’ watercolour figures are impressive; but once again this adaptation is more intellectually pleasing – though its hero might be too clever for his own good – than viscerally effective.

The Nightmare Factory has some clever adaptations and fine art, but on the whole it’s still a bit of a disappointment, when only one of the four stories really captures the power of Ligotti’s original work. The introductory essays by the author are in equal parts entertaining and frustrating. On the one hand, they reinforce the sense that this is genre writing that knows its tropes and works with them intelligently. On the other, it’s not always comfortable to have Ligotti’s voice informing the reader what each piece is really about. There’s the sense of someone standing behind one, reading over one’s shoulder. And if there’s one genre in which you don’t want to feel like someone has crept up behind you…

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