Alan MooreJacen BurrowsH.P. Lovecraft
Medium: comic
Year: 2003, 2010
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Jacen Burrows
Based on the work of: H.P. Lovecraft
Keywords: horror, boobs
Format: The Courtyard (2 eps, 48 pages), Neonomicon (4 eps, 100 pages)
Website category: Comics
Review date: 13 August 2012
I bought this ages ago and never got around to reviewing it! It's an Alan Moore graphic novel that's actually a 2003 two-parter called The Courtyard and a four-part sequel to it from 2010. They're based on H.P. Lovecraft.
Are they good? Well, yes, but only in their specialised way. They're emotionally uninvolving and kind of unpleasant to read... but that's the idea. They're horror.
This struck me as narration-heavy, but there's a reason for that. Moore didn't write it as a comics script, but instead as a short story in 1994 that later got turned into a comic anyway. Moore's credited as "consulting editor" and Antony Johnson did the "sequential adaptation". Anyway, the story involves a bigoted crimonologist who's investigating gruesome murders. The victims are getting opened up like flower petals. What's more, Lovecraftian names are involved in the case... all this is in Red Hook and the Ulthar Cats are playing at Club Zothique.
What's special here is what Moore's doing with Lovecraft's fondness for made-up gibberish. One could be forgiven for thinking that it's no longer possible to do anything original in horror, especially in the familiar territory of Lovecraft's universe. For most writers, that might even be true. Not Moore, though. With hindsight, I think the way he pulls us through so fluidly with his use of language is both brilliant and deceptively simple.
He also hasn't lost his old playfulness with words. "I plunge into an amphetaminefield." There's so much in these words, in fact, that I think it might perhaps have lost something in adaptation to comic strip form. It's about its words. The pictures don't really add much. These also aren't the most eventful 48 pages Moore's ever written, although in fairness it only turned out that way because it's been stretched out by being adapted as two-panel pages. That's understandable. If you had an Alan Moore story to sell, you wouldn't gallop through it in ten brisk pages if there were any alternative either.
It would have slayed us all as a radio play, though.
To be honest, I was more impressed by The Courtyard, but you can't say that once again Moore isn't pushing frontiers. What he's doing here is examining the disturbing and under-examined underbelly of a lot of Lovecraft's work. Sex, for instance. Lovecraft didn't do sex, or even really women, yet his universe is rich in human-monster hybrids, "unspeakable rituals" and so on. Miscegenation with fish, half-breed abominations, metaphorical racism... basically it's taking then-acceptable mainstream racism from the 1930s and dressing it up in horror trappings.
Alan Moore is aware of the racism, but mostly he's doing the sex. This isn't entirely surprising. You'll find a lot of disturbing sex if you read the complete Alan Moore, but I'd be surprised if he's ever topped this. Ewww.
Partly this is deconstruction. Characters here have read H.P. Lovecraft's books, which are regarded as fiction. This lets Moore discuss his source material as if he's a reviewer or a university lecturer. Partly it's juxtaposition. Ever wanted to see a Cthulhu sex shop? Guess what! However partly Moore's simply set himself the goal of telling a Lovecraftian story that for once doesn't sidestep the sex stuff, but instead shoves it in your face and makes it as appalling as possible. Fortunately it's not erotic. There are plenty of boobs, dangly bits and squelchy scenes, but if you find yourself getting aroused at them then allow me to recommend Ichi the Killer, barbed wire self-flagellation or perhaps simply a furtive visit to a fishmonger.
Jacen Burrows is the artist on both stories and he's on the same page as Moore. There's something ugly and unappealing (or worse) about the explicit scenes, which is as it should be.
Random observation... I was slow in spotting the significance of the title. "Necro" vs. "neo". Heh. Both from the original Greek roots. Thinking about the story I've just read, that's clever, not to mention referenced on the penultimate page. It also fits with the "Lovecraft wordplay" thing I was talking about.
Taking this collection as a whole, I admire it without finding it particularly easy to like. It's alienating, cold and too distant to achieve the power of Moore's strongest work. However I love all the different ways Moore finds to play with language, repeatedly forcing us to change our view of what look like keyboard-sneezes. Is it effective and original horror, in a genre that could always use more of the former and is often dismissed as completely mined out of the latter? Yes.