Oct 1, 2013

[Comics] Neonomicon

Like many geeks, I'm rather familiar with the basics of H.P. Lovecraft including the Necronomicon, the slant towards meta-fiction and the propensity for tentacles, among other things. However I do regret admitting that I haven't actually read any of the Lovecraft stories - I'm not exactly into the horror genre after all. However it's hard to escape Cthulhu in pop culture these days for one reason or another.

My partner is a rather big horror buff though, and so he recently picked up a copy of this graphic novel at the recently concluded Manila International Book Fair. He had actually read it before and was just keen on getting a copy and of course having me read it eventually.

In truth, it turned out that this comic had actually inspired a tabletop RPG session that Tobie had run for me and some friends, although it had ended in a rather disturbing manner. It was probably the closest that I've gotten in terms of the Lovecraft mythos and the experience was certainly dark and disturbing in many ways. So just reading the comic actually didn't feel quite as bad given I had already "experienced" the horrors before, in a manner of speaking.

Synopsis: Neonomicon is the trade paperback compilation of two Alan Moore comics - the 2-issue Alan Moore's The Courtyard (as adapted by Antony Johnston) and the 4-issue Neonomicon. Neonomicon in particular was the first recipient of the Bram Stoker Award for Graphic Novel, which had been newly created at the time.

In The Courtyard, we meet FBI agent Aldo Sax, who is investigating a series of ritual murders around the US. This leads him to the Red Hook and a drug dealer of sorts named Johnny Carcosa. But when he finally finds this veiled man, all is not as it appears.

Come Neonomicon, we then meet FBI agents Lamper and Brears who are continuing the investigation started by Aldo Sax. But now Sax is imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital given he had committed similar murders as the ones he had been previously investigating. They too try to find Johnny Carcosa, but their investigation is fated to go down an even darker path.

Jacen Burrows handles the art for both stories and this certainly contributes a lot to why this whole story works. He's able to capture the kind of disturbing, mind-bending concepts that we associate with Lovecraft in a manner that is both beautiful and creepy at the same time. And there's a lot of subtlety in how it was all put together - it helps to pay attention to everything going on in each panel, including the background.

 The story has some very strong meta-fiction elements at work that certainly make the story a bit of a challenge to read at times. This is not a complaint but more an observation given there are so many levels of meaning woven into the narrative. At times you think the characters are just talking about plot-related events when in fact they're actually talking about being characters in a comic book. And that goes on and on throughout the story, so it helps to stay alert.

The comic is definitely nature in nature beyond just graphic violence. The book later on involves a lot of sexual situations so if that's not your thing then you may steer away from this comic for now. But the sex is part of the story and not just included for indulgent purposes. And tying in horror with sexual situations just raises the bar on creepy on disturbing levels that this comic attains.

The stories also have a weird science fiction element that is never fully addressed that I feel becomes more of a distraction than anything else. For example, they have pay phones with fax machines (really) and the city is covered by some odd dome. Given most of the story takes place in urban settings that seem generally contemporary in look and feel, it's not like the whole story feels like it needed to be in some near future reality of sorts. So when panels zoom out to show the dome and such, I'm really not sure what they wanted to convey there.

Neonomicon is a mind-f*ck of a book, but in that sense it does capture what we've all come to know about Lovecraftian horror. There are a bunch of Easter eggs for more die hard Lovecraft fans but the story still works even with limited knowledge of what had come before. The compilation of both stories deserves 4 lispy conversations with Johnny Carcossa out of a possible 5.

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