Best Comics In October Part 1: Nao of Brown, Lovecraft, and Mars Attacks
Once a month the folks at 8th Dimension comics select the best comics for us to review. We're splitting the round-up into two parts the month to accommodate some of the brilliant longer works that debuted in their own section.
Glyn Dillon's graphic novel follows a half-English, half-Japanese young woman with severe mental disturbances as she desperately tries to navigate her life through a web of horribly violent thoughts. Anxiety attacks plague Nao at every turn, and she'll suddenly see herself plunging pens into the necks of passersby, or intentionally running over children with her bike.
Through it all, Dillon portrays her as a strange girl trying her best to overcome the deep sense of self-loss that comes with such problems. Through the loving artwork of the book that pulls from both Eastern and Western influences, Nao's search for a firm place to stand tugs hard at the heart.
One of the most telling backdrops is her relationship with Buddhism, the religion of her absent, drunken Japanese father. Having studied it myself for several years, it was both shocking and oddly warm to see both the best parts of the practices (Elimination of self, the flow of thought, and the meaning of empowerment through bodhisattvas) alongside the cold, hard reality that no religion, however benevolent, is free from abusive teachers and folks that just plain don't get how to interact with other people in a positive way.
In a sense, Nao of Brown is a highly existential, almost Siddhartha-esque tale of coming to know and love yourself despite your flaws. The battles are internal, but no less monumental for all of that. Such inner wars made Sandman a classic, and I have no doubt that Dillon's graphic novel will likewise be regarded as a seminal work in comic art.
It was less than seven months ago that Dan Lockwood put together the definitive collection of Lovecraft stories adapted to comic form. It was an amazing anthology that I fell head over heels in love with. My one complaint was that it had basically focused on the most mainstream, if we can call them that, Lovecraft stories. I mean, if you've read any Lovecraft you've read Call of Cthulhu. Well, that complaint no longer holds water as various writers bring some of the best weird literature B-Sides to life.
First on the list is From Beyond, lovingly rendered with absolutely insane artwork by Nicols Fructus and written/adapted by David Camus, grandson of the legendary Albert Camus. It's not really one of Lovecraft's best works, just another vague reference to Tesla-esque figures opening the doors to hell dimensions with impossible technologies, but Camus and Fructus turn it into a well-paced and utterly horrifying story. Imagine for one moment that we were in fact surrounded by an invisible world of demons and parasites, as if we could literally see all the viruses and bacteria in the world. The only thing saving us is that they can't see us either. That's the world that From Beyond forces you to face, and once seen it cannot be unseen.
Another lesser-known gem is The Temple, here adapted by Chris Lackey with art by Adrian Salmon. It's one of Lovecraft's few works of satire, in which overly-stereotypical, ruthless German submariners discover an undersea temple that drives them mad. The sniggering tone mocking the German military is lost, replaced with a more claustrophobic sense of madness that gives the story new light.
My own personal favorite Lovecraft story, The Picture in the House, makes an appearance... to my disappointment unfortunately. Benjamin Dickson fails to really bring out the encroaching horror of our narrator as he realizes that the old man he's taken shelter with against a storm has become a cannibal, and Mick McMahon's art is far too tame when rendering the illustration of the human meat market in Pigafetta's 1958 account of the Congo region. For a story that continues to scare the crap out of me, the comic version is almost G-rated it's so watered-down.
Also, the ending is stupid, but that's Lovecraft's fault, not Dickson's.
Picture in the House aside, it's still an unbelievable set of some of the minor Lovecraft stories. They're brief meshings of weird words and art, and Lockwood continues to do the best job possible in helping to bring a tragically unread hero of horror to more mainstream audiences.
In 1962 Topps released a trading card set called Mars Attacks that has continued to influence and interest people 50 years later. Now you can read about the whole history of the set, as well as see every single card and read the episodic story of the Martian invasion in this fantastic collection.
If you're like me, you're only real experience with Mars Attacks was the rather dismal Tim Burton film. What Burton lost was the true pulp fiction brilliance of the original series. Buxom, half-naked women cringe in terror from giant insects and the slightly ridiculous but still sinister Martians. The card backs manage to tell so much with so few words. My favorite is a young girl orphaned in the attack that happily offers a Martian her ice cream. What happens next isn't told or shown, but the imagination runs wild.
The book contains 55 cards of the original run, as well as the pretty spot on and in some ways even gorier 1994 revival. It's a true gem of American pop culture history that should be a centerpiece on any true geek's coffee table.
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