The Book of the New

Neonomicon: written by Alan Moore with Antony Johnston; illustrated by Jacen Burroughs (2003, 2010-2011): Winner of the first-ever Bram Stoker Award for a Graphic Novel (from the Horror Writers’ Association), Neonomicon is Alan Moore’s dark valentine to the life and work of H.P. Lovecraft. ‘Neonomicon’ is a play on the title of Lovecraft’s famous, imaginary volume of terrible knowledge, the Necronomicon.

All the sexual horrors that were vaguely implied in many of Lovecraft’s stories are here made manifest, often in graphically disturbing fashion, all of them delineated in a razor-sharp quasi-realistic mode by Jacen Burroughs. It’s a spectacular, and spectacularly disturbing, graphic novel that rewards multiple re-readings.

Burroughs’s art complements the story beautifully, giving us a Cthulhu Mythos story with both the suggestiveness and the painful exactness necessary to certain sections. The relatively realistic nature of Burroughs’s art may be seen as the equivalent of the faux-documentary stretches of many of Lovecraft’s finest works, in which an accumulation of ‘real’ detail from interviews and newspaper articles served the construction of that awful Cthulhuian world.

This collected volume actually contains both the miniseries named Neonomicon and the earlier, shorter set-up, The Courtyard. On a slightly different alternate Earth where the major cities are domed so as to cut down on pollution and the telephones contain fax machines (!), three FBI agents at two different times try to seek out the origins of a strange rise in mass killings by people who seem totally unrelated.

While there are cloachal horrors and sexual horrors awaiting, there are also gratifyingly disturbing moments of weirdness that evoke the sort of cosmic horror Lovecraft strove for throughout his work, a breaking-down of existential categories, a collapse in causality. Moore’s humour also plays out, sometimes in perfect harmony with the horror (as one cop says about a disturbing bit of graffitti/art, “I hope that’s a tree.” It isn’t.).

The personal problems of the characters tie directly into the ideas Moore explores in the course of this dark odyssey: The Courtyard‘s protagonist is a hard-core racist, and his story plays out in the Red Hook district of New York, setting for Lovecraft’s early, racist fear-of-miscegenation story, “The Horror at Red Hook.” Neonomicon‘s protagonist is a female FBI agent whose career and personal problems with institutional sexism and exploitation will ultimately play a terrible role in the story’s resolution. Lovecraft’s stories didn’t have female protagonists, and generally didn’t have female characters with speaking roles.

This isn’t a volume for everyone: it’s vicious and boundary-pushing. But it’s also an astonishing addition to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. Highly recommended.

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