Thomas Ligotti’s Comics and Stories

The Nightmare Factory Volume 1, adapting stories by and with essays by Thomas Ligotti, including the following stories: The Last Feast of Harlequin, written by Stuart Moore and illustrated by Colleen Doran; Dream of a Mannikin, written by Stuart Moore and illustrated by Ben Templesmith; Dr. Locrian’s Asylum, written by Joe Harris and illustrated by Ted McKeever; and Teatro Grottesco, written by Joe Harris and illustrated by Michael Gaydos (2007).

The rapidly defunct Fox Atomic comic-book line has to be credited with a whole lot of WTF chutzpah. Adapting four stories by cult horror writer Thomas Ligotti into a graphic album looks almost as odd as some of Ligotti’s stories. Who thought this was a good idea? Kudos for risk-taking.

The adaptations are certainly solid. Much of Ligotti’s prose has been preserved, and the art on all four stories is more than competent. However, the strangeness of Ligotti’s work rests to a great extent on what a reader makes of the strange events and deadpan delivery of most of his protagonists and narrators. Illustrating the stories literalizes them, freezing a reader’s ideas into an artist’s singular interpretation of events.

The most straightforward story adapted, the Lovecraftian “The Last Feast of Harlequin,” showcases a mostly understated art job by Colleen Doran. But once literalized by Doran’s art, the creatures of the story lose a lot of their menace. The more surreal stories that follow also lose something in the translation. These are illustrated stories that never needed to be illustrated. A fascinating failure. Lightly recommended.

The Nightmare Factory Volume 2, adapting stories by and with essays by Thomas Ligotti, including the following stories: Gas Station Carnivals, written by Joe Harris and illustrated by Vasilis Lolos; The Clown Puppet, written by Joe Harris and illustrated by Bill Sienkiewicz; The Chymist, written by Stuart Moore and illustrated by Toby Cypress; and The Sect of the Idiot, written by Stuart Moore and illustrated by Nick Stakal (2008):

This second volume of Fox Atomic’s comics adaptations of the work of horror writer Thomas Ligotti is weaker than the first, with only “The Clown Puppet”‘s eerie visuals by Bill Sienkiewicz really adding anything to one’s appreciation of the original stories. The exaggerated, cartoony approach favoured by artists Vasilis Lolos on “Gas Station Carnivals” and Toby Cypress on “The Chymist” seems to me to be a colossal mis-step.

In the former, the surreal paranoia of the piece would be better served by a more realistic style, perhaps even a hyper-realistic style. The cartooniness defuses the horror of Ligotti’s conception, which here and in other stories requires a combination of hyper-realism and the surreal to be effective. The story should be a sinister, over-rendered Magritte piece with the distortions in reality coming from artistic juxtaposition, not distortion.

The latter is an astonishingly unpleasant romp featuring a mad scientist, a prostitute, and terrible experiments. It’s like a debased homage to the EC Comics horror shorts of the 1950’s, except that the female character has done nothing wrong other than being female and a prostitute, and the male character will be triumphant and unpunished at the end. I haven’t read the original, but this adaptation is predictable, unpleasant without being horrific, and grindingly long. I have no idea how it got selected. It’s the worst story by Thomas Ligotti I’ve sort-of read. In total, not recommended.

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