My love for horror culture began as early as my Sesame Street years. I always made it a point to stay tuned after the ‘Street’ to watch the sometimes-spooky adventures of Doctor Who. As I grew older, kiddie-targeted horror films like Monster Squad, The Gate, Watcher in the Woods and Gremlins perfectly served my need for a good scare. When it came to reading, I could always turn to a good Christopher Pike or R.L. Stine book. Though I did sneak around and discover Jason, Freddy, and Stephen King at a way-too-young age, when my mom caught me, I still had many age-appropriate options in all mediums to fall back on.
Today’s kids may not have the same type of kid-targeted scare flicks, nor can I imagine the same Gremlins licensing program in place today, but there is plenty of printed material to provide a friendly fright. While surfing one of my favorite fanboy magazines, I chanced upon a new all-ages graphic novel that immediately piqued my interest. Released late last year, Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom (Arcana Studios, $14.95) introduces the renowned horror writer to a new audience.
When it comes to the horror and phantasmagoric images that often make up the storylines, much of it traces back to the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, or H.P. Lovecraft as he is often known. Most prolific in the early 1900’s, Lovecraft is known for his fantasy and science fiction-infused horror, described as “weird fiction” at the time. Usually centering on a protagonist trying to hold fast to his sanity while coming to terms with earth-shattering “cosmic horror,” his novels were also built around his own complicated fictional alien lore called the Cthulhu Mythos. His short stories and novellas were often referred to as paranoid, grim and sometimes xenophobic.
This is all heady, complicated stuff that is anything but kid-friendly. However, Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom from Bruce Brown, with art by Renzo Podesta, brings Lovecraft to an all-ages audience. While the book does not talk down to them, it also does not require them to contemplate humanity’s place in the universe. The story itself uses the actual H.P. Lovecraft as the center of the story, focusing on a six-year-old protagonist named Howard Lovecraft. The story also employs some actual biographical facts, including his father’s commitment to a sanitarium. In this novel, Howard’s mother gives him an old book supposedly written by his institutionalized dad. When Howard reads the book, he accidently opens up a hole to another world. There, young Howard is forced to battle evil monstrosities and save the Frozen Kingdom, alongside his new pal, the giant creature he affectionately calls Spot.
Author Bruce Brown shows respect for his young audience from page one, choosing a quote from Edgar Allen Poe to set the tone for the novel and to let readers know he isn’t talking down to them. Podesta’s art also shows the same type of dark sophistication seen in some of the adult horror comics, while not being too graphic to scare off young readers. There is nothing they haven’t seen in the stylized worlds of a Harry Potter film, with the main character given a softer look I would describe as manga-meets-Secret of Kells. The “Lovecraftian” world of hidden tomes, secret universes and monstrous beings also exists in Brown’s book, yet the hopeless dread is scaled back. And where a real Lovecraft story may be solely focused on the protagonist’s intellectual journey into madness, this novel focuses more on the adventurous aspects, something that is easier to grasp for a younger crowd. Humor wasn’t exactly one of Lovecraft’s trademarks, but ‘Frozen Kingdom’ also adds this in, having some fun with the eccentricities of the monstrous creations.
This book is the type of stuff I would have gravitated to as a youth, yet was often hard to find. I also recommend this novel for the vocabulary challenges. No, it won’t send kids running to the dictionary/Wikipedia every two seconds, but Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom doesn’t shy away from “big people” words. Finally, for genre-loving parents like myself, this is a great way to get your tween/teen interested in the works of a classic writer while showing them that horror didn’t start with twinkling vampires and sexy werewolves. Bruce Brown is hoping to turn the story of the young ‘Howard Lovecraft’ into a trilogy, if sales permit. We hope you will go grab a copy so we can make it happen!