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Graphic Gothic

The House on the Borderland conflates the genres of horror and comics


Once upon a time, horror had no face and no name. The monster that finally revealed itself at the end of the horror novel was made especially grotesque and fearsome by the reader's imagination, which, really, is so much more potent than anything transmuted by words. Early-20th-century writers of gothic horror such as H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith kept the pages turning by gradually teasing the reader with suggestions, as opposed to detailed descriptions, of the unholy forces at work in our midst.

So what happens when, 100 years later, a classic in the field of nebulously dreamy gothic horror is made quite visual indeed through its interpretation as a graphic novel? Comics artist Richard Corben, noted for his work in Heavy Metal, and collaborator Simon Revelstroke have turned William Hope Hodgson's The House on the Borderland into an extended-form hardcover comic published by Vertigo, the literary/ adult/experimental imprint of DC Comics.

The otherworldly 1908 tale includes relentless demon creatures, a bottomless pit, the gate to another dimension, ancient evils and, in Revelstroke's adaptation, a touch of sexual perversity. Corben's unique style and this abridgment of the novel combine to create that old-fashioned vague mood of impending doom.

Revelstroke says that some aspects of the book refused to be translated to this medium. "There were some things we discussed that we couldn't do," the writer says, "like the end of the solar system. We just figured that you just can't go on for page after page with nothing but blackness and stars exploding."

The adaptation does maintain the uncertain mood of the original -- what is dream and what is real? Is the narrator sane? It winds up sounding like one of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's laudanum-inspired visions.

Revelstroke says that Borderland is an example of what he most enjoys -- an adaptation that will, with any luck, direct readers back to a forgotten genre.

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