Embracing Lovecraftian Monsters in Johnston's "Yuggoth Creatures"

Thu, April 22nd, 2004 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher

"Yuggoth Creatures" #1
Antony Johnston has made a name in the industry writing edgy and imaginative tales. Whether inspired by Lovercraftian horror, working on Alan Moore projects, bringing modern interpretations to classic Shakespeare or a variety of other styles and genres, it's impossible to pigeonhole Johnston as a particular type of writer as he seems equally comfortable in most all genres.

This July Johnston returns to familiar ground in the Lovecraft inspired "Yuggoth Creatues," a new three-issue series from Avatar Press with contributions from eight different artists. Each issue features at least thirty pages of story with a $3.99 cover price. CBR News caught up with Johnston to learn more about the series, it's unique format and more.

Before getting to the contents of "Yuggoth Creatures," Johnston provided CBR News with something of a primer on the work and style of H.P. Lovecraft, a literary master from the early 20th century who's best know for his work in the horror genre. During the period when Lovecraft was at his most prolific, there were few writers who wrote stories like his.

"I think it's important to remember that actually, while few of Lovecraft's contemporaries were writing like him (with the obvious and influential exception of Lord Dunsany)," said Johnston, "he was inspired by a small but well-heeled tradition of predecessors in weird fiction such as Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Machen and, of course, Edgar Allen Poe. Lovecraft took these influences and shaped them into something new, as happens all the time.

"Primarily, though, I think 'Lovecraftian storytelling,' at least in this context, is defined by two things. On the one hand you have a dense, thesaurus-busting prose style; great hulking chunks of text that make you feel like you're wading through an academic paper. Which kind of adds to their appeal; Lovecraft's prose isn't the easiest to digest in th world, but it does lend everything a lovely air of mundane authenticity that just renders the horror even more effective.

"On the other hand, there's the 'high concept' of Lovecraft's Mythos - that humans are small, pitiful creatures on a small, pitiful planet whose existence ultimately means nothing to the wider universe, and the star-spanning multi-dimensional creatures that inhabit it. And those creatures are another big part of that high concept.

"Either or both of these elements can be present, really, but I think you have to have at least one to really term what you're doing as 'Lovecraftian.'"

"Yuggoth Creatures" #1, wrap-around cover
Moving on to "Yuggoth Creatures," Johnston said the series is not connected to another similarly titled series offered by Avatar, "Alan Moore's Yuggoth Cultures." It borrowed from the name because the writer thought it was a cool play on words and Alan gave his permission to make the pun. "Yuggoth Creatures" is told both in a Lovecraftian style and inspired by Lovecraft's stories.

"The stories are presented as the memoirs of a single character, a man called Anders Ericsson, who's a Professor of Anthropology at Miskatonic University," said Johnston. "The text of each relevant memoir is what leads you through the sequential art for that 'entry.' And they start in 1912, from there going right the way through the Professor's life. So both the period and the writing style are deliberately similar to Lovecraft's works.

"But more than that, the flavour of the stories, and the discoveries that the Professor makes, are very Lovecraftian. We've essentially taken almost everything Lovecraft created and twisted it a bit for our own devices. So the ultimate mood of the stories, and 'Yuggoth Creatures' as a whole, is different from the man's own stories, but still very Lovecraftian in tone. I like to think they're all stories he could have written. That was important to me while I was writing the book."

Over its three-issue run, "Yuggoth Creatures" features a total of 19 stories. Each memoir entry averages out to about four pages each, with a few exceptions. But why 19 stories you ask?

"That came about simply because of the amount of ground we wanted to cover. 'Yuggoth Creatures' started out as an idea William (Christensen, Avatar's Editor-in-Chief) had, to publish a bestiary of Lovecraft's various monsters and gods.

"That was a fine idea, but it didn't leave much for me to do. So I suggested writing a short story to go with each monster, and then later I thought, hang on, why not make them all connected as well, part of a larger story? That led to the idea of this extraordinary character who's lived through almost the entire Mythos sitting down to write his memoirs, and warn the world of the terrible fate lying in wait for it. And that, of course, meant actually writing all of those memoirs.

Art by Jacen Burrows
"William and I kept bouncing ideas back and forth, and eventually we ended up with the comic-format, multi-storied beast that we have now, with each story covering a different aspect of Lovecraft's creations, as seen through the Professor's eyes. It was quite a challenge to tie the whole thing together, and then write so many different stories in a Lovecraftian style, but it was worth it. The end result is something I'm extremely pleased with."

Each story is connected as "Yuggoth Creatures" tells the entire story of one man's lifelong experience with the Mythos. Johnston told CBR News that some of the stories stand on their own as self-contained horror pieces, while others draw on what was presented in earlier memoirs to full realize the horror.

"There's only one main character, and that's Professor Ericsson; son of Norwegian immigrants to the US, the epitome of a scientist with an insatiable curiosity, which often takes him places he probably shouldn't go," said Johnston. "He's a great character, actually. Kind of melancholic and grave, but also brave and determined. You can't help but like any guy who sees as much outrageous horror as he does, but keeps coming back for more in theinterests of science.

"There are other characters who come and go, but I don't want to give too much away. Suffice to say, being Professor Ericsson's friend is not the safest job in the world."

Working with eight different artists over the course of three issues presents a number of challenges, especially when considering Johnston tailored each story for a specific artist.

"William and I drew up the list of artists we wanted when I was still planning the book," said Johnston. "That was great, because it meant that I could match up stories with artists before I sat down to write a word of script, and then go a step further by writing the script to play to their strengths.

"I had to be very careful that there weren't two or more stories in the same issue which were tailored to just one artist, but this way I could figure all that out in the planning stage. By the time I actually came to write the scripts, I could visualise each story in the artists' style, and write accordingly."

Art by Matt Martin
Johnston took some time to talk about each artist and what kind of contribution they're making.

"Most of the artists are actually working on three stories, one per issue. Their selection was basically an hour-long phone conversation, with William and I throwing names at each other and looking at art samples, and eventually we came to the final list. Which is...

"Juan Jose Ryp, who was kind of a no-brainer; he has such a baroque style that he just suits Lovecraftian stories down to the ground. He did the original character design for the Professor, and is drawing stories that focus on the over-arching elements of the memoirs.

"Jacen Burrows, another immediate choice. Jacen's been one of my favourite artists for years, and he shares my love of all things Mythos-related. (Mythosian?) He's drawing the stories that focus on a more personal kind of horror, but with epic ramifications.

"Mike Wolfer, who's of course best known for his horror work with Warren Ellis. Mike's a big fan of old-school horror; he's nuts for old Hammer films and the like. So I tried to give things that big, melodramatic flavour for him.

"Sebastian Fiumara, who's the brother of Max, my artist on 'Nightjar.' When I saw the kind of ink work Sebastian likes to do - brush spatter, drybrushing, stippling, etc. - he was a shoe-in, and he's doing some really fantastic, dreamlike stories.

"Matt Martin, whose work I was completely unfamiliar with, but easily convinced me when I saw it. Sadly, Matt's only doing one story, but it's a doozy, with some amazing creature renditions.

"Andres Guinaldo, who's an up-and-coming guy with a strong compositional sense, and - get this - draws really incredible vegetation. That might sound really odd, but it was a perfect fit for several of the stories, so that's what he's doing...

Art by Mike Wolfer
"Wellington Alves, a fresh newcomer with a really bold, strong line. Like Matt, Wellington's only drawing one story for the series, but it's one that his dramatic style of strong blacks makes him well suited for.

"And finally there's Dheeraj Verma, an Indian artist who's unknown in the US, but back home he's a veteran comics superstar. He's got a great combination of Western storytelling sensibilities and Asian line work. Dheeraj is drawing the framing sequence for the series, wherein we're introduced to the Professor and his memoirs, rather than the memoirs themselves. Although, we do have a few tricks up our sleeve."

Johnston also shared with CBR News why he's been so attracted to the work of Lovecraft during his career and offers up a number of good places to start for those new to the work of the horror master.

"Well, for a start, I'm a big fan. I don't think that's any secret. I discovered Lovecraft when I was a teenager, thanks largely to the 'call of Cthulhu' role-playing game, and was quickly sucked into his writing by the man's creations and imagination.

"I've always liked my drama, especially horror, a bit bleak and gothic. So when I read my first Lovecraft story, which I think was a very short piece titled 'The Very Old Folk,' I was intrigued, and wanted to see more - I figured this might be the kind of horror-fiction I'd been looking for since I was a kid. Several months and many trips to the library later, I realized I was right. It was all down hill from there.

"The main thing that attracts me to Lovecraft is the second of those elements I mentioned before, the 'high concept' of the Outer Gods and man's futility in the face of cosmic indifference. That kind of awesome realization his characters have - the absolute, verifiable knowledge that everything you've learnt is wrong, everything you've lived for is worthless and insignificant - just blows my mind. I guess I'm a bit of a nihilist at heart.

"As for where interested parties should start, that's a tough one. In many cases, his more famous works - such as 'The Call of Cthulhu' - don't actually mean much unless you've already read some other stories, so that you understand the context of certain events, and what makes them so frightening. My tendency is therefore to just point people at the first big anthology they come across - the big omnibus editions are some of my own favourites - and tell them to dig in."

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