Thee Comic Column #42 – The House on the Borderland

 

image courtesy of http://www.containsmoderateperil.com/

In Alan Moore’s introduction to Richard Corben (illustrator), Simon Revelstroke (translator), and Lee Loughridge’s (colourist) 2000 adaptation of William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland, Moore points out that Hodgson’s work, along with all of the horror or fantasists of the day, was swept aside and all but forgotten in the wake of the Jane Austen revolution. Moore goes on to note that – and I continue to quote Mr. Moore for a moment longer in order to better give unfamiliar readers something of a reference point for the era Mr. Hodgson worked within – the slim few purveyors of genre literature who made it out of the post-Victorian era with something approaching the recognition they deserve are Stoker  for Dracula, Poe because seemingly there had to be at least one icon the masses excepted to better indulge their darker sides, and a skosh later Lovecraft (also as Moore points out, just barely with H.P.). Not until the marketing affects of the last thirty years kicked in and mutated the current and future generations of the book-buying public did genre really gain back its credibility, and honestly we must ask ourselves today if this was really for any reason other than the profitability of superhero and horror movies?

Well, if ignored elsewhere genre has at the very least always flourished in comics – an equally if not even more-maligned medium – and thus the idea of returning to the unexplored stygian depths of the past’s ‘forgotten’ fiction and re-introducing it via the graphic medium is, well in a word, perfect. There’ve been other examples before, certainly, and there’s been quite a few since (Marvel’s valiant handling of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series springs immediately to mind), however The House on The Borderland, to me, represents the very pinnacle of this particular brand of union.

I’d never heard of Hodgson before this book came out in 2000. Having discovered a peer of his, the aforementioned Mr. Lovecraft, at a time before the now-dying big box book stores existed to entertain most levels of public minutiae, and when the Internet was still something suggested at by William Gibson’s Neuromancer, I had A LOT of trouble just finding his work. But over the two decades since Lovecraft’s work has influenced so much of popular culture that finding this work has become increasingly easier, to the point that it is now a non-issue. However, this initial trouble was then the same kind I had when attempting to locate Mr. Hodgson’s material after I fell under the spell of this Vertigo-published adaptation of his most *ahem* well known work. The kind of trouble we are not necessarily used to having any more due to the above-mentioned literature finding aids (when the local brick-n-mortar store doesn’t have the inroads). Eighty-dollar limited edition hard covers? One-hundred-something dollar sets with monogrammed slipcases? These are simply not how I spend my money. Maybe one day, when there’s considerably more of it, but until then? Hard to do, especially when there’s just SO much out there to read and watch, listen to and of course, write. As Hodgson’s character in Borderland would no doubt agree, time is the even more valuable commodity threatened by the veritable tidal wave that his progenitor was the key to opening for me. Because of this, of course, I read the Vertigo Hardcover and backed away slowly, fond memories merely tethering me to the idea of Hodgson, so that every once in a while I get a glimpse of what it would be like when the masses eventually caught on and newer, more affordable editions surface in the specialty-soaked corridors of the web or, more preferably,  the alphabetically-taut and lovingly arranged shelves of my favorite bookstore. (Mr. Hodgson’s character Thomas Carknacki – already a minor character in Alan Moore’s century-spanning epic The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – is especially ripe for his introduction to the world of horror movies).

Well, it’s – Jesus! – thirteen years since Vertigo published that graphic adaptation of Borderland. Are we any closer to seeing Hodgson’s material rescued from the obfuscating mists of history? I haven’t really been paying all that much attention lately, so am I qualified to answer that question? Well, after working in one of those big-box book chains for five years from 2006-2011 I can tell you that as of then, no. However that was two years ago itself now and a quick flip over to amazon (cringe) and a search for “William Hope Hodgson” does indeed revel that the man’s time has, at the very least, begun. Several averagely-priced paperback, QP and even hardcover editions answer the summons, so we’re getting there. However, the thing that worries me now is that when I finally read Mr. Hodgson’s edition is it possible that I will hold against it the sheer otherworldly experience I had while reading Corben, Revelstroke and Loughridge’s graphic novel?

Is that possible?

No. This is, in all probability, a ridiculous fear. To my knowledge I have never held an adaptation against the original*. Sure, you hold the original against the adaptation, but the other way around? Probably not. But the question lingers in my mind whenever I go to the bookshelf and my hand settles on the black and blue spine that seems to pulse with the words The House on the Borderland in radiant red ink.

The main reason for this is Corben’s art. I believed myself to be largely unfamiliar with his work previous to this book until I googled him one day and saw that a facet of the extremely iconic look of Eerie Magazine had arrived in my vernacular via Mr. Corben’s imagery.

image courtesy of darkhorse.com

Beautiful, right? Well, Corben’s translation into images the absolute grim madness of Hodgson’s setting and story is no different. His malevolent use of shadows, nearly psychedelic application of mist and fog, and the general unease he so effortlessly creates with just the right amount of light in any given panel (and props here as well to aforementioned colorist Lee Loughridge) can be at times, deeply chilling. The story follows the narrator’s increasingly frantic descent into paranoid isolation and the things that haunt him on that journey and I am confident saying that without knowing the experience of the cadence or meter of the original, the flow of this book, from narration to panel exposition, almost creates for the reader the sense that they are also on a slow descent into a nether world of ambiguous horror. Optimum reading experience here is alone in the dark, possibly on a favorite substance, with the heavens raging outside in the night sky and maybe only a single candle by which to read. Sound ridiculous? It’s not. This is the kind of book that deserves Event Reading, so big is it that to simply pick away on the toilet or in the scant little time many of us allow for reading before bed would be doing not only the book, but the reader, a MASSIVE disservice.

image courtesy of hoodedutilitarian.com

(there is a wonderful article on this book here on hooded utilitarian – I’ve purposely been vague on the details of the story of Hodgson’s The House on The Borderline – another part of Event Reading, for me at least, is the element of surprise, such a fragile thing in the age of the internet. However in researching this piece I’ve received my own surprise. I’ve found that my need to read the original work has grown out of necessity because by all  educated accounts this work is so outlandishly different from the original that I now suspect that as much as I will always love the adaptation, the original will come in as originals always do – light years ahead of what we discuss here today).

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* Actually, that’s not true. There is the case of Kick Ass.

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Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!! 

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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