Arkham Woods

Review by Ed Sizemore

Kirsti Rivers and her mother, Victoria, have moved to Arkham Woods from Los Angeles. They are living in the home of her great-great-uncle hoping to sell the place. While exploring the house, her boyfriend Tommy discovers keys to the mysterious chests in the attic. The chests are filled with skeletons that aren’t quite human. Tommy calls a couple of friends over, and they discover an occult drawing carved into the floor of the basement. This leads to further and more terrifying revelations until Kirsti and her friends find that they must save the world from a horror beyond our dimension and human imagination.

Arkham Woods cover
Arkham Woods
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I’m an H.P. Lovecraft fan and collector of comics based on, or inspired by, his works. So I was excited to see Seven Seas put out a comic in this genre. However, my exhilaration turned to dismay before I even finished the first chapter. The fundamental problem with Arkham Woods is that Rowley doesn’t appear to be a very good student of Lovecraft.

Lovecraft wrote horror in the vein of Hawthorne and Poe. This style of horror is based on being inside the protagonist’s mind and watching as his/her mental world crumbles. Arkham Woods is based on Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, a pseudo-pantheon of immensely powerful extraterrestrials worshiped as gods by lesser beings. They reflect the primordial chaos that is the true nature of reality. It’s a cosmic horror based on humans realizing that the universe is a cold, empty place with no regard for mankind.

The interiority of Lovecraft’s stories is difficult to convey in a visual medium, and Rowley doesn’t prove up to the challenge. Initially, he tries using first-person narration to give insight to Kirsti’s thoughts, but mercifully, the narration is all but dropped by the third chapter. There’s no sense of dread and hopelessness in this book. Kristi suffers great tragedy, but she’s able to go on and build a new life for herself. She’s not mentally devastated and permanently disconnected from ordinary human life like a true Lovecraftian hero. Arkham Woods feels like an 80s slasher film, just with a bigger, cosmic, homicidal boogieman.

Let me correct some mistakes Rowley makes about the Old Ones. Cthulhu is a priest of the Old Ones and not “Lord of the Earth” as Rowely maintains. He is asleep deep under the waters of the Pacific, waiting to be awakened by his followers. He is not living in another dimension. Azathoth is a being of chaos who sits at the center of the universe and not the benevolent “Lord of Universe”. Thus, it’s obvious that Cthulhu serves Azathoth and is not at war with him.

There also some inaccuracies with Rowley’s portrayal of fundamental Christianity through the character Kevin. First, fundamentalists hold the King James and the New King James versions of the Bible to be the only acceptable English translations. They would never commission their own translation of the Bible; that would be heresy. They might use other translations in their personal study; however, they regard these more as paraphrases than true translations. More accurate would be a King James Bible with study notes by a respected fundamentalist pastor or a fundamentalist seminary. Second, most fundamentalists don’t call themselves fundamentalist. The adjectives they use are conservative, born-again, and Bible-believing.

Soriano’s artwork here is solid. I don’t find anything particularly mangaesque about his art. This could just as easily be a book published by Dark Horse or Boom! Studios. Soriano does an excellent job at creating a gloomy atmosphere for the book. The character, creature, and set designs are well done. The page layouts have a good flow to them also.

Just a couple notes to the publisher. First, I don’t understand why the book was printed in the Japanese format. It’s written by an American author, based on the works of another American author, with art by an artist in the Philippines. So the reading right-to-left seems a silly affectation. Second, perhaps the cover wasn’t the wisest choice. A naked teenage girl surrounded by tentacles just invites hentai jokes. For readers not familiar with Lovecraft’s work, this cover is going to send the wrong message about the contents of the book, and the design will cause a few people to avoid it.

In the end, this book really needed another round of editing. The narration in the first two chapters is very heavy-handed and repetitious. Although the art has the right look for horror, Rowley never develops the atmosphere in the writing. Rowley gives the book the feel and pacing more of an adventure story than a horror story. This is understandable, given Rowley is a noted sci-fi author.

As a Lovecraft fan, for me, this book was nothing but frustration from about the fifth page until the end. Readers of any genre of fiction should avoid this book. Instead, you can read comics by Boom! Studios if you want good Lovecraft-inspired fiction.

11 Responses to “Arkham Woods”

  1. MLO Says:

    Darn, I am always looking for good Lovecraftian books. It seems most writers can’t handle the intricacies.

    One thing, not all Fundamentalists are King James only thinkers. They have commissioned their own translations and some groups do study ancient languages as part of their Scriptural studies. The most consistent thing they have is a rejection of anything not Scripturally based – such as Roman Catholic traditions that are not supported by Biblical passages.

  2. Ed Sizemore Says:

    MLO, You’re going to have to name me a translation of the Bible funded by Fundamentalists. I have never heard of any. Evangelicals have been instrumential to the NIV, the Living Bible, and other modern translations. But, Evangelical and Fundamental aren’t synonymous terms.

  3. Hsifeng Says:

    Johanna Says:

    “Just a couple notes to the publisher. First, I don’t understand why the book was printed in the Japanese format. It’s written by an American author, based on the works of another American author, with art by an artist in the Philippines. So the reading right-to-left seems a silly affectation.”

    This reminds me a tiny bit of Rutu Modan’s Exit Wounds. It’s written by an Israeli artist (writing stories is art too!), inspired by an Israeli documentary, with drawings by the same Israeli artist who wrote it. However, in this interview,

    Joe Sacco Says:

    “Is there a Hebrew-language edition of Exit Wounds?”

    Rutu Modan Says:

    “I am ashamed to say there is still not a Hebrew edition and it is completely my fault. The book was commissioned by Drawn & Quarterly, therefore, even though I wrote the script in Hebrew and had it translated (which was done wonderfully by Noah Stollman), I “made the drawing in English” — which means from left to right. Hebrew, like Japanese, is read from right to left. For the Hebrew edition I have to flip all the pages. That wouldn’t be such trouble if I didn’t make my main character a taxi driver. If I flip the pages he drives on the wrong side. In a realistic story that takes place in Israel, I think it could be quite irritating for the readers. And I have 150 frames where Koby drives his taxi! I have to draw many frames again, and it is quite boring to do so. For me this project is finished, and it is difficult to go back to it.”

    So my guess is that the reading right-to-left in Arkham Woods is probably silly affectation…but just might instead be the result of a usually-right-to-left publisher comissioning the book with Rowley, the deal falling through, and Rowley releasing it with another publisher?

  4. Ed Sizemore Says:

    Hsifeng, Given that Soriano is the artist on another Seven Seas series (Mr. Grieves), it’s fair to assume that the art originated at Seven Seas. When they commissioned Soriano, they should have had him do the book in the standard English format.

  5. MLO Says:

    Ed, neither Evangelicals or Fundamentalists are monolithic. Some Fundamentalists do use the NIV – believe it or not. The loudest subset are the King James followers.

  6. MLO Says:

    Forgot the link that goes into all the different translations. I seem to recall one from American Religion through the 19th Century from Moody Bible College.

  7. MLO Says:

  8. Kevin Lighton Says:

    Seven Seas has always had their original series done in right-to-left format, presumably to make them look more like actual manga.

    And, yes, it’s a very silly affectation.

  9. Ed Sizemore Says:

    I don’t want to co-opt Johanna’s website for religious discussion. So let me just say I agree that both Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism are much more diverse cultures than commonly portrayed. I was an Evangelical for 20 years before becoming Eastern Orthodox. I can only speak for the Fundamentalist people and institutions I’ve encounter. All were KJV advocates.

    Thank you for the link. I don’t agree with Dr. Given’s assessments of the various translations. I’ve used the NRSV in seminary and can tell you there are definite inaccuracies in it. Some that even shocked my Greek professor. (I went to a mainline seminary where the NRSV was the only acceptable translation to be used in class.) I can also tell that Dr. Given and I are mostly like on opposite sides of the theological spectrum, so that colors our opinions on the various translations. But it’s good to get another viewpoint on the translations, so thanks again.

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