COMIC REVIEW: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

Self Made Hero is one of the great success stories of britsh comics publishing in recent years. Formed in 2007 they specialise in graphic adaptations of classic literature, including a lot of Manga-styled Shakespeare, Poe, Conan Doyle, and my personal favorite, H P Lovecraft.

There is something about Lovecraft that cries out for adaptation; I’ve known plenty of people just bounce off his occasionally dense prose style, or less forgivable prejudices but he’s a creator of such great tone that many of his concepts deserve as wide an audience as possible.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is the fourth Lovecraft work published by Self Made Hero, after two Anthologies and an excellent adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness, which shares the sole adaptor and illustrator, I N J Culbard. Originally unpublished within Lovecraft’s lifetime due to the authors dissatisfaction with the completed work, it has since become regarded as something of a classic example of Lovecraftian Horror, and touches on many of the themes and ideas that reoccur throughout his work. If for no other reason it makes it a great choice for adaptation as a gateway to Lovecraft’s worlds.

The story opens with the disappearance from the asylum of the eponymous Ward, and framed through an interview with his last visitor Marinus Willett, an old family friend and doctor. The interview gradually unveils a macabre and gothic tale going back centuries. The action moves between a series of nested anecdotes as Willett tells of the growing concerns with Ward’s behaviour, what Ward tells him and what Willett himself researches and uncovers. Slowly, yet steadily, the terrible truth is revealed.

The pacing and structure of the adaptation is impeccable. The original conveys much information in letters and other texts, and this is reproduced here, correspondence framed in the page and characters exposition broken up between “show” and “tell” in way that keeps the tension ratcheting up. I’ve read this twice now – as well as being familiar with the original – and both times I’ve been gripped by it and had to read it straight through.

As an adaptation of a novel – albeit a short one – there has been compromises made for length and form but the key thing is that the “essential salts” of the story remain pure and untouched. As with the rest of the Self Made Hero volumes it’s also a physically great looking product – the artwork is clear and wonderfully laid out with an eye for using the frame structure and splash pages for pace and tension, and its a solid, high-quality volume in your hands or on your bookcase. This is a must for Lovecraft fans, a highly recommended introduction to his work for anyone wondering what all the fuss is about.

Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Matt

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One comment

  1. As a Lovecraft fan, did you know that the free unabridged readings and performances by SAG-AFTRA actor William E. Hart, of H. P. Lovecraft’s, At the Mountains of Madness, and, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, are complete on the CthulhuWho1 (dot) com blog? Plus more! Help yourself! Will Hart (aka CthulhuWho1) willhart (at) roadrunner (dot) com.

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