After a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign last year, artist/writer/snappy dresser Ben Templesmith was able to produce his reimagining of H.P. Lovecraft’s Dagon in graphic novel form. Is it good?
Ben Templesmith’s Dagon
The original story
You’d think that due to my reverence of Lovecraft’s work, I’d be heavily predisposed to like this story. But much as it pains me to say it, Dagon has never been on of my favorites.
Oh sure, I love the contribution it made toward (indirectly) developing the Cthulhu mythos. But as a singular story, it wasn’t that great. In fact, it hits all the notes that I usually argue against when people claim that Lovecraft is a “bad writer.”
- Dude starts recollecting the moment he lost his sanity.
- Dude uses way too many adjectives describing a new place.
- Dude gets scared by weird architecture.
- Dude starts to go mad due to aforementioned weird architecture.
- Dude sees something genuinely scary, craps his pants (metaphorically), and runs away.
That’s pretty much it. Aside from a wonderfully unsettling ending, Dagon plays out like a Lovecraft-hater’s handbook. The language and descriptions are great, but the words-to-action ratio is pretty sparse. I mean, at least At the Mountains of Madness had a Shoggoth chase scene, you know? This one gives us one shot of the titular creature before the narrator beats a hasty retreat.
So yeah, not a huge fan.
The Templesmith version of the story
In Ben Templesmith’s hands, however, Dagon becomes an entirely new experience. The abridged text is perfectly matched with his fever dream-esque artwork, providing a literal canvas on which Lovecraft’s overly descriptive prose is painted.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m generally not a fan of the artistic style Templesmith is known for. Looser pencils and abstract backgrounds can often masquerade as aesthetic choices while masking deficiencies in clarity and story telling. That’s definitely not the case with Templesmith, though.
I’m still not sure how he does it, but the guy can somehow draw images that are both strikingly clear and surreal at the same time. Part of that is due to his coloring work, but it’s much more than that. Templesmith overlays his trippy backgrounds with intricate and detailed pencils, providing his characters (and monsters) with vividly rendered expression. His panels don’t hide anything—they bring reality into stark contrast, then twist the hell out of it. He’s also a superb storyteller, guiding us clearly through the beautiful madness that’s poured into each and every page.
In other words, he’s the perfect sort of artist to relate (and enhance) Lovecraft’s narrative style.
In addition to the great story, Templesmith’s Dagon is filled with cool behind the scenes features along with a ton of extra artwork. Most reward levels also came with some other wonderful goodies, like the Dagon t-shirt and HP Lovecraft print I got with mine.
The fact that my friend and colleague, David Brooke, has not gotten his package yet makes owning them even sweeter.
Eat your heart out, Davey Boy.
Is It Good?
If you’re looking for flaws, there were a couple of massive typos in the book. Far be it from me to throw stones at someone for that, but it’s hard not to notice when an entire narration box gets repeated from one page to the other.
But those are miniscule blemishes on an otherwise beautiful monolith. Templesmith takes a story I wanted more from and absolutely delivers. Even if you aren’t a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, this book is worth owning simply for the gorgeous artwork, which transforms the narrative into the horrifying nightmare it originally inspired to be. If this book ever gets a mass market release, you’d be wise to snatch it up.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I hear something slithering at the front door. It might be an ancient amphibious creature or David Brooke suffering from his seasonal allergies. Either way, my best bet is heading out the window.