I’ve been a fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction, and even more so, works inspired by his mythos, for years now. As a result, any time a solicitation comes out for a new Lovecraftian comic, I at least give it a look. One such comic, The Grave, takes inspiration from Lovecraft’s original story “The Statement of Randolph Carter.” With that said, it’s not a direct adaptation. I read the issue once before reading Lovecraft’s story for the first time, and then once again afterward to see how that changed my experience with The Grave. So, does it stand on its own well enough for readers who aren’t familiar with the source material? Is it good?
My thoughts on The Grave‘s writing hardly differed between my two readings of it. The original story is extremely short, and while writer Jason Browne takes the main concepts a bit further than the source material does, it still doesn’t add all that much. That’s a significant problem when the plot feels extremely lacking in narrative purpose or development. Two friends find an evil lair of some sort hidden within a cemetery, one of them explores it, and the friend who stayed behind ends up hearing supposedly horrific events happen over the telephone. I say supposedly because we barely see any of the horror on-panel; there are major “telling, not showing” problems here. The friend who stayed behind, Albert, narrates the issue and supplies plenty of declarations about how unthinkable the truth is, but none of that emotion gets effectively transferred to the reader. Albert’s questionable actions throughout the story are also distracting.
Unfortunately, the artwork only does so much to elevate the weak narrative. A lot of artist Liam Naughton’s pencils look scratchy in a way that feels more rushed than intentional. This is mostly the case for the characters themselves, and the awkward rendering of their facial expressions further hinders the issue’s ability to grab the reader’s focus and instill horror within them. That’s not to say the line-work is all bad. Naughton’s work shows a lot of potential; it just feels like he hasn’t fully polished and developed his style here.
With that said, the best part of the visuals, and the issue as a whole, is Chris O’Halloran’s coloration. The skylines throughout the issue are lovely, and there’s a lot of impressive shading throughout. O’Halloran’s work, combined with the better aspects of Naughton’s, makes The Grave a pleasure to look out, even though the actual plot depicted isn’t very gripping.
Ultimately, The Grave occupies an unusual space. It’s too heavily altered from “The Statement of Randolph Carter” to feel like a strict adaptation, but it doesn’t actually change enough about the plot or presentation to feel fresh and stand alone in its own right. There’s a lot of telling rather than showing, which is a problem that also plagues the original story, but flaws in source material don’t make up for flaws in the works they inspire. O’Halloran’s coloration is great, but it’s not enough to salvage the otherwise unremarkable story. The Grave isn’t terrible, it just has too many significant issues to be much better than average.