The Annotated Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
I drew inspiration from many sources while drawing “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and Other Stories.” For the Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath movie released by Edward Martin III’s Petting Zoo/Guerrilla Productions in 2003, I wrote about some of these influences for a commentary section hidden in a link in the DVD extras. I’ve used my writings from that commentary track, as well as some new observations, to make this list of influences and random thoughts on the making of the graphic novel. Enjoy!
THE WHITE SHIP
My first goal in adapting “The White Ship” was to make it “not look New-Agey.” Or perhaps I just tried to get away from Western New-Age imagery and go Eastern; thus, instead of some white bearded Jesus-esque dude looking like he came out of “Godspell,” the Bearded Man is a trident-bearing Hindu-looking sage influenced by the iconography of the god Shiva. I struggled to depict a “bridge of moonbeams” in some way other than the stereotypical cheesy double rainbow; I wanted to have the beams carve out the lines of a spiral staircase, but unfortunately I didn’t quite manage it and in my drawing he looks like he’s walking on air.
The land of Zar is mostly drawn from Greco-Roman influences, but as a place from whence one can never return, it also reminds one of death — as if its perfect green grass is really the manicured lawns of a vast and beautiful graveyard. A small shrine to Aphrodite, patron of sailors in the Hellenistic world, stands on the White Ship in the top right panel.
The drawing of Thalarion is partly inspired by the drawings of John Swanson II and Mike Scott in Meade and Penny Frierson’s amazing 1970s book-fanzine HPL. Although he didn’t actually draw Thalarion, Mike Scott’s surreal, slightly cartoony black and white drawings in particular were very inspiring to me in high school. If I lost both my hands and had to hire someone else to draw Thalarion, I’d also consider the French artist Philippe Druillet. I tried to draw Thalarion as a sort of “realm of impossibility” with optical illusions of the M.C. Escher nature, where all sorts of magic and science, all the dark wonders of the human mind, climb into the sky like candles in a Black Mass.
This land of forbidden pleasures, of poison sensuality, also has a Greco-Roman feel. I’ve always loved Mark Morrison’s depiction of Xura in the module LAND OF LOST DREAMS, from Chaosium’s DREAMLANDS RPG supplement. I love Call of Cthulhu, but I tried to steer clear of anything added in the RPG, and to go back to Lovecraft’s original text where possible; however, I can’t think of any Xura better than Morrison’s.
The cities of Sona-Nyl are inspired by Southeast Asian and Japanese architecture. Time stands still in this paradise, and death has no meaning.
I liked the Tarot card imagery I used for Sona Nyl, so I was inspired to draw another Tarot card for Cathuria — The World, which to me reads as boundless possibility. I’ve forgotten exactly what inspired the architecture of Cathuria, but it is most definitely a land of excess, of too much detail, too much baroque glamor. Cathuria is not a humble heaven of sleep and peace, but a grandiose heaven of hubris, leading to the moral of this story.
Celephais was drawn in the style of Winsor McCay’s majestic buildings in LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND (themselves inspired by the architecture of the American World’s Fairs of the 1900s). Mixed with this were European/Medieval castles and Middle Eastern parapets. As the LITTLE NEMO influence suggests, Celephais is above all a play-city, a toy-city, whose buildings float like hot-air balloons, whose pennants flap in the warm wind, whose domes are painted in bright colors and bedecked with slides and coasters. But it is grand enough, bold enough, not to degenerate into senescence. If the sunset city is Carter’s dream-city, then Celephais is Kuranes’ dream-city. The symbol of Celephais is the horizontal hourglass, suggesting the symbol of infinity.
This page makes me think of the Beatles song “Eleanor Rigby.” I didn’t want to show the sky in the Real World here — there is no sky — there is only the prison of the buildings. In the top right panel are advertisings for imaginary patent products from the fiction of Lord Dunsany (who hated modern marketing and fast food and wrote various polemics against it), as well as a business owned by one Mr. Thomas Shap.
The scene in which Kuranes’ bedroom transforms is taken from a scene in Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.” If I acknowledge it, does that make it a homage instead of a swipe? Throughout the stories in DREAM-QUEST I tried to pay tribute to children’s books that I loved as a child, and there are many references to assorted books scattered throughout.
I was thinking of Tiny Wings when I drew the central panel. When I got that game I played it in bed ’till I went to sleep, sliding around the endless green hills. Great music, too, although it drove me nuts when I actually downloaded the track and played it over and over.
Sadly, I didn’t fit in the scene (mentioned in one line in the original story) where Young Kuranes carves his name on the bridge, so I was only able to allude to it here. At this point I begin to fiddle a bit with the story, for good or ill, adding a line taken from Lord Dunsany’s “The King of Elfland’s Daughter”, when the protagonist discovers just how much more slowly time travels in Elfland than in the real world. (Of course, Elfland hadn’t been written when Lovecraft wrote “Celephais,” so Lovecraft came up with the imagery of timelessness on his own.) I return to this line at several points over the remainder of the story.
I couldn’t stop thinking about them once I noticed the similarity of names, so Serannian’s appearance is inspired by the beautiful Spanish city of Ronda, in the Serrania region. “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” is the name of a Norwegian folk tale which I discovered through the children’s book adaptation by Mercer Mayer.
And so Carter explores the lands of dream: from the underground caverns of Etidorhpa (which is actually a very boring book, but anyway) to the lovely Gardens of Yin to many other fabulous places. The dragon sipping coffee with Carter was inspired by Maxfield Parrish’s cover illustration to Kenneth Grahame’s Dream Days. And then there are other places beyond belief…
The violet gas isn’t named here, but it is given a name (S’ngac) in Dream-Quest. Although I didn’t include the line where it’s named in my comic adaptation, so you’ll have to take my word for it when it reappears. Of course, elsewhere in Lovecraft’s fiction we meet malevolent, predatory gaseous entities (“The Colour out of Space”) and even gaseous entities which worship the Other Gods. Those jerks! But S’ngac is one of the good ones, so apparently you can’t judge a gas by its color.
Kuranes is given his crown and robes, as befits a king. His crown is in an ancient British style, in keeping with his Welsh heritage. But looking back on decisions I made in 1997, I worry that this Welsh touch goes against Lovecraft’s statment in “Kadath” that Celephais contains NOTHING of Kuranes’ childhood memories and roots, and is only made up of make-believe. Instead, I wish I’d emphasized the Orientalism thing more and given Kuranes Eastern-style royal garb: the imaginary sultan of an invented empire of his own mind. (I did explore this idea of the white-guy-dreaming-of-the-East a little more in a character in my Dreamlands RPG adventure, “The Club of the Seven Dreamers.”) In any case, Celephais is a fusion of all a child’s fantasies: a toyland of stories of knights and Saracens, princes and emirs, of a 19th century boy who grew up reading both The Story of Roland and the Arabian Nights. But to look at it as just a jumbled playground is to step outside the story and judge it, and I tried to make Celephais beautiful as well, to capture the majesty and splendor that Lovecraft intended it to embody. But I think I prefer drawing the Sunset City of Dream-Quest, which has a more humble, human side.
THE STRANGE HIGH HOUSE IN THE MIST
Kingsport is visually inspired, as Lovecraft said in his letters, by Marblehead, Massachusetts, now a major tourist town. I’ve never been there personally, so I just used reference photos. At the risk of turning this to an East Coast-West Coast feud, I have to say, as a Californian, that the cliffs here on the Northwest coast are MUCH taller and steeper and more High-Housey than anything I’ve ever seen on my travels to the east. At one point in the ’90s I actually considered writing a “Strange High House” sequel set in the San Francisco Bay Area titled “The Strange High House in the Fog.”
Tim Kirk draws the awesomest Terrible Old Man. He looks like an evil pirate Gandalf.
It was a lot of fun looking up old maps to draw the old road map on this page. Incidentally, Frank King drew some of the most beautiful landscapes in his comic strip “Gasoline Alley,” and I was thinking of them as I drew this.
The old man who dwells in the house wears the antique clothes of a sea-captain from the Great Age of Sail. He’s described as having a “brown hand”, but I assume Lovecraft means that he’s tanned from his days at sea, not that he’s actually (gasp!) not white or anything. Still, who knows? Maybe Lovecraft was less racist towards exotic sea-captains. Drawing eyes “phosphorescent with the imprint of unheard-of sights” was perhaps beyond my ability. I also drew some inspiration from the appearance of the young Lord Dunsany, who Lovecraft was so taken with upon meeting him at a book reading in Providence. The Man in The House is one of many incarnations of the “perfect friend” (BFF?) character in Lovecraft’s fiction, that man who seduces/entices the narrator into another, more mysterious world, away from his prosaic everyday life.
This room was fun to draw, especially the Laocoon statue. Is it bigger on the inside than on the outside? Since Lovecraft was a teetotaler, I assume that his fictional characters here are drinking tea as well, or perhaps they’re actually drinking alcohol? For Lovecraft, hanging out with his friends, talking to like-minded intelligent companions, chilling with his homies, was one of his greatest pleasures, and he didn’t need alcohol as a social lubricant. But who knows what ancient sea-captains are like, or what faery ambrosia Lovecraft might have dreamed of drinking.
The image of the giant corpse on the beach is lifted from the JG Ballard story “The Drowned Giant,” which I thought was in keeping with the mood of this sequence, of forgotten titans and mysteries of the sea. It’s really fascinating how in this sequence Lovecraft tosses out a reference to “The Other Gods,” suggesting that Hatheg-Kla actually is a mountain on Earth. Is the Dreamlands another dimension, or is it actually in the distant past? Perhaps both; perhaps the boundaries of the forgotten past and the dreamed imagination blur together, a vast mangrove swamp or tideland where it is impossible to tell the barrier between land and sea.
This sequence was over a bit quick, and basically I deemphasized the whole “mysterious visitor who knocks at the door and turns away” part because it seemed like one element too many.
And the door opens and Nodens and the gods come forth. Nodens is one of the most tantalizingly vaguely described figures in Lovecraft’s fiction, perhaps because Lovecraft took the name from Arthur Machen, who in turn took the name from Celtic mythology, and it apparently meant something different to them both. I tried to draw him as a wild, ancient figure, part patriarch, part beast, part force of nature: a creature from a swirling abyss of shapes of life, like the paintings of Giuseppe Arcimboldo where human faces are made out of collages of animals and vegetables. He is a hoary (emphasis Lovecraft’s), ancient creature, unspeakably old. The Greco-Roman imagery of Poseidon and tritons and nereids could quickly turn into awful toga-wearing fantasy cliches if anyone opened their mouthes, but luckily no one does, such things are indescribable (like the conversation between Olney and his host earlier). Instead, I just drew that moment of chaos when the boundaries of reality completely break away and they invade our world. Reality falls apart and Olney crosses over the threshold into world of myth. I do have an idea of who/what the Man in The House is, too, but it’s totally my own idea and not supported by anything in Lovecraft, so maybe I’ll save it for another post. One self-criticism: I wish I’d found a way to actually put Nodens’ name on the page here, since a new reader won’t know who he is, which makes the whole thing even more confusing.
The sea is such a rich source of imagery and life that it’s easy to find a metaphor there for almost anything. For the ending of The Strange High House in the Mist, it wasn’t necessary to do much more than put the imagery on the page — the ending is ambiguous in its implications, although one thing that’s certain is that Olney’s soul now lives on in the Other World, whereas his body lives the body’s life in our world. (A bit like the Lord Dunsany tale “The Unhappy Body”). It’s definitely as near to a spiritual tale as Lovecraft ever wrote, and if it leaves lots unexplained, that’s par for the course. Another fascinating thing here, which ties this real-world story in to “Dream-Quest,” is the sudden mention of Kadath — implying again that the borders between Reality and the Dreamlands are not so definite. Are the Mighty Ones, then, the same as the Great Ones in Dream-Quest? And are they the same as the ancient gods of Earth’s mythology? (Obviously I think the answer is “yes” since I’m asking the question this way — but who knows what Lovecraft would have answered. I think there’s a clear implication of pagan revival going on here, though, even if Lovecraft doesn’t name any names other than Neptune and Nodens.) What power do these gods have? What do they want? What is Kadath? The answers are to be found in the story that Lovecraft was writing around the same time that he finished “Strange High House”: in “Dream-Quest.”
THE DREAM-QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH
“All golden and lovely it blazed in the sunset, with walls, temples, colonnades and arched bridges of veined marble, silver-basined fountains of prismatic spray in broad squares and perfumed gardens, and wide streets marching between blossom-laden urns and ivory statues in gleaming rows; while on steep northward slopes climbed tiers of red roofs and old peaked gables harboring little lanes of grassy cobbles.”
The sunset city. Lovecraft’s prose description sums it up; as often in the comic, I tried to fit in every element he described, sort of like a check-off system. It is a city more to be explored than lived in. It is intentionally chaotic, or anarchic in the way that outlandish palaces sit side-by-side with humble, “warm” old buildings, and New England architecture with Greco-Roman and Medieval. The New England elements are the most realistic, and I tried to draw from Providence and the important buildings in Lovecraft’s life (I’ve been to Providence, but I hadn’t at the time when I drew this; instead, I made extensive use of Donovan Loucks’ photographs at what would become the HP Lovecraft Internet Archive.) Gardens and parks contribute to the sense of randomness and nature. Unlike other cities in Dreamland, the Sunset City also has church steeples with Christian crosses, usually silhouetted against the eternally setting sun. This ties into the predominance of churches in New England architecture, and — to a person raised in the church, but since lapsed — also suggests childhood and the accompanying sense of being sheltered by a higher power. In the symbology of the comic, the cross is a symbol of the waking world, while the religion of the Dreamlands is that of the ankh.
The first question that comes to the mind of most viewers of the movie (and readers of the comic) is probably “Why does Randolph Carter look like a pillow-headed, wire-armed stick figure?” (Actually, I’ve received far fewer complaints about this than I expected…) There are several reasons for this, some original and some retroactively created to explain the decision. The original, real reason is because I first got the idea to draw DREAM-QUEST in high school, at the age of 16. At the time, I wasn’t confident that I could draw a human protagonist for such a lengthy story, so I resorted to these stick figures I’d drawn since kindergarten, which I called “mock men.” (As in “Mock Man Press.”) Six years elapsed between my high school attempt to draw DREAM-QUEST and the version that actually became the printed comic, but in the spirit of nostalgia, I decided to continue drawing Randolph Carter’s dream-self as a mock man. I don’t draw mock men much any more, since I’ve learned to draw more-or-less-human-looking cartoony characters with the same ease with which I used to draw mock men, but I think it has a good effect in deflating the sword-and-sorcery tendency of this kind of material, and it reinforces the theme of childhood. In Understanding Comics Scott McCloud proposed the theory that simply-drawn characters made it easier for readers to project themselves into the character’s place, so I’m fond of this explanation too. Anyway, it is what it is. Luckily, I was able to come up with a retroactive explanation, within the story, for Carter’s appearance as well.
Carter’s bedroom is modelled on Little Nemo’s bedroom in Winsor McCay’s classic newspaper comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland. The candle on the bedstand was a recurring motif on the back covers of the comic, gradually melting as the dream progressed. Carter’s nightgown is also based on Little Nemo’s nightgown, although it’s shorter and has a longer slit up the side. If he weren’t drawn as a mock man, it would probably be embarrassing to see a grown man running around in it for the entire story.
“When for the third time he awakened with those flights still undescended and those hushed sunset streets still untraversed, he prayed long and earnestly to the hidden gods of dream that brood capricious above the clouds on Unknown Kadath, in the cold waste where no man treads.”
The idea here is that Carter has constructed a Greco-Roman-style home altar, burning sacrificial incense to the Gods of Earth.
There are no scenes of Carter in the “waking world” in THE DREAM-QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH, so this scene of Carter at an “amateur journalists” party, his eyes staring off into the distance of his obsession, is totally made up. The waking-world Carter is, of course, intended to look exactly like H.P. Lovecraft. Organized amateur journalism, a sort of national literary club of self-publishers and would-be writers, was popular in the 1910s and 1920s — Lovecraft made many friends through it — and still exists today, although a more commonly known, more punk spiritual descendant is probably the zine scene of the 1980s and 1990s. (Or at least this is how I explain it to people — real amateur journalists might object.) In the background, for my own entertainment, can be seen Hugh Grisly, one of my old CALL OF CTHULHU RPG characters. There’s also a cameo by Frank Belknap Long, one of Lovecraft’s friends and, like him, a writer for WEIRD TALES. For the movie, I had the vague desire to add more scenes in the waking world (such as Carter attending a University lecture on the formation of the universe and the Big Bang, or Carter speaking to his female acquaintance “Sofia Gray”), but ultimately it didn’t happen.
The flapper on the left was vaguely inspired by a character in an Edward Gorey limerick. On the right, in the bar, is someone who looks suspiciously like one of the evil merchants of Dreamland.
Carter’s house is inspired loosely by Lovecraft’s birthplace at 454 Angell Street.
In the comic, Carter’s dream-self can be seen to be emerging from the head of the sleeping Carter, whose pillow is transforming into the seventy steps going down into the Dreamworld. The hieroglyphs are meaningless. Perhaps Carter’s dream-self is the ba, the portion of the soul which Ancient Egyptians depicted as a human-headed bird which could come and go from the body?
Nasht and Kaman-Thah, the priests of the Cavern of Flame, have a combined Egyptian and Mesopotamian look. I feel a little creatively guilty that the two priests are identical; when I revised their character designs for a video game project that didn’t go anywhere, I gave them different “accessories” (a lamp and a different type of Egyptian staff). I drew some more pictures of Nasht and Kaman-Thah for the movie, but they were lost in a hard drive crash. Their designs are probably inspired in part by Kevin Ramos’ drawings in Chaosium’s CALL OF CTHULHU DREAMLANDS RPG supplement.
Here, Nasht and Kaman-Thah give Carter a map, which he carries for the rest of the journey. I tried to give Carter various accessories since he is basically a blank slate and becomes more interesting-looking when he’s carrying stuff. Although the map clearly shows the cosmos in this shot and most of the other shots where it is visible, Carter evidently can also use it to find his way around on a more local level. Maybe it’s like the map in the movie Time Bandits, which I watched every week on HBO in the summer of 1982.
If you look closely at it, this is the image of a blasted figure wearing a nightgown, with their head exploding. Presumably, then, it depicts an unfortunate dreamer who has witnessed Azathoth and is now spilling forth into insanity. Although I never do show Azathoth in the comic…
“…the tunnels of that twisted wood, whose low prodigious oaks twine groping boughs and shine dim with the phosphorescence of strange fungi…”
The Enchanted Wood is inspired mostly by the kinds of low, dry oak forests that grew around my childhood home in Northern California. I love this kind of goblin landscape, and the Enchanted Wood is merely a more exaggerated version of what exists in reality. Some of the elements — glowing balls of light floating in the air, strange shimmers and sparks — may be inspired by the art in Chaosium’s CALL OF CTHULHU DREAMLANDS RPG supplement. I used a library book on fungus for reference.
“It was the zoogs, for one sees their weird eyes long before one can discern their small, slippery brown outlines.”
I’ve mentioned Chaosium’s DREAMLANDS RPG supplement several times now, and it’s true I owe a great debt to that book, mostly for introducing me to the work of Gary Myers, the author of THE HOUSE OF THE WORM, the best collection of dreamland stories by someone other than Lovecraft. However, as a lame effort at my own defense, I feel I should mention that I didn’t use their design for zoogs — they drew zoogs with tentacles around their mouthes, kind of like star moles. But since Lovecraft didn’t describe zoogs as having tentacles (don’t assume that “Lovecraft” automatically means “tentacles”, everybody), I always envisioned them as looking sort of like a cross between a monkey and a mole, with a platypus-like fleshy face. They are cartoony-looking creatures, so it’s difficult to tell exactly how their anatomy works, but it is clear that they have four prehensile paws and numerous very sharp teeth.
There’s something about this moment, where Carter leaves the wood to walk through the peaceful green countryside, and the music rises into the “dawn” theme, that makes me think of old 8-bit computer role-playing games. If DREAM-QUEST were a computer RPG, this would obviously be the very easy part at the beginning of the adventure, where you can talk to farmers and pick up items and so on. In fact, I’ve attempted to recreate DREAM-QUEST as a game several times, although always with now-obsolete technology. In high school, I used the old Electronic Arts program Adventure Construction Set (one of my favorite Commodore 64 programs) to make a DREAM-QUEST game, and in college, I built rooms for a DREAM-QUEST MUD from the Enchanted Wood to the Forest of Parg, before the server kept crashing and erasing my work. Then there was the abortive proposal to do a DREAM-QUEST computer RPG in the late 1990s (some of the art appears in the gallery), and I once heard that somebody was working on an ULTIMA ONLINE server based on DREAM-QUEST (no doubt swarming with “gargoyles” renamed as “nightgaunts”)… I still think it’s a good idea, and someone should do it.
Remember what I said about computer RPGs? Right on cue, here comes the kind farmer to give Carter some information! Lovecraft writes that “the farmer and his wife would only make the Elder Sign and tell him the way to Nir and Ulthar.” In my high-school version of the comic I drew the farmer’s wife too, but I didn’t have room on the page in the final version. I feel a little bad about removing her, though, since there are so few parts for female characters in the story. (Of course, in the Guerrilla Productions movie all the cats have female voices, so it’s okay.)
Ulthar is drawn in a British/German rustic style. For many of the cities I tried to combine Western and Eastern elements, but this one is very traditional. Careful readers of DREAM-QUEST will note the design on the stone bridge. The zoog snapping at the kitten is the only moment of real animation I drew for the movie.
Atal is, of course, describing the events of Lovecraft’s story THE OTHER GODS. THE OTHER GODS has never been one of my favorite Lovecraft stories — there’s no surprises in the plot and it doesn’t have any memorable bits of detail. I’d put it together with THE QUEST OF IRANON towards the bottom of the dream-stories heap.
“It is known that in disguise the younger of the Great Ones often espouse the daughters of men…”
This image is a reference to the Greek myth of Danae, whom Zeus impregnated in the form of a shower of gold. I redrew the face of the maiden for the graphic novel, because I just can’t draw those winsome manga-esque daughters of men as well as I’d like to.
“…they would have queer lofty thoughts misunderstood by their fellows, and would sing of far places and gardens so unlike any known even in the dreamland that common folk would call them fools…”
This is a reference to THE QUEST OF IRANON, in Lovecraft’s original text.
“Dylath-Leen with its thin angular towers looks in the distance like a bit of the Giant’s Causeway, and its streets are dark and uninviting.”
Dylath-Leen’s appearance is probably partly inspired by the art in Chaosium’s DREAMLANDS RPG supplement. I tried to make it a city of sharp angles, of triangles and pyramids, and in this way I went astray from Lovecraft’s original description, since the actual Giant’s Causeway is made up of rectangular blocks, and looks more like a crowded real-life city of skyscrapers. The city is mostly built of black basalt, but some buildings are made of lichenous and rotting wood, and there are dilapidated wharves like the kind Will Eisner would draw. The masts of the ships accentuate the smokestacks and towers of the dark city.
The person Carter is talking to here is a barbarian of the Robert E. Howard mould. The line about “Golthoth and Samaris” is my invention. Golthoth is an accursed desert city in Gary Myers’ story THE LOOT OF GOLTHOTH. Samaris is an artificial city from Francois Schuiten and Benoit Peeters’ graphic novel THE WALLS OF SAMARIS, one of several in their excellent CITIES OF THE FANTASTIC series. It’s actually not the sort of place a barbarian would go, but it’s out in the middle of nowhere, so he must have had some reason. Thuba Mleen is a character of sorts from the Lord Dunsany stories BETHMOORA and THE HASHISH MAN. In the original edition of the comic the barbarian instead swore “By Welleran and Tsathogghua!” but those two things are so incongruously different from one another — like swearing “By Saint Cyril and Cthulhu!” — that I decided to replace it with something else.
“Then he saw them drive the stout black men of Parg up the gangplank grunting and sweating into that singular galley, and wondered in what lands — or if in any lands at all — those fat pathetic creatures miht be destined to serve.”
I think I should mention now, in case anybody doesn’t know already, that H.P. Lovecraft was very racist, even considering that he was a product of the late 1800s-early 1900s. Although his views mellowed over time, his early letters and stories are full of racist imagery (as well as outright ranting) and throughout his life he believed, to one extent or another, in theories of genetic and cultural superiority. In my comic I wrote the first half of this line simply as “Then he saw them drive the men of Parg into that singular galley…” I tried to populate the comic with characters of various ethnicities, but perhaps this merely comes across as tokenism. In any case, I tried to make certain elements of the novel more palatable while not denying the existence of Lovecraft’s ugly prejudices.
Speaking of Lovecraft’s racism… the merchants are described as being “dark”, “wide-mouthed”, and wearing turbans. The old merchant from Leng is also described as “slant-eyed”, although re-reading DREAM-QUEST, I’m actually not sure whether this descriptor was supposed to apply to all the merchants (my assumption when I drew the comic) or to him alone. In any case, although the merchants have the body form of Greek satyrs (cloven hooves, horns, etc.), their facial features express Lovecraft’s racism. (Their behavior — evil foreigners who come in bringing money and corrupt the society they’re trading with — also shows Lovecraft’s distaste for business and mercantilism. Lovecraft, of course, mostly lived off his dwindling family inheritance and never had a real job aside from part-time work and freelance writing/editing.) In any case, I interpreted the merchants as an expression of xenophobia: so how to draw them without drawing them as a racist caricature? Basically, I decided to exaggerate their features so much that they didn’t even look human. So, their eyes are “slanted” so much that they’re literally buried beneath sunken hollows of flesh, and their mouthes are so wide as to be totally unrealistic. There are other ways to interpret the merchants’ appearance, but this is what I settled on.
“He saw slip past him the glorious lands and cities of which a fellow-dreamer of earth — a lighthouse-keeper in ancient Kingsport — had often discoursed in the old days, and recognized the templed terraces of Zak, abode of forgotten dreams; the spires of infamous Thalarion, that daemon-city of a thousand wonders where the eidolon Lathi reigns; the charnel gardens of Xura, land of pleasures unattained, and the twin headlands of crystal, meeting above in a resplendent arch, which guard the harbour of Sona-Nyl, blessed land of fancy.”
Here we are back in THE WHITE SHIP! It wasn’t just a dream! (Well, it was, but you know.)
The temples on the moon have sort of a “fungous” look, and I tried to show their paleness. There are astrological symbols carved here and there. Lovecraft writes that Carter “did not like the size and shape” of the ruins — I presume the former means they were either really large or really small, and either way, not suited for human use. (Really large ruins makes more sense, doesn’t it? In addition to it not being as scary, I can’t imagine how he’d have noticed really *small* ruins…) For the graphic novel, I added some traces of the beings from THE DOOM THAT CAME TO SARNATH, which weren’t in the original comic. Although, the vaguely Greco-Roman ruins shown here don’t seem like the types of things the primitive Ibites would have made, so maybe I should’ve redrawn them entirely. Oh well; I’m sure the moon was once a veritable melting pot of cultures.
“There presently rose ahead the jagged hills of a leprous-looking coast, and Carter saw the thick unpleasant gray towers of a city. The way they leaned and bent, the manner in which they were clustered, and the fact that they had no windows at all, was very disconcerting to the prisoner…”
The moon-beasts’ city is sort of a reversed image of Dylath-Leen, white instead of black. The towers are indeed leaning and clustered, resembling mushrooms instead of buildings, at times meshed together with a sort of cobwebby substance, at other times with excrescences like insect-boles. Some parts of the city look so organic as to be scatological.
“They were not men at all, or even approximately men, but great greyish-white slippery things which could expand and contract at will, and whose principal shape — though it often changed — was that of a sort of toad without any eyes, but with a curious vibrating mass of short pink tentacles on the end of its blunt, vague snout.”
I don’t feel that I did a very good job on the toad-things. Their body shape is too frog-like, and not amorphous in the way Lovecraft describes; their tentacles don’t look quite as gross as they ought to, either. I’m very happy with how the merchants look without their clothes on, though; their bodies are so grossly withered and wrinkled and hairy and puffy that they emphasize all the unpleasant aspects of the human body. Looking at my drawings of the aged, fatty merchants, my dad (then in his mid-60s) commented jokingly (I hope) that I seemed to be making him into the bad guy of the story. Like the ghouls later on, the merchants don’t have visible genitals. Frankly, I think if you have to draw nude semi-humans and you don’t want to make it X-rated, it’s better to just straight-out not draw genitals (maybe they’re concealed in all that hair), rather than drawing everyone running around in loinclothes all the time, which just draws ATTENTION to their genital area. Your own psychopathology may vary.
The rhyme (“I slept and dreamed that life was beauty/I woke and found that life was duty”) is by Ellen Sturgis Hooper, a New England Transcendentalist poet of the early 1800s, although I found it in Fred Chappell’s excellent novel Dagon. I intended it to emphasize that the merchants are materialists — they’re capitalists, they’re businessmen — they follow the work ethic that Lovecraft and his dreaming gentlemen heroes didn’t, the ethic which Lovecraft blamed for the increasing industrialization of the world and the destruction of the traditional culture he loved. Then there’s a dialogue of my own invention in which Carter expresses his will to find the sunset city and the merchants tell him he sucks and that life is pointless and all men are slaves. (Interestingly, although I didn’t realize it when I wrote it in 1997, this whole added scene of Carter arguing with the merchant is perfectly in alignment with a kind of cultural prejudice/racism that Lovecraft would surely have agreed with if he were still alive today, the whole Frank Miller “300” thing where there’s some “other” (evil, foreign, dark, Eastern) group of people who don’t value freedom and thus are *happy* to be slaves to the Dark Powers. But that sort of thing doesn’t fly with a good old-fashioned New Englander, dammit! THIS~~~IS~~~PROVIDENCE!!!)
This landscape is described as “nighted plains of obscene fungi.” Seeing my drawing, my friend Urian Brown said “You call THAT obscene fungi? You should have asked me! I’D draw you REAL obscene fungi!”
This image was taken from Wanda Gag’s amazing children’s book MILLIONS OF CATS, which was the only place I could think of where I could find a drawing of hills and vales literally covered with cats as far as the eye could see. What an incredible book.
I don’t have much to say about the Cats from Saturn, except that I tried to get away from Chaosium’s DREAMLANDS RPG version. Although Mark Ferrari’s illustration in PETERSEN’S FIELD GUIDE TO CREATURES OF THE DREAMLANDS was really nice.
Carter’s black cat friend who appears here and in other shots is based, more or less, on one of my own black cats from my childhood, Licorice, who died in the mid-1990s.
The inn Carter is staying at, although inhabited by all kinds of strange dream characters, is loosely based on the Spouter Inn from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. On the right you can faintly see a painting of a whale leaping over a ship, which was in Melville’s Spouter Inn, or at least in my fevered mind’s recollections of it. On the left, slightly out of the frame in the movie version, is Queequeg spearing beefsteaks with his harpoon at the breakfast table. The New England whaling community was one of the less sinister influences on the design of the city of Dylath-Leen.
“Beersheba and Zimiamvia are threatening us in the jewel trade…” This is my own made-up line. Beersheba is not the city of that name from the Bible, but the allegorical city from Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities, which is built of jewels and precious stones but which is spiritually inferior to the underground sewer-city which carries away Beersheba’s filth. Zimiamvia is the land described in E.R. Eddison’s baroque fantasy novel The Worm Ouroboros. As in his other novels, virtually everything in Zimiamvia is described as being lavishly decked with gold, gems and valuables, so its status as an exporter of rubies seems self-evident.
I was originally dissatisfied with the lower right panel, simply because the foreground didn’t jump out enough — all the objects were too close to the same size. I redrew another version with the girl (currently in the lower left corner) much bigger, standing on a hill watching the ship go by. But an observer asked me “Why is the girl so big? Is she an important character?” so I went back to the old version.
“Looking over the rail Carter saw many fathoms deep the dome of the great temple, and in front of it an avenue of unnatural sphinxes leading to what was once a public square.”
While the Baharnan sailors’ designs are mostly Greek-influenced, the Sunken City has a Mesopotamian/Biblical feel.
“As the ship drew into the harbour at evening the twin beacons Thon and Thal gleamed a welcome, and in all the million windows of Baharna’s terraces mellow lights peeped out quietly and gradually as he stars peep out overhead in he dusk, till that steep and climbing seaport became a glittering constellation hung between the stars of heaven and the reflections of those stars in the still harbour.”
Baharna was influenced by San Francisco — another steep and climbing city — and the indescribable spires and roofs of genius Italian architect Antonio Gaudi. When Edward Martin III made the movie version of Dream-Quest, little of this shot was used: the comic’s screentone (aka zip-a-tone, aka dot patterns) reproduced extremely poorly when scanned at screen resolution, in particular when the camera moved or zoomed in and out. Edward asked me to remove as much of the screentone as I could, but because of the difficulty of replacing it on my original art, I only did so in one or two places. As a result, though, several of the big landscape shots, where I tended to use screentone, didn’t show up well or had to be removed from the movie entirely. (Other scenes which weren’t used in the movie included those which were drawn in extremely thin, narrow panels, which couldn’t be expanded out to fit a movie screen. I horizontally expanded many panels to make them fit on the screen better, and some of that art appears in the book gallery.)
For the jungles of Baharna and other plants in the comic, I referred to a book on flowering plants from the library. Another useful book was the READER’S DIGEST GUIDE TO NATURAL WONDERS OF THE WORLD. This was before Wikipedia and Google Imagesearch, but even today it’s still nice to check books out of the library to find non-computer-sorted collections of images.
I redrew the bottom right panel a bit for the graphic novel. In Chaosium’s DREAMLANDS supplement, they used this incident to create a monster called the “Haemovore,” but I think it’s more likely that the creature is supposed to be one of those offscreen entities the ghouls refer to later, “the web-footed wamps that are spawned in dead cities.” Not that “spawn” in dead cities — that “are spawned” in dead cities, the way that Medieval people used to believe that maggots would spontaneously generate from within rotting meat. How horrible must that have been, to think that the worms actually arose out of the matter of the meat, not out of some external contaminant? And just think how awful, how blood-freezingly awful, it would be to wake up and see a wamp’s face.
In Chaosium’s DREAMLANDS, a voonith is a sort of giant eel/bunyip kind of monster. Sounds good to me. I wish I’d figured out an excuse to draw it.
I love the middle panel if only for the vertiginous distortion of reality, by which Carter appears to be clinging to a ledge perpendicular to the ground.
“…those long narrow eyes and long-lobed ears, and that thin nose and pointed chin, all spoke of a race that is not of men but of gods.”
The face of the gods was taken from Lovecraft’s description, though perhaps exaggerated too much. It looks a bit like Lovecraft himself, although the chin is weaker. In retrospect, I might have interpreted the “narrow eyes” to give the gods epicanthic folds over their eyelids, which would have been a nice race-blending touch. The statue has an ankh on its forehead — the Egyptian symbol of life, the mark of the gods — and, above that, the Egyptian symbol for lordship or mastery. Incidentally, in the original novel Carter sees the gods’ face carved high overhead, but in my comic the gods’ face is the “great beetling mass” which blocks his way and which he climbs over, before realizing what it is.
The half-god merchant is considering a trade between a real songbird and a mechanical one (his trading partner appears to be selling eggs as well– but will real or mechanical birds hatch from them?). To quote from William Butler Yeats’ poem SAILING TO BYZANTIUM:
“Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, and to come.”
I couldn’t decide whether to give nightgaunts arms AND wings, or make their arms part of their wings, like bats; so I compromised and decided to just draw both types of nightgaunts. (I liked the idea of very bat-like nightgaunts, but if they didn’t have separate arms, I wasn’t sure how I would draw them stealing Carter’s sword, tickling and grabbing him.) Instead of giving them devil-like forked tails, I decided to give them tails shaped more or less like fishing hooks. (Although in Fungi from Yuggoth, which I didn’t consult before drawing this, Lovecraft describes the nightgaunts’ tails as having the “bifid barb of Hell,” so I actually messed up.) Later on, I started experimenting with their horns and giving some curved horns, some straight horns and some steer-like horns. Perhaps some of them are also much bigger than others; that would account for any errors in perspective. Nonetheless, for most purposes one nightgaunt is indistinguishable from another.
The Peaks of Thok are giant stalactites and stalagmites within some hollow earth or infinitely large cavern. The Vale of Pnath is, of course, piled deep not only with human bones but those of alien (albeit dead) and unmaginably large creatures. There’s not much more to say about this but that I have liked underground worlds since when I was young and playing the ZORK text adventure games. The children’s book artist Mercer Mayer also drew an underground scene in his book PROFESSOR WORMBOG IN SEARCH FOR THE ZIPPERUMP-A-ZOO, although I wasn’t thinking of that when I drew this. The briefly glimpsed dhole was redrawn for the movie version, where it appears like a huge caterpillar; in the original comic you can see even less of it, but I tried to be inspired by acorn worms and similar hideous scavengers which dwell in the sand at the ocean’s shore (in this case, an ocean of bones).
My designs for the ghouls are based mostly on the desire to avoid drawing them as merely ugly humans, or humans with dog muzzles. Actually, they are based mostly on drawings by Herb Arnold in Meade and Penny Frierson’s HPL fanzine, which I saw before I even read Lovecraft’s stories: grotesquely muscled, spotted in mold, with the heads of dogs or jackals. Except for the hooves and the gangrene, they look like werewolves as seen in THE HOWLING and the WEREWOLF roleplaying game. They have a great variety of facial features, with some being more decomposed or humanlike than others. Their tongues are forked, and some have bat-like ears.
Pickman was supposed to look more ghoul than human, but to still have elements of humanity. I possibly erred on the side of ghoulishness. Like many of the ghouls, his cheeks have totally rotten away, exposing his teeth on the sides of his face. His human nose more or less remains, and his ears are not totally doglike. My sister posed for the initial shot in which Pickman is in shadow and only partly visible: I told her “Pose as if you were eating something with both hands.”
The two ghouls in the upper right were inspired by figures in the paintings of Francisco Goya.
“Oh come on, Richard! Who told you about Big Cypress Swamp cemetery? Who got the Boston censors off your case?” These are my own made-up lines, of course. The first refers to the events of Lovecraft’s THE STATEMENT OF RANDOLPH CARTER, while the second refers to the events of PICKMAN’S MODEL. I considered having more scenes showing Pickman’s relationship to Carter, but I ultimately decided against it.
“He also advised Carter to disguise as a ghoul himself; shaving the beard he had allowed to grow (for ghouls have none), wallowing naked in the mould to get the correct surface, and loping in the usual slumping way, with his clothing carried in a bundle as if it were a choice morsel from a tomb.”
When I came to this line of the text, I was struck by a dilemma: obviously I couldn’t draw Carter “shaving his beard” since I had drawn him as a stick figure, and for the same reason I couldn’t show him “wallowing naked in the mould” or the flimsy surreality of the stick-figure Carter wearing clothes would collapse completely. The first problem I simply wrote out of the text; my solution to the latter problem was to give Carter a “mould-suit” based on the suit of batter which Max wears in Maurice Sendak’s children’s book IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN. The bag which Carter’s clothes are wrapped in eventually morphs into a sort of hobo-sack tied around a stick.
Three ghouls accompany Carter on his journey to the surface. The most talkative of them was modelled very loosely on my parents’ dog Toby, an Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix.
“Carter turned sick at the aspect of that scabrous and unwholesome beast, whose face is so curiously human despite the absence of a nose, a forehead, and other important particulars.”
I tried to base the ghasts on Lovecraft’s description (not necessarily successfully), working with a process of elimination: if they didn’t have noses or forehead, perhaps their “curiously human” features were… their ears? In any event, I tried to make them even more disgusting than the ghouls, and I referred to Basil Wolverton’s drawings to see how to draw warts and sores. Their bodies are built similar to kangaroos or bipedal dinosaurs, but their tails are based on those of rats.
I try not to shy away from sexually suggestive material, as long as it’s done to horrify rather than to arouse (because in horror — let’s face it — EVERYTHING should be to horrify), so the gugs, with their vertical mouthes, obviously had to be drawn in as ‘vagina dentata’ a manner as possible. (Of course, depending on the audience, this may come off as merely ludicrous rather than horrific.) The gugs are described as having hair or fur, so for the rest of their bodies, I tried to find a way to give them hair without turning them into something as soft, unthreatening and mammalian as giant bears. I settled on the example of hairy spiders, and so the gugs’ bodies seem to be made up of various pieces of spiders grafted together. Finally, I realized that crabs had vertical mouthes, so the gugs’ eyestalks and chitinous arms are crablike.
The gug city looks crude, uninviting and hostile. The buildings look like concrete silos meshed together with webbing (perhaps the gugs are spiderlike in more ways than outward appearance?), with the now expected vaginal doorways. To keep with the feminine theme, I tried to mark the gugs’ doorways with symbols from ancient European matriarchal societies and fertility-cults. The tower which Carter and the ghouls climb is marked with the sign of Koth, “a monstrous symbol in bas-relief which made one shudder without knowing its meaning.”
Edward Gorey’s THE DOUBTFUL GUEST is in the audience listening to the zoog demagogue. Presumably its behavior and appearance label it as a member of the zoog family. The warring zoogs wear an assortment of World War I military helmets.
The strange design in the village square of Ulthar is based on the design from the Centaurus Festival in the 1985 anime version of Kenji Miyazawa’s 1927 allegory NIGHT ON THE GALACTIC RAILROAD. The story of two friends who ride a ghostly train through the cosmos (no relation to the much later manga/anime GALAXY EXPRESS 999), the original novel is good, and the anime is an amazing and dreamlike production. As for why a mandala in a Japanese village in NIGHT ON THE GALACTIC RAILROAD might be found village of Ulthar, there’s this: in the anime (though not the novel), all the human characters are drawn as bipedal cats, due to quirky character designs based on a manga adaptation of the novel by cat lover Hiroshi Masamura. The anime was released on DVD by the now-vanished Central Park Media, but is no longer available; the also worthy “Spring and Chaos” (a surreal biographical anime about Kenji Miyazawa) was released by Tokyopop but is now also out of print. The original novel is available in English under the title Milky Way Railroad, although it’s flawed by a bad translation that changed the characters’ names, the kind of thing stupid translators thought they could get away with before the internet. If I had owned the rights, I would have used the music from the NIGHT movie in the Dream-Quest kickstarter.
The old zoog’s curse is the largest liberty I took with the original story (aside from drawing Edward Gorey characters in the background and stuff, of course). In the original novel, the zoogs acquiesce to the cats’ victory without any fuss. However, I felt a little sorry for the zoogs, and I felt, perhaps, that there needed to be some consequences for Carter’s militaristic interference in the zoogs’ foreign affairs. Also, it was dramatic to foreshadow the ending of the story, particularly with the classical device of a curse. The phrase “infant fears” was inspired by the title of the underground horror comic INSECT FEAR, just because I liked the sound.
The temple of Kiran was modelled on Indian and Southeast Asian architecture, as well as the Watts Towers and some unusual rock formations which I had seen in the READER’S DIGEST GUIDE TO NATURAL WONDERS OF THE WORLD. There was a brief scene with a fish in Lovecraft’s story and the comic which wasn’t included in the movie, possibly because it doesn’t have any dialogue.
“Toward evening he mounted a low grassy rise and saw before him flaming in the sunset the thousand gilded spires of Thran.”
Thran, its surroundings and inhabitants, is inspired by a little-known Dr. Seuss book, I HAD TROUBLE IN GETTING TO SOLLA SOLLEW. This interesting book involves the protagonist’s quest to leave his home valley (which is infested with aggravating animals) and find the fabulous city of Solla Sollew (“On the banks of the beautiful River Wah-Hoo/ Where they never have troubles! At least, very few.”) His journey takes him through various perils and finally to a DREAM-QUEST/WIZARD OF OZ-like “there’s no place like home” realization, albeit one flavored with a strong un-Lovecraft-like dose of pragmatism.
I have no idea if real-world cats eat rarebit cheese, but I do know that it is the drug of choice for characters in Winsor McCay’s early comic strip, DREAMS OF A RAREBIT FIEND, which he drew before LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND.
The journey from Thran to Hlanith has several references to Lord Dunsany’s dream-story, IDLE DAYS ON THE YANN, about a river-journey past various beautiful vistas. The ship which Carter takes passage on is modelled after Dunsany’s Bird of the River, and the bird mark on the sail is taken directly from Sidney Sime’s illustrations. The sailors’ prayer (“To all the gods that are; to whatever gods may hear”) is also taken directly from that story.
The Jungle of Kled is a lush, crocodile-infested jungle containing various Indian and Southeast Asian temples. There were some problems with the screentone in this panel, so I wanted to just pull it off and replace it with computer screentone (as I did in some earlier panels around the Sunken City and the Isle of Oriab), but unfortunately, after ten years of sitting in a box, the tone had solidified into a gluey mass that razors couldn’t get off without removing the paper underneath it. Thus, I was sort of limited in how much I could fix up the panel, although I did try to add more light and shadow definition.
The sturdy architecture of Hlanith is drawn in a Northern European/Dutch/Scandinavian style. The man on the left in the tavern scene wears a liripipe hat, as seen in the works of Hieronymous Bosch. I really wanted Carter to say “So far? So early? So soon?” like the sleepy stationmaster always says in Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories, but I couldn’t figure out how to write it so it would make any sense in context and not just sound weird.
One of the first things I did when I prepared the Dream-Quest graphic novel was to go back and replace all the fake Arabic, which I had scribbled into the comic before I learned Arabic, with real Arabic. I’m still far from fluent, though, so my wife had to help. The text in the middle panel reads “Midan Al-Khalood”, the Square of Eternity.
The Arabic text in the top right reads simply “Souk al-Khurfann” (Sheep Market), while the Arabic in the lower left reads simply “Sh. Qattat” (Cat St.). The Japanese characters on the sign read neko machi, also “cat street.” (Then why is the cat surprised that Carter knew where to find him…?) Lying about the street are various bones and bits of meat, and a sistrum, a rattle-like ancient Egyptian musical instrument. The figure in the background with its arm upraised is a maneki neko, or lucky cat, a small statuette often seen in Chinese and Japanese restaurants. Depending on which arm is raised, the maneki neko beckons in customers or good fortune.
King Kuranes, the protagonist of Lovecraft’s story CELEPHAIS, appears here as a once-mighty dreamer now lost in nostalgia for his childhood. (At times I’ve wondered whether Lovecraft would have approved of such a borderline negative, almost senile portrait of Kuranes, but I think the line in the original text about a Kuranes wishing his nanny would come in and scold him suggests that this particular regression to childhood is not meant to be viewed entirely positively.) Kuranes in the present day wears a dressing gown, but in the flashbacks his crown and regal attire is modelled after Celtic and Ancient British sources. Incidentally, I assumed that the “Trevor Towers” mentioned at the end of CELEPHAIS is Kuranes’ ancestral home, and thus Kuranes’ real-world family name, mentioned by Carter, is “Trevor.” The music used for this scene in the Guerrilla Productions movie is very effective.
Apart from their excessively long faces, the half-god sailors from Inganok have a somewhat Viking-like look to them. The dots on their faces and foreheads are ritual burn-marks, and the medallions they wear on their clothing connote their social status. They enjoy music, and their ships have lutes strung on the prow. Their written language and carvings are also Viking-inspired.
“Toward noon a dark coastline appeared, and before three o’clock there stood out against the north the bulbous domes and fantastic spires of the onyx city. Rare and curious did that archaic city rise above its walls and quays, all of delicate black with scrolls, flutings and arabesques of inlaid gold.”
The architecture of Inganok comes from several sources. Many of the spires are modelled after the Kremlin and other buildings in Russia. Some show the influence of Middle Eastern mosques. The walls are modelled after West African architecture, and the pyramids and the heads of the gods show an Egyptian influence. Some of the buildings appear to be high apartment blocks, while others are palaces and belltowers. It is in any case a very heavily ornamented city, even by the standards of Dreamland.
Astute Cthulhu Mythos fans may notice that the branch-like object which reappears in several places in Inganok is a version of the Elder Sign, that vaguely powerful symbol (or hand gesture) referred to in places in Lovecraft’s work. The most commonly known form of the Elder Sign is that of a five-pointed star with an eye inside it, or a flaming eye inside it; this was the Elder Sign invented by August Derleth, possibly based on the star-shaped marks left by the so-called Elder Things in the story AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS. However, Lovecraft himself once signed a letter with an “Elder Sign” drawn as the aforementioned branch-like object. In the comic, I have assumed that both are “Elder Signs”, but that perhaps the branch-like Elder Sign (or is it a six-fingered hand?) is the true Elder Sign and the star-shaped mark (which shows up here and there, for example on a pillar in the village of Ulthar) might be a more commonly known variant or a corruption of it. (For more Elder Sign information, consult the ENCYCLOPEDIA CTHULHIANA by Daniel Harms, or of course wikipedia.)
Students of Norse mythology may recognize the one-eyed old man with a raven on his shoulder, sitting at the table on the lower right.
The hosts of the excellent HP Podcraft pointed out that the way all the inhabitants of Inganok stop and pray at certain times is almost certainly based on strict Islamic practices. I didn’t make this connection when I drew it, but it’s probably another way in which Lovecraft was influenced by 19th century Orientalist travel literature such as Richard Burton, Charles Doughty, etc. describing the cities and customs of exotic foreign lands.
“When the deep clang from the temple belfry shivers over the garden and the city, and the answer of the horns and viols and voices peals out from the seven lodges by the garden gates, there issue from the seven doors of the temple long columns of masked and hooded priests in black, bearing at arm’s length before them great golden bowls from which a curious steam rises. And all the seven columns strut peculiarly in single file, legs thrown far forward without bending the knees, down the walls that lead to the seven lodges, wherein they disappear and do not appear again…only a few are those who hint that the priests in the masked and hooded columns are not human beings.”
The exact nature of the priests is an enigma which, like the sunken city near Baharna, is not answered in DREAM-QUEST (though more than one writer has ventured an answer). Given that the Veiled King of Inganok, who owns a shantak, is never seen, and given that Leng’s veiled high priest turns out to be a moon-beast, the most likely answer seems to be that the priests are moon-beasts (or perhaps almost-humans) secretly working their evil schemes. However, it’d be more interesting if it were something else entirely. When Carter notes “a spot on the pavement over which the bowls had passed”, I tried to draw that the spot was congealing together into something like an eyeball, forming out of some sort of primordial liquid tissue. It is possible, however, that the golden bowls are supposed to simply be filled with steaming blood from some ritual or human sacrifice.
“At some of these houses the seeker stopped to ask questions; once finding a host so austere and reticent, and so full of an unplaced majesty like to that in the huge features on Ngranek, that he felt certain he had come at least upon one of the Great Ones themselves, or upon one with full nine-tenths of their blood, dwelling amongst men.”
“And long ago our kin danced on the mountain-tops…” This is a reference to THE QUEST OF IRANON and THE OTHER GODS.
“Silent they squatted there atop the world like wolves or ghouls, crowned with clouds and mists and guarding the secrets of the north for ever. All in a great half circle they squatted, those dog-like mountains carven into monstrous watching statues, and their right hands were rarised in menace against mankind.”
The statues are described as being two-headed, with “mitred” heads. Rather than giving them actual headgear, I chose to turn their heads into the tops of the mountains, or the tops of great cathedrals or temples which some unimaginable beings (serving the functions of fleas and parasites on the great golems) might inhabit. They look slightly like nagas in Thai temple architecture. As they have canine faces, I tried to make them different-looking from the ghouls, but this only shows, if at all, in their lack of ears and the relative un-corrodedness of their features. Their clothes are Egyptian. Re-reading Lovecraft’s description, I see that they should have been squatting rather than sitting, and they are also so large as to be out of scale even with the mountains, but it isn’t such a bad thing.
I chose to make the shantak-birds as literally “horse-headed” as possible, but the desire to give them some individual character and personality soon led me to mutate them into weirder shapes. With their scales and ferocious aspect, they are essentially dragonlike, although they have the wings and legs of predatory birds rather than reptiles. Some of them have multiple heads; some have medusa-like snakes for hair; some have frills and barbels and fan-like structures growing from their heads. Some even have that Lovecraftian standby, tentacles. Robert Price, the editor of CRYPT OF CTHULHU magazine for many years, very kindly gave me an article which showed many of the links between DREAM-QUEST and the works of the Ancient Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder and satirist/author Lucian of Samosata, including the description of giant predatory birds called “horse-vultures” (because they’re vultures big enough to carry off horses). Thus there is a possibility that the shantaks are Lovecraft’s reference to the “horse-vultures”, only in this case, they live up to their name in more ways than one.
The plateau of Leng is, as Lovecraft probably intended, modelled mostly on Tibet, or Thibet as he might have written it. I also used some Eskimo motifs, such as the face-masks (not the actual skinned human faces) hung over the buildings. The men from Leng use a variety of spears, most of which are modelled after Native American spears used for fishing and other purposes — in fact, many of them would presumably be inefficient in combat, but they were interesting to draw.
The temple of the Veiled Priest continues the Tibetan theme. Like many people, I’m interested in the mythical-mystical aspects of Tibet and its potential in fiction (such as in my own webcomic The Stiff). I thought this was fairly original, until I realized that even back in the 1930s, Westerners were already using sensationalized versions of Tibet in Utopian fantasies and superhero origin stories. I’ll just have to pretend I’m doing my part to help protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet by brazenly exploiting Tibetan culture in my fiction… In any case, several Buddhist symbols are included on the walls, and the lotus flowers growing in the mossy, semi-liquiescent walls of the limestone monastery are based on the predominance of lotus imagery in Tibetan Buddhism. Of course, this all breaks from Lovecraft’s statement that the wall-paintings are “in a style unknown to the archaeologists of Earth.”
“He had met those silent, flitting and clutching creatures before, those mindless guardians of the Great Abyss whom even the Great Ones fear, and who own not Nyarlathotep but hoary Nodens as their lord. For they were the dreaded night-gaunts…”
I feel that my exposition in this section is a bit clumsy, but it was hard to show in a few panels (1) that shantaks fear night-gaunts, (2) there are night-gaunts in the peaks near Inganok, and (3) the night-gaunts serve Nodens, which is why they’re so scary. Perhaps if I’d expanded the scene earlier where the merchant and his steed glance worriedly at the mountain peaks…
The high-priest’s eyeholes are merely sewn onto its veil, but its robes are most richly appointed. Ralph Vaughan, in his book-length essay H.P. LOVECRAFT IN THE COMICS, noticed that I forgot that in Lovecraft’s description the priest sits on a “golden throne”, not merely atop a raised area.
This is a bit of a top-down video game shot, as if Carter were walking through GAUNTLET (or any number of other maze games).
Sarkomand, the forgotten city, was based on the designs of the Italian architect Piranesi. Best of all, since the city was in ruins, I could jumble all the buildings together into an impossibly grandiose Greco-Roman mess of collapsing structures, instead of thinking about any particular layout… not that I think too much about realistic city layout anyway, but… (Schuiten and Peeters’ graphic novel THE TOWER, one of their CITIES OF THE FANTASTIC series, is also a tribute to Piranesi.) The ivy and grass which grows among the ruined monuments and fallen pillars is in itself Piranesian, while the fragments of statuary and engravings show that once the almost-human men from Leng were not quite so decadent.
This scene, when Carter goes looking for the ghouls and only later realizes that they are allied with the nightgaunts, was an imperfect adaptation of what happens in the comic. In Lovecraft’s origin text Carter already knows that the nightgaunts will help him:
“It occurred to him that the portal, like other gates to the abyss, might be guarded by flocks of night-gaunts; but he did not fear these faceless creatures now. He had learned that they are bound by solemn treaties with the ghouls, and the ghoul which was Pickman had taught him how to glibber a password they understood.”
Why didn’t I foreshadow this in the earlier scenes between Carter and Pickman? Frankly, because I hadn’t been reading ahead closely enough to notice this detail. However, I think the after-the-fact alteration works well, and is even fairly dramatic.
The scene of the ghouls trying to fast-talk the merchants was cut from the Guerrilla Productions’ movie adaptation.
The moon-beasts’ outpost combines the fleshy, intestinal architecture of the moon city with blocky, factory-like, functional stone buildings, and a slight flavor of the traditional dark castle. Unfortunately, I don’t feel this setting ever quite came together: I like the waste pipes and tubes leading into the water, but overall the city with its quonset huts and silos is too science-fictional and doesn’t match with the rest of the dreamlands, or with the basically Medieval level of technology displayed by the outpost’s inhabitants. It’s also just too plain-looking. It would’ve been more interesting if I’d tried to show something like the moon city, but made with earthly materials such as stone instead of fungus.
“Frightful were the secrets uncovered in those evil and windowless crypts; for the remains of unfinished pastimes were many, and in various stages of departure from their primal state. Carter put out of the way certain things which were after a fashion alive, and fled precipitously from a few other things about which he could not be very positive.”
This scene, in which Carter performs a mercy-killing on the barely-living remains of an amputated prisoner, is possibly too gory and grim even for my taste. (I mean, in comparison to the rest of DREAM-QUEST, that is.) He even does it with scissors! If I had to redo it, perhaps I’d replace the human prisoner with some sort of undead hybrid mutant, which would also fit the text… on the other hand, this scene seemed to be sort of popular with readers, so maybe there’s nothing wrong with it…
The ghoul on the right hand side of the fourth panel, and again on page 135 — the ghoul with the head hair — is my attempt to draw something like Hannes Bok’s famous illustration for PICKMAN’S MODEL.
Here Carter is conferring with some of the ghoul chieftains, who have more distinctive appearances than the typical ghoul. On the left is a ghoul in Native American garb, and on the right, slightly out of the frame in the movie, is a pirate ghoul complete with eyepatch. My feeling is that at this point in the story the ghouls have firmly become Carter’s allies, and so I’ve included these references to other ferocious, but friendly, play-partners from classic children’s literature: pirates and Indians. (And Arab warriors, for Lovecraft’s Arabian Nights infatuation.) Later on, when even more chieftains are summoned, there is a Middle Eastern desert ghoul (with turban and bandages) and an Egyptian grave-ghoul who resembles Anubis.
“It’s a good thing I fought in the Great War… over the objections of my parents…” The young Lovecraft applied to fight in World War I, hoping that the experience would either kill him or “make a man of him,” but apparently his mother called the recruiting office and got them to declare him unfit. This made-up line operates on the assumption that Randolph Carter is Lovecraft as he wished he could be.
Carter has acquired a Roman-style helmet and sword off a corpse. The sword is modelled after a wooden sword I had when I was a little kid, which my parents made.
“No one defeats a Carter with a sword!” I’ve already mentioned Robert Price’s generous gift of several CRYPT OF CTHULHU articles when I was working on DREAM-QUEST. One of these was an article discussing the possible links between DREAM-QUEST and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ JOHN CARTER OF MARS series, which Lovecraft (like myself) liked when he was young but rarely mentioned later. If Randolph Carter of Boston is indeed a distant relative of the Southern Carters, then perhaps his swordfighting skills run in the family. (In the original story, Carter is a behind-the-scenes general and doesn’t actually get involved in the fighting, but I didn’t want him to be so inactive.)
Carter’s physical appearance shifts between “real-world” and dream-world, perhaps symbolically, perhaps as a result of his injury. The search for the sunset city begins to merge with Carter’s search for his own identity. As the merchant lies dying, he and Carter exchange a philosophical argument not found in the original story (in which Carter never re-encounters the original merchant who gave him the wine, unless he was one of the merchants eaten by cats on the moon). This was one of the made-up scenes which I had wanted to insert from the very beginning. Basically, it appears that Carter is an existentialist and the merchant is a pure nihilist/fatalist — although not fatalistic enough that he doesn’t feel the need to foretell a horrible fate for our hero, as does the old zoog, in my other made-up scene. At the time that I wrote this, I really liked this made-up dialogue, but looking back on it, it’s one of my least favorite additions to the novel; I like that Carter reaffirms his purpose, and I like mixing philosophy with fight scenes, but I think it’s a little too Good vs. Evil to say that the merchants are out-and-out fatalists/nihilists who worship doom & destruction for its own sake, rather than just weird selfish jerks worshipping their own evil gods for their own misguided benefit. But I wouldn’t be the only Cthulhu Mythos writer to have gone the nihilistic-worshippers-of-doom route, and the whole idea of meaning vs. meaninglessness is very true to Dream-Quest.
“Oh, Carter, please don’t go!” “We’ll eat you up, we love you so!” A reference to Maurice Sendak’s WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE.
The lighthouse in the mountains of Leng is from Lovecraft’s poem THE ELDER PHAROS, sonnet 27 of FUNGI FROM YUGGOTH:
“From Leng, where rocky peaks climb bleak and bare
Under cold stars obscure to human sight,
There shoots at dusk a single beam of light
Whose far blue rays make shepherds whine in prayer.
“They say (though none has been there) that it comes
Out of a pharos in a tower of stone,
Where the last Elder One lives on alone,
Talking to Chaos with the beat of drums…”
Some of the most impressive animation in the movie is the HORDES of nightgaunts which pour across the scene in the climax.
The ladder to the moon, which the army passes close to, is based on a similar ladder in one of L. Frank Baum’s later OZ books.
Kadath — the castle “beyond all mortal thought.” At one point I considered showing the advance of the castle in three two-page spreads: in the first spread, Carter and the ghouls see what looks like a grand castle on the horizon; in the second spread, as they approach, they see that the mountain continues to climb into the mist behind the castle; and in the third spread, they see that the enormous castle is merely a tiny outbuilding of the titan structure of Kadath. I think my Kadath looks better in close-up than in the distance, where it, unfortunately, has no particular shape and appears as simply a giant mound of buildings. Close up, it is composed of domed structures, many bearing carvings of ankhs and keyholes and eyes, the eyes facing upward with the general thrust of the castle to point to the pshent of stars at its peak. (It’s too bad I didn’t actually draw the stars to look like a pshent.) In its soaring enormity, its sheer galling height and size, the castle’s closest ideological predecessor is the Fortress of Infinite Darkness from TIME BANDITS.
The grotesque object dimly visible above Carter and Pickman (in the movie) is supposed to be Carter’s mental image of the Crawling Chaos Nyarlathotep.
In the original story, Nyarlathotep’s trumpet-bearers are supposed to be giant black slaves, but I tried to make their race indefinite.
“Then down the wide lane betwixt the two columns a lone figure strode; a tall, slim figure with the young face of an antique Pharoah, gay with prismatic robes and crowned with a golden pshent that glowed with inherent light. Close up to Carter strode that regal figure; whose proud carriage and smart features had in them the fascination of a dark god or fallen archangel, and around whose eyes there lurked the languid sparkle of capricious humor.”
I depicted Nyarlathotep as a slim, short, androgynous figure, like one of those bishonen who shows up in Japanese comics. (Actually, I don’t think he looks pretty enough in the close-up.) I did this because I wanted him to be about the same height as Randolph Carter, so he might better coexist with Carter on the same plane of fictional reality, unlike all the taller, normal-size characters Carter encounters on the rest of his dream-quest. I also think Nyarlathotep’s androgynous appearance also makes him a better “tempter” than if he were more masculine and imperious. Ralph Vaughan, in his in-depth and interesting study LOVECRAFT IN THE COMICS, pointed out that I had missed an opportunity to depict Nyarlathotep as a black character. Actually, I intended Nyarlathotep to appear to be Ancient Egyptian, but it may simply not be clear due to the fact that the comic and movie is in black and white, and due to the extreme simplicity of Nyarlathotep’s features. On the cover of issue #5 of my comic, it’s clear that Nyarlathotep has dark brown skin. He bears the crook and flail of lordship, and the staff he carries was an Egyptian symbol of stability. If the ankh is the symbol of life, of power, of the Gods of Dreamland, then the ankh in Nyarlathotep’s pupil shows his complete and inherent mastery of same. I feel it’s important to emphasize that Nyarlathotep is not merely wearing colored contact lenses or something — his pupil really is shaped like an ankh, right down to the gelatinous tissue of the inner eyeball! Or perhaps that goes without saying.
One of the advantages of going back to an older work is the opportunity to correct old mistakes, and purchasers of the original DREAM-QUEST comic will note that, for the graphic novel, I was able to redraw the unintentionally hippopotamus-like feet I had given to the slaves in the top left.
Zenig of Aphorat bravely struggles towards Unknown Kadath on his elephant steed. Another great dreamer who is briefly mentioned in Lovecraft’s text (but who doesn’t show up in my comic or the movie) is Snireth-Ko, who Gary Myers later wrote a story about, although for on of the world’s greatest dreamers, in Myers’ hands he dies pretty easy.
The Great Ones, while most inspired by the Greek gods (in whom Lovecraft briefly believed when he was a young boy), are in truth all the gods of Earthly mythology and religion, all the figures in whom human beings have believed. Perhaps it makes too chaotic-looking a group for me to draw them from so many different mythological sources, but their similar facial features give them at least one thing in common. Crowned with auras, they radiate majesty, and yet they can be measured on a human scale — they are not as powerful as Nyarlathotep, or Nodens, or the other great powers of the universe. They are the gods of an existentialist — gods which are powerful in the sense that people believe in them (though this is never stated in Lovecraft’s work), but who are basically powerless before (and in DREAM-QUEST, used as pawns or figureheads by) the nihilistic forces which rule the universe.
The scenes of Boston are taken from period photo books. (I’ve been to Boston, but only briefly, and never to the area Randolph Carter is supposed to live.) It occurs to me that, if the sunset city is supposed to be based on Carter’s memories, it should be based on Boston, but instead I mostly based it on Providence, in keeping with my “Randolph Carter=H.P. Lovecraft” assumption.
A montage of New England scenes are conjured up in Carter’s mind. When Guerrilla Productions made the film version of Dream-Quest, I suggested that this part of the movie should be composed of photographs of New England, possibly in color. However, there were several problems with this: (1) it might be jarring, (2) it would be difficult to find shots which did not have anachronistically modern elements, and (3) I didn’t have a good copyright-free source for such photos. Actually, I at one point proposed using photographic images or video sequences for several parts of the movie: mood-setting images of things that might exist in both the real world and dreamland, such as flowing water, waves crashing on the beach, sunsets (much as the movie uses realistic “star fields”), flickering candles, textures of stone and rock, lichened wood, splintered bones, grass and leaves.
“Mount and be ready — there! Yogash the black will help you on the scaly horror.”
The horn which Carter blows as he flies into Kadath is modelled on the horn the Grinch blows as he rides back into Whoville at the end of Dr. Seuss’s THE GRINCH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS. When I was young I loved the Chuck Jones animated version, and what speaks ‘happiness’ more than that final scene? And hey, Lovecraft loved Christmas kitsch! (I wish I could say that was the most pop-culture-y thing I put into DREAM-QUEST.)
“Then will the marvellous sunset city be yours to cherish and inhabit forever, and once more will Earth’s gods rule the dreams of men from their accustomed seat.”
A friend once asked me “Who lives in the sunset city? Is he going to live there alone?” And in all probability, the answer is either “Yes” or “It doesn’t matter”, for this would be the moment when the curtain pulls back on Carter and he enters that Heaven-like state of eternity, content to wander or look upon his city forevermore. For DREAM-QUEST is a love story, albeit a love story between a person and a place.
Carter begins his voyage through the cosmos, beginning by passing through the shoals of the Larvae of the Other Gods, which drift like mammoth enlarged micro-organisms or deep-sea life throughout the aether of space. The depiction of the larvae is mostly inspired by the drawings in Chaosium’s DREAMLANDS RPG and the PETERSEN FIELD GUIDE TO CREATURES OF THE MYTHOS. Damn, Tom Sullivan is so awesome!
Onward Carter flies, through the gentian fields whose green leaves and blossoms grow on the shores of the Arinurian Streams; past tiny planets drifting in space like in Antoine Saint d’Exupery’s THE LITTLE PRINCE; past signs and portents and constellations; through the clouds of mist that rise where the great rivers of the stars pour into eternity…
The Arabic text in the lower right says…. hmm. Well, I can’t just reveal everything.
Onward Carter flies, into Azathoth’s court, into the daemon-sultan’s inconceivable unlighted chambers beyond time. Here rest the bodies of the Other Gods, buried up to their waist in the sand of a million hourglasses, their empty skulls weighted with leaden crowns, melted into the walls, their features ravaged by all manner of deformity and blind, senseless brutality. Here drift shattered beds, their covers soaked with blood. Some of the designs here were based on drawings by “outsider artists” from insane asylums…. then again, some of the less successful designs look a little too much like H.R. Giger creatures from the movie ALIEN, whom every artist since the 1980s has ripped off. Onward Carter flies, and then…
“Then in the slow creeping course of eternity the utmost cycle of the cosmos churned itself into another futile completion, and all things became again as they were unreckoned kalpas before. Matter and light were born anew as space once had known them; and comets, suns and worlds sprang flaming into life, though nothing survived to tell that they had been and gone, been and gone, always and always, back to no first beginning… For through the unknown ultimate cycle had lived a thought and a vision of a dreamer’s boyhood, and now there were re-made a waking world and an old cherished city to body and to justify these things.”
When I first read DREAM-QUEST, I didn’t realize what had happened here, it was so audacious. Randolph Carter has recreated the universe in his own image; in the midst of entropy (or, more accurately, the entropic phase of the universe which Lovecraft saw as an infinitely repeating machine), the memory of the sunset city has become the spark that sets off the Big Bang. (“It’s all been done before…”) Nyarlathotep, enraged, sends his hunting-horrors to pursue Carter; but sunrise, sunrise from the waking world or from the machinations of Nodens and S’ngac, destroys the horrors and ends the dream.
And Carter awakes to dawn in his Boston room. Scattered about are paintings by Richard Upton Pickman; books such as “Astral Projection to Arcturus”, by David Lindsay (author of A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS); and a picture of his family. His candle which lasted through the night has gone out; he has fallen out of his Little Nemo bed (which, frankly, is much too small for a grown man to sleep in; but this way it’s closer to the proportions of Little Nemo’s actual bed). A picture of a woman, very similar to Lovecraft’s wife Sonia Greene, sits on the mantel. His beloved cat (Lovecraft never actually owned a cat after his childhood, although he often watched and gave food to the neighborhood felines) comes towards him to see what has happened…
“And vast infinities away, past the gate of deeper slumber and the enchanted wood and the garden lands and the Cerenarian Sea and the twilight reaches of Inganok, the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep strode brooding into the onyx castle atop Unknown Kadath in the cold waste, and taunted insolently the mild gods of earth whom he had snatched abruptly from their scented revels in the marvellous sunset city.”
Thanks for reading my adaptation of Dream-Quest! I hope you enjoyed it.
— Jason Thompson