Monday, November 7, 2016

"I wonder where he is now..." Ghost Stories from an Antiquary Vol. 1 review

Ever since a junior high school class where a filmstrip of "The Treasure of Abbott Thomas" was played, I've been fascinated by author M. R. James and when I obtained a complete collection of his ghost stories I had a wonderful time reading through the book. Relatively little of his work has been adapted to other mediums; "Casting the Runes" became an episode of Escape (I blogged about it here) and the film Night of the Demon; Christopher Lee read many of his stories for television; and in the 1970s, British television adapted a handful of the stories and occasional revisit his works.

But you've already noticed which medium has been ill-served: comic books! Thus, we have publisher SelfMadeHero's Ghost Stories of an Antiquary volume 1. Adapted by Leah Moore and John Reppion (Leah being the daughter of Alan), four tales are adapted by four different artists: "Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book" (by Aneke), "Lost Hearts" (by Kit Buss), "The Mezzotint" (by Fouad Mezher) and "The Ash-Tree" (by Alisdair Wood). These are all fine tales worthy of being shared and the adapters do quite well, though their styles are quite different from each other.

"Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book" concerns one of James' unlucky researchers discovering a scrapbook full of rare lithographs, but the book is itself haunted. Aneke brings the creature from the story to life in a very impressive fashion - in dealing with a prose story without visuals it can be difficult for the adapting artist to fashion a monster who can stand up to what readers have imagined in their own minds; I feel Aneke has done well, the creature being unlike what I imagined but definitely faithful to James' description and perfectly unearthly.

"Lost Hearts" was one of my favourite James tales as its shocking conclusion surprised me the first time I read it. Artist Kit Buss has a very manga-like style which renders the situation a little bright and cutesy, but that makes the horror a little more jarring by contrast. Scenes of dead children with visible ribcages certainly dispel the otherwise homey environment!

"The Mezzotint" was simply a neat ghost story to me, but Fouad Mezher really caught my fancy - I haven't seen his art before but he has an interesting clean style which reminds me of Guy Davis. As the story involves a picture which changes when people aren't looking at it the story has always had a visual element which Mezher renders perfectly. This was the highlight of the book for me simply for the revelation of Mezher as an artist.

"The Ash-Tree" is one of James' best stories and has a more physical threat than most of his tales, what with the killer spiders. Alisdair Wood contributes what are easily the darkest visuals in this book with wonderfully lined faces of worried people and scary-looking monsters. The tree itself is beautifully wicked-looking with all the menace James gave it in prose.

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary is not the sort of publication which the comics community at large is apt to notice, despite the presence of familiar names like Leah Moore (and cover artist Francesco Francavilla). If you're a fan of ghost stories and especially if you love M. R. James, find a copy. Hopefully we have a volume 2 in our future!

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