By William Hope Hodgson, Richard Corben, and Simon Revelstroke (DC COMICS; 2000)
A graphic novel that’s brilliant and infuriating in near-equal measure. It’s an adaptation of THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND, William Hope Hodgson’s 1908 classic of hallucinatory terror, by the great Richard Corben. I can’t imagine a better match.
Unfortunately, I also can’t imagine a more irritating wraparound story than the one Corben and co-adaptor Simon Revelstroke have provided. I always thought Hodgson’s tale, presented as a manuscript by an old man relating his mystical experiences in the titular abode, was fine the way it was, but Corben and Revelstroke couldn’t leave well enough alone. They’ve framed this extraordinary work with a trite account of two Irish lads getting bullied on the site of the “Borderland” and the old man’s ghost coming to their aid (it reminds me of a recent ALICE IN WONDERLAND TV miniseries, in which Lewis Carroll’s immortal fantasy was presented as a goad for the young Alice to do her homework).
Even worse, these newly written segments wrap up Hodgson’s profoundly mysterious, unresolved account far too neatly. There’s also a nerdy reference to Hodgson’s premiere imitator H.P. Lovecraft, and even a–AAAAAAAAARRGH!!!-—happy ending.
But I called Corben’s work brilliant, and indeed it is. He’s a master of artistic exaggeration who largely ignores conventional reality (his people all look like children), meaning he’s the ideal adaptor of Hodgson’s visionary supernatural tale.
Corben is at his best in a delirious sequence that wasn’t in the novel, in which the protagonist’s sister turns into a demonic slut. Equally fine is Corben’s evocation of the layout of the titular house and the pit beneath it, which jibes perfectly with Hodgson’s descriptions. The humanoid swine creatures that attack the protagonist also harmonize eerily well with those delineated in the novel. As for Hodgson’s awe-inspiring cosmic flights of fancy, which would seem to provide an illustrator with all sorts of promising material (particularly the final extended account of the death of the solar system), Corbin surprisingly comes up short.
I understand the temptation to shape the events of the novel into a linear storyline, as it often feels like a series of disconnected episodes rather than a proper narrative. But I fully believe that was Hodgson’s intent.
Some of the changes Corben and Revelstroke have wreaked are effective–like the incest angle mentioned above, which makes concrete something that was only hinted at in the original novel–but definitely not all. Sometimes a movie or comic adaptation of a classic novel can change and/or remove integral elements and still be effective. This, I’m afraid, is not one of those occasions.