With Lovecraft Country making news, both positive and negative, on the internet it will come as no surprise that H.P. Lovecraft’s work is the inspiration behind AfterShcok Comics‘ new title Miskatonic. The television series is set in the 1950’s with a real world location which was the influence for many of Lovecraft’s stories, whereas Mark Sable and Giorgio Pontrelli’s comic mostly has a fictional setting but is comprised of real events and features prominent historical characters.
The story opens with the bombing of a ‘blue blood’ in Innsmouth, in the Miskatonic Valley, which allows newly appointed director of the FBI, J Edgar Hoover, the opportunity to reassign Agent Miranda Keller. Agent Keller is a dedicated worker with an impressive record but she does not fit into Hoover’s vision for the future of the Bureau, a “muscular extension of American Justice. Or as Miranda put’s it, “masculine”.
Real World Interactions
Miskatonic is a mystery story steeped in American history, visual and textual. One of the exciting things about the range of comics that AfterShock have been putting out is the obvious passion of the creators. Several of the titles have links to real world events which result in hours lost down internet rabbit holes researching the background to the story. And just as Stephanie Phillips’ Descendent had me reading around government conspiracies and the Lindbergh Baby, Miskatonic had me Googling “Plain Words” and anarchistic bombers. My search history will need to be expunged.
The merging of historical facts and creative plot is seamless to the point that it is believable that Agent Keller was a real person and her treatment by the infamous Hoover is a recreation of real events. It’s not until approximately a third of the way in that anything unnatural rears its head by which point Sable and Pontrelli have totally absorbed you into their world. The Lovecraftian locations are so commonplace these days that you forget they aren’t real places and Pontrelli draws the 1920’s Massachusetts’ townships as if from direct reference. The setting has the substance of reality and this is enhanced by the color work by Pippa Bowman.
The shift from the grey and washed out greens of Washington DC to the dusty Ochre of Innsmouth is subtle but symbolises a shift in tone. This is heightened by the contrast between Agent Keller and her surroundings. Bowman dresses Keller in salmon colored clothes from the moment she reaches Innsmouth. From the respectable dress suit to the bed clothes that she wears, Agent Keller stands out from the background in every panel she’s in. This contrast reaffirms many of the themes inherent in the comic. The difference between the City, or a cultured locale, and the country; the conspiratorial nature of Truth against implied reality; and even natural versus supernatural. A simple application of color draws the reader’s attention to these aspects of the narrative as they play out in the plot.
Drawing from History
Pontrelli’s fine line work combined with his detailed backgrounds creates both an absorbing page of story and an historically accurate setting. As a reader you become immersed in the narrative and the setting equally, with each aspect feeding the reading of the other. There is a definable tension on the page between the interloper, Keller, and the locals and locale. Tom Malone, the agent in Innsmouth, acts as a link between the two worlds but Sable introduces just as much tension in his relationship with Keller, thereby forming an atmosphere of unease on every page.
Subtleties in the script are brought out through Thomas Mauer’s lettering with his occasional, yet impactful, use of boldface. Elements of the characters are accentuated through the speech and the patterns that Mauer creates. It all flows so effortlessly across the page you barely notice it but the nudges are there, informing your subconscious and allowing you to have a fully rounded experience. If nothing else, the combination of inked lines, color, and letters are satisfying to read, making this a worthwhile comic before even attempting to pick apart the narrative.
As an introduction to a series, Miskatonic is superb. It effortlessly melds Lovecraftian Law with historical events to create a costume drama that is as representative of our modern era’s desperate conspiracy theories as it is the fear mongering of the early 1920’s. The uneasy political backdrops of both times worm their way into Sable’s story creating a narrative tension reflected through the visual aspects of the page.
The comic is intriguing, fascinating, and opens up a world of truths, half truths, and fictions that you will be desperate to pick apart. In today’s comic industry it is not enough to provide ten minutes of entertainment, there has to be an acknowledgement of the wider world in which the comic is situated. Whether it is science-fiction, biographical, or superhero in nature, nothing exists in a vacuum. Miskatonic is very aware of itself, it’s setting, and the fictional elements it is layering over historical fact. As long as the comic can retain this commitment to a para-textual narrative, Miskatonic will be a title worth following through to the end.