Review: Pickman's Model (review (c) by Julia Morgan)
112 pages, black and white, paperback.
Cover design by Robert Høyem.
Art and adaption by Kim Holm.
Original text by H.P. Lovecraft.
I was intrigued by this right from the start. I am a fan of graphic novels on the whole, but am cautious about approaching them, as often I find the artwork garish and unpleasant to look at.
This graphic novel is definitely not garish, and while the artwork is not the best I have seen, it is good. The black and white and grey swirl and drip and etch themselves onto your eyes as if drawn with a pen dipped in acid. With Lovecraft's excellent prose, some of it verbatim, some of it cleverly precised, the story itself cannot fail.
However, Lovecraft's story consists entirely of the narrator talking to a friend about another friend. So the artist has decided to spend a lot of frames on just showing the narrator talking. Not until he talks about his visit with Pickman do we get to see what the narrator is talking about. No cut to the Art Club's shock and disgust, no cut to Pickman's paintings.
This makes for a graphic novel that is extremely boring to look at in places. Where it truly does come alive is when it depicts Boston herself. A very dark and gloomy city, according to this graphic novel; a place as "witch-haunted" as Arkham. A place one would hesitate to visit in broad daylight, let alone at night. In one five page sequence, we see nothing but blackness, with the whiteness of the words arranged across the page in a ladder of suspense; and then splashes of torchlight. I was reminded of a scene from M Night Shyamalan's "Signs", in which we see nothing but the beam of a torchlight rolling around, but what we hear carries the message - "be very afraid". Here, minimalism works. Elsewhere in the novel, it doesn't work so well.
What really lets it down for me is - no ghouls. You don't see a single ghoul. True, there is something ghoulish about Pickman's appearance, and in one frame, in which he is silhouetted in a basement doorway, he is positively frightening. But this is no compensation for the lack of ghouls.
Neither do we get to see Pckman's artwork directly. Instead we get to see the outlines of his canvases and easels, but not the paintings themselves. I understand that Lovecraft's description of Pickman's paintings: "Nothing was blurred, distorted, or conventionalized; outlines were sharp and lifelike, and details were almost painfully defined. And the faces!"; is rather daunting to anyone not an artistic genius like Richard Upton Pickman.
This graphic novel is far from perfect, but it is good. Should you wish to see for yourself, you can download it for free from http://archive.org/details/PickmansModel
Then consider whether you would like a hard copy for your shelves. You can purchase it from IndyPlanet for a reasonable price.