We’ve criticised Culbard’s Lovecraft adaptations before for failing the imagination of the reader: by illustrating Lovecraft’s unknowable horror and giving shape to the indescribable, too little is left to the imagination and the edge is taken off the horror.
In fact, this isn’t a problem with The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, which holds back on the tentacles and instead charts a path through the perilous art of necromancy. This ought to make it easier to translate into a graphic novel and Culbard’s style is better suited to the job.
However, it still suffers. Reading through Lovecraft’s version, which is a novella in the region of 50,000 thousand words, it’s clear Culbard has been suitably reverential to the mechanics of Lovecraft’s original plot. But turning the descriptive power of 50,000 words into a 144-page graphic novel has forced Culbard to cut back.
The sad thing is that much of what has been chopped is descriptive detail. Lovecraft’s narrative nuances are abandoned. Yes, they’ve been replaced by pictures, but in a story where mistaken identities and subtle shifts in reality are key, the slow, unsettling reveal of the book is partly lost.
This doesn’t detract from the fact that this is one of Culbard’s most successful Lovecraft adaptations, and certainly works better overall than At the Mountains of Madness. However, it just isn’t as interesting a story as those classic Lovecraftian tales, in which we see men confronting the horrors of the universe and failing to keep their sanity in one piece.