17th Jun2015

Graphic Novel Review: ‘The King in Yellow’

by Paul Metcalf


When it comes to horror especially in fiction I always find myself looking to H.P Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe at times because I like the way they take the normal things in life and pull the extraordinary into them, be it by the extraordinary or the morbid. When watching True Detective they introduced us to The King in Yellow, which then led to people looking into just what that was (remember all the articles?). This exposed the horror community to the work of Robert W. Chambers, a writer who proceeded the lies of Poe and Lovecraft and influenced their work. With those credentials, how can you lose?

The King in Yellow was first published in 1895, but now it is finding more interest through True Detective. This is probably one of the reasons that I.N.J Culbard has taken up the task of creating a graphic novel from the work. Separated into a series of interlinked stories, they all feature the play (The King in Yellow) which when read leads to madness. Each story features a character who is foolish enough to read the play and either unwillingly become a victim to the madness or embrace it, desiring the power that the King appears to promise them. Whichever path they take, it always ends up in madness and death.

In graphic novel form I.N.J Culbard is able to take the surreal world of The King in Yellow and place it within the bland world of the Victorian era where colours are dull and somewhat lifeless to begin with. In doing this the people who are touched by the play are instantly recognisable because they stand out against the ordinary and bland. While the ones who seek the power may often have a certain normality about them, the servants of whatever power in the book can often be noticed because of their wide-eyed and almost spherical features who often wait in the background ready to do the bidding of the plays power.

When reading The King in Yellow it is interesting when connecting it to True Detective because a lot of the surreal nature that made the show so popular, fits easily into the universe that is created in the stories that Chambers writes. It is no surprise really that people see connections with Lovecraft in this, because there is a very obvious connection to Lovecraft’s style here as there is with Poe’s. The obsession with death, madness and destruction juxtaposed with the feeling of powerlessness in the face of some greater other worldly power is all there. If anything it feels like a mashup between those two authors which means the fans of them both should enjoy reading this.

Whether you find your way into buying I.N.J Culbard’s graphic novel through interest created by True Detective, or through the connection with Lovecraft and Poe, I would say that you’ll be happy with what you find either way. Culbard’s art and style works well with the surreal gothic nature of The King in Yellow and they are stories that do deserve to be discovered by horror fans of today. Will this graphic novel send you insane? I highly doubt it. What it will do though is bring you some refreshing stories from a suitably old source just waiting to be welcomed back into our little word of horror.

***** 5/5

The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers and I. N. J. Culbard is out now.

Review originally posted on PissedOffGeek

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