"The Nightmare Factory" Graphic Novel Reviewed

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Well, I’ve finally gotten my hands on the new “The Nightmare Factory” graphic novel based on the tales of Thomas Ligotti, and have read it thoroughly. The comic collection contains four Ligotti tales, in full color, and features the applied talents of industry-leading artists who have worked on other popular comics. An excellent addition is new prose by Ligotti himself, in the form of brief introductions to each story. The philosophical author maintains his skillful ability to provoke the reader into a thoughtful uncertainty about reality as it appears, even in these short preambles. Overall, the performance is quite impressive, allaying my fears about processing Ligotti into graphic form. My impressions for each tale are as follows:

“The Last Feast of Harlequin”: This early, semi-Lovecraftian tale of Thomas Ligotti’s is also his most tangible. For that reason, it leads the rest of the stories as the most thorough, lengthy, and seemingly best. Drawn by Colleen Doran, who worked on Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” series, it faithfully adapts Ligotti’s tale of a narrator obsessed with clowns, and the disturbing freaks he finds in the gritty town of Mirocaw. Doran effectively uses contrasts of color and sullen tones to underscore Mirocaw’s horrific secrets, but also to convey the undercurrent of brooding sadness tied to Seasonal Affective Disorder that lurks throughout the tale’s entirety. The story, holding its closest similarity to H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Festival,” culminates in revealing the bizarre links between the narrator and Mirocaw’s underground cult, and their ultimate damnation. On the whole, it is a striking use of art that realizes Ligotti’s eerie vision, and definitely the best in the entire set.

“Dream of a Mannikin”: This piece, drawn by Ben Templesmith of “30 Days of Night” fame, is a fairly close second in quality and faithfulness to the previous story. Templesmith’s shrouded, slightly gritty style fits well with the mental breakdown of the psychoanalyst lead character. Generally, the art aids in engendering an ominous uncertainty, as we experience the narrator’s confusion over his girlfriend’s betrayal, layered dreams involving manikins (a favorite subject of Ligotti’s), and his very existence. The performance stays strong to the narrator’s dire end, and one walks away feeling both satisfied and uneasy.

“Dr. Locrian’s Asylum”: Ligotti, like Lovecraft, has always explored madness in his stories. “Dr. Locrian’s Asylum” is one of his best excursions into the real and supernatural components of lunacy. Here, its translation into art comes off effectively enough, but not entirely unscathed. Drawn by Ted McKeever, who has previously worked on “Batman,” this work nicely represents Ligotti’s mood until about halfway through the tale. After the weird asylum is torn down, unleashing its insane specters on the town, Ligotti was at his best in conjuring up all manner of disturbing imagery from crazes spirits peering out of windows and invading houses. Here, the graphical rendition falls short, by ignoring the importance of this element of the weird, and by an ineffectual representation of it when it is acknowledged. To be fair, McKeever and others were always up against the odds, since this tale will always be best when writ in the imagination. Overall, a somewhat lacking, but still worthy addition.

“Teatro Grottesco”: Ligotti’s tale of tormented artists, high society, and the strange Teatro is one of his weirdest. Regrettably, that spirit is not followed as greatly as it might have been. Michael Gaydos is a fine artist, but the selection of scenes for this story clashes with the styles of the previous three tales, and also falls short of conveying the mystery of the Teatro. The problems with “Dr. Locrian’s Asylum” of failing to highlight crucial moments—in this case, the artist’s excruciating intestinal virus—are compounded here. While it is pleasing to the eye and ends more strongly than it began, uninitiated readers will likely walk away confused, and Ligotti aficionados unsatisfied.

In the end, “The Nightmare Factory” is an excellent addition to the libraries of horror collectors or fans of dark art, and a must for Ligotti admirers. With the unsettling absence of new fiction from the master the last couple years, this work will aid in keeping Ligotti’s work fresh, with the potential to attract new readers as well.

-Grim Blogger

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