O, HP Lovecraft. Is there no genre that can’t be combined with your stories of cosmic horror? In fact, Lovecraft’s ability to inspire horrific visions of reality is why we continue to see genre mashups with his mythos even today. Such as with today’s subject: Casefile: ARKHAM: Nightmare on the Canvas by Josh Finney and Patrick McEvoy.
Casefile: Arkham is a comic brought to us by the same team who created World War Kaiju, a graphic novel about a Cold War fought with weaponized Kaiju, which I found to be a fun parody of mid-20th century sci-fi. “Nightmare on the Canvas” is the first book in a series about Hank Flynn, a WWII veteran who fought in the Pacific and now works as a private eye in Arkham, Massachusetts. The second book, “Her Blood Runs Cold”, was recently funded on Kickstarter, so congrats to 01 Publishing for a successful crowdfunding campaign.
Anywho, “Nightmare on the Canvas” follows Hank as he is hired by a wealthy socialite to find her missing artist/boy toy named Pickman. We soon learn that the artist is known for creating weird and gory art that is heavily inspired by “ghouls“, the corpse eating monsters of Arabic legend which are the direct inspiration for the flesh eating zombies of Night of the Living Dead. As Hank tries to track down the whereabouts of Pickman he will run into a friendly buxom witch, a mysterious fortune teller, the Innsmouth mafia and a seemingly unstoppable serial killer.
In all honesty, I enjoyed Casefile: Arkham. It was a clever combination of noir and Lovecraftian fiction with tons of references to both genres, although it appeared to rely more on the tropes of noir fiction (such as the hard-boiled investigator working in the dirty, crime-ridden big city) while filling itself with references to characters, locations and objects from Lovecraftian fiction. I don’t remember any specific mention of Cthulhu, but we did see a small statute of him once and they certainly love cephalopod imagery in Arkham city. Hank Flynn also made for an intriguing anti-hero who isn’t afraid of bending the rules or using violence to solve a mystery, but still wrestles with whether he is a good person or is just as bad as the thugs he confronts.
I am a little iffy about how they portrayed Arkham in this Casefile: ARKHAM. I always assumed Arkham was just a quiet New England college town with a dark history. Arkham in this book is essentially New York City with monsters in the sewers instead of alligators. Its not necessarily a bad reimagining, but its a tad unnecessary. I can think of one Lovecraft story set in New York City (“He“) and I’m pretty sure there are other stories that at least mention the metropolis, so having the location just be the big apple isn’t that much of a stretch.
The art, meanwhile, was good, even though I have a poor eye for it. McEvoy used black and white, which worked given the noir feel Casefile: ARKHAM was going for. That said, I sort of wished he used colors with the paintings, given how important art was to the entire plot. I think having only the paintings colorized would also go with the theme of the book and other Lovecraftian works: that reality is more than what it appears to be. The paintings would thus contrast the horrifying truth of the universe with the black and white world the characters think they are living in.
But what do I know, I’m not artistically inclined like that. All things considered, the art was still pleasing to my eyes. It was realistic when it had to be and over-the-top grotesque when it needed to be. I did notice at least one typo in the text…which is regrettable considering how small the word count is in comic books like Casefile: Arkham. Granted I got this book as a review copy and thus it may not be the final copy that was released to the public, so it may have already been fixed.
In the end, Casefile: ARKHAM: Nightmare on the Canvas is an engaging mash-up of Lovecraftian and noir fiction. Although it has some flaws, it still manages to set eldritch cosmic horror in an urban jungle. I recommend you pick up a copy, but if you do, don’t read it while riding the train on your morning commute. Some of the imagery isn’t exactly something you want to share with your average train passenger.