In the In Your Travels… segment of EOC #454, I expounded on the virtues of demiurge Craig Yoe’s Haunted Horror #25 from IDW. Curated in conjunction with Mr. Karswell of The Horrors of It All blog, the issue is not only the best in the run to date, but may very well be the most important, as well.
Shortly after my giddy examination of the deliciously diabolical Fiends from the Crypt (reprinted from Farrell’s Fantastic Fears #8; July, 1953), I hinted that another story in the issue, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Beyond the Past from Charlton Comics’ The Thing #11 (December, 1953), could very well be first comic book appearance of that moldy old chestnut that sets the hearts of horror aficionados a-thumpin’: H.P. Lovecraft’s infernal Necronomicon! Before we tackle the math (shudder), let’s take a gander at the gruesome details.
Perpetuating the evil verisimilitude surrounding Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, Beyond the Past begins with a curious professor being granted access to the only copy of the “dreaded encyclopedia of evil” in the states (which appears to be housed in a public library). He quickly scrawls a pertinent passage, translates it at home, and — against the wishes of his shapely daughter, Linda — calls up the elder god, Xnapantha, and is reduced to a bloody skeleton with glasses and a wisp of hair for his efforts.
Lou Morales’ superb splash and final page are amazing examples of well-executed graphic prestidigitation. In the splash, Morales pushes the pulchritude to the foreground, using Linda’s sizzling sweater puppies and the agonizingly long arc of her hip to distract the pubescent readership while, lurking in the background, a delicately-colored semblance of something materializing from one of Lovecraft’s dark dimensions. I’m guessing that Morales or someone else involved in the production of this story was well-versed in Lovecraft because the depiction of the creatures in this tale perfectly jibes with the descriptive language the horror master employed for his otherworldly denizens. Lovecraft’s protagonists often descended into madness because the creatures with which they were confronted did not conform to anything in our plane of existence. Words fail when confronted with Lovecraft’s elder gods. They simply do not compute, hence the shattering of the psyche. Morales did not render the creatures in Beyond by conventional means. When we finally see Xnapantha, he is, incomprehensibly, a horror without form. A shape without shape. In other words, pure Lovecraft.
By my estimation, Beyond the Past is by far one of the best realizations of H.P. Lovecraft in graphic form. Contemporary craftsmen could do very well by following Morales’ stunning example. And Linda’s shapely legs — pretty racy stuff for the early ’50s — only add to the proceedings. Va va voooooom!
Here’s where the math comes in. We know that the Necronomicon first appeared in Lovecraft’s The Hound (first published in the February, 1924 issue of Weird Tales.) Historian, Ron Goulart, cites the very first horror comic as Avon Publications’ Eerie #1, cover date January, 1947. Beyond the Past saw print in December, 1953, leaving only seven years between the arrival of the first horror comic and the appearance of the Necronomicon in The Thing #11. Not a very large span of time. As much as it pains me to do so, let’s play detective and embark on a search for any mention of the dread tome in comics before Beyond the Past. As comic fans, we’re all about the prestige of the first appearance and I believe the initial unearthing of something as noteworthy as the Necronomicon in comics needs to be nailed down. Let’s start digging!