The storyline of I. N. J. Culbard’s latest comic, The Shadow Out of Time, is a bizarre affair, but what else do you expect from an adaptation of one of H. P. Lovecraft’s oddest stories? Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee is a university professor who, after awaking from a five-year coma, investigates the twisted visions that plagued his dreams. Soon, Peaslee is sent on a mind-bending journey through time and space, and things just get weirder from there on out. Notably, Culbard has also adapted Lovecraft’s The Mountains of Madness and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, so it is to be expected that text and artwork are beautifully balanced here. Don’t get me wrong; Culbard’s Deadbeats is an incredibly well-written comic, but it does not have the literary and artistic confidence that Shadow seems to possess.
What particularly makes Culbard’s adaptation excellent is the writing. A passage in which the troubled protagonist is wandering around a lonely, shadow-filled desert arguably illustrates this best: “The night was windless, and the pallid sand curved like a frozen ocean. My dreams welled up into the waking world. Each sand-embedded megalith became part of endless rooms and corridors carved and hyroglyphed with symbols. I walked at once by the light of the burning moon, as well as by the lamps of luminous crystals. I was awake and dreaming at the same time.” Writing of this calibre, coupled with Culbard’s dark artwork, is what makes The Shadow of Time such a lucid experience.
More specifically, the horror elements are arguably reminiscent of Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe, but the breadth of the plot and the vastness of its implications also have the feel of a conspiracy-laced Thomas Pynchon novel. The use of mysterious, recurring symbols and the themes of madness and paranoia are very in line with Pynchon’s second work, The Crying of Lot 49, but Shadow, of course, still lacks the intricate detail found in the likes of V., Gravity’s Rainbow and Mason & Dixon.
There is no doubt that there are a lot of elements in this Lovecraft story, but Culbard has found success in utilising the artwork and stripping down the prose itself to include these complexities without overwhelming the reader. Even when the narrative sporadically intensifies — the author controls the pace in Shadow incredibly effectively — it is still a smooth read, especially if you’re a well-versed Lovecraft fan. If you’re not already a fan of Lovecraft, Culbard might be able to convince you that you should be.
The Shadow Out of Time is available via SelfMadeHero now