I had this feeling of déjà vu reading this comic even though I’ve never read anything by Angel A Svoboda before – Arcane Secrets: The Curse of the Mottled Tentacle sounds and looks a lot like the ‘90s point-and-click computer game Day of the Tentacle. It’s cartoony, brightly coloured, and there are tentacles involved. Except, unlike Day of the Tentacle, Arcane Secrets isn’t nearly as much fun.
If you’re wondering why tentacles feature so heavily it’s because this is a HP Lovecraft-themed book – but for all ages! This in itself is quite interesting because if there’s one thing kids definitely don’t read, it’s HP Lovecraft. Reasons being, Lovecraft’s writing style is far from accessible, being much too verbose and antiquated, while the storytelling is told at a plodding pace. Also Lovecraft barely used dialogue and relied heavily upon lengthy descriptions (often using made up words like eldritch and gibbous) to carry the story. And then there’s the subject matter – the gods of madness and chaos, murderous horrors, etc. When you think about it, Lovecraft really isn’t kid-friendly on any level! I just don’t see any kids to get the references in this comic so it seems like a wasted effort. Maybe teenagers, but then I don’t see teens picking up this comic!
The story is about good guys and bad guys chasing after something they both want, in this case a magic piece of tentacle, which is apparently shorthand in this book for Lovecraft. Tentacles = Lovecraft. Svoboda also throws in familiar-sounding names so Cthulu becomes Xulu, while Lovecraft’s hometown of Providence becomes the bizarrely named Evidence.
And when I think about the story itself, I don’t think Lovecraft. Sure, the bad guy is a Xulu cult worshipper, but a mob boss too? I don’t think Lovecraft ever included the mob in his stories. In fact the story is pretty non-Lovecraftian as it’s a jovial, jokey romp starring a dude dressed like the Rocketeer and a weird green creature called Elvis that’s kind of like Slimer from Ghostbusters. The story rattles along from one odd scene to the next until about halfway through the comic the writer/artist realised the reader wouldn’t have much clue as to what’s going on so he has the main character, who now has a plant-afro because the cursed tentacle makes you sprout foliage, yet another detail that doesn’t seem Lovecraftian at all, summarise the plot and the characters’ motivations in a clunky piece of exposition.
But if the writing is lacking, the art more than makes up for it. It’s drawn in this really attractive cartoony style that wouldn’t be out of place in a Nickelodeon Saturday morning line-up, and coloured brightly and beautifully. It really takes any edge to the Lovecraft angle away and makes the subject matter “safe” and appealing for kids.
Arcane Secrets #1 feels very muddled with the story zinging one way and then another without the reader ever really getting a strong enough handle on what’s going on or why they should care– let alone knowing who the characters are! Given the target audience, the story should be far simpler and more direct than this. The humour sometimes works (when Ment tries to kick down a door only to have his foot stuck in the rotten wood) but the slapstick routines, as is so often the case with slapstick, becomes tiresome by the end and the green Elvis character is especially irritating as he witters on in a cheesy family comedy fashion. If the comic had a better writer then it would read a lot more smoothly and coherently.
While I think it’s an interesting choice to make a kid-friendly comic centred around Lovecraft, I feel like Arcane Secrets #1 is the reason why this hasn’t been attempted before: kid-friendly and Lovecraft simply don’t mix.
Arcane Secrets: The Curse of the Mottled Tentacle #1 by Angel A. Svoboda is out this month
This article was first posted on August 19, 2013