By Michele Brittany, West Coast Bleeding Cool Correspondent
Aaron Vanek, founder of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival & CthulhuCon – San Pedro, led one of the last panels of WonderCon Sunday afternoon. Not a surprise, the room was packed to the gills. Joining Vanek were storyboard/comics artist Pete Von Sholly and writers Cody Goodfellows and Leslie Klinger. This year marks the 125 anniversary of the life of H.P. Lovecraft who wrote such stories as The Call of Cthulhu, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Dunwich Horror, At the Mountains of Madness, and many others.
Vanek asked the panelist share how they first came to learn about H.P. Lovecraft. Von Sholly first encountered H.P. Lovecraft from a book he found in his high school library about strange tales of the weird, which included the short stories Rats in the Wall and Dunwich Horror. Thereafter, he searched for Lovecraft books, but because the horror writer was not that well known at the time, Von Sholly had a difficult time finding any other books. Goodfellows encountered Lovecraft during junior high school when he read a Scholastic version of The Shadow Over Innsmouth. He remembered fondly experiencing the realism of the story and tried to find more of Lovecraft's stories. When that proved difficult, he looked for writers affiliated with Lovecraft. Klinger admitted he was a bit of a snob and looked for modern writers, however in college, he realized the influential power of earlier writers, including Lovecraft.
Lovecraft is interesting because while his writing was not all that influential during his lifetime, his stories have gained momentum and interest over the intervening decades since his death in 1937. One can see this in the H.P. Lovecraft film festivals in San Pedro, California and Portland, Oregon held each year as well as the yearly NecronomiCon in Tampa, Florida and a periodic con held in Providence, Rhode Island. Vanek asked the panelists to explain the "hook" of Lovecraft's stories. Klinger stated it was the subject matter that Lovecraft had a talent for making his stories feel as though they were 99% real. In addition, his stories had a "low-key" tone yet with written with a staunch language. Goodfellows explained the writing as "pulp existentialism" that collaborates well with feelings of displacement, especially during one's teenage years. He also described the Lovecraft's stories as having "dual repulsion and fascination" content, in other words, a reader experiences that inability to look away. Von Sholly said that Lovecraft would provide a crack into the horror, a peek, however something worse was always right around the corner that was unseen. Hence, a lot of horror takes place off screen where a reader's imagination can run rampant and unchecked.
Where does a person start if they haven't read any Lovecraft? Von Sholly recommended The Dunwich Horror and The Call of Cthulhu, two stories entrenched in Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos involving the Great Old Ones. Goodfellows suggested The Shadow Over Innsmouth, also part of the Cthulhu Mythos. Klinger recommended The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, a story that includes the first mention of the Cthulhu Mythos, the Dream Cycle as well as including elements of witchcraft, alchemy and other aspects of the paranormal.
For those who live in the vicinity of San Pedro, there is the upcoming H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival & CthulhuCon which will be held next month, May 1 – 3, at the Warner Grand Theatre in downtown San Pedro. Events include author readings, showing a short list of short films, the showing of Roger Corman's The Haunted Palace (1963) and the director's cut of The Resurrected (1992, Dan O'Bannon). A variety of ticket pass options are still available for purchase. And, if you cannot wait to experience the call of Cthulhu in May, then on Saturday, April 18, Cthulhu Rising is being held at the San Diego Public Library from 4 to 8:30 PM. The library event is free.
Michele Brittany is an independent popular culture scholar and semi-professional photographer and editor of James Bond and Popular Culture: Essays on the Influence of the Fictional Superspy (McFarland & Company). She regularly posts reviews and analysis on the spy/espionage genre on her blog, Spyfi & Superspies and can be followed at Twitter @mcbrittany2014.