The Art of H P Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Art Of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos edited by Pat Harrigan and Brian Wood.

Pat Harrigan and Brian Wood The Art of H P Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos

This book’s title isn’t as precise as it might be. A more accurate title would be The Art of Cthulhu-Themed Games. And specifically, this collection is drawn all from the “heavy” end of the Cthulhu gaming pool. It doesn’t cover lighter, comical fare (such as Cthulhu Gloom, Munchkin Cthulhu, The Stars Are Right, Cthulhu Fluxx, etc.). Instead, it is all taken from the games published by Chaosium (The Call of Cthulhu RPG) and Fantasy Flight Games (Arkham Horror, Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game, Elder Sign, etc.), where the horror atmosphere is maintained.

Although there are a fair number of illustrations focused on actual Lovecraft stories (particularly “The Call of Cthulhu” itself), most of the art here is only tied to the “mythos” — not a label promoted by Lovecraft, but rather by his literary executor August Derleth — in a rough thematic fashion. Moreover, there are additional themes tangent to Lovecraft’s story settings, such as the Prohibition-era underworld, and they are represented here relative to their salience in the games rather than the original literature.

All of which is just to say, that if you’re looking for a volume that gathers a wide range of different artistic approaches to Lovecraft’s literary oeuvre, this large book isn’t it. But it is a nice collection of art around the themes of occult horror and Yog-Sothothery, with a reasonable variety of artistic styles. As someone accustomed to seeing many of these images among the game materials, it is interesting for me to be able to see larger works that the game publishers had used in fragmentary details (like Thomas Jedruszek’s “Free-for-All,” 66-7) , and to see art that was reproduced on small cards now realized in the more generous scale of this large book (like Matt Dixon’s “Innsmouth Troublemaker,” 48).

Pat Harrigan’s one-page introduction to the book is basically a concession to the format with little to offer the reader, and his single-paragraph chapter headings are merely what card game designers call “flavor text.” There’s no real value to be had in any of the prose in this book; it’s just about the pictures. There is an appendix with useful artist bios for several dozen of the contributors.

The art all appears to have been produced as work-for-hire, because each picture’s caption gives title, artist, and then a copyright attribution to either Chaosium or Fantasy Flight Games. Frankly, it would have been more attractive (and just as effective for intellectual property purposes) to have supplied the copyright notices in a credits page in the front matter or end matter of the book. The material quality of the book is high, with good reproductions on heavy stock, and a dust jacket over a printed paper hardcover that shows the cover art sans title text. [via]