Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows – Neonomicon

Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Jacen Burrows
Title: Neonomicon
Published: 2011, Avatar Press

Why I read this: Interest in Lovecraftian comics/graphic novels.
My copy: Borrowed from library.

Note: This blog post contains references to violent racism and  graphic sexual assault, both of which occur in the pages of this graphic novel. 

I had read many good things about the various Lovecraft-inspired comics and graphic novels currently available, and after reading a couple of great adaptions of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and The Shadow out of Time, I decided to borrow this from my local library. The paperback collection contains the two-issue The Courtyard and the four-issue Neonomicon.

The Courtyard, first published in 2003 (based on a 1994 short story), concerns a FBI agent, Aldo Sax, who specialises in “anomaly theory”. He is studying the details of three seemingly unconnected murders which eventually leads him to a drug dealer named Johnny Carcosa in Red Hook, NY. He approaches Carcosa to try to determine any possible motives and to gain information on the mysterious drug “Aklo”.

Neonomicon is a direct sequel to The Courtyard. Two FBI agents, Brears and Lamper, are investigating a killing which bears a similar MO to those that Sax investigated previously. Their investigation leads them to Salem, MA where they uncover a cult dedicated to Dagon, who indulge in orgiastic rituals to summon some monstrous sea creature.

The story concepts in this volume are interesting, especially if you have some knowledge of Lovecraft’s fictional mythos. Overall I thought the stories were engaging in this regard (the idea of an ancient alien language being used as a new, incredibly potent hallucinogen, for example), but the problem with the story, and with Moore’s writing, is that we have to endure graphic sexual abuse, sexist treatment of the main female protagonist and frequent racial slurs to get to the story’s conclusion. I know that racism and sexism frequently occurs in Lovecraft’s fiction, and whilst it is not excusable, it is perhaps easier to understand in the context of Lovecraft’s lifetime – as opposed to this comic/story which apparently does not apologise for its offensive content, yet it was published in the 21st century – not the 1920s or 1930s.

The first pages of the collection are filled with racial slurs which are kind of an unsavoury nod to Lovecraft’s own xenophobic ideas. Even with this in mind though, I found the slurs to be unwarranted  and unnecessary – this was probably Moore’s intention: to present the brutal, unpleasant truth of racism… but then, this is a work of fiction and I don’t see that it’s justified in any reasonable way. The overt racism is subdued somewhat in the 4-issue Neonomicon, but it’s still an integral, if possibly unwarranted part of the rest of the narrative. I don’t have the patience or intelligence to try to attempt some kind of analysis of the racism being a symbol for the terror of “other” life which attacks humanity in this story, but I’m sure you’ll be able to find something like this elsewhere online.

The main problem with this story is the completely unnecessary depiction of rape in the second part of the novel. This occurs when FBI agent Brears is kidnapped by the cult in Salem, and kept in a subterranean dungeon at the mercy of some grotesque Lovecraftian creature. Until that moment, I hadn’t really formed an opinion of this story, but the pages after Brears’ kidnapping completely left me cold. I won’t go into detail here but suffice to say that the artwork and the script is hugely unpleasant to read. Moore has even said in an interview that it’s probably the most “misanthropic” thing he’s produced. That may be so, but it doesn’t necessarily make it worth reading. Prior to the sexual assaults, Brears is shown to be recovering from a sex addiction. Perhaps I missed something in the story, but I couldn’t quite make out why that was a necessary addition to the character. As I type this I recall some kind of exposition on this element of Brears’ history about mid-way through the narrative, but I no longer have the desire to go back and find out. Ultimately, it feels misogynistic and unnecessary – the only female protagonist being a recovering sex addict who ends up assaulted by a freakish fish person. I can kind of understand how the addition of sexual abuse and sex addition could be justified by the revelation at the end of the story, but it’s not reason enough to excuse the completely exploitative and sexist elements of the entire novel.

I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone in particular. I suppose it’s worth reading if you’re a Lovecraft fanatic but on the whole I’d say there are many other horror comics that are more deserving of your time.

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One comment

  1. […] Neonomicon is essentially an interesting contemporary Lovecraftian idea wrapped in layers of racism, sexism and sexual violence. I don’t doubt that Moore, who is a dedicated Lovecraft scholar, has irrevocably changed the path of comics and graphic novels over the last thirty years, but ultimately the narrative of Neonomicon just felt like a really cheap way to shock and offend, when I think the story could have been presented in just as effective a way without relying on the gory and graphic depictions of violence and assault. I might sound precious saying this, but I’m not one who shocks easily – it’s just that I expected to find a sense of cosmic mystery and doom, but it just ended up feeling exploitative and misguided. My full review of the comic can be read here. […]

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