Sometimes it isn't the story you're adapting from one medium to another. Sometimes it's just the mood. In H.P. Lovecraft's case, his work constituted a mood all its own — he may have been a one-note writer, but his one note resonated so deeply and thoroughly with audiences, it ended up constituting one of the standby starting points for modern horror. Manga artist Gō Tanabe has been making a mini-career out of adapting Lovecraft to manga, and despite the changes he makes — all of which are sensible — he reproduces all the creepying abyssal dread, and the ominous wonder, too, of Lovecraft's work. But he hasn't neglected the story, either — if anything, he's enhanced it.
The Hound and Other Stories compiles adaptations of three of Lovecraft's tales into a single relatively short (~170 page) volume. The translation is by Zack Davisson, which makes perfect spiritual sense given his general fandom for horror folklore. As for Tanabe's art, I'd never encountered it before opening this volume, but it took all of that one volume to make me into a fan. Tanabe is in the same seinen tradition as folks like Jiro Taniguchi — highly detailed environments, realistic character designs, no concessions to exaggeration for the sake of emotion. He makes strong use of contrasts — spots of white, swaths of black, with the blacks emphasized most in these stories given how often the characters spend peering into the abyss. None of this feels like an artist tamping down his less worthy instincts for the sake of the material; the artist and the work complement each other all the way through.
Two of the stories, "The Hound" and "The Nameless City", adapt Lovecraft's stories of the same name more or less directly. The first concerns a pair of graverobbers, the more reticent narrator and his more amoral, thrill-seeking companion, who find themselves hunted by the kinds of things your mom always warned you not to go digging up out of graves. It's not being hunted and killed that Lovecraft suggests is the worst fate, though, but rather the feeling of inevitability and dread that goes with being stalked by things that transcend death. Tanabe uses one of my favorite comics techniques — a face shot through with horror, but only half-visible, riven by the edge of the frame or the page — to emphasize the shocks they experience.
"The Nameless City" is another standard piece of Lovecraftia: An adventurer finds evidence of a civilization that predated the human race, and that bears an unquenchable grudge against it — and almost becomes a victim of the sleeping remnants of that civilization. Like "Hound" before it, this story is judicious about how much it shows and in what form. We see just enough of What Lies Beyond to be jolted by it, mostly by way of a massive mural, but not so much that we become inured to it. The best parts of horror are what we imagine, not what we actually learn about, and any homage to Lovecraft is wise to honor that sensibility.
The final story, although the one first in the volume, "The Temple," is the one that has been most explicitly reworked by Tanabe. It deals with a ship's crew who encounter another ship, populated only by the dead, and who themselves by degrees go mad and succumb to death because of an artifact passed from the latter ship to the former. It wants to return to its home — a certain city at the bottom of the ocean — and the story traces the captain's own incremental descent into madness, the way he succumbs inch by inch to insatiable curiosity about what might actually be down there.
The original story used World War I as its backdrop, a setting that must have been as painfully fresh in Lovecraft's mind as it was for his readers. Here, it's been moved to World War II, aboard a German U-boat. Originally, I objected to this: Wouldn't casting Nazis as reflexively disposable specimens of humanity just come off as cheap? But once the story sunk in and took hold, the change in milieu seemed to work. Tanabe uses the setting as a way to heighten the contrasts between the captain (upright, coolly sane [at first], devoted to his duty), and his increasingly desperate and disturbed crew. Eventually, it is used to drive a wedge into the captain itself — to heighten the tension between the fulfillment of his mission for the fatherland, and the lure of things far greater than nations or even history itself.
The size of the volume is, I suppose, a testing-of-the-waters on Dark Horse's part. Tanabe has produced manga adaptations of other Lovecraft works — including the masterwork The Colour Out Of Space — and so if this one finds an audience, the author's note at the end of the book hints at others possibly following suit. With any luck the anticipation won't drive us to madness.