SelfMadeHero has bemused us once more with another graphic novel adaptation of a cult, literary piece. This time round, Robert W. Chambers‘ bizarre anthology of short stories named The King in Yellow is given a visceral and vicious translation into graphic novel form. The King in Yellow itself is a series of short stories in which each story’s protagonists become poisoned by a twisted, macabre play of supernatural origin, dubbed The King in Yellow. Those who read it turn mad and suffer a fate worse than death, meaning that I.N.J. Culbard has great fun in adapting Chambers’ novel.
Culbard is no stranger to taking cult literary work under SelfMadeHero’s wing – he also adapted H.P. Lovecraft‘s unfinished work The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (our review of which you can read here), and curiously, both The King in Yellow and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath bear strikingly similar covers. But where The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath‘s cover bore a sense of mystery, The King in Yellow‘s cover is a drastically different story. A hooded, bony figure, smothered in a gruesome red, hides its face from the reader, gleefully hinting at the deadly contents within.
This version of The King in Yellow takes the first four of the original novel’s stories and presents the reader with a nervous and sometimes harrowing read. Culbard’s artwork has a warm, approachable bounce to it, particularly his caricatured manner of sketching out the novel’s several protagonists, but there’s also the feeling of a wicked smile lurking beneath that warmth, as if Culbard is having too much fun in playing around with these doomed individuals.
The four stories themselves not only share the play itself, but also themes of love and connection between the characters. It makes for tantalizingly tense reading seeing those connections torn apart via the play falling into everyone’s hands (I wonder how that book gets about? Seems to jump around the place as it pleases, infecting anyone it can find!).
However, with four stories clocking in a total of 142 pages, everything is rather brief, and that emotional hook of connection leaves little time for the reader to become fully invested. But there’s another side to The King in Yellow‘s appeal: it’s got such a ghostly sense of scope to it that, even if less than half of the original book is presented here, there’s still plenty for the reader to become lost and entranced in. Much like The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, the delight is in the visuals, of seeing these morose, virus-like stories given an immediate dash of colour and punch. Definitely recommended, but perhaps not for bedtime reading.