World Comic Book Review

10th April 2024

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (revisited)

Author: H.P. Lovecraft

Artist (and adaption by) I.N.J. Culbard

Self Made Hero, 2012

Contemporary fascination with the works of American horror writer H.P. Lovecraft and his peers seems to have no end, despite his brand of horror now being almost a century old. Your critic was meandering through a gift store in a rural town on the weekend, and noted with surprise a variety of Lovecraftian tea towels. Surely this is one reality-bending vision never experienced by Mr Lovecraft in one of his frequent childhood nightmares.

I.N.J. Culbard is an artist and veteran adaptor of Lovecraftian horror. We have previously reviewed Mr Culbard’s adaption of The King in Yellow The King in Yellow (review) – World Comic Book Review. Mr Culbard has created many other adaptions from the mythos, however: At the Mountains of MadnessThe Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, and The Shadow Out of Time. As with The King in Yellow, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward only in passing comes out of the Cthulhu corpus, for which Mr Lovecraft is most famous. This story was written in 1927, but was published posthumously. Here is the promotional copy from publisher Self Made Hero:

Providence, Rhode Island, 1928. A dangerous inmate disappears from a private hospital for the insane, his method of escape baffling the authorities. Only the patient’s final visitor, family physician Dr. Marinus Bicknell Willett—himself a piece of the puzzle—holds the key to unlocking The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. A macabre mixture of historical investigation, grave-robbing, and bone-chilling revelation, this newly reissued adaptation (in a smaller format, with a foreword by Jeff Lemire and a new cover) artfully lays bare one of H.P. Lovecraft’s most horrifying creations. 

As with The King in Yellow, this is a disturbing book. The story is mostly told through from the perspective of a psychologist, Doctor Marinus Willet. Charles Dexter Ward himself is a young man fascinated with his ancestry, and who falls into the orbit of his aged relative Joseph Curwen. Curwen is very creepy indeed, and lords over catacombs in which screaming can be heard from the ground above. Ward finds himself replicate Curwen’s ghastly experiments around aging. Ward himself starts the story in a mental asylum, but impossibly escapes, and the last person to see him was Dr Willet. Mr Lovecraft indulges in the irony of the story ending with Dr Willet rendered a patient in the same asylum.

The colour palettes are muted and the eyes of the characters are, as with his later work in The King in Yellow, remarkably drawn so as to communicate a range of emotions. While much of the horror is suggestive, with bumps in the night and half-seen graverobbers, there are some scenes which Mr Culbard uses as exclamation marks to the story. Severed hands rising through the waters of a river, the corpse of a strange white animal with an elongated head and no eyes, and the autopsy of a dead blacksmith are all confronting. But the most frightening of all scenes is in silhouette: the interrogation of a skeleton, who cries out for help –

The dead can suffer, and the soul remains with the corpse. Mr Culbard does a brilliant job of communicating this vision of a rotting afterlife to his readers.

The title can be bought from Self Made Hero’s shop on the bookshop.org platform The Case of Charles Dexter Ward a book by . (bookshop.org)