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Friday 3 March 2017

Colouring Cthulhu

Okay. The year is 2017 and the weird thing is that colouring books are popular once again. Not just for children, but for adults. Walk into any bookshop and you can find a colouring book on any subject or for any intellectual property you care to name, from the Harry Potter Colouring Book, the Vogue Colouring Book, and The Kew Gardens Exotic Plants Colouring Book to the Lonely Planet Ultimate Travelist Colouring Book, the Day of the Dead Colouring Book, and the Escape to Shakespeare's World: A Colouring Book Adventure. I have given them as presents, but in all honesty, I have no interest in colouring books. Except that Chaosium, Inc. has published a colouring book and it is inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Not just because of that, but also because I want to see if I can review something like a colouring book.

Call of Cthulhu – The Coloring Book: 28 Eldritch Scenes of Lovecraftian for you to Color comes with almost thirty line drawings taken from the tales of cosmic horror told in both H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction and the setting described in various supplements for the roleplaying game, Call of Cthulhu. In their way, these scenes are all iconic moments caught as line drawings. Thus we see Randolph Carter encountering the guide before ascending higher into the cosmos from ‘Through the Gates of the Silver Key’; the madness of the dimension just a little to the side found in ‘From Beyond’; and the Norwegian, Johansen ramming the yacht, the Alert, into the great horror from R’lyeh in ‘The Call of Cthulhu’. The scenes taken from the various Call of Cthulhu RPG come mainly from the game’s iconic campaigns. These include a depiction of the Crawling Chaos, Nyarlathotep, being worshipped under the Bent Pyramid from Masks of Nyarlathotep; the investigators flying over the unknown mountains in the Antarctic in Beyond the Mountains of Madness; and the appearance of Jeremy from Fungi from Yuggoth (more recently released as Day of the Beast); and more.

In all cases, these are done as double page spreads, the main piece of art on the right hand page, while on the left there is a quote from the inspiration and a secondary piece of art. So accompanying the Alert ramming into Great Cthulhu is a quotation from the short story, ‘The Call of Cthulhu’, and a depiction of the famed idol that New Orleans police detective John Raymond Legrasse asked to be identified in 1908 by an archaeological society. While the illustration from Fungi from Yuggoth depicts Jeremy flowing up from the well that is his home, the quote on the left is a letter from Baron Hauptman to his Jeremy’s father. The illustration on the left is of the street where Jeremy and his mother resides. Unfortunately, the left-hand illustrations inspired by the Call of Cthulhu campaigns are not quite as effective as those inspired by the fiction.

Of course just as you would want it, the artwork in Call of Cthulhu – The Coloring Book is striking—striking because it lacks the one thing that we have come to expect in Lovecraftian artwork after years of seeing art on-line and the various card and board games. Colour. Which if you want it, you will have to supply yourself, and that is a challenge in itself. A lot of the artwork—drawn by Andrey Fetisov—is so rich in detail that it would take hours to fill in each separate part of the horrifying thing until it is done, and this without using any shading or black tones. Let alone the fact that your colouring in might not do the artwork justice… (Fortunately, being exclusively available from Chaosium directly also means being supplied with the PDF, so download, print, and practice all you want—or have another go! Or perhaps introduce your three year old to non-euclidean artwork in readiness for preschool.) 

At the same time, this means that each of the pieces of art works as an illustration without colour and just as effectively. The lack of colour means the viewer having to supply use his imagination to supply the colour—that is, before the crayons—and so these pieces work as props or illustrations or Handouts when running Call of Cthulhu. Which begs the question, will there be colouring in books for each of the Call of Cthulhu campaigns? And if so, would they not be great handouts? (Whilst also harking back to the illustration booklets of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons modules like S1 Tomb of Horrors or S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks?)

Had not Chaosium been kind enough to supply it to review, I might have dismissed Call of Cthulhu – The Coloring Book. On one level it is a frippery, frivolous and ornamental, but on another level, the artwork is fantastic, it does illustrate the Mythos, and it acknowledges the contribution of the Call of Cthulhu RPG to the Mythos and thus to horror. Whether you are merely going to look at it, splash colour over it, or use it as a visual aid, the Call of Cthulhu – The Coloring Book: 28 Eldritch Scenes of Lovecraftian for you to Color delightfully combines whimsical nostalgic format with cosmic horror—and that is as weird a combination as you might ever hope for.

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