Page 45 Review by Jonathan
All copies sketched in by Ian whilst stocks last!!!
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"Don't touch it, Tessie!"
"But it's just a book. What was it you said to me yesterday about dreams?"
"Hildred read it. Boris read it. Both took their own lives."
"But it's just a book! Now who's being silly?"
"Tessie, don't! Listen I'm serious. Put that book down. Tessie! I don't wish you to open it."
Comics are fearfully powerful juju.
They can make money disappear from your pocket and into the Page 45 till just like that... *adjusts fez*. But... I don't believe they have power to drive you insane and into the clutches of evil supernatural beings. Well... not until you've signed up for a standing order with us and then it's too late, we got you... MWAH HA HA HA HA!!!
Joking aside, the primary conceit of some of Robert W. Chambers' interconnected short stories is precisely that. The idea that there is a play, the titular King In Yellow, which in book form can cause a reader to begin to lose their mental coherence and thus become at risk from - indeed subjugated to - mysterious sinister forces lurking at the edge of our reality, including a mysterious godlike being known also as the King In Yellow. To fall into his purview is to begin a journey that will surely lead one to a state of utter desolation. Though perhaps that is not entirely true for all...
It's well known that H.P. Lovecraft read these stories, first published in 1895, in 1927, and they almost certainly influenced his writing to some degree, not least because he references some elements in passing in a couple of his subsequent stories, so he was at least impressed enough to tip his hat in acknowledgement. Others suggest the style of these stories influenced some of his storytelling techniques to a considerable degree. I don't know about that, but I do know the first few truly spooky stories from The King In Yellow collection - which Ian has gently reworked here to form this adaption (the latter stories being more of the romantic fiction ilk that Chambers plied through the remainder of his writing career) - are rightly regarded as true classics in the genre of supernatural fiction.
So, what of this adaptation? Well, I know I have made this very point regarding at least one of Ian's brilliant Lovecraft adaptations (AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS / THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD / THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME / THE DREAM-QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH, plus two more to come later this year!!!) but yet again he's done a superb job of deconstructing fairly nebulous material content-wise, in this case four short stories, and re-crafting it into a seamless, brilliantly engaging yarn. I had a little chat with him recently and he mentioned he'd only had to invent one brief bridging scene from scratch. The original stories were never truly intended as sequential chapters in a longer narrative, through there are threads of recurring characters and places, but Ian's taken exactly the right approach by weaving them into one sinister longer-form story. It never feels like a reconstructing of separate tales, merely different strands of individual woe unravelling in turn under the malign, pervasive influence of the King In Yellow.
Art-wise I will simply say the eyes have it. Or rather they don't! A distinct lack of pupils on the part of most of the characters, a devilishly deliberate conceit on Ian's part, is incredibly disconcerting. In certain instances it has the particularly perturbing effect of seeming to allow the character's gaze to break the fourth wall out to us, the readers, without them even looking directly at us. There's a cumulative effect to it which is increasingly unsettling, I must say.
There's also a spectacular extended sequence, as I've also come to expect from Ian, where one of the characters, perhaps foolishly believing themselves to have put their macabre travails behind them and taken refuge in the sanctity of a church, listening to a reassuring priestly sermon, is then promptly taken on a mind-bending journey through time and space, or perhaps merely their own disintegrating perception of reality and rapidly draining sanity, before coming face to face with the King In Yellow itself.
Sadly our perilous wander through this weird world all too soon comes to an end. You will be left wanting more though, as was I. Maybe this is not the last we'll see of the King In Yellow... though if we should see him, it will certainly be the last of us?!
So put this book carefully back on the shelf and watch out for strange people who pay too close attention to your business... or before you know where you are you'll find yourself penniless and bereft of coherence, wandering Market Street with only a Page 45 bag full of comics in your hand...
Cue the sinister Vincent Price laughter like at the end of the Thriller video again...