The Miskatonic Proves Eldritch Horrors Can Be Adorable

The Miskatonic screenshot

The influence that H. P. Lovecraft’s writing has had since his death hugely outstrips anything he experienced during his life. That’s a bit tragic, sure, though possibly for the best; I think he’d probably be disgusted about what people do with his eldritch creeping horrors and incomprehensible nightmare realms these days. The most recent example: I’ve no idea what he’d make of The Miskatonic [official site], but the odds are good he wouldn’t feel a comedy horror game set in the eponymous University gelled with the obsessions at the heart of his own writing.

The Miskatonic is the work of Rapscallion Games, which when translated from a dead, long-forgotten language means Jack Cayless. He’s a webcomic artist who made stuff like Chimneyspeak and Redd, neither of which I’d heard of before today and neither of which appear to still be online. He’s got a Tumblr if you want to see more of his art, though be warned it does contain NSFW content.

So how about this game, then? Well, it’s currently on Kickstarter, although it’s already passed its relatively low target so is as likely to happen as any other crowdfunded project. There’s a concept demo available if you’d like to get a hands-on feel for the writing and art style; the final game will be built in a different engine, but this works as a playable teaser.

Drawing inspiration from Deadly Premonition, Eternal Darkness and Resident Evil as well as grumpy old Howard Phillips gets seven thumbs up from me, and yes they are all my own thumbs. From the demo it doesn’t seem as if there’s much in the way of challenge here – it’s more about exploring and clicking on things to read descriptions and dialogue and look at the game’s lovely art. And lovely it is, a combination of very stylised characters and Lovecraftian grotesquery that feels a natural fit with the tone of the game’s writing. The Kickstarter does describe the game as a visual novel, so it seems likely that The Miskatonic will be about experiencing its story rather than cleverly offing rogue shoggoths.

Release isn’t expected until late in 2016, but since this is the work of a one-man studio I can imagine there’s an awful lot to draw. I’ll be watching with great interest, from planes beyond the fathoming of mortals.

52 Comments

  1. LTK says:

    The kickstarter was already over by the time of publishing, wasn’t it? Regardless, the art that’s been shown for this so far is utterly fantastic, so I’m very curious to see what comes of it.

  2. EhexT says:

    Lovecraft though comedy had no place in horror, so yeah he wouldn’t approve.

    • EhexT says:

      thought
      Edits, please?!

    • pepperfez says:

      But did he ever opine on the place of horror in comedy?

    • gunny1993 says:

      I think he’d be either to out his skull on cocaine to care or too amazed that his work has lasted so long to care.

      Depending on how it’s handled comedy can fit in anywhere, whilst The Mythos would be far more fit for black comedy, I’m interested to see what happens with it.

      • Dr I am a Doctor says:

        Well, I don’t think he’d be okay with black comedy

        • Dawngreeter says:

          I’ve learned from the Internet that, just because Lovecraft was really fucking racist, it’s no reason to point out that he was really fucking racist.

          #eldritchgate

          • Dr I am a Doctor says:

            No, you see, it’s okay, everyone was racist back then, so he was cool and normal

  3. wcq says:

    The art is very cool. I’m not yet convinced by the humour, though: the trailer gave me a “look at us be so smugly self-aware” kind of vibe, which is to me like nails on a chalkboard.

  4. RuySan says:

    Last time i read lovecraft i got about 3 racist stories in a row.

    Never again.

    • EhexT says:

      Eh that’s very common during those times. If you had picked other writers you’d often encounter the same. Especially “and his/her ancestor was a NEGRO!” is often used a “horrifying” plot twist or story ending – Lovecraft actually does that less than other authors of the time.

      Not that Lovecraft wasn’t racist, but he wasn’t any more racist than was common and it influences his writing a lot less than it did for other racist writers.

      • Lanfranc says:

        Lovecraft was extremely racist even for his time. He was completely obsessed with race.

        • EhexT says:

          He was obsessed with being english and proper. He didn’t so much hate other races as he was afraid of anything foreign and un-english. Extreme Xenophobia is not racism basically since to be racist you gotta hate a race.

          It should also be noted that he never did anything extreme in terms of racism. His was the attitude of racism that was common at the time, but not the action of racism that was common then and is still common now. He wasn’t a member of the KKK, he didn’t lynch people or encourage lynchings, he didn’t burn churches nor encourage church burnings – compared to the vile extremes of racism then and now, his racism was nothing outlandish.

          Just someone who grew up poor and raised in the belief that it was the fault of the “other”. Demonizing him because of that seems absurd, especially when you claim that he is somehow one of the worst examples.

          • iucounu says:

            We can say he didn’t do anything ‘extreme’ in the way of racism all we like, but I can think of a particular poem that was, even by the standards of the time, extremely racist. I won’t link to it but if you’ve read it you know the one I mean. I guess you could argue that writing an extremely racist poem isn’t a racist ‘act’ – but then discounting literature in that way seems disingenuous if you also want to claim his work as significant.

            I feel like Lovecraft’s racism is at root something else – a fear of contagion or a fear of sex, with my amateur Freud hat on. In the realm of fiction, these fears translate as alien influences and cosmic terror – the educated Western man made to feel small and impotent, and at the mercy of dark strangers from foreign lands, worshipping squamous fertility gods with suggestive names. In his life, it perhaps translated as overt racism and sexual dysfunction.

            That’s not to say that there aren’t moments when I wince at a bit of overt and un-sublimated racism in Lovecraft’s fiction, but it’s quite efficiently transformed into his genre most of the time. It’s interesting to me that you don’t seem to have to be a racist to write Lovecraftian fiction or to appreciate his style of cosmic horror. Which is why I feel uncomfortable about the World Fantasy Award being a bust of HPL, but I wouldn’t object if it were a bust of Cthulhu.

          • Jim Dandy says:

            Dammit, iucounu, I was all set on calling my new band Giant Elf Tits, then I get all confused by Squamous Fertility Gods. Now I can’t decide.

            Lovecraft was an asshole. I suspect most artists, like most humans, are assholes in some way or another. It sucks when the assholery is baroque and the art is great. It’s very hard to squeeze all the ‘like’ out of something with the pure force of political correctness. Not saying you shouldn’t try, by the way, but there’s a lot of great rock’n’roll I’d have to pretend I didn’t like if my brain was more connected to my ‘that’s fucken ace’ gland.

      • Underwhelmed says:

        While racism was pretty common for the times, Lovecraft’s racism sat above and far beyond the rank and file prejudices of the day. His most iconic stories were directly inspired and based on some of the ridiculous opinions he held for virtually every ethnic group not his own.

        His works were ground breaking for sure, but the man was an abhorrent piece of garbage. You don’t have to like the artist to like the art.

      • RuySan says:

        There’s no way his racism was the status quo of the time. I read many old books (e.g. Dostoevsky, Poe), and i never encountered anything as vile.

        Besides two stories that were abohrrent because of his views concerning black people (Red Hook and something about a resurrection of a black fighter) there’s one where the three villians/thieves are a Portuguese, a polish and an italian (seems like the setup for a joke), and he characterizes these, non-anglo saxon white immigrants, with the biggest scorn and disdain.

        • gunny1993 says:

          I’d like to point out that Dostoevsky books (mostly crime and punishment) contain some pretty negative stereotypes of Jewish people (can’t recall exact quote but several time “Being Jewish with money” comes up)

          • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

            Than that’s mild stuff, everyone picks on the poor ol’ jews every now and again!

      • PerspectiveDesigns says:

        I’m afraid that’s a bit of an excuse. He was a racist jerk. I still like his fiction though.

      • karnak says:

        I find it funny that everyone is calling an american writer from the early 20th century a “racist”.

        Sure… there was almost no racism in the early 20th century America. And Lovecraft was, of course, one of the few racists in US back then. The same country that, 30 years after Lovecraft’s, death killed Martin Luther King for defending the civil rights. The same country where a cop sometimes shoots a black guy because… well, it’s a black guy, right? He’s gotta have a gun and be a criminal, right?

        So, Lovecraft, the poor, humble, sick guy, who had jewish friends and liked to help young people get started on the literature business is a “mother-fucking racist”. Yeah, the guy who never shot or hurt a black person in his life and who clearly dropped the racist attitude later in his life.
        I suppose that the also racist and sexist Hemigway has a free-pass because he was rich and famous when he died.

        I suppose that you people forget that american science itself was trying to prove that there were superior and inferior species back in the day.

        But it’s ok. Because no-one is a racist nowadays.
        I mean, our egalitarian western democracies accept black people. Specially because they make good janitors, restaurant waiters and construction workers.
        The same demoracies who don’t give a damn when thousands of african people are the victim of diseases and war in the 21st century.

        I suppose that if Lovecraft had died filthy rich and had spent most of his life fucking (and beating) women and getting drunk then he’d be considered a classic.

        For all you people I give an advice: go and study the life and writings of Mahatma Gandhi. Now there’s a guy who hated blacks and liked Hitler (the same Hitler whom he also addressed as “dear friend”).

        • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

          This made me think, Hemingway indeed got a ton of free passes actually, for a broad spectrum of topics too.

        • melancholicthug says:

          B-but… muh hypocrisy!

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          Harlander says:

          When there are as many video games based on Hemingway and Gandhi as there are on Lovecraft, you’ll start seeing people talk about their character flaws in comment threads more.

      • bitwright says:

        I’ll admit to not having read to much literature from that era, but Lovecraft does seem to stand out in term of racism from what I have read. Robert E. Howard touches upon race here an there in the Conan stories, but he was no where near as bad as Lovecraft.

        • melancholicthug says:

          I read only one of Howard’s stories, and i found it way worse than anything HPL ever wrote. Maybe it was me, who found his blatant ario-phyllia sickening. HPL at least used methaphors and allusions to the subject.

      • solidsquid says:

        From the records we’ve got of his life, he really was pretty damn racist even for the time. One of his big worries was the inter-mixing of races and black people breeding out white. His Jewish wife (he was previously anti-Semetic too, although this was pretty common at the time) seems to have been a moderating influence though and his opinions shifted closer to the norm in later years

    • pepperfez says:

      While I’d certainly never say someone should suffer through a crank’s hateful rantings (He and The Horror at Red Hook, for instance, are really just pointlessly dreadful), reading Lovecraft with an awareness of his…issues around race and sex can be really interesting as a character study. Like the way his racism shaded over into self-loathing in Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family (“If we knew what we are, we should do as Sir Arthur Jermyn did; and Arthur Jermyn soaked himself in oil and set fire to his clothing one night.“), or the hysterical fear/denial of female agency in The Thing on the Doorstep, or the existence of a grotesque species of aliens literally called the Great Race — the psychological transparency is charming in a way.

      Of course, this is from the perspective of someone insulated from most racist abuse (although Lovecraft even managed to find some scorn for my Northern European ancestors!), so it’s easier for me to experience it literarily rather than personally.

    • bitwright says:

      You should really give his works a second chance. There is some fairly obvious racism in his stories, but Lovecraft wrote some good literature that is worth looking past the more offensive parts. You don’t have to agree with an author or their viewpoints in order to enjoy their work.

      And no, I’m not a white guy. Actually, Lovecraft wrote some pretty not nice things about my race.

      • karnak says:

        In “The Call of Cthulhu” it’s a guy from my country who finds/opens the trap door from whence Great Cthulhu comes out in order tro bring a new age of chaos and the extinction of the human race.
        Needless to say Lovecraft saw my countrymen mostly as mongrels and thieves (he wasn’t wrong about the “thieves” part, to be honest) :P

        Anyway I love his works. And even if his writing can’t be considered classic literature, his ideas and concepts opened entire new fields of fantasy that unfortunately aren’t properly explored in this day (Ridley Scott tried exploring his concepts in “Prometheus” with a disastrous result).

        And concluding my take on his polemic racial views (quite normal, concerning that he was born in the 19th century America): Edgar Allan Poe married his 13-year-old cousin when he was 26. I suppose he should be labeled a pedophile and his works should be banned, right??

        • pepperfez says:

          Are you writing parody comments here? Because that’s the only sensible reading I can give them.

          • karnak says:

            Indeed I am. Because I find it more and more funny how the “racist” card is dropped every time Lovecraft’s name is mentioned.
            As if he was the only writer who had racist views.
            Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy often made terrible remarks concerning jews on their works (who were often there depicted as greedy and dishonest creatures). But nope. No-one ever mentions their anti-semitic remarks. I suppose their fame and cult-status prevents them from being touched.

            When I was in college i had a colleague who said he hated Lovecraft, because of the racial hatred that transpired from his works. About 10 years later this same guy, who hated “racist literature”, moved his family to a new house because a gipsy family had recently moved to his appartment building.

            So, yeah. No wonder I’m writing parody. The world’s becoming a funnier place as time goes by.

          • pepperfez says:

            You see people talking about Lovecraft’s racism so much because Lovecraft has posthumously conquered pop culture. It’s not Dostoevsky’s popularity that insulates his public reputation; people aren’t talking about Dostoevsky’s anti-semitism because they’ve never read Dostoevsky. Everyone knows Lovecraft, so everyone has a take on him. And it’s not playing any card to point out that the guy who wrote of a dead Black man,

            He was a loathsome, gorilla-like thing, with abnormally long arms which I could not help calling fore legs, and a face that conjured up thoughts of unspeakable Congo secrets and tom-tom poundings under an eerie moon. The body must have looked even worse in life—but the world holds many ugly things.

            had some definite racial animosity flowing through his work. I’m sorry you knew a racist jerk who said dumb things about Lovecraft, but that (fortunately!) doesn’t change what the guy wrote, which is both often brilliant and often racist as all hell.

          • EhexT says:

            Note that your quote is from one of Lovecrafts few attempts are satire if not outright comedy, Herbert West Reanimator. Also comparing blacks to apes was ridiculously common at the time. A lot of authors Lovecraft would have read, and news stories of the time, made those same connections – to more extreme degrees in many cases.

            Nobody’s denying Lovecraft was racist, but the way he’s made up to be some sort of Uber-Racist worse than anyone else is insane. He was a run of the mill extremely sheltered Xenophobe with a racially prejudiced upbringing who never went to extremes in racism and mellowed with age as he started to encounter people in the real world that challenged his prejudices.

          • pepperfez says:

            This article is an interesting (to me, at least) examination of how fans talk about HPL’s racism, with special attention paid to the “man of his times” explanation. Grim highlight: A lot of the arguments being made here are literally things you could see at Stormfront.

          • TheLetterM says:

            Pepper, that’s a really eye-opening link you dropped there; thanks for sharing it. I think the most relevant passage was this:

            The habitus of White Lovecraft fans in the US therefore includes
            their notions of how the US is today and how it was in Lovecraft’s time. When fans
            defend an unsightly text as typical of its time, they are ‘protecting their perceptions of
            history’ (Sperb 2010: 36). Reactionary and White Nationalist fans have a stake in
            (mis)remembering American history and in re-narrating it to make White supremacy a
            normative, unstigmatized position, because if it was so in the past, it could be so again.

          • EhexT says:

            “This article is an interesting (to me, at least) examination of how fans talk about HPL’s racism, with special attention paid to the “man of his times” explanation. Grim highlight: A lot of the arguments being made here are literally things you could see at Stormfront.”

            Pretty fucking absurd that one.
            Show me someone who’s saying racism isn’t bad because HPLs time was racist.

            People aren’t saying “because Lovecraft was not more racist than most people in his time racism is ok”, because that would be INSANE. Racism back then was nuts and it’s still nuts now (it hasn’t changed that much – it’s gotten less loud in the average expression, and far more severe in the extremes). But judging someone who lived in fucking 1900 because “he’s popular now so we must paint him like the worst racist to ever live” is ridiculous. Especially when other authors who had the same or worse issues are ignored because “they’re not as popular”. I love that a lack of popularity means you can be as criminal or horrible a human being as you want.

          • EhexT says:

            Frankly it seems like the opposite of that .pdf’s claim is true. People seem really dead set on claiming that racism was ONLY in the past in the US, pointing to Lovecraft as “a racist so bad only back then was he tolerated” as though racism was gone and Lovecraft was the worst it ever got. The past wasn’t happy fun times, but it wasn’t just the PAST that was terrible, it’s the present too and worse in many areas (hello Ferguson, MLK, black prison statistics, etc.).

        • RuySan says:

          The big difference is that when i read Poe or Hemingway, i don’t really get to know that they were either peado or a jerk. Those are timeless works of great writers. When i read HPL I just can’t ignore all the vile things that are written.

          And i laugh about the comparisons between Dostoevsky supposed hatred of the jews and the views of HPL on black people. As if they were even comparable.

  5. ersetzen says:

    Sounds interesting, looking forward to it. The art style looks rather fantastic.

    From the tumblr I thought it was an only female cast for a second and wondered how I missed that in the trailer. But nope, just the last stuff on the tumblr.

  6. vorador says:

    Still not the worst thing they’ve done to Lovecraft’s legacy.

    • Heliocentric says:

      As a racial cross breed with a Hello Kitty meets C’thulu Avatar I embrace and encourage any desecration of the racial extremists legacy.

      But still, people should learn what the books have to offer. Well, until he sold out and got boring.

  7. ribby says:

    That is a very weird version of pop goes the weasel

  8. TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

    “The influence that H. P. Lovecraft’s writing has had since his death hugely outstrips anything he experienced during his life.”

    That goes for most famous arstists if you think about it. Knowing when it’s best to die might actually be a pretty decent skillset for a buddying artist to have, provided they at least get to some decent fame treshold first.

    • pepperfez says:

      It’s more extreme with Lovecraft than most, though. Maybe Tolkien has had more impact on pop culture than he has, but I can’t think of any other 20th century artist who has. And his reputation in his lifetime was, as I understand it, basically nonexistent outside of a very small enthusiast community.

  9. GordyThePirate says:

    I love the art style, but the trailer kind of turns me off to the whole concept. I guess we’ll see what comes of it in the future.

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  12. Jackablade says:

    Ah Chimneyspeak. I was wondering why the character design looked so damn familiar.

  13. pepperfez says:

    It just occurred to me how non-Anglo all the character names are. I wonder if that was intentional or oblivious.

    • EhexT says:

      The names are not atypical for Lovecraft. His more nautical stories often dealt with people from the classic colonial powers and there’s a lot of Aztec/Native American/Immigrant Protagonists and Antagonists.