Chris Welsh and Ammar Al Chalabi’s webcomic Wart – A Cosmic Horror Comic, is based on the works of HP Lovecraft – in other words it features dark and dank supernatural terrors and plenty of tentacled beasties – however unlike most books who cite the Master of Cthulu as an influence, Welsh and Chalabi have taken a cartoonish approach to the work dog Wart which actually gives the whole series a really refreshing edge.
Wart Bellamy’s tale of woe begins when a one-eyed tentacled beastie snatches him and drags him off into a mysterious netherworld. Here he is imprisoned in a dank cell with only a disembowelled ghost and a rat for company. Unless you count the gormless guards of course. These guards work for a diabolical doctor (with a ridiculously high-collared coat), and plague his waking hours, while when Wart sleeps he takes mysterious journeys into weird dream-like worlds. He also has the odd visitation from a mysterious ghostly woman and is haunted by the mysterious contents of room 217.
For a book based on the bleak and foreboding world of Lovecraft, Wart is a surprisingly light and enjoyable read. Writer Chris Welsh, has created a brilliantly surreal world for his protagonist, from the dank dungeon setting with it’s motley supporting cast, to the nightmarish world of Wart’s dreamscape. Welsh’s script perfectly balances the horrific with the humorous, (in particular in the scenes involving the guards or the mysterious Druids who are trying to find out more about Warts understanding of a certain deathly book) to make a series which is surprisingly fun to read despite it’s dark undertone.
With Wart having been originally released as an online webcomic online the story is broken up into neat chapters of about a dozen pages each. Often webcomics can often suffer with this kind of formatting but with each chapter having a decent amount of content it gives the book a nice flow.
The lighter tone is further emphasised by Al Chalabi’s cartoony art style. This might seem at odds with the dark tone of the story, but in actuality it gives the book a really strong visual identity and makes it work much better than it would with a gurney ink-splattered style. Even with the cartoony look, this isn’t a book for kids, and there is still plenty of gore as well as weird tentacled beasties who lose none of their menace in Al Chalabi’s style – if anything they have a slightly more sinister air as a result!
The only negative when it comes to the art is that in the second book Chalabi experiments with a new inking style to help give the book a darker edge and actually makes the book slightly worse as a result, making it feel much more amateurish. But thankfully he has returned to the cleaner lines of book one for the current pages published on line.
With plenty of other Lovecraft inspired books on market, whether it’s Mike Mignola’s Hellboy and BPRD or INJ Culbard’s Unknown Kadath, Wart manages to stand out from the crowd with its superb mix of horror and humour. In a lot of ways it reminded us more of classic 1980s kids tv shows like Trap Door or Count Duckula, that used horror and comedy in perfect balance. Although Wart is considerably more gruesome than either of those, it is just as funny!