Providence At Last

From Watchman #12, art by Dave Gibbons

After twelve issues – or eighteen, if you count The Courtyard and Neonomicon – we come to the end of Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence. To finally have the whole project complete at last, we can finally sit back and reflect. No more annotations, no more stressing over page borders and trying to find the one black cat, no more digging through libraries of Lovecraftian lore to catch each reference, to untangle the hints and shades of meaning, the layers of possible interpretation. To compare notes and swap theories.

It’s been fun. Thanks for reading with us.

The ending is what you might come to expect, once you’ve come to expect it. Alan Moore has always liked the quieter, anticlimactic, introverted sort of apocalypse, “Only the End of the World Again” to steal a line from one of Neil Gaiman’s Lovecraftian tales; Jacen Burrows was never going to deliver anything except crisp artwork, attention to detail in every line, and a loving touch to every monster and bit of alien fungus. More than the previous issues, there is a sense of ritual and finality to Providence #12: the stage is set, the players in their places, and the final drama is almost a formality.

Providence has been, from the beginning, a human story, and humans like their endings. If some readers have felt that the final issue didn’t deliver, it may be because their expectations were in the wrong place. Providence is the end of the human story, but not the end of all stories. An apocalypse for the human ants milling about on planet Earth is just one small step for Cthulhu. As in several of Moore’s previous apocalypses – Watchmen, Tom Strong, Promethea, Swamp Thing – the end is a time for answers, but not all the answers; it provides a sense of closure, while reminding us that there is no final closure. With its final pages, Robert Black and Aldo Sax and Merril Brears are laid to their literary rest…but there are a few more points to ponder, a few unsolved mysteries, and some final reflections.

The Forgotten

Several threads in the series were quietly dropped and never really picked up again. The “white powder” in The Courtyard never played any part of Neonomicon or Providence, perhaps because while Arthur Machen’s “Novel of the White Powder” was influential on Lovecraft, the Old Gent from Providence never used it in his own Mythos. Likewise, some bit characters disappear: Randolph Carter of the Ulthar Cats is a no-show in Providence, and most of the inmates of Haven released by Brears when she rescued Sax likewise disappear quietly off-screen, the motivation for their curious dismemberments never truly revealed.

Aldo Sax himself feels almost like an afterthought in issue twelve, there for a moment and then quietly dispatched off-screen. In many ways, the narrative had long outgrown him, a symptom of Moore continuing a story which was initially self-contained (The Courtyard), and then grew an unexpected sequel (Neonomicon), which finally laid the groundwork for a much more ambitious story (Providence). Maybe there’s a no-prize for the reader that can fit the pieces together – certainly there is an argument, looking back from the end of Providence, that some of the events of The Courtyard might have been orchestrated (or pre-ordained); without Sax, the FBI would likely never have found Club Zothique and Johnny Carcosa, and Merril Brears might never have followed Carcosa’s trail to Salem and the Dagon cultists there.

The Mysteries

Johnny Carcosa himself represents one of the great enigmas of the series; an avatar of Nyarlathotep whose origins and role shift from series to series, too valuable to throw away and yet remaining essentially unexplained. In The Courtyard he is a dealer in esoteric drugs, sex toys, and enlightenment who lives with his mother; Neonomicon sees him step out of this role, becoming the apologetic messenger of unnamed forces; and in Providence he begins to take an increasingly leading role in events – the quasi-human face for the inhuman forces at play. Yet his origins, his nature, his history remain quintessentially unknown. Was he always an avatar of Nyarlathotep? Why was he dealing drugs (and other things) from Club Zothique? Was he the manipulator of events, or just another pawn – the needle of the Great Old Ones, dropped down at different points on the spinning record as necessary?

Another mystery is the connection between the Stella Sapiente and the Catholic church. Never detailed, though Moore began to draw comparisons with the Nativity in Neonomicon with the Annunciation of Merril Brears, it is strongly hinted at in the last act of Providence, and the final issue is a parody of the Nativity of Jesus, more blatant than even Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan” or Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror,” suggesting that in some way the Order’s eschatology and the Church’s are intertwined. There are hints, never really more than that, of connections between the “binary world” of Earth and Yuggoth and Gnostic beliefs, but the Catholic apocalypse doesn’t quite work on the face of it: Cthulhu is not the second coming of Jesus, Merril Brears is not the Whore of Babylon from Revelations.

Then again, maybe that’s the point. What did Robert Black herald? What did H. P. Lovecraft redeem?

The Reflections

A reader could take Providence at face value: without a familiarity with Lovecraft, The Courtyard, or Neonomicon, it would be a bit of a slog. They wouldn’t really understand the things they saw, even though from the perspective of the reader they would grasp more of the hidden and monstrous world than Robert Black did, until his final moments in Providence #10 and #11. The great virtue of the story really starts to come out when a reader does have more pieces of the puzzle – exactly as it is with Lovecraft’s Mythos. A reader who encounters Lovecraft for the first time does not know what to expect when someone lets loose an exaltation of Shub-Niggurath, nor does their pulse quicken when they find out that Aesnath Waite is from Innsmouth if they have never read “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” In that sense, at least, Providence is an initiation for some readers, and a deeper revelation for others – those who have read The Courtyard and Neonomicon, who are familiar with the work and life of Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos, get more out of it.

Too, it is hard not to compare Providence with other works. Most Lovecraftian comics are less ambitious; one-shot adaptations or brief original series based on or incorporating some element of the Mythos, or even Lovecraft himself. From Dylan Dog and Martin Mystere to The Strange Adventures of H. P. Lovecraft, NecronautsGolgotha, and Young Lovecraft. Few are as lengthy or as complicated as Providence and its two precursors – they lack the level of detail that Moore goes into, the weaving of fact and fiction; the closest, perhaps is the graphic novel Lovecraft (2003, Hans Rodionoff, Enrique Breccia, Keith Griffen), which is also concerned with H. P. Lovecraft and a “real” Necronomicon, a parallel world where the Mythos was real but entered through subterranean gates, but even that does not measure up in terms of the scope and care put into the plotting, and in the end Lovecraft has HPL as kind of nobly tragic figure protecting the world from horrors it thinks are fictions.

Yet in Providence, the world does end, and the last witnesses and participants are left, with the readers, in largely uncharted territory. Lovecraft was clear that when the stars were right, Cthulhu and the Great Old Ones would come back into their own. The details afterwards are a little vague. In “The Dunwich Horror” Wilbur Whateley himself is uncertain, saying only:

“I wonder how I shall look when the earth is cleared and there are no earth beings on it.”

The problem is, once Cthulhu comes, it isn’t a human story, not anymore. Writers like August Derleth wrote pulp stories of fantastic adventure, where humans fought the minions of the Great Old Ones with mystic talismans and even nuked Cthulhu, for all the good it did them. Scott R. Jones in When The Stars Are Right: Towards An Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality talks about the acceptance of an ending, the narratives of death and closure we are told throughout our lives, and yet that we come to that moment beyond which we cannot know anything. Different ways of dealing with the same inevitability. Perlman and Brears’ takes on things.

In Providence, the world ended, but the characters still exist. It isn’t their story, not anymore. Perhaps some of them can work out new narratives, find a new place in a world. Readers may already be familiar with the concept: after all, every time a story ends, we close the book and put it back on the shelf, or close the file, or turn off the media player. Their story is over; ours continues. We lived for a time in their world, experienced what they did from our voyeuristic perspective, all the wonders and horrors that Aldo, Merril, and Robert encountered. Now their time is done, the final page turned.

We are all that is left. We who are on Leng, from their perspective, seeing the whole scope of their past and future at once, and every moment in between. The metanarrative of Providence might haunt a bit.

Neonomicon #4, art by Jacen Burrows
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Gilt by Association: More Providence Sales Numbers

Providence #3 Px,px detail, art by Jacen Burrows
Providence #3, art by Jacen Burrows

The sales figures for August 2016 are in at Comichron, and we’ve updated the Innsmouth Gold page accordingly. There are still a few things in the works here at the Facts blog, but since we have been pretty quiet lately while we wait for the next issue, we thought it might be interesting to briefly talk about the business side of things.

First off, publishing gaps between issues are routine in the comics world, especially with small press publishers. The ability to churn out multiple titles on a monthly (or weekly!) basis requires writers, artists, inkers, colorists, letterers, and editors to work very fast and with a great deal of coordination, and when some of those folks probably juggling multiple projects, sometimes they just don’t make the page per day needed – and that’s without any printer delays. The downside to these lapses is the long wait between issues, which can put off customers (especially on short-run or limited series), and these kind of gaps are usually (although not always) associated with a drop in sales. The drop between Providence #9 (June 2016) and Providence #10 (August 2016) was about 530 copies, or roughly 4% of the direct sales readership; that’s a little less but about comparable to the drop between Providence #6 (Nov 2015) and Providence #7 (Feb 2016), and we’re probably going to see a comparable drop between #10 and #11, just because of how the issues are being spaced out.

Cover for Providence Act 1 Hardcover Kickstarter Exclusive. Art by Jacen Burrows
Cover for Providence Act 1 Hardcover Kickstarter Exclusive. Art by Jacen Burrows

Other factors also come into play. The secondary market for comic books used to be a lot smaller, dominated by specialist sellers like your favorite Local Comic Book Store – the folks you would go to when you missed a back issue and wanted to read what happened. The triple revolutions of collected editions, digital editions, and the internet comics marketplace has substantially opened up the market for “back issues.” Now readers can compare prices and survey inventory from comic stores and independent sellers around the globe; put off hardcopy comics and just get digital copies of any missed issues missed on Comixology or Avatar Press’s web store; or…just wait for the collected edition to come out, so that you can sit down and read the whole thing at once.

The latter is what I suspect a lot of readers are doing. Having missed an issue due to the delays in the schedule, or unsatisfied with the pace and dropped the series, many readers are likely just waiting for it to end so that they can pick up the collected edition…of course, they may well end up paying for it.

Camel Chart for Providence Act 1 Hardcover Limited Ed.
Camel Chart for Providence Act 1 Hardcover Limited Ed.

This is the Camelcamelcamel chart for the Providence Act 1 Hardcover Limited Edition, released in May 2016, tracking the sales prices – minus the more extreme price spikes, which are caused by feedback loops in automatic pricing algorithms used by some Amazon sellers; even so, you can see how the red and blue of 3rd party sellers on Amazon reflects a fairly typical cycle of price spikes and resets. Amazon sold through their inventory around early July, leaving the market at the mercy of 3rd party sellers – which tend to spike and then drift back down, although the asking price in general has steadily risen – which is pretty typical for many out-of-print books on Amazon. The lesson being, if you want the limited edition, you should probably pick them up for cheap as they come out.  Continue reading

Guest Post: Is Providence Moore’s Riposte To True Detective?

By Edward Saul

Providence #11 Portrait variant, art by Jacen Burrows
Providence #11 Portrait variant, art by Jacen Burrows

Excitement abounds for we enthusiasts of Alan Moore, HP Lovecraft and Weird Fiction, as the crashing denouement to Providence looms overhead. Considering that the exact release date for Providence #11, let alone #12, is aptly unknowable, now is the prime time for speculation. Such speculation should not, of course, be limited merely to theorizing on what happens next, but could also stretch to the overall motives and meanings behind the series, and how that might predict what happens next.

This can be logical and precise, based on the evidence presented; those of us eagle-eyed readers, for instance, had by the release issue #3 or #4 realized that Prof. Alvarezs comparison of Robert Black with that other Herald reporter who found Dr. Livingstone was subtly foreshadowing Blacks inevitable encounter with Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Equally, it is also possible that such theories become outlandish, echoing the excesses of 9/11 truthers in their drawing together of thick black lines between distant, disparate dots. Or, rarely, there might be a happy medium between the two.

I put it to you, fellow readers: Providence isnt just about Lovecraft, his fiction, its meanings and its impact. Its also a riposte to True Detective Season 1.

Stay with me here.

Continue reading

Providence Character Names, Copyright, and Obscenity

Hillman confusing Robert Black's name - from Providence #3, art by Jacen Burrows
Hillman confusing Robert Black’s name – from Providence #3, art by Jacen Burrows

Some have asked why Alan Moore is changing some of the names from H. P. Lovecraft’s stories, questioning whether it has to do with copyright.

The short answer is that it has nothing to do with copyright. The copyright situation with Lovecraft’s works is complicated, as explained by Chris J. Karr over at Black Seas of Copyright, but the bottom line of it is that the original pulp versions of Lovecraft’s fiction that appeared in Weird Tales and Astounding Stories – including classics like “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” “The Shadow Out of Time,” and At the Mountains of Madness – are all considered to be in the public domain in the United States, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and many other countries.

Moore is free to use and refer to Lovecraft’s creations—but he is being careful about doing so in Providence for literary reasons.  Continue reading

Read Before Providence #6: Hali’s Booke and Lovecraft’s Necronomicon

Providence 6 cover, left, and Alumni Hall, right. Photo via Wikipedia.
Providence #6 cover, left, and St. Anselm College’s Alumni Hall, right. Cover art by Jacen Burrows. Photo via Wikipedia.

Providence #6 hits stores on November 25!

At the end of Providence #5, Robert Black was still in Manchester, NH, having had some very unsettling dreams in the house of witch Hekeziah Massey. We don’t have any real advance knowledge of what will be featured in issue number 6, though there are a few clues.

Providence #6 may well feature:

  • Dr. Hector North – Black encountered Dr. North at the beginning and end (Pages 3 and 25) of Providence #5, and was last seen in North’s home. North/West appears on the Portrait variant cover for Providence #6. Dr. North is the Providence’s analogue of Dr. Herbert West of Lovecraft’s “Herbert West—Reanimator.” For additional background on West, see our earlier preview post summarizing him and his exploits.
  • Elspeth – Black encountered Elspeth (whose last name has not been revealed yet), on the bridge on P6 of Providence #5. Elspeth is the Providence analogue of Asenath Waite from “The Thing on the Doorstep.” Asenath/Elspeth appears on the Women of HPL variant cover for Providence #6. Asenath Waite is a young Miskatonic University student, who is possessed by the soul of her father. Most of the events of “The Thing on the Doorstep” would likely take place well after Providence‘s 1919, but Asenath/Elspeth and her father could have some ties to the American coven called the Worshipful Order of the Stella Sapiente.
  • St. Anselm College – St. Anselm College is a stand-in for Lovecraft’s fictional Miskatonic University which appears in numerous stories. Providence #6 regular cover features St. Anselm’s Alumni Hall.

What is almost certain is that Black will continue his quest to view St. Anselm’s copy of Hali’s Booke of the Wisdom of the Stars – so this is a good opportunity to highlight the differences between Lovecraft’s conception of the Necronomicon and its Providence equivalent.

In Providence, the dreaded book goes by a few names. Its original Arabic name was Kitab Al-Hikmah Al-Najmiyya. It was later translated to Latin with the title Liber Stella Sapiente, and then into English as Hali’s Booke of the Wisdom of the Stars. Suydam’s pamphlet (P31-40 in Providence #2) contains an extensive, though not entirely trustworthy, history of the Kitab. It might be helpful to refer to our new timeline to follow along.

Hali's Book of the Wisdom of the Stars, from the Providence #4 Portrait variant cover - art by Jacen Burrows
Hali’s Booke of the Wisdom of the Stars, from the Providence #4 Portrait variant cover – art by Jacen Burrows

According to Lovecraft’s “History of the Necronomicon,” the Miskatonic University Library’s copy is a Latin edition from the 17th century, printed in Spain, and is one of three such copies of the Latin edition in the United States; this is generally consistent with most of Lovecraft’s other stories, though a secret copy appears in “The Festival” and another in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Other editions hinted at or given in America are a partial English translation by John Dee, in the possession of the Whateley family in “The Dunwich Horror,” and a Greek edition held by the Pickman family, whose descendants include Richard Upton Pickman of “Pickman’s Model.”

However, Moore has already somewhat departed from this basic model. Hali’s Booke is already in English, not Latin, and there is no translation by Dr. Dee – rather, Garland Wheatley was transcribing portions of it directly. Likewise, Moore makes no suggestion of a Greek edition in his publishing history of the Kitab, so if Ronald Underwood Pitman (the Providence analogue of Richard Upton Pickman) has access to a copy, it is probably either the St. Anselm edition or a copy thereof. It will be interesting to see if Black’s continued researches take him down to Boston to visit Pitman… or if his researches bring him into contact with the Providence counterparts to some of Lovecraft’s other characters who encountered the Necronomicon, such as Edward Pickman Derby of “The Thing on the Doorstep” (whose name already suggests a possible connection to the Boston Pickmans), or the librarian Dr. Henry Armitage of “The Thing on the Doorstep” (whose already-named but so far not-seen Providence equivalent is Dr. Wantage).

So far, Providence readers have not encountered any of the companion texts in Lovecraft’s shared universe, Continue reading

Read Before Providence #4: Meet the Wheatleys

Only a couple days before Providence #4 is out, and all signs point to Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows tackling one of the major building blocks of Lovecraft’s Mythos, “The Dunwich Horror.”

Providence #4, Portrait cover, by Jacen Burrows
Providence #4, Portrait cover, by Jacen Burrows

In the last comic pages of Providence #3, Robert Black was on the bus from Salem to Athol, Massachusetts, the real-life inspiration for the fictional town of Dunwich, with its looming Sentinel Hill, crowned with ancient megaliths and hose to strange rites. Black is on the trail of an English translation of Hali’s Booke of the Wisdom of the Stars, the central text of the Stella Sapiente cult and its various fractions, said to be held by the Wheatley family, who had provided a copy of the text to Robert Suydam, who ultimately sold it to Dr. Alvarez in Providence #1. This parallels Lovecraft’s own artificial mythology, where the degenerate Whateley family of Dunwich own a rare English language translation of the fabled Necronomicon, as translated by Dr. John Dee – a figure Moore has something of an affinity for in several of his works, as touched on briefly in Road to Providence.

Dee, from League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, art by Kevin O'Neill
Dee, from League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, art by Kevin O’Neill

In his recent interview ‘Lovecraft Never Said That His Entities Were Evil’ – Alan Moore On Myth, Magic, And The Elder Gods, Moore expands on his approach to Lovecraft and the occult in Providence:

I asked myself, “If that was true, how would it all link up?” Then, I started a process, tracing back to Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, to some of the early New England wizards in Lovecraft’s fiction who must have known each other. Who were living in such a relatively small area at more or less exactly the same time, so that I thought it would do no violence to Lovecraft’s work if you said, “Yes, these three people, they knew each other”. […]

The magic that appears in Providence is that which appeared in Lovecraft’s stories. There were some very dodgy occult incantations mentioned in, I think, “Horror at Red Hook”, cribbed from Encyclopedia Britannica without really understanding them, and it showed. And, of course, there are references to Cabbalists in a few Lovecraft stories. This is not a book about magic. This is a book about Lovecraft. Without going too far into it, I’ve made sure that those references in Providence are credible and realistic.

Moore’s efforts so far have tied together Lovecraft’s various witches and wizards with a credible work of medieval Arabic, the aforementioned Hali’s Booke, which appears to be effectively equivalent to real-world manuscripts like the Picatrix. While the details are still maddeningly vague, so far the works of the group combine invocation of Lovecraftian entities with Wilhelm Reich’s concept of orgone (most prominent in the chamber in Salem that links Providence #3 and Neonomicon) and some allusions to Qabbalah and Hermeticism in Suydam’s mystical paraphernalia in Providence #2. Where all this will lead in Providence #4 remains to be seen, but we can make three reasonable guesses.

First, the translation of the Necronomicon by John Dee; the Wheatley’s English translation may also be by Dee, in which case it could connect to or reference Dee’s work with Enochian magic. Second, there is a connection with Arthur Machen – Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” is essentially a pastiche of Machen’s “The Great God Pan,” and Lovecraft placed considerable emphasis on Machen’s stories of strange, non-human aboriginal races surviving to the modern day and intimations of witchcraft, tying those into Margaret Murray’s theories on the survival of a great European witch-cult; Machen was also, briefly, a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Finally, the act of magic which resulted in the conception of William Whateley in “The Dunwich Horror” has parallels with another magical conception, a sort of planetary magic described by Aleister Crowley in his novel Moonchild, a parallel briefly explored by Robert M. Price in his story “Wilbur Whateley Waiting.”

The Necronomicon Files
The Necronomicon Files

Whether any or all of these make it into the following product, we’ll find out in a few more days. Readers interested in some of the background research by Moore, the recent interview references a number of works, from hoax Necronomicons, Satanic murders, and chaos magicians using Lovecraftian entities in their workings to the essays of Lovecraft scholar Dirk W. Mosig. While Moore doesn’t mention them by name, the two works that would cover most of the material he discusses would include The Necronomicon Files: The Truth Behind the Legend by Daniel Harms and John William Gonce III, and Mosig at Last: A Psychologist Looks at Lovecraft by Dirk W. Mosig.