Neonomicon Hornbook

Neonomicon Hornbook cover, by Jacen Burrows
Neonomicon Hornbook cover, by Jacen Burrows

Below are annotations for the Neonomicon Hornbook “At the Mansions of Madness”   (16 pages, December 2009)
Writer: Alan Moore (AM), Artist: Jacen Burrows (JB), Based on works of H.P. Lovecraft (HPL)
>Go to Moore Lovecraft annotations index

Note: some of this stuff is obvious, but you never know who’s reading this and what their exposure is. If there’s stuff we missed or got wrong, let us know in comments.

General: A hornbook is a primer; this issue was a preview, helping readers of The Courtyard to understand the context of Neonomicon. As such, it consists of the first 9 pages from Neonomicon #1, followed by Moore’s script for the first 5 pages of that issue. Except for the cover, then the annotations for the Neonomicon Hornbook are thus identical to those for the first 9 pages of Neonomicon #1, but are reproduced here for completeness.



  • The cover depicts Aldo Sax, garbed as a prisoner and sitting in a prison cell; the starry scene and missing bricks behind him suggest that despite his incarceration he is still tuned in to something bigger. The spiraling figure above his head resembles a DNA chain, perhaps hinting at Brears’ conception.

Page 1

panel 1

  • The bookend for Neonomicon as a whole, this amorphous, red-litten image brings to mind deep sea vents or a photograph of a nebula in deep space; the accompanying text, however, brings to mind Lovecraft’s famous couplet from The Call of Cthulhu: “In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”
  • The page (artwork and text) is repeated on the last page of Neonomicon #4. This is alluded to in the initial text: “It’s the end and the beginning.”
  • The image is actually the inside of a womb; the womb is Agent Merril Brears’ who, by the end of Neonomicon is pregnant from the Deep One. In the lower right of the page, the umbilical cord is visible.
  • “He’s beneath the waters” refers to both the waters in which the Deep Ones dwell, and the “water” of the amniotic fluid (as in a pregnant woman’s “water breaking.”)
  • This page utilizes a comics technique called a bleed. A bleed is an image with no panel border; the image extends to the edge of the page. The bleed is often used to establish a setting, though in this case it is employed to make the womb appear expansive, space-like. This may invoke the differences in space perception between humans and Cthulu.
  • The text is broken into four caption boxes, foreshadowing the pattern of each page being broken into four horizontal panels, used throughout Neonomicon, beginning on page 3.

Page 2

panel 1

  • This page introduces the characters Merrill Brears (on right and in rear view mirror) and Gordon Lamper (showing ID at guard booth.)
  • The title of this chapter “At the Mansions of Madness” is a callback to Lovecraft’s novel At the Mountains of Madness, as well as the famous tendency for some of his characters to end up in sanitariums after witnessing the truths of the Cthulhu Mythos.
  • On the right, you can just make out the cut-off sign for “Haven Secure Psychiatric Institute.”
  • In contrast to Page 1, this page is bordered. The border and the car interior create a more contained, even claustrophobic space. The reader has moved from the expansive Cthulu space of P1 to the cramped limited puny world of humans.
  • Though the panel is a full page, it contains rectangular “panels” similar to the rectangles that will frame most of the story: the windshield, and visible in the rear-view mirror. Overall, the page-size panel is roughly visually divided into four rectangles similar to the panel layout of subsequent pages: car interior ceiling, windshield, car dashboard, and below-dashboard area. Watch AllyourbasicGerard’s videos (which informed these annotations) exploring the framing devices employed by AM and JB.
  • The black panel gutters/borders interact with the black shadowed areas (for example the trees on the middle left) to create areas where the panel border is missing. This creates a situation where the gutters kind of bleed into the panels. More on this below – see P11.
  • The word balloon is broken into four ovals, again foreshadowing the four horizontal panel layout.
  • Lamper’s gaze is intriguing. She is looking to her right, away from Brears, but the reader sees her reflected in the rear-view mirror, effectively pointing to her left, drawing the reader’s gaze toward Brears.

Page 3

panel 1

  • This page introduces the layout scheme of each page containing four horizontal panels stacked on top of each other. With limited exceptions this format is employed throughout Neonomicon. This gives an almost cinematic feel, the eyes – and often the characters – typically drawn toward the center of each panel. It’s an effective trick of perspective, framing the reader’s attention. It’s a sideways version of the vertical rhythm employed in The Courtyard. The edges of the gutter are hand-drawn, slightly irregular, this helps them to, in some ways interact with the narrative – see for example P17,p4 below.

panel 2

  • “Sax” is the first mention of Aldo Sax, the protagonist from The Courtyard. Aldo Sax was an FBI agent investigating a series of gruesome murders, before becoming a gruesome murderer himself.
  • “Perlman” refers to Carl Perlman, Sax’s handler in The Courtyard.

panel 3

  • “You can’t fake these new ID cards” appears to be part of establishing a slightly futuristic alternate present. The Courtyard, published initially in 1994, takes place in 2004 (according to The Courtyard #1, P3,p1.) The 2004 Courtyard setting looks and feels fairly present-day, but that story does feature a few future tech devices including a fax phone booth, nano-cam, and a mention of the “Harlem Dome.” There’s no year stated explicitly in Neonomicon, but the dialogue refers to two years (P8,p2) after 2004 (P7,p3.) Alan Moore script excerpts published in Neonomicon Hornbook state that the story takes place in late summer 2006, two years after Courtyard. Neonomicon it also has several allusions to minor technological advances, including a couple of city-cover domes (first shown on P9,p4 below.)
  • “He’s got a nine” refers to a TEC-9 gun.
Victim carved into "tulip" from The Courtyard #1, P8 detail. Art by Jacen Burrows
Victim carved into “tulip” from The Courtyard #1, P8 detail. Art by Jacen Burrows

panel 4

  • Building “looks 1920s, 1930s” may be a reference to the productive writing years of H.P. Lovecraft.
  • “Carve people into… tulips” refers to the way Sax, and others, carved their victims. See Page 8-9 of The Courtyard for examples.

Page 4

panel 1

  • “[C]onvert more people into tulips” – see P3,p4 above.

panel 2

  • The nurse’s offhand comment “Der Fuhrer” is a nice little foreshadowing for Page 6, panel 3.

panel 3

  • “Sax, he killed two people” is explained below on P11,p4. In The Courtyard, on P22, Sax first murdered Germaine, the woman in the next door room. He subsequently killed the landlady in the same building.

Page 5

(no specific annotations P5)

Page 6

panel 1-4

  • The page employs a very effective use of the perspective trick, jumping back and forth from different sides of the glass, juxtaposing the two guards on either side of Sax (who is literally the center of attention) with the two agents seated across from him.
  • The panel frames are echoed by the similar rectangle of the glass barrier, creating a contained, claustrophobic feel. The slats of the glass barrier echo comics gutters.
  • In panels 1-4 the point of view zooms inward closer and closer to the glass barrier, which effectively becomes the surface of the comic page.
  • Color-wise, Sax in his orange prison uniform contrasts with the law enforcement personnel, who dress in cool neutral colors that blend into the institutional surrounding.

panel 2

  • Brears is more comfortable looking Sax in the face, while Lamper is uncomfortable, looking away and adjusting his tie.
Criminal Charles Manson in 2014. Image via Wikipedia
Criminal Charles Manson in 2014. Image via Wikipedia

panel 3

  • The swastika carved in Aldo Sax’s forehead is an obvious call-out to Charles Manson, who has an identical tatoo.
  • The swastika also recalls one of Lovecraft’s early depictions of the Elder Sign from The Shadow over Innsmouth:

“In some places they was little stones strewed abaout—like charms—with somethin’ on ’em like what ye call a swastika naowadays. Prob’ly them was the Old Ones’ signs.”

Before World War II, the swastika was a traditional good luck symbol in many cultures; its association with the Nazis led to its general abhorrence for most purposes.

  • The language Sax speaks is Aklo, derived from Lovecraft’s transcription of prehuman speech in his stories, with the name borrowed from Arthur Machen’s short story “The White People.”
  • The only recognizable term is “dho-na,” which Sax learned during The Courtyard – see P15.

panel 4

  • In the folder in Brears’ hand, you can just make out a flyer for the Ulthar Cats from The Courtyard, with their version of the Elder Sign, based off August Derleth’s version. The Ulthar Cats take their name from Lovecraft’s story “The Cats of Ulthar.”

Page 7

panel 1

  • “Y’golonac” is a creation of British horror writer Ramsey Campbell, first mentioned in his short story “Cold Print.” Sax mentions Y’golonac in The Courtyard #2, on Page 23, panels 1 and 2.

panel 2

  • “Lloigor” may refer to two different entities in the Cthulhu Mythos. One in “The Return of the Lloigor” by Colin Wilson they were a race of energy beings (and were typically used as such by Grant Morrison, and suggested as such in Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier.) The second Lloigor was originally used by August Derleth and Mark Schorer in “The Lair of the Star Spawn.” Lloigor was a singular entity, twin to Zhar.
  • “R’lyeh,” of course, is where Cthulhu lies dreaming. In HPL’s “The Call of Cthulhu” R’lyeh is a lost city – but in the context of the Neonomicon, it’s Agent Brear’s womb.
  • “Red Hook” is a neighborhood in Brooklyn. It’s where The Courtyard took place, and it references the HPL story “The Horror At Red Hook.”
  • It may signify something (or may be an error, or just be what was needed to fit everything in the panel clearly) that the Sax’s and Brear’s word balloons extend outside the panel and into the gutter above. This doesn’t occur very often – see P24,p3 below, then again in issue #2 P6,p4 and #4, P17,p4. It’s the exchange between Sax and Brears, who become, let’s say, allies by the end of issue #4. Compare Brear’s somewhat respectful “Yeah, that’s great.” with Lamper’s mocking tone in p1 above.

panel 2-4

  • Panels 2-4 are a fixed-camera sequence, a comics vocabulary tool that AM uses frequently, in Watchmen, and elsewhere. AM and JB use this sequence to show the contrast in Sax’s body language.

panel 3

  • “Rhan-Tegath” should probably have been “Rhan-Tegoth,” the Mythos entity in “The Horror in the Museum” by H. P. Lovecraft (ghostwritten for Hazel Heald).
  • “Club Zothique” is the club that Sax visited in The Courtyard #1 P14-21. The name “Zothique” comes from the writings of Clark Ashton Smith, a far-future continent where many of his fantasies are set.
  • “Fhtagn” is the last word of The Courtyard, deriving from Lovecraft “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn” from “The Call of Cthulhu.”

Page 8

panel 1-4

  • This page largely mirrors Page 3 (including Brears calling Perlman.) This palindrome repetition is reminiscent of some of the layout tricks that AM and Dave Gibbons did in Watchmen.
  • “That went pretty good” is grammatically incorrect, properly it should be “went pretty well.” This is part of establishing Agent Lamper as a sort of mainstream, no-nonsense, linear-thinking foil contrasting with Brears who is slightly more articulate, well-read, and broader-thinking.

panel 2

  • “CI” refers to Criminal Informant.
  • Gordon’s “octopus in his mouth” joke is reminiscent of the popular depiction of Cthulhu as humanoid with tentacles covering his mouth.

panel 4

  • Hannibal Lecter is the cannibalistic serial killer in the novels of Thomas Harris, made famous by Anthony Hopkins’ performance in the film adaptation Silence of the Lambs.

Page 9

panel 1-4

  • Panels 1-4 are a zoom sequence; they depict the same scene as the “camera” moves back away from the subject. AM uses these sequences frequently, including on P1 of Watchmen. What is a little disconcerting about this zoom sequence is that the vantage point and scale change so quickly (especially from p2 to p3, and p3 to p4) that the reader can not quite be sure of where the subject is in the panel.

panel 2

  • Quantico, VA is the home of Marine Corps Base Quantico, which houses a number of military and intelligence agency apparatus, including the FBI Academy and FBI Laboratory.

panel 3

  • 169 Clinton Street is in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn was where Lovecraft lived. It’s later revealed that this is the building where much of The Courtyard took place.

panel 4

  • This panel depicts the futuristic dome that covers various cities. The “Harlem dome” is mentioned in The Courtyard #1 P5,p2. In Neonomicon, domes are depicted at three sites: Quantico, VA, Brooklyn, NY, and Salem, MA. The domes are never actually explained, but they help create a somewhat claustrophobic setting. The domes form a grid, similar to comics panel borders; like panel borders, the dome-grids enclose the space in which the characters operate.
    In AM’s script (excerpt printed in Neonomicon Hornbook) he mentions “anti-pollution domes covering the major urban areas.”
    For an explanation of Neonomicon’s semi-futuristic timeline, see P3,p3 above.

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