I don’t think the old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is always true.
If I found a book that had a cover made from a strangely rotting “leather”, which seemed to form a distorted face trapped in an eternity of agony with the title “Necronomicon”, then I’d cease my assessment right there and walk away.
My first impressions of The Anatomical Guide to Lovecraft was of the book’s cover, and I wasn’t impressed. The book looks understated. We’re certainly some distance away from the bold colours of terror we often get from Petersen Games. There’s a brown strip that cuts a quarter of the way from the spine on the cover. The remaining space is a sickly green with a sketch of some Cthulhu monstrosity.
The artist responsible for all the illustrations in the guide is Luis Merlo. The Ecuadorian only works with physical media and the Lovecraftian entities found within the textbook have been drawn by hand. Monsters have been forged with a pencil or pen, but not with a stylus and not with a computer.
I think it’s for the best, but the text of the book is traditionally digital. It’s printed. Luis’s handwritten (font faked) note noting that all previous authors of similar Guides have died prematurely is a one-off.
The result is a mixture of easy to read but uniform text alongside hand-drawn sketches. If these illustrations were not of cannibal perversions from beyond space and time, it would be quaint.
So, as turning a few yellowed pages reveals, the guide’s cover very much suits the book. We’ve understated and yet powerful illustrations. There’s no whiff of colourful high drama.
Using the Guide
Nor is there even a trace of a roleplaying game. You might best know Sandy Petersen, who introduces the book with concerns over Luis’ wellbeing, as a game designer, but this guide does not desire your dice. It’s a 110 or so page encyclopedia.
I last read the complete works of Lovecraft about three decades ago (while listening to Nirvana on repeat; an act which still summons images of Cthulhu-spawn to mind whenever I hear any of Kurt Cobain’s music). That’s a long time ago, and it means that sometimes when I read a sentence like, “And before the professor towered a formidable Gug!” my reaction is one of “Wait, is that the one with all the fins?”
No, reminds the Anatomical Guide. It isn’t. Here’s how the Gug’s entry begins;
Gugs are, without a doubt, the largest extant mammals inhabiting the Dreamland dimension. They can grow thrice the size of a regular human and several times as strong. These colossal bipeds are covered in black fur and have horrifying vertical mouths that open sideways. Their pinkish eyes are protected at the sides of their head by two bony plates and each of their arms gives rise to two forearms tipped with large grasping claws.
That’s right. I’m claiming that if you’re a particular type of geek, The Anatomical Guide to Lovecraftian Horrors has a practical value.
Don’t buy the guide just for the illustrations; it works because of combining a thoughtful write-up of each creature and accompanying sketches. One does not work without the other, and no single element carries the guide.
I only have a PDF copy of the book. I would love to have it as a non-pejorative coffee table book, something for visitors to notice, pick up and happily distract themselves with while I burn dinner or order a pizza. Or be spotted in the background of a Zoom call.
As a fan of Lovecraft’s work and more of a fan of the mythos he helped create, I’m very pleased with The Anatomical Guide to Lovecraftian Horrors.
If like me, you sometimes back Kickstarters because you “just have to have it – for the collection”, then I strongly suspect The Anatomical Guide to Lovecraftian Horrors is a book for your shelves.
However, I’m sorry to read that Luis Merlo mysteriously vanished shortly after completing the guide. I hope he is alright.
Please note that my copy of The Anatomical Guide to Lovecraftian Horrors was provided for review.
- Available from March 29th: The Anatomical Guide to Lovecraftian Horrors
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