A Graphic Novel by Daria Schmitt
Every once in a while, I come across a book that completely subverts expectation in just about every way possible, and that’s exactly what happened today when reading The Monstrous Dreams of Mr. Providence by Daria Schmitt, a new graphic novel published by Europe Comics. At first, I thought this was just a gothic fantasy story, somewhat akin to Sandman or Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, but I had a HUGE realization later on that this was in fact a back-door biographical story based on a VERY prominent author. My interest in the book grew exponentially as I started to try to make sense of the symbolism and mystery involved in the story.
“Mr. Providence is the caretaker at what seems by day to be an ordinary city park. But the park is home to mysterious entities that awaken when night falls, and Providence has sworn to protect its visitors despite the doubts of his corporate-minded new manager. A delicate balance is tipped into chaos with the discovery of a mysterious blank book—and the dark energies it threatens to unleash. All Providence wants is to escape: to somewhere quiet, isolated, and peaceful, like the strange high house he keeps seeing reflected in the park’s pond…”
The artwork in this graphic novel is absolutely stunning. Some pages are in color, while the majority is in black and white, and rendered in a complex pen and ink art style. The art is highly detailed and hardly any space on any given page is left untouched. These are broad comparisons, but I was somewhat reminded of the manga artist Junji Ito, who wields a similar style in terms of backgrounds and splash pages mixed with the sensibilities of Neil Gaiman’s writing and character designs, notably with something like The Sandman. Add a huge bucket of H.P Lovecraft (which I will soon elaborate on), and that’s generally the tone of this book. I have no real idea as to whom Daria Schmitt is actually inspired by, but those names kept coming to me.
Speaking of H.P. Lovecraft, people familiar with his works will get a far better appreciation for this story than others, and honestly without knowing a bit about him, the finer points of this may fly right over their heads. One of the main storyline points in this book revolves around Mr. Providence trying to protect a mysterious book with blank pages hiding a great evil from the “Mental Health Services”. Considering that Providence looks exactly like H.P. Lovecraft, and Providence, Rhode Island is where Lovecraft lived, one can easily see that this was not a story about a fantasy character named Mr. Providence, but H.P. Lovecraft himself. At one point we even see the mysterious book he has been guarding is an actual Lovecraft story called The Strange High House in The Mist, printed in full within the pages of this graphic novel. One can surmise that the actual plot if this book was something akin to a magical world Lovecraft escapes to in his own mind.
In regard to his battles with psychologists, I’m sure the book was making a point with this in regards to mental health treatment being averse to creativity or something, but this portion was kind of weird. I know Lovecraft largely died because he HATED doctors and basically withered away from cancer, so perhaps this is what they were going for? It would take a far more knowledgeable person to see any symbolism I may have missed.
One’s enjoyment of this book is directly proportional to how much somebody likes or knows about H.P. Lovecraft. While I personally am not the biggest fan of Lovecraftian literature, I know about him and appreciate what the author was doing here as these sorts of meta storylines based on a famous person’s life can be somewhat weird at times. The artwork in this is absolutely amazing, and easily stands out as some of the best comic artwork I’ve seen all year so far. If you enjoy off-the-wall fantasy stories or are a huge Lovecraft fan, I’d recommend this in a heartbeat as you really can’t go wrong with some a well-done book that takes chances like this.
If you are interested in this book, click HERE
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NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.