If you’re unfamiliar, The House on the Borderland is a novel written by William Hope Hodgson in 1908. It’s considered by many to be a precursor to the entire Cosmic Horror genre. In his criticism of Hodgson’s works, H.P. Lovecraft sings a few praises of the novel, saying “But for a few touches of commonplace sentimentality this book would be a classic of the first water.” However, I think the greatest (and most relevant) compliment comes from Alan Moore, describing the book as having an “aftertaste.”
This “aftertaste” that Moore describes is the thing that keeps me coming back to the story. I’ve read very few horror stories that reach the same peaks of imagination and strangeness as The House on the Borderland. The finding of the manuscript, the unreliable narrator, the absurd juxtaposition of swine-faced monsters with huge, elaborate cosmic and universal vistas, the ambiguous ending: the story contains so many of the hallmarks that define similar stories in the genre. The story’s scale mocks humanity’s universal significance while simultaneously placing a human element at the center of all that exists. It answers no questions, offers no resolutions, only a taste of uneasiness that keeps us returning to the story hoping to find those overlooked clues that can tell us what it all means.
After I read the story a couple times, I realized that absurdity and ambiguity were themes missing in my work. I deviated from an entirely technical drawing practice to one that emphasizes chance, chaos, and interpretation – laying down material and excavating bits of imagery like staring at a popcorn ceiling. When experimenting, the book gave me so much diverse imagery to pull from: planets, haunted houses, foliage, bottomless pits, rapid passings of time, and of course, swine-faced monsters.
Although there are no direct ties to the story in works like my SHADE, and Nausea series, the mode of keeping things loose, interpretive, and ambiguous remains. However, whenever I am in the ideation stages of a new series, whenever I need a break to draw for drawing’s sake, I always have Hodgson’s well of imagery to keep my hands moving and my imagination satisfied.
Though It’s unlikely I would make traditional, here’s-what’s-happening illustrations, suppose I plan to one day illustrate the entire novel.
HorrorBabble has a fantastic, unabridged reading of the story online: