Review: Organisms from an Ancient Cosmos by S. Craig Zahler (guest entry)

Article by Jason, aka Lonegoat from the Necroclassical project Goatcraft and the host of the Necropolis podcast

The second graphic novel by director, screenwriter, cinematographer, novelist, musician and extreme metal enthusiast S. Craig Zahler, Organisms from an Ancient Cosmos is a synthesis of classic science fiction and horror exhibited in a good-looking hardcover. Precisely as with his first graphic novel Forbidden Surgeries of the Hideous Dr. Divinus, Zahler handled all facets of its creation; from its intricate story to all the art direction and drawings. Surely a meticulous process and living up to his title of being a realm-builder, everything is fleshed out in an equilibrium which is simultaneously intuitive and empirical. Multiple layers emerge and colorfully intermingle and coalesce not unlike in Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge or Bruckner’s 5th symphony.

The distinctive drawings and general art direction are in the same vein as in Zahler’s first graphic novel, Forbidden Surgeries of the Hideous Dr. Divinus. However, everything is very much greater in scale here. There are more pages, characters, and the creativity seems to have derived from an above average understanding of astrophysical theories and biology. The terror itself being macroscopic organelles that resemble monstrosities seen in fever dreams. In fact, the terror seems like a more realistic interpretation of how the organisms come together to create the vessel in Robert Sheckley’s wonderful short story Specialist; perhaps the best sci-fi story ever written. Zahler’s rendering makes one wonder what consciousness is beyond our human understandings of it.

Although the intuitive framework places each piece in its proper position, there is an observant empiricism which draws in a good number of engaging lifelike sequences to render the characters and their narratives relatable. Much like in Zahler’s movies, the main characters are people with their own idiosyncratic narratives pitted against great obstacles, each with their own exclusive stake in the greater diegesis. Backstories are organically illustrated, in more ways than one, and connected for the reader to succumb to much attachment to each part of the tale. This very human aspect is universal in all Zahler’s works, and it is very much laid bare here in Organisms from an Ancient Cosmos.

This graphic novel was a wonderful read which enthralled me to finish it in one sitting. The attention to detail from the very modest to the cosmos-shattering made it a very captivating experience. Zahler is truly a “realm builder” and his creativity has no bounds in terms of storytelling. Highly recommended.

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