Written and Illustrated by Pat Dorian
Published by Pantheon
Publication Date: 10/6/2020
The late Forrest J. Ackerman left a controversial legacy, but there is no denying he had a tremendous influence on several generations of young monster fans, keeping the names of Karloff and Lugosi in the limelight and helping to make Price, Cushing, and Lee bigger stars than they already were. Perhaps more importantly in the long run, he made absolutely sure that his readers never forgot Lon Chaney, featuring articles and photos of him in almost every single issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland.
Looking back now, it’s plain to see that Chaney never really fit the “horror star” mold, with only a couple of his pictures really falling into that category. He was “the Man of a Thousand Faces,” a first rank, all-around actor and a major star in his day!
In fact, some 27 years after his passing, Hollywood produced The Man of a Thousand Faces, a sanitized feature film version of his life story starring James Cagney.
But over time, with all but one of his pictures silent and hard to find for many years, Lon Chaney faded into obscurity with the exception of the now iconic images of his Phantom of the Opera and Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Then came the ‘Net. It’s been said that one can find just about anything on the ‘Net and that is definitely true when it comes to Lon Chaney movies (with the notable exception of London After Midnight, but that’s a story in and of itself!).
Somewhere along that path, artist/writer Pat Dorian discovered Lon’s films and researched his story and the result is Lon Chaney Speaks.
First of all, let me say that Dorian’s art style in this book reminds me quite a bit of that of children’s book illustrator Syd Hoff! That is by no means a bad thing as Hoff was a brilliant storyteller, too, and Dorian seems to match him there as well. The different sections of the volume are even colored in different single-color variations, as have been many children’s books through the years. The result, although it’s not listed as a graphic novel for younger readers, looks for all the world like a kids’ biography of Lon Chaney.
And a good one it is! Necessarily episodic due to length restrictions, it hits all the high notes in the story of the silent star’s life and career, from his deaf parents to his alcoholic first wife, reviving their seemingly stillborn child, his struggles in Hollywood, his mastery of make-up, his classic portrayals, and his eventual triumphant talkie debut. There’s even an odd aside about a murderer who claimed to have been influenced by Chaney in visions. I looked that one up. It was true!
There’s no real downside to Lon Chaney Speaks. It capsulizes his life just enough. He’s depicted as a less than perfect man, getting along as well as he can in a less than perfect world. The book ends at a brief high point just before his death at the age of only 47.
I like to think Forrest J. Ackerman, the man whose idolization of Lon introduced him to so many of us, would appreciate that Pat Dorian is here carrying on that tradition.