Monday, June 30, 2014

Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell

What a gorgeous graphic novel. I am a color girl. If you tell me your name it will most likely blip into the black hole region of my brain, but if you ask me what color shirt you were wearing when we met then I can give you the color and whatever do-dad was written on the front or hanging around your neck. Too bad I never had access to comics as a kid. Too bad they were considered low-brow literature by the school librarian. I have not read many graphic novels but the ones I have lately, such as Nathan Hale's Hazardous tales, Salem Hyde series, and now this one, have given me the motivation to add more to my repertoire. They are funny, clever, and down-right twisty fun.

This story starts with a monster terrorizing the town of Billingwood, England during the 1800s. Tentacular is a vision of terror and the residents are thrilled by the destruction and horror he paves through their town each day. Bragging rights are theirs for the best monster in the area. Tourism is up and residents are proud as peach of their monster. There is even a plush souvenir of Tentacular. Things are different in the nearby town of Stoker-on-Avon. Their monster, Raymond, is depressed. He can be found cowering in his cave versus rampaging through town. The town fathers hire a scientist, Dr. Charles Nathaniel Wilkie, to fix Raymond.

This author has great humor and play on words. Take "Stoker-on-Avon" and the town fathers. Immediately I think of Bram Stroker of "Dracula" and Shakespeare's Stratford-on-Avon which is supposed to be a lovely village outside of London. Timothy the town-crier looks like a character out of a Dickens novel. Mood and setting are established by references to classics. The town fathers are named Mr. Hawthorne, Mr. Stevenson, and Mr. Shelley, and it is delicious details like this that elevate the humor for adults and children. Nathaniel Hawthorne might be best known for "The Scarlet Letter," but his creepy "Twice-told Tales" would have put a smile on Edgar Allan Poe's face. Robert Louis Stevenson also wrote eerie short stories while Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" is familiar to most. While young readers might not catch the references, they are going to love the monsters and scariness mixed with humor and gags.

The scientist, Dr. Wilkie, has had his licensed revoked for questionable experiments. If he helps the down-and-out town dud of a monster he can have his lab for research back. The town crier, Timothy, stows along as he heads to the monsters cave.  Timothy is the perfect foil to the doctor adding humor and practical advice. He has a thicker British accent than the other characters making "'im one of me favorites." "I 'eard you conversin' with the sawbones. Sounds like you've got a bit of a confidence problem!" The doctor diagnoses the monster's problem and then says he can fix his melancholy by drilling a hole in his head to let the demons out. They ensuing sarcastic comments by Timothy and followup gags had me hooting or "bleedin' ecstatic." They go on a quest to help Raymond find the beastliness inside of himself. But Raymond finds much more. He discovers the meaning of friendship and faces his fears. Toss in the loyalty of an old friend and a villain much like the Wicked Witch of the West and you have a great story. The illustrations are terrific and color vibrant. A must for your library.

5 Smileys

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