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The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book
posted August 12, 2009
Fantagraphics, hardcover, 112 pages, August 2009, $22.99
As we live in such astonishing times that books from a top ten all-time comics talent might in any given month somehow escape our attention, I want to call as much attention as I can to Joe Daly's sublimely odd and very, very funny The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book
, even though I have very little to say about it other than I liked it a lot. It sort of reminds me of a comic book drawn from two recent comedy movie traditions: the assured pacing and settled-in feel of all those Judd Apatow-produced summer hits, where the actors don't feel as if they're in any hurry to go anywhere until the room is exhausted of jokes, combined with the fanciful flourishes of films from people like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry and the Coens in that mode where the nonsensical is treated as both absolutely normal and everything that makes the world startling and different and joyful.
Okay, I know that's totally stupid. So was my first shot at the review where I described Daly's sensibility as Dan Clowes and Joe Sacco adapting Pete Sickman-Garner's comics. It's just that everything in Daly's Capetown is so matter-of-fact and weird all at once that you begin to admire the force
of the consistent tone more than you do the moments when various elements clash and spark against one another. It's drip-drip-drip comedy, more Bill Forsythe than Mel Brooks (I'll stop now). There's a richness to the work and a patience to it that allows different levels of reality to sink in. Our narrator is an average fella with a job he finds unsatisfying and girlfriend problems besides. Our narrator is also an odd-looking guy with monkey feet, a job drawing bricks and a girlfriend that's leaving him because she no longer thinks he's weird in that way that will one day rope in a lot of money. It's hard to imagine too many cartoonists holding those kinds of competing levels of reality together, let alone synthesizing them into a lovely deadpan poem made up of rich colors, oddball character designs and Barksian plots. If you're one of those that complains that comics doesn't allow for new and unique comic sensibilities, you need to read this book. Actually, everyone should. Forget the comparisons: they don't really apply.