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Melvin Monster Vol. 1
posted June 9, 2009


Creator: John Stanley
Publishing Information: Drawn & Quarterly, hardcover, 184 pages, May 2009, $19.95
Ordering Numbers: 9781897299630 (ISBN13)

Now that I've seen the first Melvin the Monster volume from Drawn & Quarterly's ambitious John Stanley Library project, I'm satisfied there will be fewer complaints about its overall design than I might have expected. The on-line jpegs such as the one reproduced above don't communicate the detail work in Seth's treatment of the book, its pleasing, tactile qualities and the sheen of certain visual elements. It's as attractive as any book I've seen this year, or at least in the general neighborhood and unless one is completely tired of the designer's approach I have to imagine this one won't be a specific item of complaint. I can see how some may find the insides muddy or darker than expected, but they looked just fine to me. I am admittedly a light touch when it comes to appraisals of interior art direction, but I like the way these look and tend to enjoy when books capture certain elements of the unique, visual feel of the original books, even as that makes others moan.

Where some griping is likely to focus itself is in the decision to do only three issues, and perhaps the choice not to include covers (at least not in this volume) given the as-is approach to the interior pages. It's hard to appraise a work against a work that doesn't exist. I'll venture that I would have enjoyed a bigger book and to see the covers reproduced, although admittedly that's me substituting my taste for the people putting together the work. In other words, I don't object to different choices being made and like the book as is. I'm just assuming some people will object, and I can see their point of view.

Once reader make it past these presentational issues, they'll be pleased to find the comics are rock-solid. Melvin is a sturdy comic, although maybe not a revelatory one, and a kids book from which I can imagine all sorts of people deriving at least some pleasure: it's imaginatively designed and drawn, doesn't pander and is frequently funny. Stanley's basic formula is appropriately rigid: Melvin wants some non-monster things as part of his childhood experience, such as going to school. Where Stanley finds room to maneuver is in giving Melvin a variety of roles to play: he's the hapless victim at times and the overpowering force of nature at others; he wants these non-monster things but never rejects being a monster. Not only does this provide the little stories with a bit of churn in that you're not quite sure where Melvin will settle in as protagonist, it fairly reflects the chaotic nature of childhood and the various roles little kids take on to find their way through. Stanley makes the whole thing a bit more complex by working with a variety of different sizes of story when a single narrative might have done the trick. I'd say the gag work settles in only at a grade of B: a sequence where Melvin is flying through the air proves fairly inspired; a page or so where Cleopatria the alligator eats a pillow instead of our hero feels like it came from a low-grade piece of animation you buy at Wal-Mart for $1.99.