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Monster Christmas
posted December 1, 2011

imageCreator: Lewis Trondheim
Publishing Information: Papercutz, hardcover, 32 pages, 2011, $9.99
Ordering Numbers: 9781597072885 (ISBN13)

CR received this holiday effort from NBM kids' line Papercutz in late August, meaning that any number of North American writers-about-comics will have likely written a review between the time this was written (early September) and the date it was posted (early December). It's hard for me to imagine it won't be generally well-received, and that many of you out there reading it won't have some sense of it by now. This is a funny, sweet and gently unhinged story about a pre-Christmas rolling encounter with monsters and Santa Claus by characters representing what seems to be the Trondheim family, told from the vantage point of their then (it was created in the late '90s) young children.

Monster Christmas is a slight story by the French cartoonist's standards. It's nothing that would come close to making a top twenty of his overall works. Its primary aim is entertaining the audience, which, while never a bad thing, can be a dubious pathway to significant, affecting art. It's hard to care with something that's this well-executed, bearing enough idiosyncratic charm to carry it through some of the rougher patches in the baseline narrative. It does a couple of things very well. Trondheim dreams up a scenario that is definitely one with which kids might be familiar around the holidays: that of a planned, family trip instead of the slightly more reassuring choice to stay at home and decorate the house and have gift-giving there. Trondheim also displays a light touch with the family's interrelationships, keeping things affectionate without making them cloyingly sweet while also finding the humor in certain individual actions without crossing the line into sitcom-style cynicism. When the father answers a call to action over a furor outside of the family auto by agreeing that something must be done and then locking the doors, it's a funny moment rather than shtick.

Thirty-two pages at full-color may sound an alarm to some budget-conscious North American comics fans, but the design is solid, Adam Grano's production work snaps everything into place, and fans of Trondheim's same-era English-language comic book series The Nimrod know that despite his light touch Trondheim is a master at dense comics pages that make many of his books feel twice as long as they really are. Such is the case here. Comics has only recently begun to pay attention to holiday-related stories again. While Monster Christmas isn't one of the classics that will likely be necessary to put that sub-genre on the maps, it's the kind of work you can imagine getting burrowed into more than one family's yearly tradition. I think I would have liked it very much in my single-digit years. I like it now.