October 20, 2013

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Halloween Horror: Monster on the Hill

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2013! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

[A short note: I had some horror of my own dealing with a now-dead car. Should be back in blogging action this week.-Rob]

Written by Rob Harrell
Illustrated by Rob Harrell
Top Shelf Comics

Every town has a monster that keeps its residents scared--and protected. Every town, that is, except Stoker-on-Avon. Their monster sucks. Heck, he can't even fly, despite having wings. The town takes drastic action to prompt their protagonist, but the act of getting a stronger monster leads to greater danger that only a monster can stop--if he can get over his own issues first.

From the opening pages, when a cute, Victorian family, thrills as a monster wreaks havoc on their town, you know you're in for a book that's going to be all ages in the best possible way. Rob Harrell, best known for his work on the comic strip Big Top, brings an irreverent wit to the proceedings that's perfect for adults and young readers. (Think of the work Jeff Parker did for Marvel Adventures or, more recently, the Cartozia Tales anthology.) There's sparkling snark and funny lines all across Monster on the Hill in a story that refuses to take itself too seriously for much of the work. With the exception of the battle between the monsters and the Murk, everything about the book is light-hearted without falling in on itself by trying to be too cute.

There are plenty of little in-jokes that make this one a book that even those without children will want to read. The town name of Stoker is a gimme, as is the name of the weak monster, Rayburn (clearly a play on Ray Bradbury). Others are trickier to spot, coming in as verbal clues or visual gags. Harrell's dialogue is amazingly clever, able to balance feeling old-fashioned with a modern tone at the same time, helped by having the pre-teen character of Timothy represent the readership.

Mad Monster Mudbath
The story is extremely strong as well. It follows a pretty standard narrative structure, setting up the heroes of the story, their problem, and why Rayburn will need to overcome his problems to prevent disaster. It loses some points for being an all-male cast, which is really the only complaint I have about the story itself. Despite not breaking any new ground, Harrell keeps the reader from noticing the stock nature of the base plot by having extremely entertaining characters and drawing the heck out of them.

Even though Harrell is new to the graphic novel genre, he takes to the form like an old pro. His layouts are vibrant, with action going on in every panel. He uses a lot of big and bold splash pages to carry the story, which works because it's the best way to show monsters in a comic. (If you don't, you risk diminishing their scope and scale.) The characters emote early and often with broad facial expressions that's done without exaggeration. Given that three of the characters are monsters, getting them to express themselves without ruining the general structure of the art itself is no mean feat.

I also absolutely love the coloring in this book. Harrell's palate choices are impeccable. They highlight and contract the main characters or blend into the background as needed. Taking advantage of being in a fantasy setting, there's no need to be realistic. When we see things like Venus Flytrap-like trees, Harrell colors them however he feels, not even bothering to make them "look right."

While this book isn't all that scary, it's got its moments and makes a great Halloween present for a young horror fan in your life--or one that's older but enjoys tongue-in-cheek fun and visuals that are some of the best I've seen in an all-ages book. This one is definitely worth grabbing before the Murk comes to visit!