November 2, 2013

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Monkeybrain on the Brain: Boo!

When Monkeybrain debuted in July 2012, I took a little time to feature a review on each of the debut titles, which I called "Monkeybrain on the Brain." Now it's home to Eisner winners and creators ranging from Kurt Busiek to Jen and I figured that now would be as good a time as any to revisit the line.

Over the course of November, I'll be featuring different Monkeybrain titles, both new and old. You can find them under the Monkeybrain tag, which includes links back to the ones I did initially.

Written and Illustrated by Various Creators, including Jon Morris, Chris Haley, Benito Cereno, and Joel Carroll

What could be scarier than a reality TV show, especially one starring all your favorite horror-story narrators being skewered lovingly by "Calamity" Jon Morris as they introduce tales of terror from some folks who also share a love of the genre?

I could think of no better Monkeybrain title to start with than this one, which transitions nicely from my Halloween Horror series to this feature and appears on the final day of Dio de Los Muertos 2013. This four-issue series, which appeared every Thursday running up to Halloween, was an inspired anthology series that was mostly a light-hearted look at horror, though definitely aimed at an older audience.

Using the premise that a Ryan Seacrest analogue, Dyin' Seacrist, is hosting a competition for the various scary narrators, every issue featured bumpers and frames by Morris that poked fun at everyone from DC's Cain and Abel to the Elvira type, all of whom get a chance to tweak the noses of their archetypes. (I especially love the Mysterious Stranger clone, who can't get the police to come because he has to spend so much time setting the stage. It's a running gag that has an appropriately abrupt climax, plenty of terrible puns, and artwork that will remind readers of Paul Grist and others of that type. These sequences were incredibly well done and often the highlight of the issues.

Issue One features an opening story by David Hopkins and Paul Milligan that proves working too hard will kill you, then transitions to a rather creepy story using a familiar plot with a new twist. Three ghost hunters rely on technology to avoid the pitfalls of those who came before them, only to find that in the hands of Leonard Pierce and Neal Von Flue, they're about as useful as a wet match. Pierce's self-aware dialogue makes the piece work, while Von Flue's unsettling sketchiness keeps the reader nicely off-balance. Closing out the issue, RJ White and Carl Nelson create a story that feels most like one you might find in Dark Horse's Creepy, with a man who hates people trapped in a subway car and unable to handle the pressure.

Issue Two leads off with Matt Smigiel turning the tables on the zombie trope, with a whole horde of people gorging on Gingerbread Men. His work reminded me of PP favorite Jarod Rosello, with a lot of sharp lines in the main characters The real key to the fun of this story, however, is the background work. Smigiel fills each panel with tons of little details, like the Romero Market, jagged edges on broken glass, and even individual designs on the helmets of the Gingerbread Army.

Ken Lowery and Shawn McGuan would make Nix Comics' Ken Eppstein smile, as their story features a demonic band whose attempt at possession is foiled by a bathroom break. This one was hurt a bit, I think, by the art, which felt a bit too processed and realistic, which clashed with the rest of the stories in the issue. The Last Sceance from Kyle Starks ends the proceedings, as a long-time investigative pair find that some ghosts are closer than they ever imagined. Starks' work has some resemblance to Kate Beaton, which fits the old-fashioned Victorian feel of the story. He does some great panel selection work in this eerie story of revenge delayed.

Issue Three was a lot of fun. It begins with Andrew Ihla and Joe Hunter provide dating tips for monsters, in an irreverent story that totally mocks the drive-in horror films. Hunter's art reminds me quite a bit of Chris Haley, and I'll be honest, I mistook him for Haley at first until I went back to the credits, since I knew the Let's Be Friends Again co-creator was in this issue. Haley, along with writer Eric Esquivel, close out this one with another monster love story, which has a tragic twist but an uplifting ending. Haley's LBFA followers will enjoy seeing him working at a more extended length yet using his familiar and fun visual tricks like subtle posture changes to enhance the joke.

In-between, Delilah Dawson and Nathan Massengill have arguably the scariest story in this anthology series. A couple are at a carnival, where the woman gets obsessed with waiting forever to ride a carousel. When offered an exclusive tour of its secret, she finds that sometimes you can get a bit too close to your hobby. It's really creepy, especially since Massengill's art is free-flowing across the page, refusing to bow to the likes of perspective and proportion. At the same time, however, it's put together in a more cohesive manner than, say, Sam Keith, because the linework is extremely fine and details. This might also be my favorite of the stories, though that's a hard call.

Issue Four was the one I was most looking forward to, due to the inclusion of Joel Carroll and Benito Cereno, two folks I spend a fair amount of time talking to on Twitter. They didn't disappoint, as this series closes up with three more strong stories. Carroll goes first, taking advantage of the cuteness of his artwork to startle the reader once you realize only one of his two child characters is going to make it out alive. He also draws the cutest set of killer cats you'll ever see on paper.

Cereno, who writes the Tick and is an aficionado of horror, works with Les McClaine on taking on another trope, namely "Monster killed my family, now I'll kill it." I love what he does with the concept, as two characters discuss the problems inherent in the idea, only to find out that maybe philosophy and horror don't mix quite so well after all. Working in black and white, McClaine uses shadow and shading to great effect in this one, enhancing the mood while still keeping the tone light.

In the last story, Scott Faulkner (with a color assist from Morris) looks at a pair of adventurers who are in over their head, emphasizing shadow in a different way than McClaine did. It's a combination of visual and mental horror, and works well as a closing thought for the stories.

Boo! is a love letter to horror anthologies, especially those who like their terror with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Designed as a holiday special, it's the kind of work that has year-round appeal for those who enjoy horror comics 365 days at a time, and at only $4 for 12 stories and a series of framing devices, it's cheaper than just about any other horror collection out there. This is one of my favorite Monkeybrain books, and I hope to see it rise from the grave again in 2014.