Monsters! & Other Stories is a collection of three short stories straight from the brilliant and zany mind of Gustavo Duarte. This is Duarte’s American debut, sporting a very european style to his work, while sampling styles of more manga-esque work and a little bit of Western storytelling. The result is an odd and rather wonderful collection of work. I’ve gotten the privilege of reading this hardcover and will possibly interview Gustavo himself, provided he has ample time. So now I must ask, is it good?
Monsters! & Other Stories TPB (Dark Horse Comics)
Monsters! is actually the last of the three increasingly lengthy tales of horror and wit in this 150 page hardcover. Gustavo starts the book off with a tale of a farmer and his terrible (and slightly goofy) transformation, then goes on to tell the story of two business partners trying desperately to escape the shadow of death and concludes with Monsters! Although these stories all share a similar spirit and energy they do show off the extent of Gustavo’s talent and how versatile a creator he is.
Do keep in mind, that this comic is purely told through art. There is no dialogue or narration, and only two colors in the entire book. It’s a very different experience than you will find from most comics and you come away with a great respect for not just the talent displayed but also an adroitness for delivering a great story. This book definitely does not read like a portfolio and is in no way hindered by the fact that there is no writing.
The comedic elements, although not particularly subtle, are indeed quite funny. More so, every story is a very different kind of funny. The first is just so ridiculous and zany that it provokes laughs; it even cracks a smile in the realistic and almost ironic ending. There are a few moments (the shooting of the chicken, the man getting split in half) that are just so out of left field that they are hilarious, while other laughs come from a little more context and building.
The idea that this whole wacky, alien adventure was all some sort of vision or dream doesn’t diminish the power of the tale at all, it simply adds a sophistication. It also is ironic in a way: this crazy, totally unrealistic adventure is actually just the product of a very real and plausible situation. We all day-dream, this comic asks us whether we can even tell the difference between day-dreams and reality.
The most striking attribute of the art in the first third is the experimenting with light and shading. With only two very stark colors, Duarte can light up a scene to make it ominous, relieving, calm, spooky — really anything. The contrast with the man’s shadow and the moon is a great example where the artist uses no shading per se, but still creates that comparison of light and dark. This story’s protagonist is also a wonderful sight, with his stubbled chin and ham-like arms, he comes across as friendly and gentle; innocent.
The subtleties here lie in the use of the blue. In the first few pages, before the main character is turned into a pig, Duarte colors in both the mouth of the character, and the mouth of the pig, both mouths in the same gaping position. Not only is this a fun and clever use of the color, it is foreshadowing that the pig and the man will become the same. It’s a hard clue to detect, but makes sense as an effect.
Of the three, Birds was the most conceptual and least absurd story. The two birds are businessmen who have been haunted by the grim reaper but are trying desperately to evade death themselves. They witness portents of their approaching demise but try to escape the omens and avoid situations that would bring the portents to become true. In doing so, they eventually meet their ends and the story ends with the reaper laughing.
Although it was so painfully obvious that the omens would decide the birds fate, it was a whole lot of fun watching the birds get spooked and freak out. You could say that this is a play on the age old saying “death is a democracy;” saying that no matter how hard you try death comes to everyone, but it seems to be saying something a little bit different. I get from this that one should embrace death and realize when their time is spent. If we are constantly running from our ends, trying to stretch out our life just that much longer, well we aren’t living. Although this is only a small amount of pages, it’s a very powerful and entertaining story.
Much like in Co!, in Birds, both of the characters meet the grim reaper. The only difference is in Birds, the reaper is much less comical and a more historically accurate depiction.
The hardcover concludes with a tale sporting the same title as the book itself. Monsters! is a story that is clearly in the spirit of a Japanese manga or some other kind of eastern media. And while it is similar to this kind of media, it is not a parody or mockery of the genre, rather a celebration and experiment with the traits that make manga, manga.
Three monsters rampage through an unidentified city, eating and destroying all who stand in their path. This time Duarte switches his style to something a little bit more sprawling and chaotic, very fitting to the story being told. There are plenty of epic two-page spreads, panels that show more and more of each individual monster, and plenty of frightened faces.
It was clear that Duarte was having a lot of fun with this one, just letting loose and being a kid again. This was also the only of the three plots that I couldn’t immediately predict; it was a little less meaningful, but a whole lot more epic.
I think Monsters! captures the idea of a giant pandemic in a way that a big-two superhero book never could. It’s incomparable to a battle scene that would take place in books such as Justice League or Avengers because it’s not getting caught up in the logistics of the battle or any battle plans. It’s just pure fun for the sake of fun, without a care for continuity or if we’re seeing the “full-scale” of this battle. In this way the book reads more like an adventure like King Kong, not a recounting of a military operation.
Is it Good?
This guy is only debuting once, and you want to be there to see it. This deluxe hardcover mixes many different styles and influences.