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Melvin Monster: The John Stanley Library (volume one)

Posted: Wednesday, September 9, 2009
By: Jason Sacks

John Stanley
John Stanley
Drawn & Quarterly
Oh, this book just makes me so happy. The classic stories reprinted in this wonderful hardcover collection are as clever, interesting and plain fun as you can ever ask for from a comic story. John Stanley was a master at presenting stories intended for kids but that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Melvin Monster is a little green-faced roly-poly boy who lives in a decrepit old house in Monsterville with his "Mummy" and "Baddy". "Mummy" is, as you might expect, a female mummy, while "Baddy" is a Frankenstein-type creature. The family lives with their pet crocodile Cleopatra, who is always lying in wait for Melvin. And Melvin is followed by his very own Guardian Devil, who has to steer Melvin towards doing wrong whenever possible.

If this sounds a little like the setup for The Addams Family or The Munsters, you're not far off. Though Melvin Monster predates those TV shows by three years, it still treads that familiar ground that made the shows so successful: this is a cute nuclear family, classic in every way except that they're monsters rather than people.

So the book is full of cute scenes in which Baddy comes home from work, so hungry he eats a coat rack. Or when Melvin is sent outside to do bad deeds - like breaking his neighbor's windows.

Melvin is always getting in trouble, in the same sort of bizarre way that characters would get in trouble on those TV shows. Melvin loves to go to school, is in fact desperate to go to school. But when Melvin goes to Miss Gargoyle's Little Black Schoolhouse, the old witch who lives there desperately tries to shoo Melvin away, desperately trying to feed Melvin to her monster-eating plants in order to keep him from disturbing her silence. The school theme is a recurring joke, an element of the story that builds upon itself like a clever sitcom scene that makes a reader smile because of the comfortable humorous setting of the scene.

The stories in this book ramble and rumble along, filled with their own charming and humorous sense of comic logic. Stanley was a genius at making his stories feel both unpredictable and comfortable, as each story rambles its way to an unexpected conclusion. The opening story in the book has Melvin make his way to a big city in human's words, and he finds his way back in completely unpredictable but humorous fashion. And later on in the book there's a story in which Baddy tries to rid the house of mice, only to find that he doesn't want to mess with the mice he finds.

If you're familiar at all with Stanley's work on Little Lulu, you know what to expect here. These stories have a very similar flow to the Lulu stories – they meander and wander in clever directions that always keep the reader's eye on something interesting. It's only after wandering through these shaggy… umm… monster stories that you can really appreciate the full artfulness behind the storytelling. Stanley's breathless and charming storytelling style wins the reader over at first reading; it's only on additional reading that the masterful art of storytelling is revealed.

There's a sense in this volume of Stanley building up his cast of characters, so that down the line these will be his reparatory cast like Lulu's friends are in her series. Lots of characters are introduced in these books, and I found myself curious to see them again.

Unlike Dark Horse's reprints of the Little Lulu stories, which are on a small-sized pages in black and white, these stories are reprinted on color between hard covers that are slightly larger than the size of a comic page. However, Drawn & Quarterly chose to retain the stories' original coloring rather than add new colors. The coloring is flat and pixilated, not the slick computer coloring that we're used to seeing. I thought that was a good choice, but I have to wonder if it will be controversial with readers. I wonder if the stories in this book would feel wrong somehow if colored with new techniques, if some of the charm of the stories would leech away with the slick coloring.

But more frustrating, and the only reason this book doesn't receive the full five bullets, is the lack of bonus features in the book aside from a brief one-page biography of Stanley. It's disappointing that the company that produced the sumptuous Walt and Skeezix, which was chock-full of bonus features, have delivered such a bare-bones book. Where is the biographical sketch that puts Stanley's Melvin Monster stories in context? Where are the preliminary sketches or house ads for the book?

At least we get a very attractive and appropriate book design by Seth. You can see how cute the cover is, but the inside designs are just as nice. Still, I have to wonder: why produce such a nice design, such a classic "master DVD set," without the requisite bonus material?

I was totally charmed by the stories John Stanley delivered with Melvin Monster, and I look forward with monstrous excitement for the next volume in this series.



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