Robot reviews: Melvin Monster and Moomin

[caption id="attachment_12229" align="aligncenter" width="298" caption="Melvin Monster"]


Melvin Monster Vol. 1 (John Stanley Library)by John StanleyDrawn and Quarterly, 184 pages, $19.95.Melvin Monster is a bonafide hoot; the kind of comic that, though intended for kids, can be enjoyed thoroughly by adults without an ounce of embarrassment or awkwardness. This is the rare book that actually lives up to its "all ages" description.

What's interesting for me is just how frenzied and manic these stories are, especially compared to the comics Stanley is better known for, mainly the Little Lulu series. While those classic tales are equally funny, they have a bit more of a structured feel to them. An equal amount of time is spent in the set-up as it is in the delivery of the gag.

Here Stanley just piles one gag on top of another in the best Mad magazine tradition. That suits the book's fanciful premise (little boy monster wants only to be nice, horrifying his parents -- and the larger monster community -- in the process) just fine, and leads to some inspired and thoroughly ridiculous bits, as when Melvin inadvertently blows up his school, much to the joy of his "Mummy" and "Baddy." A lot of the jokes move along familiar lines and stereotypes -- the dull-witted sidekick who says "duh" a lot for example -- but Stanley's talent and sense of timing make it all seem fresh and engaging.

My only gripe is the lack of any background information or introduction. Seth's design is lovely and I appreciated the decision to give the reproduction a yellowed look, as though you were reading the original, aged comics, but I was frustrated that I wasn't provided any insight, however minuscule, into the origins of this series. Was Melvin a point of pride for the author or just one more comic out of hundreds of others? It would have been nice to know.

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Moomin: The Complete Tov Jansson Comic Strip Book. Book 4by Tove JanssonDrawn and Quarterly, 106 pages, $19.95.

By now the Moomin books have fallen into a recognizable pattern. The Moomin family is living a quiet and comfortable life until: a) outside forces either man-made or natural upend things or b) they grow dissatisfied with their lot and decide to embark on a self-improvement course of some nature. Sometimes it's a combination of the two, but the conclusion is never in doubt. By the end the Moomins are back to square one with everything back to normal, as if nothing bad ever happened at all.

So it's the in-between stuff that counts and makes the strip worth perusing. This time around the family accidentally invents a time machine and travel back to the wild west and the 18th century. Jansson gets quite a bit of amusing mileage out of contrasting the family's romantic expectations with the reality of the times (everyone in the west is out to make a fast buck, even the Indians, and they're more bemused by the father's water pistol than anything else). Moomin also staves off a comet attack, gains unwanted fame thanks to a golden tail and decides to become conscientious before finally coming to his senses.

This sort of stuff either charms or annoys you. Myself, I continue to be charmed by Jansson's low-key, gentle, but still wry antics. Far from entering into a rut, Jansson seems to continually spin gold out of the same formula time and again. Moomin remains a wistful paen to the joys of relazing and enjoying life and the importance of play. For nine-to-five slobs like me, it's wish fulfillment at its finest.

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