Author: Rob Harrell
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Publication Date: August 2013
Read: August 2013
Where It Came From: ARC from publisher via NetGalley*
Format: Graphic Novel
Rating: 4 Tentaculor Plushies
The Quick and Dirty:
In this imagining of Victorian England, all towns and villages in the countryside have their very own monster, who occasionally makes an appearance and scares the pants off residents and visitors—and brings in the tourist dollars! The towns are proud of their mascot-monsters…except for Stoker-on-Avon. Their monster, Rayburn, is down in the dumps and hasn’t made an appearance in ages. The townsfolk are starting to get concerned, so they pressure “man of science” Wilkie into trying to help. Orphan boy Tim tags along too as they go on a quest to help Rayburn regain his self-confidence and self-worth—and not a moment too soon, as a real monster is about to set its sights on Stoker-on-Avon. Very cute and really funny—reading it made me grin like a goofball, and for all the best reasons.
The Wordy Version:
I had a lot of fun with this one! First of all, the premise is adorable and kind of hilarious—monsters “terrorizing” towns as a tourist attraction? Amazing! To fill in a few more plot details, Charles Wilkie, formerly a doctor, is coerced by the town fathers into attempting to “fix” the monster, and in so doing lift the town’s sagging morale. If he is successful, they will restore his medical license and forget about his “experimental mishaps” (which ended up being rather innocent, and thankfully not the horror movie kind of stuff that comes to mind upon hearing the words “medical experiments”). A mouthy street kid named Tim stows away in Wilkie’s supply trunk when he heads off in search of Rayburn’s cave. When they find the monster, it turns out he’s just your average guy, but happens to be depressed. He’s out of shape, can’t breathe fire, his wings are flightless, he’s got no laser beam eyes…in short, he’s low on confidence and self-esteem. So Wilkie and Tim offer to help him, and he invites them into his cave for tea (ha!) and to get out of the rain for the night (awww). The story then continues with Wilkie and Tim trying to show Rayburn that he’s really not as pathetic as he thinks he is, and to help him build up some monster skills and self-esteem. They end up enlisting the help of Rayburn’s old school friend Tentaculor, a successful monster from a nearby town. Rayburn is making great progress when the Murk—a MONSTER monster—moves in to attack Rayburn’s town of Stoker-on-Avon, and Rayburn and his crew have to combine their skills and pull out all the stops to have any chance of saving it. It’s a simple storyline, but the details and humor make it unique and fun.
Although set in a fantastical Victorian England, the book was filled with all sorts of anachronisms and pop culture references that were used to greatly amusing effect. Some examples:
- When disgraced scientist Wilkie is listing his failed experiments, he includes “inventing a blanket with sleeves”—who doesn’t love a good Snuggy reference?
- The team ends up deciding on “road trip?” as the way to help Rayburn get his groove back
- Rayburn’s reply to being asked if he’s a carnivore is, “Oh no. More like Hot Pockets and caramel corn.”
Other qualities that added to the humor were a sort of self-awareness and gentle snark (such as Tim’s comment when he sees the famous monster Tentaculor get emotional: “You ain’t gonna cry, are ya? I’m not sure I could handle the disillusionment”), and great comedic timing. Plenty of fun side details added to the world-building and funniness, like the Tentaculor posters and plushies that are sold to the delighted tourists after his “attacks,” and the fact that he has a monster intern.
I liked the art—I thought it fit the tone of the story quite well, and it conveyed the comedy just as much as the words did. Here’s a sample from one of my favorite panels in the whole book (reproduced here with the author's permission):
If I had to find one thing to nitpick (and this really is nitpicky), it would be that sometimes the characters have their accents or manner of speaking written into their dialogue, and other times it kind of fades away. It sounds like it’s supposed to be vaguely cockney-esque for many of the characters, but then there are phrases that I just can’t hear in that voice, like “If I blow chow, I’m blaming you” (96). Maybe it’s just me?
In all, this was a good, old-fashioned silly read that's fun for all ages! Goofy humor + a tale of friendship and getting through the tough spots in life + cute art + a happy ending = a good way to spend a hour or two this weekend.
*As ever, much as we are grateful for the copy, our review is uninfluenced by its source.