Gary Gianni's MonsterMen and Other Scary Stories
Written by Ilan Sheady
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Written and illustrated by Gary Gianni
Originally released in 1999, 168 pages
HC Graphic Novel released on March 21st, 2012
Gary Gianni’s The MonsterMen was originally released as a ‘bonus story’ in the pages of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy series and now, for the first time, all the issues are collected into one volume.
Part League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, part Brothers Grimm and part H.P. Lovecraft the series revolves around the enigmatic macabre film director Lawrence St. George and the mysterious tuxedo-wearing, helmet-donning Benedict who solve mysteries and thwart demons in a world ignorant of the threat to their existence. Think Joss Whedon’s Angel with a smoking jacket.
First thing I have to say is that this volume has some of the greatest black and white artwork I’ve ever seen. The illustrations are made deliberately vintage by using an etched style, but have a timelessly beautiful quality. Panels can range from close-ups inside the back of a car to wide shots of city streets, all with such an incredible amount of texture and detail. Each mark on each page is a texture you can comfortably get drawn into without fear of getting confused or lost in its scale.
Click images to enlarge.
In addition to Gary Gianni’s artwork he can also claim credit for the poetically sliver-tongued script. Even though we are looking into another era in time I never felt patronised or irritated by conversations. If anything I was mesmerised by the wit and banter of the characters and several times Gianni references and quotes great writers like Edgar Alan Poe, none of whom would be offended to be used in such an impressive book. So high is the quality of the story, writing and art that Gianni comfortably and without apology includes a selection of short stories from Robert E Howard (Conan), Perceval Landon, William Hope Hodgson and Clark Ashton Smith (the latter two compared very closely with H.P. Lovecraft) all of which he illustrates in the same style.
The mysteries in each chapter can’t claim to be unique in concept. The stories are very much inspired by those written in the 70s, like the Creepy and Eerie titles that, coincidentally, Dark Horse is releasing at the moment, but the unique characters and surreal environments and key points push the boundaries of belief further than any story has done before. When you see the beautifully designed home of Lawrence St George, a giant ocean liner embedded in the rock face of a small village, you know that this world is stranger than you have been brought up to expect.
I struggle to find any criticism for this book. It is perfect in its attempt as homage to numerous classics in both literary and graphic storytelling. That, however, may be its downfall. The MonsterMen is a brilliant caricature of the old horror comics, and even with a mastery of fresh narrative it won’t win many ‘modernists’ over very easily. However, if you are OK with the idea of women playing constantly fainting complications, rather than well rounded characters, because it’s a ‘parody’ then I highly recommend this book.
Click images to enlarge.
For a guy, having this on your bookshelf is like displaying a box of Cuban cigars and a signed photo of Muhammad Ali hung up next to your published biography ‘The Trials and Tribulations of a Well Endowed Man’. It’s probably the only graphic novel James Bond would read and think ‘damn he’s cool’. If this were made into a film it would be an incredible cinematic masterpiece, but flop at the box office because it neglected half of its audience. Maybe I’m over thinking things though. Maybe reading this book has given me a sense of male bravado and I’m suddenly conscious of the fact that I’m over compensating by making excuses for myself. This is the first time I’ve read a book or watched a film and felt the need to separate my review into a male opinion and a possible female opinion. That’s not a good sign is it?
But screw it. I’m a bloke so top marks!
Fun Fact. There is a Lawrence St. George on LinkedIn who is the Region Emergency Planner at Clinton County. Michigan. Effectively if demons attack Lansing, USA he’s the guy with a protocol.