Friday, 23 May 2014

Monsters! & Other Stories by Gustavo Duarte Review

With Godzilla currently tearing up movie theatres around the world, what better time than now to read a book of monster comics? I say “read” but Gustavo Duarte’s collection of three stories are actually silent (that is, wordless) so you’re really watching more than reading.

Duarte’s Monsters is an excellent book of three masterful comics. The first story features a pig farmer who has a strange encounter with an alien one night before he sips his vodka; the second stars some birds working in an office who’re slowly being picked off, one by one, by an unseen killer – and Death is literally lurking outside the office walls; and the third and final piece is the title story where a Getafix the Druid-lookalike bartender saves the world from hordes of marauding giant monsters with his own magic potion.

Duarte’s stories sound dramatic – and they are – but they also have a strong sense of humour to them too. The pig farmer’s transformation after his bizarre alien encounter is just the beginning of his surreal and funny journey, while the bird office workers’ story is given a brilliant twist in the final panel. And I loved the chipper fisherman character in the Monsters story who inadvertently saves the world.

The art is gorgeous - very cartoony and exaggerated but a keen understanding of how bodies move, whether they’re human or human-ish animals or fictional monsters. The lines are very confident and clear, while the perspectives are always just right - you see what you need to see, when you need to see it, before moving onto the next panel where you see a bit more of the story, and so on. 

The stories are really well-paced and superbly told. You don’t read a single word throughout but you know exactly what they’re about and you even notice subtext to them - the second story in particular could be interpreted many different ways, especially with that final panel. And the Monsters story really delivers on the title - you get lots of great b-movie monster action from lots of different monsters tearing up a coastal city.

I’ve read plenty of silent comics and they’re always absolutely brilliant. I think this is because, due to the lack of writing, the artist has to make sure the reader understands everything that’s happening on the page through the pictures so extra care is taken to make sure everything flows perfectly and precisely – not a single panel is wasted. Because it takes a more accomplished artist to pull off a successful silent comic, the few that get published tend to be of a much higher quality than your average comic with words.

So why aren’t there more? Probably because they’re a minor genre within comics which is itself a minor genre of literature, and because they can be read relatively quickly and so don’t sell as much as most people don’t think they’re getting value for money over comics with words, and yet they cost the same to produce so they cost the same to buy – all understandable, if a shame.

Do check out Gustavo Duarte’s Monsters & Other Stories, whether you buy it or borrow it, it’s a truly delightful comic that’s both entertaining and artistic in equal measure.

Monsters! & Other Stories

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