Monday, June 24, 2013
Monsters 101: Vol 1 Review of Monsters and Men
by Nelo Maxwell
I don’t often review graphic novels, but I had seen Monsters 101 by M. Rasheed around for a while and my first inkling of the comic ‘All ages,’ a labeling I actively avoid. But the more I saw it the more intrigued I became. So recently, I picked up a copy and was pleasantly surprised by what I found.
Willy Pugg is a bully. The milk money stealing, nerd tripping, rule breaking bully from every school in the country and every John Hughes movie of the 80's, and he's pretty proud of that fact. When we first see Willy, who is known as ‘The Pugg' by his victims, he's turning a girl upside down to get her money for the day. Willy seems to run the school like the warden at a prison and he is almost unstoppable when the teachers aren't around. However, someone is watching Willy, someone who even he is afraid of and will have to eventually answer to. Willy runs into these ‘people' on the outskirts of town in the form of three monsters that want him to bring them other kids to eat. Apparently, children are a delicacy where they come from and they need a supplier, in exchange, they will turn Willy into a monster. However, Willy isn't well liked and after being caught attacking a student is threatened with expulsion, if he attacks another. His attempts at being nice land him three friends; Jerome, a young foreign exchange student, Mort, his primary target in the school, and Katina a girl whom he inadvertently saves from another bully. These three interactions will shape his life for the rest of the book and change the way Willy Pugg interacts with the world around him.
I will be honest when I started to read this book I wasn't expecting much. The idea of a comic book aimed at younger audiences never inspires confidence in me as they're sometimes campy and nonsensical. That being said this was the most emotionally jarring comic I have read since Gaiman's Sandman. Rasheed does a great job of making us hate this character in the onset; when he tries to be nice to people and they turn him down there is no question about why. Willy Pugg is one of the best villains I have seen in a comic in a long time simply because he is real. We all knew a Willy Pugg, some as his victims others as bystanders and some of those who have challenged him. This isn't your handsome jock, Flash Thompson bully, this is your emotionally damaged, broken home bully who in their heart just wants to be understood like everyone else. The character of Katina is that chance for him and probably the thing that saves his soul, and though their relationship cannot be described as a romance, there is true love at work, the kind that young children feel for each other and the kind that adults lose as they grow.
I give props to anyone who writes and draws their own comics. M. Rasheed wrote and drew a 150 page graphic novel and while it can get a bit inconsistent towards the end, it’s more than understandable. His inks are crisp and the way he foreshadows the ending in Willy’s silhouettes is great. I’m surprised this isn’t run as comic strip in a newspaper as it reminds me of classics like Gasoline Alley in some subtle ways, with simple facial structure that is also capable of conveying complex emotion.
I loved this story. There were times when I felt a little unsettled by the sheer brutality of the main character, but it worked with the way the story played out. Willy Pugg was already a monster, but by the end, to keep a promise he must learn how to become a man, or at least a human boy. I'd recommend this for people of any age as it is not only a great read but an audit on our current society. With bullying on the rise in school as well as online I think something like this might serve as a tool for discussing the problem. You can pick this volume and others in the series up at www.mrasheed.com