Monday, September 25, 2023

Rich Watson - Review of Monsters 101, Book One


April 6, 2008Monsters 101, Book One: From Bully to MonsterM. Rasheed, story and artSecond Sight Graphix

Review by Rich WatsonA grade school bully gets recruited by a clan of monsters to lure kids to them for food, but one girl who sees the potential for good inside the bully makes him question his self-worth. This was a submission in this year’s Glyph Comics Awards (2008) that didn’t make the final cut, a reprint of a collection originally published in 2004. The creator, M. Rasheed, is a regular at the forums. It looks like it was originally done in installments, either pamphlets or maybe online. It’s 150 pages, so you’re getting a good amount of story here.Monsters 101 is hella violent. Now my generation grew up with Tom & Jerry and Road Runner reruns on Saturday mornings; however, we also had GI Joe, where elite American soldiers and international terrorists constantly took shots at each other and never got hurt; and sanitized Japanese imports like Battle of the Planets (AKA Gatchaman) that didn’t have anywhere near the level of violence as their original incarnations. Generally, I believe kids can handle cartoon violence, especially when the victim is someone who deserves it (Elmer Fudd, Sylvester, Wile E. Coyote, etc.). That’s not the case here. In this book, horrible things happen to kids who don’t deserve it, and we get to see it on-panel. Now, some of it is the kind of violence that defines characters in important ways, like the pivotal scene between Pugg and Katina about two-thirds of the way in. It’s shocking, but at the same time it’s necessary to see. (It’s also difficult to talk about without giving away spoilers.)I question, however, whether we need to see an innocent kid get ripped apart by two hungry monsters who proceed to eat him. From the get-go, we know these monsters want to eat little children. Does it serve the story better to actually see that happen on-panel, or is it better to imply the act – say, have the monsters drag the kid off-panel and cut to reaction shots of Pugg and Katina as they see the deed done? Bad things do happen to good people in kiddie stories sometimes (Bambi’s mom, Simba’s dad, etc.), but I believe creators of all-ages stories have a responsibility to remember their audience when they craft scenes like this, even when it involves fantastic, unreal elements like monsters. And if I were a parent and I saw this scene, where we see the kid’s blood and intestines spill out all over the place (NO JOKE), no way am I letting my kid read this book.In addition to the violence, the language in Monsters 101 is inappropriate. More than a few “damns” and “hells,” some “bastards,” at least one “son of a b*tch,” and “frig/frag/frik” is a little too close to the f-word for my tastes (Pugg says “motherfragger” at least once). This is a particular shame because there’s a decent, if familiar, beauty-and-the-beast-style redemption tale underneath the profanity, although it ends with the death of a character I didn’t want to see die – especially since this book is the first in a series.The design of Pugg and the way Rasheed depicts him throughout the story is wonderful. (Pugg reminded me most of a kiddie version of Sal Buscema’s Hulk! Seriously!) From the way he lumbers through the school halls, to the way he grimaces at schoolteachers and scowls at opponents, and especially to his protective and genuinely affectionate manner towards Katina, Pugg visually comes across as a fully formed, three-dimensional character, and I give the creator props for that. One can quite easily determine his state of mind from the pictures alone. The design of the three monsters falls somewhere between Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things and Pixar’s Mike and Sully – goofy and slightly eerie without being really scary. I think Rasheed overdoes it on the shadows, though. In places it looks like nothing more than a scribble of the brush to indicate light and dark without making any sense, and it doesn’t look professional. And why isn’t Katina on the cover, especially given her pivotal and proactive role in the third act?I wish I could recommend this book, but the liberal use of profanity, couple with certain scenes of gratuitous violence (did I mention Pugg’s six-page, no holds barred fight scene that ends with Pugg bashing his opponent’s head in with a rock?), plus several misspellings in the second half, leads me to conclude that this isn’t the best book for kids to read. C


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