“Monster on the Hill” by Rob Harrell is a pleasing mixture of fairy tale magic and modern, surreal comedy. Harrell brings the flights of fantasy that populate this graphic novel back down to earth in relatable, laughable ways.
Written and Illustrated by Rob Harrell
In a fantastical 1860s England, every quiet little township is terrorized by a ferocious monster — much to the townsfolk’s delight! Each town’s unique monster is a source of local pride, not to mention tourism.
Each town, that is… except for one. Unfortunately for the people of Stoker-on-Avon, their monster isn’t quite as impressive. In fact, he’s a little down in the dumps. Can the morose Rayburn get a monstrous makeover and become a proper horror? It’s up to the eccentric Dr. Charles Wilkie and plucky street urchin Timothy to get him up to snuff, before a greater threat turns the whole town to kindling.
Monsters of all ages are sure to enjoy this tale about life’s challenges, the power of friendship, and creative redemption, packed with epic battles and plenty of wild beasts.
Rob Harrell has combined the imaginative exuberance of Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are,” with the misanthropic neuroticism of Woody Allen’s best monologues. So, without further ado, let the wild rumpus begin… well let us think long and hard about our fitness to participate in said rumpus, meditate on the meaning of the rumpus and its role in the world at large. Did you know that the universe is expanding? How am I supposed to review this book when I know that the universe is expanding, if we are not ripped apart atom by atom, our distant progeny will be,. What’s the point? Okay, now that you’re in the right frame of mind, let’s talk about “Monster on the Hill.”
Have you ever had one of those days that turned into one of those weeks, that turned into… yeah… just kind of… it started to feel like that day was happening everyday? That’s the diminished mental state in which we meet Rayburn, the monster on the hill in the town of Stoker Upon Avon. Rayburn cannot manage to find the will to roar because he has a case of the blahs. For the townspeople of Stoker Upon Avon this will not do, a town’s monster is a symbol of status, a tourist attraction, and perhaps most importantly a line of defense against the truly frightening things that go bump in the night. To remedy this problem, the town fathers employ a town doctor who has fallen from grace, and that is where the fun truly begins.
Harrell creates a brilliant cast of characters. Rayburn the monster teetering on the brink of a black hole of self-loathing comes to the forefront of this tale. Supporting him is the scrappy town crier/street urchin Timothy whose bright optimism makes the story sparkle. We are also introduced to Tentacular, or Noodles as he is more affectionately known in his close circles, a terrifying monster with a heart of gold. Lending his voice as the narrator is Charles Wilkie, man of science. Wilkie’s journal excerpts pull the narrative along, mixing the tones of epistolary horror and notes passed in middle school classrooms.
The voice used to tell this tale is unique, and incredibly well suited for this particular story. Unaware of its own comedy and seemingly earnest, Wilkie’s narration is one feature that makes this book a joy to read. The observational humor that works its way into the journal entries marries well with the tone of scientific documentation that Wilkie is working to achieve. Somehow this mock scientific record, the fantastic monster cast and the modern sensibilities come together to make this book into something wonderfully new. This is a neurotic fairy tale, and who doesn’t love a neurotic fairy tale?
Witty and sharp, “Monster on the Hill,” is a wonderful hodgepodge of the most wonderful parts of unrestrained imagination. Bringing the story to life, Harrell’s artwork is vibrant and smile inducing. A perfect balance of animation and artful composition, the visuals in this book are highly enjoyable. Characters wear clear definite expressions, relating to the audience and one another with ease. Beautiful splash pages fill the book, each one bubbles with tenderness and crackles with character. Wide white borders frame the panels, allowing the bright, diverse palette to pop. Through and through, this graphic novel is a joy to look at.
The pacing of the book is effective, and very readable. Never lingering too long on a single idea, with Harrell at the helm, the fun never stops. Harrell has somehow recast the Griswold family vacation with monsters and captured those laughs and heart warming moments in two dimensions. Telling this story using the graphic novel form allows this innovative tale to stretch its legs. Harrell makes good use of every page, making this read a nonstop joy ride.
A unlikely combination of fairy tale, horror story, black comedy and bromance, “Monster on the Hill,” delivers a completely new kind of hero quest. A wonderful tale full of imagination this book is worth sharing with young readers. For adults, “Monster on the Hill,” may offer a whimsical look at the black fog of depression that creeps in from time to time. How wonderful it is to be given such a novel opportunity to laugh at ourselves. “Monster on the Hill” pokes fun at neuroses, exposing their absurdities and contradictions, leaving the laughable little monsters running for cover in the wake of this feel-good story of self-empowerment.
Final Verdict: 8.5 – A fairy tale as told by Woody Allen? You can’t miss this.