I’d like to begin this review of Art Monster with a quote ... from Art Monster. It appears on the first page, and is a soliloquy, presumably, from its main character. “Innovation,” it reads, “means breathing new life into stagnant, decaying forms. And when it’s achieved, it’s as exhilarating as a first kiss. It intoxicates, it emboldens. And sometimes it kills.” I wanted to start there because one of the main conceits within this story is that it will innovate upon, or breathe new life into, an old one. More specifically, Art Monster is - pretty unabashedly - a modern re-imagining of Frankenstein. You can imagine, then, the further resonance the above words have, not just to the plot of this book, but also to its success. Is this approach to perhaps literary horror’s most enduring classic the exhilarating first kiss in the life of a promising new series, or simply the premature death at the hands of inglorious innovation?
Issue one introduces the none-too-thinly-veiled character Victor Stein, a messily-coiffed, skinny jeans-wearing, top button-fastening university student suffering from a great, unquenchable desire to attend independent art exhibitions and wallow in self-pity and hubris. He’s your classic misunderstood hipster: doesn’t say much, doesn’t do a whole hell of a lot, but is clearly mired with terrible purpose.
Art Monster #1 is the beginning of Victor’s science friction, telling the story of deeds that predate his damned destiny. This is a story of flirtation, with the opposite sex, of course, but also with a tragic messianic complex, and Holt does an impressively succinct job of showing the welling-up that heralds the wail.
The flash-forward glimpses that begin the book and hint of things to come may be jumbled and for now simply ominous, but they also offer a great montage that feels like its own art house flick, showing the doom that looms for Victor and those around him. It’s the vision of that reveal that is the best part of this book, and where you can tell that, if you’ll pardon the pun, the artist and writer find each other on the same page.
Similarly, the purposeful banality of the middle is written well, especially in the exchange of dialogue shared by our two inevitably star-crossed lovers. Sometimes these moments do feel forced, however, like Victor’s strange-but-silent routine. Oddly enough, this part also feels more rushed by comparison to the strong beginning, which kind of sums up my real gripe with this book.
This being a Monkeybrain joint, you have to expect a much shorter read than most, with Art Monster enjoying only 10 pages of actual story. So there’s only so much room Holt and company have to ply their trade. They have to be much more distilled than they might regularly be elsewhere, and while I do think that they generally work well within the Monkeybrain constraint, the latter part of the story does feel hurried because of it.
In terms of art, most of Ciregia’s work here is inspired, and she is clearly tuned-in to a few visual instruments, be it playing in the grotesque, with the ghastly woman proffering the reader her heart; or simply in the inane, in the last ride of an unfortunate squirrel strapped atop a remote-controlled car. Offset by the striking absence of color, this enjoys a certain rhythm to its narrative breathe.
Sometimes, though, those breaths are irregular and inconsistent, and her style can waver significantly in quality of figure and facial expression. Maybe it’s just my copy, but one page in particular - when Victor is excused by the acting President of the university - looks rushed and out of place, but perhaps that’s only because many of her other moments are so stark and arresting.
At first, I was worried about Art Monster’s lack of story, but now I feel it’s a sufficient tease of things to come. If the creators can expand that sync they achieved at the beginning of this issue, they could bring to life some very sexy science, indeed. As it stands, while Art Monster may not be that first exhilarating kiss, it definitely enjoys the tension that precedes it.
Writer: Jeremy Holt Artist: Francesca Ciregia Publisher: Monkey Brain Comics Price: $0.99 Date: 12/18/13