Monster on the Hill is everything you want from an all-ages title. It’s humorous, it has great characters and there is of course a moral lesson. What makes this story different and charming is the world that it’s set in. At its core it’s a story about not comparing yourself to others, using your own talents and having confidence. The story opens in Billingwood, England in 1867 with a family visiting the town and taking in the sites. As they visit a candy shop the ground suddenly begins to rumble. The father brings them all back inside as a giant monster begins to walk through the streets. The children cower in fear as they hope the monster doesn’t see them. Suddenly though he smashes in through the window and a chase begins. The family continues to run until a man invites them into his cellar to wait for the coast to clear. As the family begins to breathe again something strange happens, they actually enjoyed being chased by the monster. The thing that’s different about this world is that each town has a monsters and each monster serves two purposes: protect the town from the Murk and attack the town. The attacks generate tourism as people travel around to be frightened by the different monsters and create a strange harmony. All accept one town that is.
The monster of Stoker-on-Avon has gone 536 days without an attack and it’s killing the town. Dr. Charles Nathaniel Wilkie is summoned to the town hall to meet with the Town Fathers. He’s uncertain to what the meeting is about, but the scrappy young newspaper boy standing outside doubts that it’s good. The Town Fathers have asked Dr. Wilkie to fix their monster and in exchange they’ll give him his medical license back; which they revoked due to his experiments being annoying and dangerous. Wilkie takes the job since he can’t do anything he wants without the license, upon leaving the newspaper boy asks to come with him and is subsequently rejected.
Wilkie sets out right away to the Monsters home on the hill overlooking the town. Once he’s climbed up he calls out to the monster who tells him to go away… because he’s sulking. Wilkie sits outside the monster’s cave until he comes out and finally the beast gives in. Wilkie breaks down why he’s there and the monster begins to moan and groan in agreement of how terrible of a monster he is. Wilkie tells him that he’ll help him and heads to his trunk to get his supplies, but when he opens it out pops Timothy our scrappy young newspaper boy. The monster invites them all in for the night after alerting them to the onset of rain and they decide that the best course of action is to build the monster’s confidence. Growing tired of calling him monster they finally ask his name… its Rayburn. It’s going to be a long road to recovery for this monster.
This is an extremely well thought-out world and plot. There are a ton of little details to the story like monster playing card, monster school and the villain of the story as well. Younger readers are sure to catch these elements and find them humorous, but an older audience can really appreciate just how rich the world of Monster on the Hill truly is. Harrell has thought of everything to ensure that this world is very believable and while teaching moral lessons throws out the smallest of social commentary. After all, aren’t moral lessons just commentary on our society’s habits? It’s a fantastically written story with great characters populating a rich world.
You’ve probably seen Harrell’s art before and never even knew it; I sure as hell didn’t. He’s currently drawing Adam@Home which appears as a daily newspaper comic strip (and yes I do feel like a tool having to explain what a daily comic strip is). His style here is far more detailed and stylized. The monsters are interesting and very different looking from what usually populates the genre. They’re very cool looking and you can kind of understand why people would collect trading cards for them. The coloring has a storybook feel to it and really was a walk down memory lane for me.
I was very impressed by this story. It has a ton of imagination; it’s funny from beginning to end and is just charming. It’s currently available for pre-order and will be shipping in July, but you can read a preview for it on Top Shelf’s site. Really good all-age titles are hard to come by since that’s usually code for “kid’s book”, but Monster on the Hill is a true all-ages title for everyone to enjoy.
Writer/Artist/Creator: Rob Harrell Publisher: Top Shelf Comix Price: $19.99 Release Date: 7/24/13 comic shops and 8/6/13 book stores Website