Charles has just moved to Echo City and of course he’s upset! I mean who wouldn’t be? Moved away from his best friends, moved into this weird creepy hotel that his dad is fixing up, and the neighbors are just well…weird! They sneak into his room at night. Steal his toys. Hide from his parents. Cause trouble all over. And oh right…they’re monsters. Because they can’t be normal after all. Luckily…maybe, Echo City has Margo Maloo, monster mediator for hire. No matter who or what is causing trouble Margoo knows how to fix it. And it’s a good thing too, because all of the monster’s have one thing in common. They don’t really like Charles.
So what’s the best part of this book? The wonderfully creepy, but relatable art? Or the story that keeps things moving and makes you want to know what happens next? Or maybe its how everything works together? I mean…that’s the sign of a good graphic novel after all isn’t it? Art and story working together to make something that is fun and amazing to read. And that’s what we get with Margo Maloo.
Drew’s been running Margo as a webcomic for a couple of years now and I’ve heard about it off and on since it started, but I only really started reading it right about the time “The Ogre’s Baby” started and man. What the heck was wrong with me for waiting this freaking long to read the comic? I was instantly hooked because Drew created a world that has elements of Encyclopedia Brown in it crossed with monsters. I mean come on, how can you not be hooked by that premise? Drew’s writing creates well rounded characters that you feel like you could actually meet outside. Sure they all have some little quirk, like the kid that’s trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records, Charles who’s a reporter, and of course Margo who talks to monsters, but they all are written as real people. The way they react to each other and the world around them are the ways any of us would react to something. This is in part due to the fact that Drew spent a good bit of time setting up the world. The first stories set up Charles and his family and that there’s something weird going on. And it’s only then that we start really exploring the world of Margo and the monsters.
I think the best part about this book though is Margo. She’s down to earth (well as down to earth as a monster hunter can be) and kicks butt. She isn’t afraid to tell Charles to back off and stay out of the way. The fact that she’s a non-white female kid just makes it even more awesome. It never plays a part in the story, it’s just part of who she is, so a young reader can just go “Hey! She’s like me. Cool!” and they don’t have to worry about going “Oh she’s rich.” Or “Oh. She’s had special training.” Nope. Margo is just herself.
The second best part of this book for me, at least far as the writing goes, are the monsters themselves. And that’s because the monsters aren’t written as…well monsters. I mean sure they’re trolls and ogres and goblins and ghosts and act like it sometimes. But they have very human traits to them as well. They have cities, they look after their children, they protect their communities from humans. They basically just want to live. We see this from the very beginning where in the very first story (minor spoiler) the monster that we encounter actually collects the same figures from a game as Charles does. It makes it much easier for the reader to realize the monsters aren’t quite monsters, at least in the traditional sense. What also makes this awesome is that this is a good book to give to kids to talk about monsters. You can show them, maybe the monster in the closet is real but just wants to play Pokemon with them.
And the illustrations. Oh. My. Goddess. Drew’s art style works so well with the story. The thick brushy lines that create the characters give them a sense of 70’s/80’s style horror comics (think Swamp Thing as illustrated by Steve Bissette) that just have so much umph and life to them. And then the colors on top mimic that brushy look, never quite filling in all of the shapes, but giving us enough that we get a sense of what everything looks like. Together it creates the slightly spooky atmosphere that we would expect from something about monsters. Drew also hides plenty of great details into the story, like with “The Ogre’s Child.” After you read it, go back and reread it looking for…well let’s say the shadows and you’ll have a good surprise.
The last thing that I want to mention is the book design itself. Since Drew has been running this as a webcomic he’s formatted it as such…or well most like classic Sunday strips with the two tiers and multiple panels. So think about that…how would you fit it into the typical shape of a graphic novel? Well other publishers might have rearranged the squares or put two to a page or I’ve seen even worse things. First Second does something different though, which makes them a great publisher, they designed the book around that concept. They kept it at one strip per page and left it at the size we typically see on a computer screen. Which means that we’re able to read it as Drew designed it, keeping with the original atmosphere, intent, and beats in the strip. It’s a bit smaller than most books, but it works well with this one.
After all of that, what else can I say? This is such a fun creepy delight and if this review doesn’t at least make you want to check it out I don’t know what will. This is great for all ages, young, old, monster, and in between.
ARC provided by Gina at First Second