Written by: Alejandro Rodriguez, Special to CC2K
A lot of people take pride in their local sports team. For them, the accomplishments of their team are an extension of who they are as a community. So what do you do when your home team is an awful mess? Rob Harrell’s Monster on the Hill takes the idea of people having pride in a local sports team and replaces them with monsters.
Set in a mystical 19th-Century England, a good monster boosts a town’s morale and brings in big money from tourism. The eccentric Dr. Charles Wilkie is given the task of helping to rejuvenate the town of Stroker-on-Avon’s monster, Rayburn, who is having a difficult time just trying to get out of bed in the morning. With the help of local orphan Timmy, they go on a quest to get Rayburn’s groove back.
While Monster on the Hill may look like it’s geared towards a younger crowd, its humor can be appreciated by anyone. There aren’t even any winks or nods to an older crowd; all the humor in the book is oddly funny without ever going blue. Monster on the Hill is quirky enough where hearing the deranged medical methods of Dr. Wilkie will bring a smirk to your face. Pulled off any other way and the jokes may seem a little too dark, but Harrell did a magnificent job with the writing in this book.
It’s Harrell’s art that will impress you the most. The art does a great job of brining out both the bright and colorful and dark and dreary moments in the story. This also makes the fantasy elements from Monster on the Hill pop.
I really enjoyed the designs of the characters in the book. Human characters like Dr. Wilkie and Timmy look like they belong in the same universe as Rayburn or the Murk. While I was a little bummed out that there weren’t more monsters in the book (Collectively there are only four monsters that show up, and one of them is only in three panels.), I can’t deny that Harrell has some great designs for monsters. Some of which look good enough to show up as an enemy of Gamera or any other monster in a kaiju film.
While the story is rather good, I can’t say that I really enjoyed the ending as much as I wanted to. While the main story is wrapped up quite nicely, there is a side story just magically get wrapped up with no explanation. It’s nothing big and doesn’t retract from the story as a whole, but I’m such a neurotic mess that I sometimes find fault in the little things and begin to obsess about them.
I had never heard of Rob Harrell or his comic strip, Big Top, but he’s too talented to not receive recognition for his work. Monster on the Hill is his first work that isn’t in comic strip form and he’s done a great job of making the shift to the graphic novel format. Hopefully we’ll see a lot more from Harrell in the future, his work on Monster on the Hill makes me want to see more from him.