A little before San Diego Comic Con I discovered this interesting promotional blog via Rich Johnston. I learned that Monsters Among Us was a completely independent and self published comic book. The project – spearheaded by Rob Wuest – looked quite professional and well managed. My interest piqued, I contacted Rob and offered the opportunity to promote his book via an article which was published to our blog a few weeks prior to SDCC.
A few days ago, I received a package in the mail containing my copy of Monsters Among Us. My first impression was that the book follows through on its promotion. It’s professionally put together. The paper stock is quality and it is bound in a hardcover. You can really tell the team believes in this book and that they put a lot of thought in the details of the presentation. But how’s the story?
Monsters Among Us is set in the late 50s and follows the Kraushaar family. Little Kraushaar junior – Bobby – loves comic books and he purchases a copy of a monster book at a local store owned by a fun-hatin’ Mr. Wertham (wink wink). After chumming around with his buddies who unambiguously resemble Jack Kirby and Stan Lee – they’re always griping – Bobby goes home to his Dad, Dr. Kraushaar. The bald headed scientist is working away in his lab. His latest invention will end starvation! It is a dimensional transporter, capable of transmuting two dimensional images on paper into real physical objects. The machine is tested on a drawing of an apple and it works! The apple appears in three dimensions and is edible. However an accident of chance triggers the story. The machine is inadvertently aimed at Bobby’s monster comic and the Kraushaar’s basement becomes an entry point for all manner of unspeakable horrors! The Kraushaar’s new mission in life is now to rid the world of the Monsters Among Us.
It’s a simple story very heavily inspired by the era it references. The team obviously has a love for EC and monster comics and has done it’s research. Most aspects of the book down to the color and special effects lettering is historically accurate. There are a few things which don’t reflect the era. These do not dampen the experience but part of me felt like the effect would be complete with hand-lettering, newsprint and standard golden age format – the book is smaller than current standard – and floppy cover. It’s not that the illusion isn’t successful, it’s that it is so close to what it emulates in every other aspect that where it differs becomes apparent. Admittedly this has little bearing on the overall enjoyment of the book. Details aside, this book does indeed transport you to a different time in comics history. The script hints at a different era with melodramatic dialog and rapid plot beats and I enjoyed the well executed illusion.
Stefano Pavan’s pencils are quite brilliant. I found no story telling problems and often caught myself dwelling on panels, admiring how well it calls back to a specific art style from the era within which the story is set. The entire effect is heightened by Wuest’s inking which adds a Kirby-esque flair to the page. The color palette is bang on what it should be. It makes excellent use of muted tones to punch up the pages. Any fan of comics history worth his salt will be stunned at the quality of the visuals in Monsters Among Us. See below for an example (click for a larger view).
The basic pitch of the book is that the Kraushaar’s would be fighting a different monster each issue. Though I enjoyed this minimalist premise, I don’t entirely see it having legs in the current market. I think as a reader I’d drop out after a few issues when the novelty of nostalgia has worn off. If the script in issue #1 included a hint of increased complexity in future issues, I can see myself getting hooked to a Monsters Among Us series. But as it is, I think the idea lacks meat despite having a very strong bone structure. It’s like I’m torn between two opinions. I want this book to have a presentation even more faithful to a bygone era of comics, but I don’t know if it would survive if it didn’t fold in some contemporary elements into its plot.
Ultimately, I think you should give the book a try especially if you have young ones. The book is built for rugged handling and the story reads sort of like a children’s book (please don’t interpret this as a slight. I have a lot of respect for children’s books and do consider them literature on the same level as any other book). And if you’re or a fan of golden age monster comics you certainly should have this in your collection. It’s a strong first outing – the best looking self-published comic I’ve yet to read – and I wouldn’t be surprised if it caught the attention of a savvy publisher who will recognize the potential the creative team possesses.
Script: 7.5/10 – Very faithful and reverent of an important part of american pop culture history but lacks a contemporary hook.
Art: 9.5/10 – If you don’t like the look of this book, you probably have no soul and should see a doctor or exorcist.
Parental concern: Yellow. Unless your kids scare very easily.
To purchase a copy of Monsters Among Us contact Rob Wuest via monsters-among-us.com.