REVIEW: Love Monster

The friend zone sucks.  You know how painful it can be, when you really have feelings for a girl, but she just views you as a friend, so you stay her friend because that’s better than admitting your true feelings and risk getting knocked back and losing that friendship?  Christopher Howard Wolf does, it would seem.  And, with Love Monster, he takes that experience many sorry guys go through, and plays it out on a massive scale.  This is the story of Bob, stuck in the friend zone with Pearl and left feeling like he’d be better for her than any of her ill-advised choices of boyfriends.  Though in his case it’s not simple resentment: Pearl’s taste in men is particularly ill-advised, as she keeps on falling for serial killers and hideous, mass-murdering monsters.

Longtime readers of these reviews will remember Christopher Howard Wolf from way, way back when I first started reviewing creator-owned comics.  His graphic novel reimagining of Nosferatu was one of the first comics I reviewed, and at the time I remarked on Wolf’s knack for believable characterisation and convincing dialogue helping him to put his own individual stamp on well-worn source material.  I greatly enjoyed that graphic novel, and now Wolf is back with this new project, this time collaborating with the consistently-strong indie publisher 215 Ink.  His offbeat, blackly humourous creative voice remains intact, and in fact resonates even stronger here when unfettered by adherence to a classic pre-established story.

I’ll admit, initially I was a little wary that the story was an elaborate expression of “nice guy syndrome”.  To clarify, “nice guy syndrome” is when a man’s unluckiness in love calcifies into them having a chip on their shoulder as regards the opposite sex.  They start rationalising that they are a nice guy, that they are gentlemanly and considerate, and so if this doesn’t get them a date and/or sex it means that girls must prefer creeps and jerks, the “bad boy” fantasy.  From our outside perspective, it’s hard to see the appeal in Pearl.  Bob fawns over her, but she’s a distinctly unlikeable character: utterly inconsiderate of Bob’s life and feelings, selfish, and utterly delusion and beyond all reason in her justifications for falling madly in love with the psycho-killer de jour.  She reads like the case study a sufferer of “nice guy syndrome” would use to demonstrate why women suck.

But as the story progresses, and things get increasingly surreal – probably from around the time giant octopus-like alien despot Armageddon shows up as a jilted suitor – I stopped worrying about any real-world implications and saw this for the mad farce that it was.  Pearl isn’t a rant against women in comic form; she’s an utterly mental character in a cast full of utterly mental characters.  This is, after all, a world where a character can walk around carrying their own severed head in a paper bag.  Love Monster is sheer bonkers fun that escalates into new heights of craziness with each passing scene.

One thing I remember pointing out about Nosferatu is that the more comedic aspects of set-pieces that could very easily have been portrayed as dark and horrific in a straight horror were brought to the fore by the cartoonish art.  The same applies for Love Monster, so much so that originally I thought it might have been the same artist, Justin Wayne, working on the book.  But no, the artist this time round is David Tomas Cabrera.  His odd, beady-eyed figures fit wonderfully into the madcap aesthetic of the story, their cartoonish, expressive features helping the gore and mayhem to be played broadly and with relish.

Love Monster is a highly enjoyable book, and at a mere 99 cents – the eventual print release will still only be $2.99 – you’re getting a complete story of extended length with a beginning, middle and end.  And then there’s even a neat Aquaducks backup story thrown in for good measure.  Come on, a dollar, what have you got to lose?  Give it a try!

Love Monster is available to buy now digitally from 215 Ink’s official shop.

REVIEW: Nosferatu

The subject of today’s review is an interesting comic curio: a modern-day retelling of F.W. Murnau’s classic 1922 silent horror film Nosferatu, by writer Christopher Howard Wolf and artist Justin Wayne.  The graphic novel from Viper Comics, now available to buy on Amazon, is unusual in that it’s essentially a reimagining of a reimagining.

The original film Nosferatu was a thinly-veiled adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with the German filmmakers unable to acquire the rights to the novel.  And so Count Dracula became Count Orlok – the hideous, bald creature brought to life in iconic fashion by Max Schreck – and various other key characters were renamed and slightly altered.  So when the Nosferatu graphic novel in turn renames and slightly alters the key characters from the F.W. Murnau film, we have a case of the Dracula cast filtered by three degrees of seperation.

Intriguingly, this version of Nosferatu draws inspiration from both the film its based on and the Bram Stoker source material that may be called its “grandfather”.  The general plot of the comic is structured in a way that far more closely resembles Nosferatu than Dracula (though given that many subsequent filmic incarnations of Dracula would draw heavy influence from Nosferatu, that might be unclear to those unfamiliar with the original novel – for example, Nosferatu, not Dracula, introduced the idea of the vampire being killed by sunlight, with Bram Stoker’s Dracula able to happily walk about during the daytime), with a surprising amount of the key story beats kept intact even with the surface details radically altered.  Justin Wayne also manages to carry over much of the iconic imagery from the film, such as Max Schreck’s unnerving appearance as Count Orlok, and the famous “shadow against the stairway” moment.

But Christopher Wolf cleverly works in the “diary extract” narrative device of the novel, using extracts from an autobiography and e-mail exchanges as captions to frame much of the action.  And while the character of Bullner might share a name with his Nosferatu counterpart, putting him in the position of a federal agent obsessed with hunting down Orlok and giving him a more active role in the story’s climax makes him seem a lot less like the passive professor who played a mere bit-part role in the F.W. Murnau film, and a lot more like vampire hunter Abraham van Helsing, Dracula’s nemesis in the Bram Stoker novel.

The most obvious shift in dynamic for this modern-day version of the story is that married couple Thomas and Ellen Hutter turn into goth-chick lesbian couple Tommy and Elle.  Tommy is an up-and-coming photographer, with Elle her model muse.  One of the biggest strengths of the graphic novel is the believable relationship between these two characters, and their respective nuanced characterisations, aided by Wolf’s ear for snappy, naturalistic dialogue.  Even amongst established comic book A-listers such dialogue isn’t always easy to find, so it’s always a treat when coming across a comic writer who has such a knack for it.

Another one of the highlights of the graphic novel is the portrayal of Orlok’s crazed lackey, Nox.  While in terms of the broad strokes, he follows the same trajectory of the Knock character from the original film, Wolf takes relish in fleshing him out, giving him more acts of bloody depravity to engage in, and giving him a killer wit and a fair share of mean-spirited monlogues.

With all this talk of snappy wit and quick-fire dialogue, I think it’s clear this graphic novel is not intending to be a straight horror.  As Wolf himself states in his introduction, the story is very much a tongue-in-cheek take on how a classic horror might be giving the Hollywood remake treatment.  And he is ably assisted in this goal by the art of Justin Wayne.  Falling just on the right side of cartoony, with a real knack for expressive faces, Wayne is crucial in establishing the mood of the comic.  He’s helped in this regard by the crisp and vibrant colors of Sal N., aka The Darkcloak.

With every medium of entertainment seemingly in vampire overload, and with the glut of remakes and retellings removing any sense of dread or mystery from the Dracula tale, you might think that the last thing you want to read is a Nosferatu graphic novel.  Fair enough.  But if you can overcome any such hesitation and give this a try, I believe you’ll find an enjoyable story with more than enough charm and originality to make it stand out from its well-worn source material(s) and the countless other adaptations.