Whimsical and inventively goofy, Rob Harrell’s comic fantasy Monster on the Hill (Top Shelf Productions) takes us back to an 1867 England awash with giant beasties. They are so much a part of the landscape that every self-respecting country town has one periodically rampaging through the streets, bringing out tourists to be threatened and frightened by these behemoths. But for the town of Stoker-on-Avon (whose town fathers all share last names with the authors of classic horror yarns), their creature proves an embarrassment, so much so that townees have to vacation in neighboring villages to get some exciting monster action.
Stoker-on-Avon’s resident attraction is a morose figure named Rayburn, who would rather sit in his cave bemoaning his existence than trodding into town frightening folks. The Eeyore of Victorian monsters, Rayburn’s cause is taken up by the eccentric man of science, Dr. Charles Wilke (whose lab had been shuttered up by town fathers after several smelly experiments went awry), and the plucky tagalong paperboy Timothy. Their goal is build the melancholic creature’s self-esteem, so he can do a proper job of it. If they don’t succeed, than his place as town menace will taken up by a much more vicious type, a ravenous swampish villain known as the Murk.
Cartoonist Rob Harrell, creator of the syndicated strip “Big Top,” crafts a visually appealing all-ages fantasy with some wonderfully expressive monsters. Our threesome’s trek to build up Rayburn’s confidence takes them across the verdant countryside where we meet our title hero’s old schoolmate Tentaculor and young Timothy is temporarily turned into a mushroom – a side plot that provides some of the graphic novel’s funniest moments. It all ends in a showdown with the Murk on the streets of Stoker-on-Avon, where Rayburn is given the chance to prove his mettle.
Monster on the Hill is the type of graphic novel that is all too rare in America these days: happily cartoony, suitable for kids and adults, craftily plotted and rendered with personality and plenty of grounding detail: the kind of lighthearted adventuring that Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge would have recognized, in other words. Here’s hoping that Harrell has more GN fantasies in him.