Thursday, September 11, 2008
from "Melvin Monster" #8, 1967: an, er, yawning chasm...
I think I suddenly 'get' Melvin Monster, one of John Stanley's "auteur" comic book series of the 1960s. I recently picked up a complete run of the title (save #10, which is a reprint of the first issue).
Having read them, my opinion of the series has changed for the better. There is a great deal of inspired writing here. Stanley's bold, simple artwork (at times reminiscent of Dick Briefer's similar but looser work on the humorous Frankenstein comics of the 1940s) is a compliment to his concepts and dialogue.
Still, there are forbidding elements to this series that make it hard for me to embrace it completely.
Melvin Monster's is a grim, harsh world to inhabit. It is, however, consistent and well thought-out.
What bothers me about the series is the cruelty constantly hurled at Melvin, who is, at heart, a sweet and innocent being. Melvin is likable, despite being a goody two-shoes.
I'd love to see Casper, the Friendly Ghost or "playful" Little Audrey face the Spanish Inquisition. They represent the type of squeaky-clean, one-dimensional "goody two-shoes" characters that I can't help but dislike.
Melvin, on the other hand, is merely a non-conformist. He's the only nice guy in a world of monsters. It is a clever switch on the then-popular monster comedy genre, as seen on TV's The Addams Family and The Munsters.
Of course, to "sell" Melvin's niceness, it's necessary to make everyone else a raging, grade-A asshole. How else, logically speaking, would most monsters behave? Remembering that Melvin is the anomaly in this world can make its nastier elements a bit easier to stomach.
Melvin's parents, as I've commented elsewhere, really disturb me. Talk about your co-dependent, mutually abusive couple! It's Psych 101. You have the surly, prone-to-rage dad and the submissive, swimming-in-denial mom. So many American kids who grew up in the 1950s and '60s faced this set of parents. I certainly did, in my own way.
Perhaps John Stanley did, as well. These characters are too knowingly rendered, too forcefully present in these comic book stories. Despite Stanley's sharpness as a writer, the psychological weight of Melvin's 'rents leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Ditto for Cleopatra, the alligator (or crocodile?) whose sole goal is to devour Melvin--a mission forever thwarted, thank goodness.
Anyway, here's "Supermonster," one of the more offbeat stories from an already offbeat series. Savor the mix of macabre themes, dry puns, and life-or-death struggles that distinguishes Melvin Monster in comix history.