Dear Creature by Jonathan Case
Creature from the Black Lagoon is one of the all-time greatest stories of unrequited love, ever. Perhaps this opinion, formed early in life, sets me apart from most people, but I’ve always had a soft spot for misunderstood monsters, and to a prepubescent me nothing evoked pathos more powerfully than unexpressive, inhuman masks and prosthetics. As a child I regularly borrowed Ian Thorne’s juvenile adaptation of the 1954 Universal film from Lewisburg Public Library, in preparation to reenact heavily revised versions of the movie and its sequels in the bathtub with my Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and Creature from the Black Lagoon action figures. In short, as an adult, I was hardwired to pick up Dear Creature by Jonathan Case when I saw it on the bookshelf.
This graphic novel revolves around the sea monster Grue’s at times comically ill-fated attempts to abandon his murderous diet of concupiscent teenagers in favor of humanity and a poet’s heart. Helping Grue in his quest are the plays of William Shakespeare and a budding romance with emotionally damaged Giulietta. Set against him are instinct, a chorus of carcass scavenging crabs, and his own bloody past.
Despite his gory appetites, Grue is an enthusiastic, joyful innocent. Though the book’s illustrations are black and white, the depiction of his emotions is in gaudy Technicolor, and it is nearly impossible to hold the monster’s murderous nature against him. In fact, Grue’s wide-eyed childishness, not his anatomical differences or anthropophagy, marks the oddest thing about his romance with Guilietta, and also makes the story turn heartbreaking when Grue is confronted with the horror of what he used to be. The three crabs that act as cynical, if not evil, devils on Grue’s shoulder are hilarious in their egging on of the occasionally tantrum prone creature. They employ trickery, pleading, begging, song, and dance in their efforts to regain their supply of rotting bodies on which to feed.
Artistically Dear Creature surpasses many of the comics and graphic novels being published today. I can probably count on one hand the number of individual panels that didn’t work for me. Case’s artwork is full of energy as well as weight. His characters are all unique, full of personality and endearing imperfections (wrinkles, puffiness, bad hair, seemingly exposed brains). Abstract flourishes like the crabs’ cartoonish design or Grue literally being hooked by a combined male/female symbol when hormones are in the air, and hyperbolic actions contribute to the humor of the story.
Admittedly, I’m predisposed toward liking any story inspired by of one of my favorite monster movies, but even ignoring this fact, I believe Dear Creature is an excellent book, far better than an author/artist’s debut graphic novel has any right to be. I hope to see more from Jonathan Case soon.