By Rob Harrell
Publisher: Top Shelf
Rob Harrell is an American cartoonist who has managed a decent career to date with his two syndicated comic strips, Big Top and Adam@Home, so this is a bit of a departure, although not really a great leap. Set in a Victorian England that bears as much resemblance as Dick Van Dyke’s Cockney accent, the actual conceit is really rather good.
Every English town has a monster and, like Tokyo in miniature, from time to time that monster goes on the rampage. Despite the destruction and in-the-moment terror, the inhabitants of each town are fiercely proud of their particular behemoth to the extent that some sell souvenirs.
However there’s one town, Stoker-on-Avon, that has a problem. Their monster is pretty rubbish. His most terrible sound is his sigh and he’s rarely seen - all rather a disappointment.
So the town decides to send the local boffin to go and confront the beast and get to the bottom of the lack of bedlam, which gets results but only because a street urchin named Timothy tags along uninvited.
The suggested solution is to get the monster (called Rayburn, by the way) in touch with his more terrifying past, so that means visiting some other town’s monsters, but what they don’t realise is that there’s a good reason each town has its own monster and there are consequences should one leave.
So ignoring the rather bizarre mix of modern-day Americanisms peppering this Victorian England story, this is an incredibly fun and well executed tale. It’s original, it’s colourful, there are some chuckles and there are some touching moments too.
The idea of every English town having a monster is a hugely delicious idea, to the point where it’s almost a shame it’s not explored further. When the books other main monster, Tentaculor (real name: Noodles), rampages through his town of Billingwood it is the perfect marriage of absurdity and humour. Fantastic stuff.
With praise from the likes of Neil Gaiman and Jeff Smith, creator of the wonderful Bone saga, you can be reasonably sure of a good read, but the real proof of that is when you get to the final page and you’re genuinely disappointed it’s come to an end.