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Monday, August 4, 2014

Gary Gianni's MonsterMen and Other Scary Stories. Gary Gianni (Writer & Art), Sean Konot, Todd Klien, Clem Robbins (Letters). Dark Horse Books (2012)

Astonishing black and white art and great ideas combine to deliver a smart and very engaging update of the classic ghost story. Starting at the foreword in which Garry Gianni risks using one of the the most beaten down cliches in supernatural stories and manages to get away with it, the tone of the stories is set and then expectations very nicely undermined by the abundant imagination and sharp writing that follows. The stories are linked by the cast, Benedict dressed in a tuxedo and a knight's helmet is a member of the Guild of Corpus Monstrum, a group dedicated to fighting monsters, Lawrence St George, a film maker and ghost fighter, the reporter Sunset Lane and the increasingly mangled and malicious Crulk.
The opening story "Silent As The Grave" opens with a suitably dramatic cry for help and then circles around through a very clever introduction to film maker Lawerence St George, Crulk, Sunset Lane and Benedict before trouble arrives in the shape of a very large winged demon. The threads are neatly tied together with an old Hollywood murder and undying hatred, envy and revenge.
"Autopsy In B-Flat" is a strong piece of story construction that using fragments of two stories , nestled within each other to great effect, it also features squid headed pirates.
"A Gift For The Wicked" is a joyous entry in the great tradition of Christmas ghost stories. Featuring a haunted room and in a anstrectral mansion it showcases Gary Gianni's talent for understanding and updating the genre requirements.
"The Skull and The Snowman" is a virtuoso piece featuring a struggle for a demonic skull in the Himalayas, the return of Crulk starts race to prevent the recovery of the skull of the demon Lord Gooseflesh. The showdown in the snowy mountains which includes the assistance of the Yeti and quick thinking are a delight.
The final story "O Sinner Beneath Us" opens with a crash as Benedict and Summer Lane find themselves dropped down underground in a room where Crulk, even more mangled than before, knocks on their door. This time Crulk has a very dangerous item with him which leads Summer Lane into significant danger and Crulk to well served justice.
The art is very formal, it strongly echoes the illustrations used in pulp magazines, it captures the deliberately old fashioned style and structure of the stories. The details are astonishing and they slow the pace of reading the stories, each panel needs to be relished and absorbed. The cast are given strong and clear personalities, the page layouts are varied and clever, the strong design of pages call attention to themselves without overbalancing the stories.
At the end of the book, there are stories by William Hope Hodgson, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard and Perceval Landon. This is a huge risk by Gary Gianni, deliberately setting up a comparison with masters of the craft, and one that pays off for him. The final stories point out how well the spirit of the classic short ghost story has been captured, updated and extended by Gary Gianni. His work stands comfortably, shoulder to shoulder with the work of the genre masters.
With such eye catching art, the lettering by Sean Konot, Todd Klien and Clem Robins is every more self effacing than usual, it proves vital dramatic emphasis when required and a great range of sound effects which  play nicely with the dry humour in the stories. A great collection.

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