Somewhere between a Universal monster movie and The Merchant of Venice lies Jonathan Case’s debut graphic novel, Dear Creature. Would this rightly be considered a mash-up? There is no such mention in the enclosed marketing materials, so best not beleaguer the book with negative baggage. Especially since it doesn’t deserve it.
Indeed. Dear Creature is a rich romantic comedy –– fast, layered, funny, and tight –– proper adjectives to describe the writing, pacing, panel composition and line work. High praise for someone’s debut solo effort.
Case seems to have pulled from everywhere: some Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, a little Frankenstein, a handful of Romeo and Juliet, bushels of Dave Stevens, a weird slice from the Taming of the Shrew, some Harlequin Romance, even a bit of Calvin and Hobbes. And it works. The familiar hints of this and that neither overwhelm nor diminish Case’s fresh story of two gene–crossed lovers.
The art here is not subsidiary to the text. This is real comics, the Alchemical Blend I keep talking about that is the hallmark of fine sequential art storytelling. It’s doubtful that a collaborating artist or a brush-for-hire could have managed so successful a package. The crisp black and whites beautifully reflect the tale’s two emotional states: morbid despair and incandescent joy, Case’s clean pen tracing between the two, creating the space in which his characters breathe.
Read in a single sitting, Dear Creature had my full buy-in for every page –– except one. When the hero, Grue, escapes the clutches of a giant squid by tickling her, ah . . . “fancy,” shall we call it? . . . I was completely yanked out of the story.
Not that the moment was too broad or even unnecessary. It might have worked if it wasn’t so jarringly out of place. There was no precedent for it. Plenty of slapstick in the panels leading up to it, but no hint of bawdiness. And while I’m all for the bawdy, it shouldn’t come in the middle of a harrowing sequence. That, and the fact that Grue quickly, ah “surfaces,” shall we call it ? . . . leaving the lady squid with her tentacle trapped in the hull of a submarine? Well, that’s just bad form.
What Case comes up with next is anybody’s guess. With any luck, he’ll be able to stick with long-form graphic novels instead of being seduced by the superhero monthlies. They lack soul; Case doesn’t need to lose his to those.
Either way, I’ll be waiting.
Dear Creature page over at the MacMillan/Tor site