Writer/Artist: Gustavo Duarte
Publisher: Dark Horse
Release Date: January 15, 2014
It’s fitting that Sergio Aragones writes the (brief) introduction to Gustavo Duarte’s American debut, Monsters! & Other Stories, a collection of three comic novellas. Aragones has always been known for his lightning-speed compositions (if you ever get the chance to see him lecture, he sketches on an overhead projector the entire time) but, even moreso, for the lightness of his enchanting style. Duarte has his differences, to be sure, and his aesthetic is distinct enough from his august predecessor, but there are comparisons that can be made, too.
Aragones focuses on Duarte’s genre of wordless sequential art in his intro, and it’s a skill the MAD Magazine veteran has always excelled in, too. When your line and your character design are so expressive, you don’t need words to convey the story. In Monsters!, Duarte uses a word here and there, mostly unspoken and none uttered aloud by human tongue; but they’re not necessary to the plot. They’re either atmospheric (a bar sign) or background jokes (a copy of the Necronomicon sitting on a bookshelf). Al Hirschfeld’s name should be mentioned, too, despite the great caricaturist’s lack of story.
Unlike, say, Jim Woodring or Chris Ware, whose word-free efforts (for Ware, more passages than entire books) can be intricate and require intense visual parsing, Duarte’s stories move with speed and confidence, allowing one to blow through the book in virtually no time, despite its 150-odd pages. What’s more impressive is the way he can make you pause to take a breath and appreciate the gorgeousness of a single panel. His colors are minimal and his scenes direct, but he displays a filmic eye at times, with a great instinct for exciting perspectives: a monster cutting a swath through the city, viewed from above; a hero, running through the streets, dwarfed by a huge building as he passes it; a hapless farmer, suspended in midair by an alien tractor beam.
All three stories are immensely enjoyable and increase progressively in entertainment value. The last, “Monsters,” serves as an improvement on Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim, and each comments on a genre: aliens, detectives, and giant, rampaging monsters. Monsters! is a great deal of a fun and a warm delight in a cold January.