Dalston Monsterzz is a Fleshy Blend of Akira, Attack the Block & Frank MillerArt by Dilraj Mann Comics Reviews Nobrow Press
The way Dilraj Mann draws mouths is so gross and fleshy that it could very well completely put you off reading his stuff. I’m here to advise you to persevere. Those mouths may be pink and swollen and dimpled like the genitals of various Old World monkeys in heat, but they’re also full of life, much like the rest of the book. Dalston Monsterzz calls to mind a huge variety of influences, mostly filmic: Akira, Attack the Block, Hayao Miyazaki, The Warriors, A Clockwork Orange. They’re all in there, chopped up together into a sort of multicolored pâté.
Mann reveals his premise slowly. Monsters emerged in the district of Dalston, in East London, as a result of development projects. But rather than lay waste to the area, they were domesticated to some extent, especially by gangs of young people, who figured out how to ride them. Businessmen are going missing, and a powerful man is looking for his teenaged daughter, Lolly. The plot is sort of a mess, but it’s also not really the point of the book. Neither is the character development, which is minimal. You read it for the atmosphere that Mann creates: big, busy pages rife with color and pattern. Panels overlay other panels. Word balloons do strange things. Stylized faces pout and squish and leer. Everyone is plump and rumpled in one way or another.
There’s a bit of a Frank Miller feeling to the sometimes calculated and deliberate ugliness of Dalston Monsterzz, not least in the way breaking news panels in rounded rectangles interrupt the narrative. The exaggerated human forms on display contribute to the same feeling, but there’s something less hard-edged than Miller’s aesthetic at work here, something that feels more like street art in the stylization, the ripe female shapes and the expressive faces. Mann isn’t committed to the essentialist gender roles that Miller often uses either. His women are forceful (without being “strong female characters”) and his men often tentative and sensitive (even when they’re evil). The sense of color throughout is perhaps the book’s greatest strength, and the interplay of lavender, blue, black and tomato red within a single page, with splashes of yellow, is softly thrilling. Mann’s palette is lovely enough to undermine the intentional grossness of his drawings. It’s a lot of look, but the looking is a good time.