Sunday, December 13, 2009

Red Monkey Double Happiness Book: Two Stories by Joe Daly

Writer: Joe Daly, Artist: Joe Daly
Published by Fantagraphics 2009

The past year has been a strong one for graphic novels, but my favorite has been this one by South African cartoonist Joe Daly.

Daly’s stories center on two friends, Dave and Paul. Dave is a graphic artist and the central character. He is also the “red monkey,” being a redhead and having been born with strange monkey feet. His buddy Paul is a freeloader in the first story, but in the second has found a purpose in life, working at an animal rescue centre.

The first story, ‘The Leaking Cello Case,’ is about Dave and his problems with his neighbors. One is an angry man with a mysteriously leaking cello case. Dave’s attempt to be helpful are met with some pretty serious threats. The other problem involves the strange and annoying noises from the apartment above. The two problems come together in surprising and very funny ways.

The second story, ‘John Wesley Harding,’ starts with Dave and Paul hiking through a wetland area, searching for a capybara, named for the Bob Dylan album, who has escaped from the centre. Things get very strange, very quickly. A businessman may be using a strange microwave device to destroy the wetlands in order to turn it into a development project. Or maybe not. There are a lot of strange turns and characters before we get to the truth.

Of the two stories, the first is the strongest. It is tighter, and the weirdness is more grounded in reality. The second one is still very good and I found myself enjoying it even more on my second reading. Daly’s artistic style seems to remind everyone of a mix of Herge and American underground comix and that occurred to me too, but Daly seems to draw from these inspirations equally and equally well. I suspect the name of his apartment, the Pelican, is a Herge reference. The stories take place in Daly’s hometown, Cape Town, South Africa, but the environment feels very familiar to me as west coast native. (Interestingly, there is only one black character per story, and neither is very important.) If you’re looking for something that is original, clever, and fun, you don’t have to look any further than this book.

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