Created by: Taiyo Matsumoto
Published by: VIZ Media
ISBN: 1421532093 (Amazon)
Like all of us, I am unfortunately bound by certain culturally endowed predispositions that prompt immediate, involuntary reactions to certain encounters. When I see a picture of someone with neurofibromatosis, my initial reaction, sadly enough, is not compassion but revulsion. Compassion may speedily follow, but that was a learned response and not natural to what my society has built into me. When I hear hip hop, my instinct is to brush it off as if it couldn’t possibly concern me—causing me to miss out on probably some pretty decent music. Growing up with melody-heavy heavy rock and then straight-ahead jazz has built into my ears an immediate and unfair prejudice toward musical styles that differed too greatly from the mean of my experiences. And growing up with particular tastes in art and in a culture that favoured a narrow ground for appreciation, I have often found it a struggle to approach certain styles of comic art with a neutral eye. Many alt-comic forms leave me cold at a glance and so my predispositions often hinder me from taking the time to explore and then enjoy works that come from sources too far out from the mainstream.
From the outside it’s an amusing problem, for mainstream American comics art leaves me unimpressed and uninterested as well. Too great an adherence to what I perceive as formula and an artist may lose me. Too slick a presentation, too much style over substance (or at least my so far as my perception of these things go), and I may not ever pick up a book. It’s a personal weakness. And one that I think most people suffer from to one degree or another. We tend to couch these prejudices in terms of Taste in order to alleviate the moral burden of expressing what amounts to base intolerance. But all the same, that’s what our tastes reveal themselves to be: gently packaged bigotries against those things that we have, for one reason or another, been trained to find repulsive.
And so we come to understand why I almost didn’t get more than a handful of pages in Taiyo Matsumoto’s Gogo Monster. My own inadequacies as a reader often govern the books I finish and the books I set aside. Too often I put aside books that I may not have given an adequate chance. Probably it’s only because I needed something to review that I pressed forward with Gogo Monster, proving that being pushed into action by circumstances can sometimes be a very good thing—because after all is said and done, I really did end up enjoying both the book and its quirky illustrations.
Gogo Monsters straddles some sort of line between absurdist, surrealist, and fantasy. It can be difficult to follow because the reader will often be uncertain whether the experiences depicted should be considered reality, imagination, or metaphor. There are textual cues that led me to vote for Reality, but only having had invested a single reading at this point, I can’t speak to that matter with full confidence.
Matsumoto’s story, in its most overt, surface reading plays out over the course of a year and follows the story of a school that is increasingly beset by misfortune and misbehaviour. More properly, the plot may be said to concern three children in varying stages of social pariah-dom. Makoto, a third grader, is the most even-keeled of the three and spends most of his time alternating between interest in and alienation from his bizarre classmate Yuki. Yuki sees visions of another world, one that overlaps with our own, and he attributes much of the gathering social darkness to the activity of the other-worldly “others”—though the flame of his faith is being somewhat diminished by recent conversations with IQ. IQ, a mathematical genius, is a fifth grader who wears a cardboard box over his head at all times and sees Yuki’s beliefs about the other world as mere psychological extrapolations of his intense feelings of loneliness. IQ and Yuki are explicitly shunned by their classmates, while Makoto hangs on to some degree of social relevance despite concerns about his curiosity toward and friendship with Yuki. As these characters wend their way toward their individual fates, Gogo Monster may or may not (depending on one’s interpretation of events) reveal whether Yuki’s imagination has gotten away from him or not.
It’s a curious book and each reader’s interpretation will lead into a variety of questions about authorial intent and whether Matsumoto merely intended to tell the kind of trippy story that high-school–aged writers love to think is amazing and mind-blowing—or whether the author have bigger fish to fry. I’m not entirely sure myself, but my own reading is hopeful that the latter is the case. Matsumoto lays a lot of groundwork for a robust interpretative challenge, but having just finished the book some hours ago, I can’t say I’ve had the time to mull it over enough to know. In any case, Gogo Monster is a thought-provoking work—and that alone is enough to recommend it.
Isn’t that a rad drawing of a kid riding a bike reflected
in one of those fisheye mirrors?
The art that I earlier found so distracting, nearly prompting me to set the book aside, ended up being a high point of my experience of the book. His linework, shaky and abrupt, initially led me to believe the artist underdeveloped or incompetent. Still, after forty pages or so, I revised my opinion entirely. The page layouts and visual choices propel the work and support the story ably—and even his staggering, drunken line begins to inform the story by creating a particular world through aesthetic revelation. I wouldn’t wish that all comics used Matsumoto’s style of art but I was glad that Gogo Monster did.
The book is challenging but, I think, rewards the patient and persistent reader. I’d recommend this to anyone interested in a book that falls a little outside the boundaries of the average comic story—especially if one can overlook what may end up being the fetishization of the stereotypical (and therefore infantilizing) mind-blowing trifle. Despite what may (or may not!) end up being weaknesses, Gogo Monster almost certainly demands thoughtfulness of its readers. And that is never a bad thing.
There are a buttload of drawings of jumbo jets flying overhead.
It’s almost like a thing.
Although, I’m still not sure why the book is called Gogo Monster.
Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:
3 Stars = Good
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I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.
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