I bring you greetings from the Patrick McDonnell fan club, and by ‘fan’ I mean rampant (but respectful) follower, admirer, and student. I am in awe of this man, and my heart swells when he publishes another book. Just in time for Halloween, Mr McDonnell has given us The Monsters’ Monster, a terrifying tale of science gone awry. Um, no. More Zen than Karloff, this Frankensteinian monster is the epitome of reverence, kindness and gratitude, a philosophy McDonnell has been quietly and humourously articulating through his art for many years.

“He’s alive, ALIVE!”

And isn’t that…just great?

Grouch, Grump, and Little Gloom ‘n’ Doom are monsters. We know this because they live in a ‘dark monster castle, high atop a dark monster mountain, overlooking a monster-fearing village.’ Also, they have striped horns, or at least one of them does; the other two are hairy and two-headed, respectively. Like all monsters, they are up to no good. Chief among their no-good activities is trying to out-monster one another. Without a clear winner, they decide to settle the argument once and for all by building the biggest, baddest monster EVER out of tape, gunk, and ‘gobs of goo.’ One lightning bolt later, they are successful in their maleficent endeavour, and the monster awakens…

“And then, in a deep, booming voice, he said his first words…”

Nope. I’m not going to spoil it. The Monsters’ Monster is as unexpected as it is beautiful. Patrick McDonnell turns a stereotype on its head and finds the humanity in a creature built to wreak havoc. The Monsters’ Monster is not a typical monster book, or even a typical Halloween book, but it is everything we’ve come to know and love about Patrick McDonnell. This time, however, it is not a lost bird or a renowned primatologist at centre stage, but a flat-headed Frankestein in a striped shirt. Nevertheless, as with all of his books, including the Caldecott honor book Me…Jane, and my personal favourite, South, the art in The Monsters’ Monster is deceptively simple. The illustrations appear dashed off, effortless, untroubled by heavily saturated colours or layers of detail. And yet each stroke is meaningful, conveying in an impossibly lovely way the emotional truth of his characters; an acuity that extends to the imaginative use of space around the monsters to the sprinkles on their jelly doughnuts. All artists and writers strive for that big thing put simply. Patrick McDonnell has been doing it for years.

Decades of three-panel storytelling as an award-winning cartoonist may have made his line more ‘economical’ to some degree, but McDonnell’s ability to distill an idea, visual or otherwise, while retaining a huge amount of warmth and joyfulness is a testimony to the man himself. On the board of the directors of the Humane Society of the United States, this New Jersey-based artist has used both his strip and his many picture books as a platform for his views on animal protection, everyday mindfulness, stewardship, cats, dogs, birds, and monsters. It’s a gentle message, however, wrapped in the wit and pathos of a born artist and storyteller.

The Monsters’ Monster by Patrick McDonnell. Published by Little, Brown. 2012

MORE Halloween books HERE.

Other mash letters to Mr McDonnell:

Me…Jane (Little, Brown 2011)

South (Little, Brown 2008)

Hug Time (Little, Brown 2007)

Guardians of Being (New World Library, 2009)

Also HIGHLY recommended, Mutts: The Comic Art of Patrick McDonnell (Abrams, 2003)

*My deeply opinionated scanner does not care for watercolours…so apologies for the washed out imagery. Get the book!