Review time! with Dear Creature
I had read good things about Jonathan Case’s Dear Creature, so while I passed on it when it showed up in Previews, I wasn’t adverse to checking it out. When I saw some of the interior art in Seattle (at Case’s table), I had to buy it. He’s a phenomenal artist. Does the story keep up, though? Dear Creature, in case you’re wondering, is published by Tor and costs $15.99.
Case creates a bunch of strange characters and turns them loose, and the result is a fascinating love story between a sea monster and an agoraphobe (more or less). Case sets the book in 1962, which is important because World War II is a plot point, plus the idea of an atomic sea monster coming ashore and stalking coeds fits very nicely into the 1950s/1960s Cold War paranoia vibe. We’re first introduced to Grue, the creature of the title, who lives right off the shore of Santa Lucia, California, and who feeds on hormones somehow. So when couples go down to the beach to neck (and more), Grue lures them in and … well, kills them. He doesn’t kill anyone in this book, because at some point, he began reading scraps of Shakespeare’s plays that have been placed inside soda (pop?) bottles and set adrift. The language stirs something in Grue, and he swears off eating people, even though one girl does die at the beginning, mainly because she’s terrified of Grue himself. Grue goes looking for the person who is putting these bottles in the water, and he eventually finds Giulietta, who lives with her sister and her nephews on a drydocked boat and never leaves her room. What’s a poor sea monster to do?
Of course, complications arise. The boy whose girlfriend died in the beginning is Giulietta’s nephew, and he’s arrested for the murder. Giulietta’s sister, Zola, was once in love with an English sailor stationed in Italy during the war, and Giulietta believes she drove the man away because she competed for his affection. The town’s tough guy cop, Craw, is really the father of Zola’s kids, although he’s never acknowledged it. He’s the only one who realizes that the kid, Joe, is innocent, but of course no one believes his story of a sea monster. The fascinating thing about the story is that as goofy and even funny it can occasionally be, Case keeps us in suspense about whether the two lovebirds will, in fact, get together. We think they will, but the obstacles between them seem insurmountable. It’s a much more interesting love story than we expect, because Grue and Giulietta are such different characters from what we usually see. Grue is, naturally, not used to how humans relate to each other, while Giulietta is, it seems, far too damaged to carry on an affair. I guess you’ll have to read it to see how it ends, won’t you?
I mentioned the “strange characters” that Case creates, and that’s part of what makes the book a delight. Grue speaks in iambic pentameter, for instance, and while it can easily be a silly affectation, the fact that he learns about love solely from Shakespeare makes it more believable. He is accompanied constantly by a Greek chorus of crabs, who harangue him about remaining true to his good old coed-eating self. Zola overcompensates for the loss of her beau by “entertaining” gentlemen callers, but she has a kind heart who desperately wants Craw to recognize their love. Even so, Zola is still bound by prejudice, and the way Case writes the humans in this book is really neat – they’re three-dimensional personalities, so we can never predict how they’re going to react to situations. Giulietta, for instance, falls in love with Grue, and when she finds out he has killed people before, she reacts like we would – with revulsion – but she also is able to overcome that because she realizes that Grue has changed. Some of the characters are stereotypes – the other cops, for instance – but their roles are minor. Case does a wonderful job with the principal characters in the book, which is why the love story feels so much more organic than we usually see.
As I mentioned, Case’s art is the main reason I bought the book in the first place, because it’s wonderful. It kind of reminds me of Chris Samnee’s art, especially earlier in Samnee’s career, and as Chris Samnee is a fine, fine artist, I hope everyone realizes that’s a compliment. Case has a wonderfully fluid style that works very well in this setting, as water plays such an important part. His details are amazing, as he gives us a superb sense of a California beach town, and he always keeps in mind the date, as the clothing and hair reflect that it’s the early 1960s. When Grue goes down into the depths to retrieve something, Case shows us this amazing deep-sea world, full of strange creatures and hidden dangers. He shifts easily from this creeping horror to humor – a giant squid, beautifully rendered, attacks Grue, but Grue’s solution turns the situation silly very quickly. When Grue is captured and sent to a research lab, Case makes sure it’s as science-fictiony as he can, and the danger Grue is in is offset by the ineptitude of the scientists. Case has a thin but strong line, so his characters are well defined but he can also add a lot of blacks that, because he doesn’t always use holding lines, soften the entire look of the book. Where his art is truly wonderful is in the character designs. Grue is a bizarre marvel, and the fact that his facial features are a thin line and two giant black circles doesn’t inhibit Case’s ability to make his hero emote. It’s wonderful to see an older woman as the object of desire, and Case makes Giulietta old without erasing any of her beauty. In the flashback where she tells Grue her history, we see that Zola was once a sexy young lady who has grown fatter and bitter, but Case doesn’t make her ugly, he just makes her face sad at how her life has fallen away from her. Case tells the story a great deal through Grue and Giulietta’s facial expressions and body language, which makes the artwork even more impressive. Grue is like a child in many ways, so the fact that Case is able to show so many emotions on his simplistic face is wonderful.
Dear Creature is a funny, tragic, exciting, and moving love story. Case shows that he’s a creator to watch out for, and I hope he keeps doing weird and wonderful comics like this one. Case has a story running in Dark Horse Presents right now (well, he did in issue #11), and while the art isn’t quite as good as it is in Dear Creature, it’s still nice and it shows off his diverse skills, too. Dear Creature has been out for a while, and I Recommend you go pick it up!