Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 

Review time! with ‘Little Monarchs’

“Wrapped up in some powdered wool, I guess I’m losing touch; don’t tell me I’m dying, ’cause I ain’t changed that much”

Jonathan Case makes good comics, and he made Little Monarchs (published by Margaret Ferguson Books), so it stands to reason that Little Monarchs is a good comic. And it is! Here endeth the lesson!

I suppose I should write a bit about it, because that’s what we do around here, right? So: the book is set in 2101, eighty years in the future, after almost every human has died. Oh dear. It seems that 50 years earlier (so 30 years from now, look out!) something happened with the sun that killed every mammal. Humans that happened to be deep underground survived, but they still can’t go out in the sun, so they only go out at night. A woman named Flora has figured out how to make medicine that blocks the sun’s radiation using monarch butterflies, and she thinks she can make a vaccine. She and Elvie, whose parents went south to Mexico eight years earlier in search of monarchs, are following their winter migration southward, hoping to make the vaccine and meet up with Elvie’s parents. That’s the general plot.

Technically, this is for “young readers,” but we’re all young at heart, right? Case doesn’t pull any punches, though – I mean, the book is set in a time when almost every human on the planet has died, and bad things happen along the way – but it’s pitched a bit toward younger readers, as Case does a clever thing: he has Elvie keep a journal, so we get their position quite often (in latitude and longitude) and fun facts about monarchs and other interesting stuff, which he manages to incorporate nicely into the narrative while keeping it free of too much jargon. Because Elvie is the POV character, we get a good amount of information, and because she’s only 11, she’s not as gloomy as Flora can be, so the book is never too dark, even when bad things happen. It’s an adventure, so even with the high stakes, it feels, you know, adventurous. Flora and Elvie begin, it appears, southeast of Silverton, Oregon, but soon they’re on the coast, heading south, then they cut inland toward Medford, go south to Nevada, then back west toward San Francisco, then south again. Nature is against them – they survive an earthquake/tsunami on the coast – and they’re not sure if they can trust the few people they do meet. Flora gets ill at one point, and Elvie has to make a harrowing journey to get her medicine. Through it all, they talk about going to Mexico, but of course they’re not sure Elvie’s parents are even alive after so long. There’s a good amount of danger, but there’s a lot of hope, too. Case does a very good job balancing between the two poles. He also does a good job with all the characters – even ones who aren’t in the book that long. There are some unsavory characters in the book, but he makes it clear that they’re just people, doing what they think is right. We’re on Flora and Elvie’s side, of course, but the other characters aren’t necessarily evil, just trying to survive (and not all of them are “evil,” of course – I’m trying to stay vague to avoid spoilers!). He does a very nice job showing the human desire for a society, because all of the characters in the book have been isolated for so long, but he also shows how that desire can lead to some foolish decisions (not all the time, just sometime). There’s a lot of very good character work in the book, so that Flora and Elvie’s quest isn’t just a focus on creating a vaccine, but their quest for a place to call home.

Case’s art is, of course, marvelous. His characters are wonderfully expressive – Elvie is an 11-year-old girl, so she wears her emotions on her sleeves, and Case is very good at showing her trying at times to keep those emotions in check. Flora is older, and needs to put on a brave face for Elvie, and he does an excellent job showing how much she struggles with that. His details are superb – Case lives in Oregon, so his beautiful, precise rendering of the countryside shouldn’t be a surprise, as he captures the gorgeous autumn along the coast, but he also does a fine job with the starkness of the Nevada desert. We get a very good sense of where Flora and Elvie are, grounding the story nicely. Case has a nice, fluid line, so while there’s not a ton of action in the book, there is a lot of movement, and he does that very well. When the earthquake hits, he gives us the big picture and what’s happening inside their truck, showing the trauma of the moment. When Elvie makes her dangerous trip to fetch medicine, the storm she has to navigate is fierce and terrifying. He does a good job showing how nature is reclaiming the land, even though there is still so much evidence of humanity. It would happen, obviously, but Case shows how slow the process would be in some places and how quickly it might happen elsewhere. His colors are superb, too – a nice watercolor effect on the nature parts of the book, contrasting them a bit with the more solid coloring of the characters. It’s a subtle way of showing that they’re still separate from the more natural world, even though they’re trying to use nature to save themselves. The book is a dense 250 pages, and Case makes each panel gorgeous.

Little Monarchs is an excellent comic. Yes, it’s for “young” readers, but Case doesn’t let that stand in his way of telling a story about a tough subject, bringing up deep themes about humanity and our place in the world. He gives us wonderful human relationships, adventure, thrills, some violence and darkness, a good deal of hope, and a lot of information about monarch butterflies, which is fun. His art is amazing as usual, and the story is very compelling and engrossing. Do yourself a favor and pick this up!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

Well, that’s 30 books in 30 days of June, and I’m done for a while. I try to get the first half of the year done, but I still have a stack of books I got recently, so that didn’t happen. I try to do these with plenty of lead time, but I was in my funk for a couple of months there, and I just didn’t feel like doing them, so when June started, I only had about 15 or so “in the bank,” and I’ve been watching my lead time shrink all month. Right now, it’s about 10 a.m. Mountain Standard Time on the 30th, so this is going to get posted in about 2 hours, so my lead time is completely gone. That’s fine, though – it’s only a self-imposed schedule, of course. I know people don’t comment on these too much, which is fine, but I do wonder if you guys read them. I like writing them, but they are kind of time-consuming, and I won’t start up again (probably in October?) if you don’t want to read them. We’re reader-friendly here at the blog! Let me know – I honestly don’t know if readers like checking these out or if they simply skip them while they wait for Fraser to regale us with weird tales from the ’60s (I love reading those, because the ’60s might be my biggest gap in comics knowledge, even more than the ’50s). I’m not looking for validation just for validation’s sake – I really do hope you find some interesting things to read from these posts, but if nobody cares, I’ll have a good cry and move on with my life. So let me know. Thanks for reading, as always!

8 Comments

  1. Eric van Schaik

    Mr. Burgas, as far as I am concerned you can keep going on with these reviews.
    I don’t react to all of them but I do read them. It’s not always my cup of coffee but that’s okay.
    I like your way of writing.
    That’s enough ass kissing for today. 😉

  2. wilcan

    I pre-ordered Little Monarchs and am excited to read it. Jonathan Case’s watercolors are glorious!

    I read all these reviews as well and even bought Lions of Leningrad based on your recommendation. I hope you keep them up!

  3. Corrin Radd

    This is probably my favorite comic that I’ve read this year so far. My ten year old also read it and loved it and we talked about it for days. I googled it and apparently getting milkweed juice in your eyes really can cause temporary blindness! The more you know.

    I hope they throw buckets of money at Case to turn this into a movie.

    Really enjoyed the month of reviews and picked up a few books that sounded interesting.

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