‘Dungeon Monstres, Vol. 1: The Crying Giant’ Review
The “Dungeon” series has gotten so full of stories, so complicated, that there’s a diagram on the back of this book to explain how all of the sub-series relate to each other.
Up top are the three main sequences – The Early Years (the creation), Zenith (the height), and Twilight (the downfall), as it says here – and below that are explanations of the other three clusters: Parade, Bonus, and Monstres. All are set in a giant castle in a standard fantasy world – the castle was set up by “the Keeper” as a habitat for various monsters, who could kill and devour the inevitable wandering adventurers. (So it’s a hack-n-slash D&D campaign turned on its head; the monsters win every time.)
Dungeon Monstres, Vol. 1: The Crying Giant
By Johann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim, Mazan, and Jean-Cristophe Menu
NBM, June 2008, $12.95
This particular subseries focuses on, as the back cover says, “great adventures of secondary characters.” So Monstres is the Cable & Deadpool of the “Dungeon” world, I guess…
The other different thing about Monstres is that the stories are illustrated by guest artists, not by series creators Johann [that’s how he’s credited on this book; though I’ve never seen the “h” in his name before] Sfar and Lewis Trondheim. In this case, the first story, “John-John the Terror,” has art by Mazan while the title story is illustrated by Jean-Cristophe Menu, head of the alternative comics publisher L’Association.
“John-John” is the story of how a few monsters came to the Dungeon, led by the chicken-headed conman William Delacour. The art here is detailed, very similar to the work of Sfar and Trondheim on the main series. And the story is somewhat like prose fantasy’s many picaresque stories of rogues, like Jack Vance’s Cugel the Clever, except for the fact that Delacour really isn’t our viewpoint character. We see as we see the group of monsters that he’s traveling with, and we have some sympathy for him – they tried to eat him at first – but we also come to have sympathy for the monsters, since he keeps leading them around and around, into more danger and trouble, when all they want is to get to the Dungeon.
There’s a bittersweet element to many of the Dungeon stories, a sense that life is tough and unfair but still always worth living – it’s unusual in a comics series aimed at younger readers, at least on this side of the Atlantic. “John-John” has that in spades, with the title character being cut in half by a magic sword (with both sides left alive) early on, and learning to live with that.
The second story, “The Crying Giant,” has somewhat cartoonier art, and starts out with a lighter feeling to it. It’s about the wizard Alcibiades and his friend Horus, who are sent out to find out why the eye of Biscara (as pictured on the cover) is weeping. The giant who’s missing that eye is also crying, because he’s unlucky in love, and, slowly, the story turns from funny and light to something not far removed from tragedy.
I wouldn’t give this particular book to very young or particularly emotional kids – they can find other books about the Dungeon to read until they grow up enough for this one – but it does have two fine stories of love and loss, unexpectedly poignant and quietly thoughtful.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.