5 out of 5
No moralizing. No over-explaining. The pure kids’ adventure tale – think Goonies – is not an impossibility, but it’s definitely hard to come by. The tricky balance of the narrative is key: How do you decide what you can assume your audience knows or understands, and what should you detail? How mean do you get? Do you include a voice of reason in there, for handy life-lesson offerings? And its not that hewing toward a “safer” path equals an automatic boring story, but it is what it is – safer – and thus, in my eyes, less likely to stand out.
Margo Maloo reeks of a character who was created name-first, with surrounding details filled in later, but whatever the approach, it absolutely works in her (and the story’s) favor: Margo’s dark-limned eyes and furtively passed business card – Monster Mediator – along with her seeming kinship with those monsters, and constant disparaging references to ‘humans’, tells us all we need to know (and certainly hints at what me might not know) to get the character, and be on her side while she guides fledgling kid reporter Charles Thompson through his new home, the – as it turns out – monster-filled shadows of Echo City. Some fun backmatter profiles on the monsters and the lived-in city setting are suggestive of world-building work creator Drew Weing put into this, but there’s no timeout to give us anyone’s backstory, or asides to explain that monsters are all around us but most don’t see them, yadda yadda. We don’t need these things. Again, as with Margo, the good stuff is readily gleaned from just reading the story as presented, leaving Drew plenty of pages to properly pace out our exposure to what’s hiding in various closets. And he doesn’t mince on the concept: The monsters amusingly have their own bars and beurocracy, but they’re not secretly super friendly or anything. Lest you follow Margo’s lead you just might get eaten.
Weing’s art has a classic newspaper strip look to it – Charles sorta looks like the kid from Family Circus – but with a much finer, and more precise line than your average strip and a fantastic sense of color, whether its splash backgrounds or the murky tones used in monster laird and dens.
First Second’s attractive hardcover binding for the book lays flat for easy reading, and we get three fun “cases” to observe over 100+ pages.
Margo Maloo might not come ready-packed with a moral, or have deep emotional underpinnings, but I think it does more important things: It respects its audience to get the gist, and it encourages your imagination to run wild with the concept. And? It’s a heckuva lot of fun.