Sunday, November 1, 2009

Monday Review: The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book

The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book
By Joe Daly
Fantagraphics Books
Reviewed by Jason Rodriguez

In the grand tradition of Cheech & Chong, Harold & Kumar, and Pineapple Express’s Dale & Saul we have Dave & Paul, the stoner stars of Joe Daly’s pair of graphic novellas featured in The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book. On the surface we’ve seen the basic premise before, two loveable stoners find themselves in the middle of a conspiracy yet they manage to save the day, get the girl, and go back to their lives of munchies, too-clever conversations, and a relaxing life in their tiny, sun-baked town. Daly’s graphic novel is a bit different from other stories in the genre, however, as our protagonists are a bit more loveable, a bit cleverer, and a bit more proactive than the usual stoner fare. In fact, Daly’s characters aren’t motivated by drugs; they’re motivated by an internal sense of goodness. In that regard, the book is closer to The Big Lebowski than the movie’s referenced above.

They live in Cape Town, South Africa, in an apartment building that houses an eclectic array of personalities. Dave is a graphic designer who starts the book down on his luck, fed up with his current gig working for a brick catalog where his employer wants him to draw bricks that look the same as past bricks but with his own unique spin (and unique spin boils down to a wiggly line or something). He has monkey feet, a physical deformity that allows him to climb poles and scale walls - something he’s embarrassed of at first, but as the book progresses he begins to embrace his deformity as an advantageous tool in his daily life. Paul is Dave’s freeloading neighbor who never has a job and has likely taken entirely too many psychedelics. Together they make an unlikely crime-fighting team, taking down shady neighbors and sketchy real estate firms that not only inject an unbalanced bit of evil into Cape Town but who also cause irreversible damage to Cape Town’s ecosystem. Environmentally aware, crime-fighting stoners…and they’re funny, too.

There are two stories in this book. The first novella focuses on a Danny Trejo-styled tough-guy Mexican who carries a guitar case that leaks green ooze and who doesn’t have a lot of love for Dave, as evident by his proclamation, “I KEEEEL YOU! YOU BEEETNEEK SCUM!” The second novella takes our heroes out of their apartment building and starts with a hunt for an escaped capybara before spiraling into a Scooby-Doo like plot involving people with green, glowing eyes that are apparently draining the wetlands in the middle of the night. Both stories stand up well on their own, but the second (longer) story is what makes this book truly magnificent...

…which brings me to Daly’s artwork. Dense panels heightened by an incredible color palette that manages to bring the reader into Dave’s apartment building for the first story and then into the Cape Town wetlands and expansive mansions in the second story. In the second story Daly’s artwork really begins to shine, the set pieces are more robust and it feels as if Daly is no longer cramped by Dave’s small apartment; he really gets to let his work come through and show us the colors and environments that are Cape Town. This book is highly recommended for everyone, whether you’re fans of graphic novels or not, and could serve as a great introduction to the medium if you’re one of those folks who shy away from them.

Jason Rodriguez is a workshop leader at The Writer's Center. He is an Eisner and Harvey-nominated graphic novel editor. He lives in Arlington, VA with his wife, two dogs, three cats, and hated bird.

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