Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Entry 82: Monsterkind

Much of human politics and racial relations stems from othering those who are different. Some group bands together as an “us” and defines themselves in distinction from some other group, “them.” The language that “we” use to describe “them” tends to reinforce the distinction between the groups, either dismissing them as weak or inferior, or, in some cases, raising them to dangerous, inhuman degrees, describing them as positively monstrous. Turning the other group into monsters is an easy way to continue dreading them. When the other group are literal monsters, though, we could wind up with a situation rather like the one presented in Monsterkind.

Wallace Foster, a human social worker, has never encountered monsters in his cozy homestead in District A, where monsters rarely if ever show up. Therefore, when he is transferred to monster-heavy District C, where monsters are in the majority by far, he is completely unprepared to not only face his own fears and prejudices, but the general mistrust that the monsters have for him.

After all:

  1. Bigotry can cut both ways. Some monsters harbor irrational dislikes for humans.
  2. Being treated as second-class citizens engenders certain natural resentments of the dominant class

Here I’ll note that Monsterkind is a comic you definitely want to read in order from the beginning. There’s an intricate story here, one that hinges upon details that are easy to miss. I notice something new every time I read it again.

While Wallace is focused on assisting those monsters he’s been sent to help, there’s something else going on with many of them. A larger story is unfolding, mostly unbeknownst to the people being affected by it. Subtle hints and minor cues, references to past events or the visible consequences that still linger from them all indicate that there’s more at play here than is understood by any one of the main actors.

Wallace himself is trying his hardest to do the one job he can do, but everything from the list of clients he’s meant to help to the recommendations he’s receiving from his boss to the providence of his transfer in the first place is, in a word, suspect.

The sinister plot tying many of these characters together unfolds in the background, while the more immediate and accessible story portrays a deceptively simple parable about tolerance and institutional racism. Creating a fantastical world to handle parallels to real-world issues is a time-honored storytelling technique, one that is employed here to discuss complex problems in terms of their impacts on sympathetic, relatable characters. It’s easy to understand that monsters are systematically mistreated by humans, even if we don’t have access to the detailed history of monster-human relations. It’s easy to understand how monsters and humans have been largely kept separate from each other, fostering misunderstanding. And it’s easy to see how people who initially regard each other with mistrust can find common ground, ultimately work together, and in some cases even grow to be friends.

Besides providing a handy tool to handle real-world issues, populating a fictional world with monsters opens up a variety of design and story possibilities that just wouldn’t exist otherwise. The character design is wonderfully varied, with monster appearances ranging from only vaguely humanoid to almost completely human.

And, being in an already fantastical reality, other little surprises about the world and what could possibly happen in it don’t seem forced or stretch suspension of disbelief. Though the world of Monsterkind seems mostly similar to our own in terms of technological development and physical laws, there are monsters and some of them do seem to be what one might call ‘magical.’ So, basically… you can’t afford to make assumptions about what’s realistic and what’s not.

There’s room for surprises, and, honestly, that’s probably the most exciting thing to me about this comic, because it is so rare and wonderful to find a work of fiction that fosters unpredictability. I’m genuinely excited to see where this story is going, because I honestly don’t yet know where that will be.

Monsterkind is written and drawn by Taylor C. and updates on Tuesdays and Fridays. If you like monsters, conceptually or by design, or if you’re interested in intersectionality, or if you just like a story that contains some sort of mystery element, I’d encourage you to give it a try. My one caveat is that, especially in early pages, the text can be small enough that it’s difficult to read at times. If that gives you trouble, try viewing the comic image on its own so that you can zoom in.
I hope you enjoy discovering this strange, wonderful, and oddly familiar world as much as I did.

By the way, Taylor C. is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the second printed Monsterkind volume. If you enjoy Monsterkind, maybe consider checking out the campaign and possibly buying a book or two!

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  1. An update!!!! Yay!

  2. I'm so happy to see that this blog is still updating! Every so often I drop by to see if there are any new recommendations :)