Monday, October 27, 2014

Satellite of Love: Moonhead and the Music Machine

Andrew Rae's Moonhead and the Music Machine is about a teen-age boy named Joey Moonhead, who has a moon hovering about his body where his head should be. Said moon has eyes, nose, etc; it's entirely functional as a real head, with the exception of the times Joey stops paying attention and his head floats away into the clouds. His parents are similarly moon-headed and similarly find their attention drifting far away, especially from their son and his emotional needs. This book would be unbearably twee and cliched, and its metaphors ham-fistedly obvious, were it not for Rae transforming its more trite elements by way of his mind-bending visuals. The ligne claire style of drawing combined with a soft pastel palette gives each page a gently psychedelic quality.

Another of Rae's assets is the straightforward literalization of what makes each person weird and unique, as he externalizes each character's true inner self throughout the course of the story. It's a simplistic technique, but it's told with so much sincerity and empathy that it winds up being a highly effective storytelling tool. The story follows the aimless high-schooler Joey, who doesn't find a direction in life until he invents a music machine with transformative qualities. He's aided in this by another kid who happens to be a ghost (in a subplot out of Fight Club), who gives him the confidence to perform in public. Rae then indulges in the old cliche of an outsider ignoring his best female friend in favor of a pretty but vapid girl and climbing up the social ladder.

All of that gets resolved, of course, but it's by way of some remarkably grotesque cartooning that is still somehow grounded in the mostly kid-friendly nature of this book. In the end, Joey learns to appreciate his best friend, not so much as a love interest, but as someone who's actually his superior when it comes to creating art. He also comes to terms with the ghost that's the literalization of his confidence in front of others, which is a key factor in allowing him to share the beauty and transformative power of his art with others. Bubbling under the surface of a mostly mellow story is the idea that art can be so powerful that it can cause those exposed to it to examine their true selves and find some raw, ugly truths. That was the most interesting aspect plot-wise of this pleasant if meandering book, though it got buried a bit in the resolution of the teen angst storyline.

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