Friday, August 17, 2018

First Second: Drew Weing's Margo Maloo 2: The Monster Mall

I was happy to see Drew Weing's Margo Maloo series get a second volume with First Second; not every good book published there has seen sequels. The high concept for the book was established after the first volume: a pre-teen blogger and "kids' rights activist" named Charles moves to Echo City and soon learns that there's a monster in his ancient building. He is connected to "monster mediator" Margo Maloo, who helps him with his problem and then decides to take him on as an intern, in exchange for his willingness to share information with kids and only other kids. That set the status quo for solving monster-related problems as well as discovering the hidden monster society of Echo City.

The second volume starts to hint at the past of Margo herself, a rare South Asian protagonist in kids lit (Interestingly enough, the book credits Weing's wife and occasional collaborator Eleanor Davis with co-creating her). The reader gets to see her home, a gloomy mansion slightly reminiscent of Dr. Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum. We meet her Uncle Vikram, a beloved relative who is slipping into dementia. We see her massive case files. At the end of the book, we get a hint at how she started doing this: one or both of her parents acted as monster mediators, and she apparently took over the job when they died or disappeared. Her tough exterior covers up anxiety about keeping up the Code that separates monsters from humans. As closed off as she is, Charles is an open book: he quickly warms to the idea of the world of monsters (sometimes disobeying Margo when she tells him to stay back), is game for Margo telling him to do nearly anything, and is warm and friendly with his friend Kevin and the ogre who threatened to eat him in an misunderstanding in the first book. He's earnest and inquisitive, only wanting to empower kids.

The two stories in this edition involve a creature in a shiny new suburban home playing pranks on two children. This effectively served to set up a new supporting character, an imp named Fyo. This speaks to one of Weing's strengths: organically using sturdy plot devices and story tropes to slowly expand the cast of a wide-ranging series. The second story involves a group of teen vampires hiding out in an abandoned mall having to deal with a bunch of humans invading their space. In both stories, Weing introduces an amusing plot swerve (in the latter, the humans turn out to be a goth band looking to shoot a video--and the vampires themselves have a fledgling band of their own), but he also carefully lays down some storytelling pipe for the future. Weing doesn't go too far into the metaphorical aspects of the story, but they're there if you look for them regarding a group having to keep itself hidden and secret in order to maintain its safety.

The book is formatted landscape style, which suits Weing's roots in webcomics as well as his interest in classic comic strips. As I've noted before, if this was fifty years ago, Weing would be a syndicated cartoonist with a daily strip. Most of the comic was done by hand, and it shows in the spontaneity of the drawings combined with his usual skill as a draftsman. Character design in particular is his biggest strength; Charles looks like a comic book character--the big eyes, ballcap, collared short-sleeve shirt, slightly tubby shape. So does Margo: the sharply feathered hair, the billowing coat, the graceful body language and movements. Charles is all curves and Margo is all angles, and they look great interacting with each other. The use of color feels natural and basic; Weing isn't looking to overwhelm the page with color and is much more interested in the figures on his page. For a book about monsters, Weing has a way of keeping things fairly low-key while still dropping bread crumbs of more menacing events down the line.

No comments:

Post a Comment