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Friday, 4 February 2011

Valentine's review - Blue Monday: The Kids Are Alright

written and drawn by
Chynna Clugston-Major
gray tone colouring by
Guy Major and Staissi Brandt
Publisher: Oni Press

What's It About?
Blue Monday is an American high school comedy without the rose-tinted glasses. Its the early 1990s and Blue L. Finnegan lives in a world of teacher crushes, pig-headed boys, annoying girlfriends and nothing to do of an evening, the typical teenage experience. Suddenly, excitement enters her life when her idol Adam Ant announces a gig in her area. The gig sells out instantly but with single-minded determination Blue decides she is attending and that she'll get tickets somehow. Antics ensue.

The Kids Are Alright collects the first Blue Monday series as well as an extensive collection of additional short comics.

What's Good About It?
Based in part on Chynna Clugston-Major's own youth the author demonstrates a refreshing lack of rose-tinted glasses. The teenagers in this series are not the unrealistic moral paragons of far too much of “young adult” fiction but rather the morally imperfect, unsure individuals that you can probably remember being in your own younger days. This frankness on Clugston-Major's part means that not only do the characters feel truer to life but the jokes seem funnier because you can relate to the people and situations involved.

Imagine Saved By The Bell but with realism.

As to that believable cast its your usual sitcom split: three girls, three boys, the token teacher/authority figure and a few rare appearances by parents. True to the author's frankness they each have their virtues and their flaws (usually more of the latter than the former). Friends though they are they play pranks, sometimes rather cruel ones, on each other and they can't get on with one another for ten minutes straight. Again, that precious truth of character with the characters at that age where the childish clashes of the sexes haven't entirely given way to the more adult version. The major plot of acquiring Blue's precious Adam Ant tickets is broken up by shorter comedy incidents, many of them based on those clashes between the girls and the boys and the inevitable retaliatory strikes.

This book not only collects the first Blue Monday series but also the various short stories that preceded it. These vary greatly in length and tone including a couple of stories that are significantly more surreal than the main feature. Amongst these are Sherlockette, in which Blue finds herself in a Chaplin-esque fantasy world and the supernatural The Curse Of The Jesus Head storyline. Also of use is the one-page How To Talk Shite The Irish Way, explaining some of the Irish expressions (and explicatives) used by Clover throughout the book.

What's Bad About It?
The frankness I've been praising for the last four paragraphs is a bit of a double-edged sword. The long and the short of it is that I wouldn't put this book in the hands of a child. Whilst this book falls far short of a “mature content” label it does show teenagers damaging and destroying property, reading pornography, lying, cheating and conniving. There are even a few sexual references, though nothing too explicit in deference to the nebulous age of the characters.

There's also quite a lot of toilet humour in he book so if that offends you I would heartily recommend not picking up this book.

What's the Art Like?
Chynna Clugston-Major draws in a manga-influenced style presented in black and white with grey tone colouring throughout.

Clugston-Major crams as much as she can onto each page: lots of background detail, lots of panels. This is, at least in part, a bit of an illusion as these digest-sized books are an inch or so shorter in each dimension than the original single issues. This actually benefits the art, reducing the blank spaces and adding a greater sense of fine detail to the illustrations.

As you can see from this example precise anatomy is a matter of convenience in Clugston-Major's art. If it serves the joke to foreshorten the body or exaggerate the facial expression beyond all bounds of sense then that is exactly what she will do.

As previously mentioned this book contains the short comics in which Clugston-Major created Blue Monday before launching the series proper. Its interesting from a technical point of view to see how the creator's art develops over time from the the above example with its finer, more angular lines to the smoother, freer style of the main feature.

Other Information
Published by Oni Press, Blue Monday: The Kids Are Alright (ISBN 1-929998-07-4). Like many small publishers Oni rotate their titles in and out of print, The Kids Are Alright is currently listed as out of print on Amazon but available second hand [here] and [here]. It is the first of (so far) four collections, each perfectly comprehensible on its own. The series continues in this order:

Blue Monday: Absolute Beginners
Blue Monday: Inbetween Days
Blue Monday: Painted Moon

Absolute Beginners and Painted Moon are full-length books whilst Inbetween Days collects a series of short comics based around various holidays such as Valentine's an April Fool's Day.

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