Today’s guest post on The Unbearable Lightness of Monster is brought to you by writer and illustrator Jonathan Case. Monsters: they need love too.
Ladies and gents, please give a warm welcome to Jonathan Case!
I love monsters.
With Halloween comes an excuse to voice the love. First, let me say that when it comes to monsters, I try to be unbiased. I give equal opportunity to the varieties, be they freakish, horror-show, or muppet, but there is a sort of monster I will not be encompassing in this essay. That is the mindless eating machine with no interest in relationships. By their nature, they’re unknowable, and of less interest to me.
Just above them on the scale of reptile-brains lies the monster of my heart. The ones with an inhuman, blank stare calling out to my empathy. Those that exhibit a weird idealism driving them. These monsters, as a creature group, believe that somewhere out there, someone exists who will adore them in spite of their unsavory natures.
I’ve just written and drawn a graphic novel about this sort of monster, so I’m going to speak with some authority. Take it as you will. I understand there’s a broad range of monster motivation out there, but essentially, there are Three Phases of Monsterism that appeal to me (and probably to other nerds).
Here they are:
Whether by God, Man, or radioactivity, monsters are born with a sense that they should belong. Usually, they don’t start out with a mirror. Minus context for what’s normal, why would they not want to be just another part of the crew? Like kids going into middle school, monsters want to be friends, and have hard times on the way. Still, the ideal that someday they’ll find someone to accept and love them remains at their core.
Many a monster holds to this apparently misguided tack and comes up pitchforked, shoved off a cliff, or dissolved in lava. Poor monster. Yours is the inherent romance of the unrequited lover. You gave it your best, and even in your worst moments, when your knuckle-headed approach to courtship saw you almost eat your beloved instead of kiss them, the rest of us were heartened, because we’ve been there. We feel the pain of every bone-headed move you make, yet we rejoice that even the worst we’ve done is nothing compared with your failure. We hope.
Monsters that survive phase one inevitably recognize that they may never find love and acceptance from a flesh-being. This typically begins rampage phase, where monsters truly earn their titles. Feeling unloved and unwanted, they lash out, sometimes ignoring supreme acts of grace in favor of dealing out more pain than they ever received. Regrettable monster. If only you could let go of finding your value in the eyes of flesh-beings.
Surviving phase two leaves a monster on the run and worn down from a losing battle. With their physical and psychological defenses dwindling, they become desperate. Infantile. They rally what remains of their energy to attempt the final fulfillment of that most basic, phase one drive, and seek out the object of their affection (in the most polite terms). This would be the part of the show where the monster tries to make off with its beloved, and slips up. It is hard to defend yourself properly while carrying a squirming, screaming date.
Monster, you so crazy!
I think the thing behind all these phases, though, and the key to why so many people love monsters, is that they are perfect expressions of unabashed ego. Every monster earns their title, and wallows in it for a while, before being either redeemed or put down. They may loath themselves for what they’ve done and how they look, but their sense of being perpetually special, and thereby worthy of love, is reason enough for them to demand blood from a turnip.
“I special! Why not love me? LOVE ME!!!”
That’s my monster theory, anyway. I also just like saying ‘monster’, or couldn’t you tell?
The easy connection I feel to monsterdom became fuel for my graphic novel, Dear Creature. I wanted to explore the internal drive of these fellow egoists: romantic, naïve, occasionally malevolent. Example: is there a reason that monsters always eat people who start making out? It’s like they’re drawn to love (or lust), without understanding it, or knowing what to do when they find it. And then people get eaten.
Most monster stories highlight the second phase of monsterdom, (self-loathing rampage) so I chose to write about a monster inspired enough to hold onto its first ideal: that somewhere out there, there’s love waiting with open arms. Writing such a blindly optimistic character made for some absurd scenarios, and great fun for me as a storyteller.
Maybe wanting to see a monster suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune is more sick than wanting to see one just mindlessly smash teenagers. But who cares. I like a little empathy with my dose of Halloween-time terror. Give me a monster I can root for! An underdog! With a sense of humor! If my hopes and dreams for a monster story were summed up in a personal ad, it would read like this:
“Put-upon reptilicus with improv training seeks nubile, misunderstood flesh-being.”
That’s my idea of a good time.
Jonathan Case is a Portland, Oregon based author and artist, and member of Periscope Studio. His first graphic novel, the critically acclaimed Dear Creature, is out this month from Tor. Case also provided the artwork for last month’s stirring true detective story, Green River Killer, a second graphic novel from Dark Horse Comics.