Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. Intrigued to find something new? Seeking validation for your secret passions? Required Reading gets you.
By Brandy Dykhuizen. Jonathan Case spent most of his formative years within the confines of a sailboat, amidst the endless expanses of rolling seas and limitless imagination. This type of relative social isolation likely concentrated the cycles of sulkiness and silliness contained within his teenage mind, which Case has since transferred to paper with all the expert artistry of a perfectly executed Carrick Bend knot.
Infused with 1960s horror tropes and creepy visual aesthetics, Dear Creature takes place in a sleepy seaside town in Southern California. Grue, at times both the hero and villain of this story, is a skinny but strong sea mutant with an insatiable appetite for copulating couples. Like the mysterious alien in Liquid Sky, Grue gains power from local organisms’ orgasms, which begins to put a dent in the small-town teenage population. Grue’s own desires, however, are unexpectedly halted by this Romeo’s growing love for a sad, haunted Juliet (or, in this case, Giulianna).
Both Grue and Giulianna have spent decades flitting between two worlds – the one that largely exists within their own heads and the less forgiving reality surrounding them. Interestingly, Case constructs the particulars of both characters within the confines of aquatic trappings – Grue’s within the ocean’s murky deep and Giulianna’s rooted within a docked ship’s hull. Both characters turn to archaic versions of the written word for their entertainment and salvation, allowing the pulse of iambic pentameter to drown out the waves lapping at the sides of their own personal fishbowls.
Like all careless lovers, Grue allows the idea of Giulianna to consume him to the point of neglecting his usual hunting rounds, as he plots to get closer to this equally isolated creature, similarly trapped by some cruel twist of fate. (It was here and only here that I took issue with Dear Creature: While Giulianna’s family history is explained, the necessity of locking her away on a boat is never really explained. Her family calls her crazy, yet there seems to be little evidence of such.) Fate will bring the star-crossed lovers together with mixed results, but as is the case with so many desperate courtships, the journey is far more important than the outcome.
As Case showcases the duality of Grue and Giulianna’s worlds in stark black and white, he fills the book with brilliant thematic contrast: The beautifully inky chiaroscuro, the disparity of dialogue between the creature’s Shakespearean English and our coarse modern tongue, the dry and sandy world versus the tidal realms nearby — then there’s Grue’s goofy face, tacked on top of a sinuous, intimidating body. This style of illustration also echoes the kitschy and beloved monster movies of the 1950s and 60s, which often depicted wayward creatures invading our world from their neighboring hidden domains.
There is so much to love about Dear Creature. If the aquatic or poetic tickles your fancy, dive in for a real treat. With a monster murder mystery, a love story, and wacky wit in spades, Dear Creature is a splendid journey into the overactive mind of a self-doubting, lovesick neurotic trapped inside a monster’s body.
Dark Horse Comics/$18.99
Written and Illustrated by Jonathan Case.