by Jessica Greenlee
The Monster on the Hill is an all-ages graphic novel in which even monsters need cheering up from time to time, where thinking sometimes beats just charging in to fight (though there is fighting, too), and where a mad scientist, a monster, and an urchin turn out to make the perfect team.
In Rob Harrell’s England, every town has its monster, a ferocious beast who rampages through town, wrecks a few things, scares the citizens, and leaves them with a fine sense of civic pride–every town, that is, except for Stoker-on-Avon. Their monster, Rayburn, is a dud. He spends his time in his cave. Fed up with the monster’s constant sighs and the drop in tourism, the town fathers offer eccentric scientist Dr. Charles Wilkie the return of his license and his lab if only he will motivate their monster. Accompanied by the town newsboy, Timothy, he visits the monster’s cave, intent on reviving the beast, either through drilling a very small hole in its head “to let the demons out,” or by giving him a quick refresher on monster techniques.
The monster picks the latter, and the three end up taking a quick road trip, during which Harrell gets to show off his offbeat, unpredictable world, a place with psychotic trees and unfriendly tree-ferrets. Rayburn, who has a sarcastic sense of humor, Timothy provide an amusing commentary on the trip and its reasons.
Harrell’s illustrations are bright and simple, childlike and clear, and his monster designs balance the silly and the scary, with both Rayburn and Tentacular, another monster, moving between the two. The landscape elements around them are slightly larger-than life, with brightly colored trees with Venus-flytrap mouths and huge mushrooms. The whole provides a child’s-eye view that suits the tale.