Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Tony Millionaire’s Sock Monkey #1 (volume 3)

Tony Millionaire’s Sock Monkey #1 (volume 3), November 2000, Dark Horse Comics
by Tony Millionaire
designer: Cary Grazzini
editor: Philip D. Amara
publisher: Mike Richardson

Blogger’s note: Entry for Monday, March 31, 2008.

Tony Millionaire’s Sock Monkey is another one of those series I wonder if I would’ve ever read if I wasn’t proactively seeking an eclectic batch of comics to read every day. The idea of toys come to life certainly isn’t unappealing; in fact, I reckon every geek has at one time or another fantasized about his little plastic menagerie coming to life at one point or another. Yes, I mean to say every geek in his or her adulthood. Busy schedules and a judgmental society may prevent us from sprawling on the bedroom floor with our action figures, creating hours’ worth of adventurous stories and battles, but those toys still unlock a corner of the imagination that projects the personalities of our favorite icons on to these little plastic incarnations. Remember The Indian and the Cupboard? Toy Story? Even Marvel’s upcoming 1985 threatens to blur the line between those fantasies and our reality.

Tony Millionaire’s Sock Monkey
appears to be ahead of the game. Its star characters, the Monkey and his buddy Mr. Crow, strike me as the Winnie the Pooh and Piglet for today’s youth, sans the human muse older audiences had in Christopher Robin. No, Sock Monkey and Mr. Crow are capable of pursuing their own adventures, and in this first issue, a trophy-ridden hunter’s house inspires them to acquire and mount some specimens of their own. Because of their diminutive size, they opt to hunt insects and lizards, but they quickly sympathize for the little critters and their tiny community, and together they decide to pick flowers. When Sock Monkey realizes that plants are alive, too, they settle for a rock collection. For an anthropomorphic comic book starring stuffed toys, this first issue (in the character’s third volume, but, still) is an appropriate and sensitive exploration of the quality of life -- not matter how small, not matter how seemingly mundane or insignificant.

Regarding the busybody bugs, here’s a hilarious snippet of dialogue and an excellent example of the reverence of Millionaire’s work as vaudevillian graphic goodness:

LADY MOTH: That Molly Titmouse was flitting around under the bluebells last week with Ed Wasp . . .
LADYBUG: Gracious!
LADY MOTH: . . .and when the woodpecker found out about it, he was so jealous, he pecked his own heart out!
LADYBUG: Tch! These birds and bees!

Wouldn’t it be great if that’s where the expression really came from? From the infamously torrid love affairs of birds with bees?

Sock Monkey encourages these childlike thoughts, not through the lens of immaturity, but with legitimate wonder and an imaginative sense of exploration. Of course, Millioanaire’s artwork makes it easy; his detailed use of crosshatching and shading offers a sense of depth and expressionism that gives these otherwise inanimate objects real personality. The bugs are true to nature’s design, but Millionaire’s expert implementation of gothic, illustrative animation makes their personification as natural and believable as the more humanized animals that have gabbed their way through comics through the years. The way these insects gossip over a tea party, I’m surprised Animal Planet hasn’t considered a pilot for The Desperate Houseflies of Orange County or something.

Wait! No! It’s mine, I say! Miiiine!

Millionaire’s famous strip Maakies makes an appearance in the supplemental art section of this issue, confirming my philosophy with a cameo from Raggedy Ann and Andy. When Mr. Crow inquires about Ann’s perpetual smile, Andy attributes it to mushrooms. Yes, the staples of our childhood can coexist with an adult sense of humor, if the world was more to such a synthesis. Sure, the programs on Adult Swim and similar dark comedy comic strips published in urban progressive newspapers across the country venture into this realm, but it is by no means mainstream. Again, the best of pop culture seems reserved for geeks like us. When will the rest of the world get down with us -- down on the floor, where our Secret Wars Tower of Doom is set up and ready for an all-out action figure war?

Okay, I’ll settle for their reading comics like this. Millionaire’s monkey can really sock it to ‘em.

Addendum: Here's an interesting, somewhat related story regarding the "lives" of stuffed animals. On the same day I posted this review? Coincidence?

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