Portland author and illustrator Jonathan Case probably has a quick pitch handy when asked what his new book Dear Creature is about, but it’s doubtful if there’s any one sentence that can capture everything about the story. “A mutated sea creature who learns about human life from scraps of Shakespeare plays sealed in bottles and eats young teens who draw him in with their hormones falls in love and risks everything” isn’t perfect, but it’s at least getting close.
Case’s monster Grue is an emotionally tormented beast, filled with unrequited love and nobility while at the same time driven by his desire to eat humans. His highbrow aspirations are balanced by his three crab companions, more interested in their next meal than the next page of The Tempest. The earthy trio are reminiscent of the bats from Walt Kelly’s Pogo, B. Witched, B. Othered, and B. Mildred. Their conversations with each other and with Grue provide a counterpart to the monster’s flowery speech.
Although Grue is besotted by the Bard, he is no perfect character, being a stranger to the ways of real-world humans. The creature finds himself making plenty of wrong turns in his attempts to locate the source of the literary soda bottles. And then there’s that whole “eating people” thing to contend with. But no one in Dear Creature is exactly what they appear to be, so why should Grue be any different?
Case presents Grue as one of the oddest sympathetic characters in comics, whose single-minded courtship is aimed not only at his mysterious benefactor, but at the reader as well.
The art of Dear Creature is sharp and effective. Case’s use of only blacks for shading is a tricky road to head down, but it works to grand effect. Santa Lucia captures the spirit of a 1960s seaside town perfectly, and especially monster movies of that era.
Grue’s cartoony features make it easy for Case to have fun with expressions, such as a wide-mouth “ta da!” for a recently-unconscious cheerleader, but his human faces are equally as emotive, their facial details standing in contrast to the simpler lines of the monster. There’s a touch of John Severin there; a combination of contours and white space.
There’s not one boring panel in Dear Creature — Case knows how to add eye candy in the background when the foreground is static, and the reader will enjoy re-reading for details later.
For a creator with relatively little on his comics resume — a segment in Comic Book Tattoo, last week’s Green River Killer — Case has started off at full speed. Dear Creature hits each mark it aims for, and makes the reader hungry for more. The lovestruck Grue arrives on shelves October 11.