Comics by way of Lovecraft and Albrecht Durer, Monstermen and Other Scary Stories seems to have been dug up from a different time, found in some ancient, weather-beaten house, buried under forgotten floorboards and wedged between well-thumbed issues of Weird Tales and correspondence from Lovecraft. Gary Gianni is an artist and a writer steeped in age and tradition; his craft owes debts to both Albrecht Durer and HP Lovecraft (or perhaps more William Hope Hodgson). His hand shows patience and education. It is no surprise that Gianni had a celebrated run on the Prince Valiant newspaper strip. And I love his stories as much as his art; they are equal part horror and tongue-in-cheek humor, which is a difficult combination to pull off.
I first read Gianni's Monstermen as a backup feature to Mike Mignola's Hellboy: Wake the Devil, and to be perfectly honest I wasn't sure quite to make of it then. Gianni's careful and delicate illustrations were a stark contrast to Mignola's stylized, heavy lines. Both had a sense of humor, a love of old pulp writers, and a love of monsters. But Hellboy was clearly the star and although I enjoyed it I didn't miss Monstermen all that much when it dropped away.
But now, some 12 years later, I finally get to read them all together in this fantastic, oversized hardcover collection. I can finally appreciate the stories for what they are without the distraction of Hellboy. I am really thankful Dark Horse put this book out. Gianni's work was never meant to be a backup feature. It stands on its own.
Monstermen and Other Scary Stories collects all of Gianni's adventures of the mysterious, occult detective Benedict and the Order of Corpus Monstrum. In the best pulp tradition, the tuxedo and knight's helmet-clad Benedict leads a cadre of misfits in pursuit of the unknown. Gianni drops only casual clues about Benedict; Why he wears the helmet. How old he is. What his past is. All mysteries. In his stories he tackles ghostly film stars, a mustachioed demon skull, zombie cowboys, squid-faced pirates, the Yeti, and Crulk, just Crulk.
The comics are mostly the back-ups from Hellboy, along with the Monstermen One-Shot and Gianni's entries in Dark Horse's "Book" series. Aong with the Monstermen there are five full-text, illustrated stories from William Hope Hodgson, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, and Perceval Landon. I had known Gianni from his incredible illustrations for Wandering Star and Del Rey's Robert E. Howard series, and seeing this here made me with there were hundreds of volumes more. Gianni is a superb illustrator for this kind of work. I especially enjoyed reading Hodgson's Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder story The Gateway of the Monster. You can see the influence on Gianni's own stories.
The book itself is great. It isn't quite the size of the Hellboy Library Editions, but it is larger than your average comic so you get to see more of Gianni's art. I could have done with some more pin-ups in the back, and maybe a sketchbook — there is one nice shot of Benedict and Hellboy having Christmas together — but that is just being greedy. Really, I am just happy to have all of these stories available at all.
Monstermen and Other Scary Stories is going to appeal to a certain kind of reader, and that certain kind of reader is going to think they have found a perfect comic book between these two black covers. I am that certain kind of reader.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.