The Hartlepool Monkey by Wilfrid Lupano and Jeremie Moreau

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The Hartlepool Monkey by Wilfrid Lupano and Jeremie Moreau

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Buy The Hartlepool Monkey by Wilfrid Lupano and Jeremie Moreau at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Graphic Novels
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A lively and enjoyable telling of one of the country's greatest urban myths, that adds political messages to the simple story.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 96 Date: September 2013
Publisher: Knockabout
ISBN: 9780861662265

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OK, I'll get the obvious pun over and done with – this graphic novel features a lot of monkeying around. It focuses on the village of Hartlepool, and the people who populated the small settlement on low cliffs overlooking the North Sea, with its couple of pubs and not much else. It looks at what might have happened when, as folklore has it, a storm put paid to a French ship and when a monkey washed up ashore afterwards the natives took it for a Napoleonic spy, tried to find invasion plans from it, and hanged it as the enemy. Here the poor creature is even shaved so it shows respect to the court-martial. Here too are some lovely choice lines of vernacular delivered in spite about the French and the English, and here too is a guest appearance by someone with a much more modern outlook than the ridiculous Hartlepool residents.

Here is not any sign of an author biography, so I don't know anything about the creators. I do know they must have had a fun time knocking the piece together, with a very broad touch to the characterisation. The monkey gets quiet, contemplative spells, and in contrast the warring human animal is of course much more bestial. In modern times you don't have to live in one of Hartlepool's neighbouring towns, it seems, to think them backward and uncivilised for making such a notorious misidentity – but worry not, I'm being as broadly sarcastic as the themes of the book suggest I be, for the idiocy on the page is writ large.

Something else prevalent is a nice, tender approach to location in Moreau's art. He doesn't labour anything, but through his many different, cinematic framings he does manage to conjure up a distinctive look with just a wide-shot here and there, whether of the duney foreshore, the buildings or the wide-open, sunset-lit sky. Other aspects of the illustrations are certainly not tender, for the characters are drawn with a caricaturist's art, a bold black outline and a splashy, thumping way with speech bubbles and font size.

In fact, however many exclamation marks are on these pages – and there are a lot – it's the earlier scenes of the shipwreck that weren't quite as good as hoped. I don't know the remedy, and there is talent here – in the frothing wavelets you can see vestiges of words and of ghosts, but having distraught sailors, mouths agape yet unable to produce noise or sound-effects above the storm does lend the action too much quietness, and the regular rectangular images too much of the routine. I guess this again goes to show up the noise and fervour of the jingoistic yokels, themselves open to being signifiers of many different modern counterparts.

What is most fascinating about this legend – how, if not true, it came to be in the first place – is not featured here at all. But it remains an entertaining story of unknown truth, and this small p-political telling of it is a clever and entertaining work of art.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

For drawings concerning Hartlepool, try Shorty Loves Wing Wong by Michael Smith - though it's a bit Marmite. The monkey features (in an ableit very minor way) in The Windvale Sprites by Mackenzie Crook whose sophomore effort looks to be just as great.

Buy The Hartlepool Monkey by Wilfrid Lupano and Jeremie Moreau at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Hartlepool Monkey by Wilfrid Lupano and Jeremie Moreau at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Hartlepool Monkey by Wilfrid Lupano and Jeremie Moreau at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Hartlepool Monkey by Wilfrid Lupano and Jeremie Moreau at Amazon.com.

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