Graphic Novel Friday: "The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book"

Rolling in like a slow, fuzzed-out guitar line from an Orange-brand amp, The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book lives up to the good vibes promised in its title.

Artist and writer Joe Daly's full-color graphic novel collects two stories starring best buds Dave and Paul, as they wander about Cape Town while fully under the influence. Dave has a genetic disorder he calls "monkey feet," where his feet have what appear to be opposable digits. Throughout the book, Dave tries to overcome insecurities stemming from this oddity, and Paul tries his best to compliment his friend's condition ("You're a lucky dude, Dave…I guess."). In the first story, Paul drops in on Dave, sheepishly asking to borrow money, but Dave's internal monologue betrays a bit of resentment from past experience. No clichéd flashbacks or expository dialogue break the moment, though, and it passes sharply. The duo share a friendship so realized that I wondered if I hadn't somehow missed an earlier volume or two. 

This may sound like a strange compliment, but the color separation in The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book is a highlight. It's clean, crisp, and exact. In one panel, Dave is in an apartment surrounded by frogs, each with individually-colored patterns and pigmentation. One leaps from a pool of water, giving off a splash that sends droplets of blue about the room and onto Dave. Daly is careful to separate this blue from the tint in the sky that lies behind Dave through an open window. The attention to detail only deepens as Dave and Paul cruise the city in Dave's "cool old car," past a shipyard, into a rainforest, and more. Cape Town feels and looks like Cape Town, so much that it is easy to take for granted as the story opens wide.

Having recently finished Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice and Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City, I couldn't help but consider The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book as a distant third-cousin to those titles. Daly's work includes the psychedelic mystery elements from Inherent Vice (the aforementioned apartment full of hallucinogenic amphibians and a quest to locate a capybara named "John Wesley Harding"--yes, named after the Bob Dylan album), and all the spacey dialogue from Chronic City ("That was a really great moment when Kermit the Frog and Ray Charles sang together on The Muppet Show, hey, dude?").

The bad news is that I could not find more Dave and Paul stories, but the good news is that I wanted to. In my search, I found that Joe Daly has an earlier book, Scrublands, and a new title arriving later in 2010 called Dungeon Quest: Book One (all of his books are from Fantagraphics). While waiting for the latter, The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book is a weekend read, best consumed with your feet propped up, opposable digits or not.


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I'm struck by the similarities in themes (monkeys, Big Lebowski-esque situations) to my new novel, Marvellous Hairy, which is about a surrealistic novelist having some of his genetic makeup regressed to simian levels. (And the ensuing hi-jinks.)Is this the start of a new genre? MonkeyPunk? Magical Ape-ism?

Posted by: christmas gift ideas | Friday November 20, 2009 at 7:49 PM

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