How to Make a Monster: Ugly Memories of Chicago from a South Side Escapee

Casanova Frankenstein and Glenn Pearce. Fantagraphics, $29.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-68396-571-8

In this sublime collaboration, Frankenstein (Tears of the Leather-Bound Saints) and Aussie cartoonist Pearce manifest into comics an excoriating, bleakly poetic memoir of Frankenstein’s hard-knock life in early 1980s South Side Chicago. “The 1980/1981 school year started with a dismantling of childhood and got steadily worse,” begins Frankenstein, as he vividly conjures fearful school days, fighting off relentless bullying, and a walking-on-eggshells home life with his unsympathetic mother and volatile, hard-drinking cop father. He conveys living in constant fear of reprisals for being inept at sports, raising his hand too much in class, or any number of perceived nerdisms. It all takes its toll: “anticipation of pain, itself is pain.” Largely without agency, Frankenstein makes small stabs at rebellion, such as playing hooky. Happily, there are also hints of future salvation, as when he accidentally discovers a movie about the punk rock scene, describing it as “life changing.” Throughout, Pearce’s wonderfully fluid, ever-morphing underground comics art captures the nuance of Frankenstein’s plight (including drawing Frankenstein’s bullies as bat-like monsters, delighting in their malice). It’s a harsh but compulsively readable story, intensely wrought, and will hold appeal for readers of Emil Ferris and Ulli Lust. (June)
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