Dalston Monsterzz (Nobrow Press)

Dilraj Mann’s debut graphic novel, Dalston Monsterzz, looks and reads like a hipster Studio Ghibli movie, with it’s bizarre mix of fashionable young things, eclectic street thugs and giant monsters flying around the streets of east London.

Publisher: Nobrow Press
Writer: Dilraj Mann
Artist: Diraj Mann
Price: £14.99 from Nobrow online Store

In a world where monsters fly around high rises and colourful gangs roam the streets, our hero Roshan is released from borstal, and he is looking forward to hanging out with his bestie Kay. But Kay has a new girlfriend called Lolly and so has other ideas. When a group of these technicolour street thugs ask Roshan where Lolly is, he thinks nothing of telling them. Little does he know that Lolly is on the run from her evil step father and instead Kay gets kidnapped and imprisoned in a kind of Running Man style maze called the zag. It’s up to Roshan and Lolly (and Lolly’s pet monster) to rescue Kay before he becomes the next victim of the zag!

Dalston Monsterzz is an incredibly confident and accomplished debut. Visually it is spectacular, with Mann working in a style that is completely fresh and original. The characters are all pointy noses, puffy lips and super stylish wardrobes with a kind of futuristic sense of style that makes them feel completely otherworldly, despite the East London setting. The closest thing we could think of to compare it to would be Marcos Martin’s technicolour future in The Private Eye and it certainly shares the same bright and gaudy colour palette that we loved in that. The street gangs definitely feel like they could share a world with P.I. and co. especially during their introduction which is done via a superb double page spread which maps them out across London and gives us a breakdown of their various characteristics.

It also has a very Oriental feel to it, but not the cliched big eyes and zany characters we normally associate with Anime. It’s more to do with the energy, vibrancy and unorthodox layouts that make it feel un-Western. The fight between Lolly and the street gang perfectly demonstates this as it’s packed full of cartoonish violence and zany close ups of punches and kicks being landed. And of course the monsters themselves feel like they have stepped out of a Ghibli movie. However, it’s not all sunshine and laughs as the final scenes in the zag also have a real sense of foreboding menace thanks to a black and red colour scheme that works as a stark contrast to the brightness of the opening pages.

These stunning visuals may create a truly unique looking package, but they do at times mask a slightly confusing plot. The action and events lurch from one arc to the next and the whole thing doesn’t feel as coherent as we’d have liked and at times it’s difficult to gauge what kind of story you are reading. For example, there is a sub plot involving Roshan going after an MP who wrongly convicted him, which feels like it goes nowhere. There is also a scene where Roshan visits a family who predict his demise, which is really interesting, but feels a bit bolted on and only serves to foreshadow some upcoming threat and danger for the final act. The relationship between Roshan and Kay also doesn’t feel completely realized and they never feel like total besties. But Lolly at least is a superbly snarky and super cool presence throughout which more than makes up for the boys lack of depth!

This shouldn’t be enough to put you off what is a really superb and highly original and unique book. We hope this won’t just be a one off as it feels like an exciting world and one we’d love to revisit and Mann is definitely singling himself out as a very exciting new indie talent to keep an eye on – and this is another truly one of a kind book from Nobrow.

(As is customary on a Nobrow review, we’d be remiss to no comment on the production values. The large format and exceptional printing of the bright colours of this book really helps make it feel like something truly wonderful!)