Moonhead and the Music Machine (Nobrow Press)

Andrew W Rae’s technicolour coming of age tale Moonhead and the Music Machine – about a boy with a moon for a head who makes a magical musical instrument – is now available in paperback from Nobrow. But can this surreal book manage to make sweet music for it’s readers or will be hit a bum note?

Publisher: Nobrow
Writer: Andrew W Rae
Artist: Andrew W Rae
Price: £12.99 from Nobrow Store

Joey Moonhead is an ordinary high school kid, except he has a moon for a head, which he can detach and send on flights of fancy when he gets bored. This utterly bonkers premise is brilliantly demonstrated in the opening chapter as his headless body goes about his morning routine (brushing teeth, getting dressed, having breakfast and heading to school etc.) while his moon head stays in bed and sleeps – something I’m sure we all wish we could do some days!

But this detachment from the world comes at a price as it means Joey’s school life is suffering as he prefers to go off these dream like journeys to the heart of the jungle or the depths of the sea instead of paying attention in class. It also stops him from listening to his friends, (especially Darla-alike bestie) and makes him the target for bullies.

However, when Joey discovers his Dad’s vintage record collection (an amazing sequence featuring familiar album covers re-imagined with surreal moon head people, aliens, tree people and more) while being punished in the spare room he is inspired to take up music and enter the school talent show in order to impress a girl and get the bullies off his back. But he doesn’t just learn to play a guitar like a normal kid, instead he designs and builds his own music machine (part keyboard, part guitar with horns and more!) and he teams up with another misfit called Ghost Boy who helps him build the machine and when he plays it he makes psychedelic weirdness happen! But who is this Ghost Boy and why is he so good at playing the music machine?

On first impressions, Moonhead is a bit like Napoleon Dynamite reimagined by The Mighty Boosh and drawn by Daniel Clowes, with it’s mix of surreal humour and genuine emotional pathos. But if you take out the surreal premise, Moonhead is at it’s heart a classic high school teen drama, with familiar themes of friendship, acceptance, being an outsider, and discovery of self. By making the most of this very grounded and familiar core it makes Moonhead a really believable and heartfelt story that makes it much more readable than it otherwise could have been. It certainly avoids being overly silly or intentionally trippy with it’s psychedelic undertones and you soon forget that the lead character has a moon for a head and revel in this story of an odd kid trying to be accepted!

With a final act that sees Joey’s weirdness embraced by the school at large it’s perhaps an analogy for the book itself as you ultimately come to accept the strangeness that is happening before you and go with the flow! It’s certainly a beautiful ride along the way with Andrew Rae’s artwork mixing a controlled formal style for the high school scenes or the diagrams of Joey’s make up in the opening chapter, that contrast beautifully with the surreal hyper-coloured beauty of the dream and musical sequences which are rendered in exquisite detail and make Moonhead and the Music Machine an utterly wonderful and unforgettable read!