Sad Monsters: Growling on the Outside, Crying on the Inside

  • Frank Lesser, Illustrated by Willie Real
  • Plume
  • 192 pp.

From a writer on “The Colbert Report,” picnicking zombies attacked by humans and other tales that will have you laughing.

Reviewed by Josh Trapani

Reading this book put me in mind of politicians. No, I don’t think it was the word “monsters” in the title. Instead, it was the book’s subtitle: Growling on the Outside, Crying on the Inside. I have always wondered about how the inner lives of politicians compare with their public personas, and in particular whether many contemporary politicians are more complicated people than they seem.

Certainly the denizens of Sad Monsters are more complex people — I mean, more complex monsters — than their public personas would indicate. Indeed, these monsters are plagued with all manner of personal and psychological problems. Godzilla, for instance, is facing an existential crisis. The mummy feels that her bandages make her look fat. The witch from the gingerbread house is trying to improve her diet, which means broccoli — not gumdrops — for Hansel.

The book, by Emmy Award-winning writer Frank Lesser of “The Colbert Report,” consists of short chapters, mostly unconnected, which run the gamut in form and subject matter. From gremlins to ghosts to gorgons, everyone … er, everything makes an appearance. Their problems, issues, pathologies, disorders, dysfunctions and phobias range even more widely. Some of these monsters’ problems are quite understandable under the circumstances: of course the 50-foot woman is having trouble on the dating scene! Others make Jerry, Elaine and George, those paragons of fiendish (see what I did there?) neurosis from “Seinfeld,” seem downright grounded by comparison. Who would have guessed the breadth and depth of the struggles faced by monsters?

While a few sections might make kids laugh, the humor is definitely aimed at adults. The chapters vary in how funny they are, but none fails to achieve at least cute, and many are cackle-maniacally-out-loud — oops, I meant laugh-out-loud — material. Even the chapters that merely make you smile become funnier as you share them aloud with others, which you will feel compelled to do. Compelled, almost as if you were possessed, perhaps by a demon. (OK, not really.)

One of my favorite chapters was “Night of the Living,” in which picnicking zombies are attacked by humans. I also enjoyed the clever list of two dozen “Unsuccessful Monsters,” like reverse Medusa (if anyone looks at her she turns to stone), opposite Medusa (if she looks at a stone it turns into a person) and Count Macula (you’ll have to read the book for a full explanation of this one, but let’s just say Bill Gates is unlikely to become the Count’s victim). And what Lovecraft fan could resist “Whoa Oh, Here She Comes,” wherein the Cthulhu-esque eponymous monster’s arrival on Earth has been forewarned by the Hall and Oates song “Maneater”? Cute and clever illustrations by Willie Real complement perfectly the tone of the text, completing the book.

The big risk for readers with a book like this is that the whole thing will take about a half hour to consume, and is best attacked — no, not literally — in the bookstore rather than purchased. But Sad Monsters, with nearly 40 chapters, provided me with much enjoyment over the course of several days. And many of the chapters are worth rereading. There’s plenty here to sink your teeth into! (Sorry, couldn’t help it.)

Which brings me back to politicians. Might they, as a group, be as misunderstood as monsters? It would be nice to think they are at least plagued with some of the same insecurities, doubts and tribulations that haunt (last one, I promise!) the inhuman characters populating Sad Monsters. Then again, if they’re scaring you silly and then ripping you to shreds, maybe it doesn’t really matter.

Josh Trapani is senior managing editor of The Independent. He suggests that if you want to be truly frightened, watch the video forManeater.”

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