Denis St. John is just the sort of cartoonist it is a pleasure to champion. Here’s the thing, there are many, many, many cartoonists who deserve a thoughtful review, especially early in their careers as they are working towards establishing themselves. I support art for art’s sake but I’m most interested in cartoonists creating ambitious work on some level. It doesn’t come down just to issues of craft and narrative. It comes down to issues of vision. Overall, the comic can have a shaggy dog quality to it but if it has that spark, then let that shaggy dog howl! And that’s what we have here with this collection of horror comics, “Amelia: A Monsters & Girls Book.” I say more power to Denis St. John!
St. John has the ability to spin a yarn. It’s a truly goofy yarn but it keeps you turning the pages. And he has a very nice handle on anatomy and facial expression that makes his characters pop on the page. It’s a very nimble sensibility that captures details, like fully articulated fingers and toes, while retaining the autonomy of cartoony figures.
He relishes in twisting and turning faces and bodies creating various contortions, some smooth and some rough. I think he’s aiming towards more of a fluid and consistent smoothness but he won’t want to completely shed the sketchy and gritty quality that his current work can have at times.
You know, there’s almost no need to know what the plot to this story is since, on one level, it’s one extended and surreal look at a young woman’s downward spiral. The plot is your ticket to a funhouse of offbeat terror and mystery. Amelia is caught in a trap that her mother set in motion years ago when she stumbled upon some black magic. This had led to her thrown into the fates of two dangerously inept characters: her own little brother, Sammy, who favors dressing up like Nosferatu; and,The Mustache Man, an aging lothario, who has bedded both Amelia and her mother, and who is looking every bit the demented demon.
Now that St. John has collected his first book of Amelia comics, he has given us, and himself, a wonderful gift. He can keep studying those pages, no doubt he will, and plan his next course of action. St. John is a 2008 graduate from The Center for Cartoon Studies with a bright future ahead of him. I think he has the wow factor down. Amelia is the hook and then he delivers. This may serve him well if he should pursue a path similar to Richard Sala, while still creating distinctive work. He has demonstrated his ability and so there’s no stopping now. I look forward to wherever St. John takes us next!