Top critical review
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Fun but flawed graphic novel
on August 7, 2004
I'm really kind of floored by the uniformly positive reviews this work as gotten. While I enjoyed it, and have read it more than once, there are certain glaring problems with the story as a story that no one has addressed. I'll get to this in a moment.
I'm a big fan of Doug TenNapel, even though I didn't know it when I started this book. The Neverhood is one of my favorite games ever, Earthworm Jim was probably one of the best Genesis titles, and so on. I think his work as an artist and designer is unparalleled.
And Creature Tech lives up to this, for the most part. From the cover right down to the final drawing, this is a nice looking book. It is, for some reason, awfully reminescent of Bill Watterson to me, but that's neither here nor there. It's a great story to look at, with real movement and wacky characters and surreal landscapes. I loved it for that.
The writing, however, well...
The main story is fine, it's a pretty neat, weirdo narrative fraught with odd creatures, demon cats and space eels. There were a few moments when stuff seemed to missing (Like how and why Dr. and Pastor Ong went back to the church at one point) but for the most part it wasn't glaring. There were some awkward moments in the narrative, in my opinion, and the none-too-subtle spiritual subtext didn't really do much for me, but all in all it's okay.
The characters were painted with broad strokes, but that's okay too. This is a fun adventure story, and not meant to be taken that seriously (religious jabs notwithstanding), so if Mr. TenNapel wants to drop in a couple of rednecks with shotguns, officious bureaucrats, a crazy caretaker of the local oddities museum, that's fine with me. With the possible exception of Dr. Ong's love interest (which feels a bit rushed and makes not quite enough sense to me), everybody acts like they're supposed to. Oh, except that the villain really seems anachronistic. When he says, "Aw, Suck!" I stopped believing he was a 19th century British dandy. But that could just be me.
The real problem for me occurs on just about every couple of pages. For a guy with such amazing visual skill, he sure does spend an awful lot of time telling us every freakin' thing that happens in the book. I swear, by the middle of this thing, I was yelling at the pages: "Quit announcing in the middle of the action what the heck you're about to do! Or at least find a way to do it that seems natural! This isn't radio, I can see what you're doing right there on the page!"
Cases in point: "He's going for that vent!" "It crushed my heart!" "Startled! I can't control it!" "There's a giant mantis sitting on my toilet." "The ghost has disinterred a corpse!" and so on... I would continue but then we get into the realm of spoilers, and I don't care to do that. To be fair, at least one of those is a joke, I think, though like many of the jokes in this story, it kind of falls flat. Considering how clever some of the plotting and art is, I expected a bit more that Jesus-shaped danishes and lame puns ("meat his maker" comes to mind).
I don't mean to be pedantic. This is probably more a matter of taste than anything else, but I've come to expect a lot from this medium. Not everybody is Alan Moore or Garth Ennis (two very excellent writers in comics today), I grant you, but some people are, and TenNapel, while an excellent artist, definitely is not.
So in closing, pick this book up. It's got great monsters, some generally interesting weirdness, and even offers a perspective on religion (Wow! That's never been done before!). It has its problems, but I've read it three times now. So TenNapel must've done something right.