Dalston Monsterzz – Dilraj Mann
A dizzying array of colors, conspiracies, monsters, and kids caught in the middle. Dalston Monsterzz bursts onto the comic scene in a rush of brightness in the East London streets, weaving a modern tale of friendship, corruption, and marching to the beat of your own drum.
Roshan is out of juvie, and as soon as he gets a taste of freedom, he realizes how much time has passed and how disconnected he feels from his friend Kay.
As he gets wrapped up in roaming monsters, missing people, and a girl named Lolly, Rosh struggles to find an identity separate from his best friend.
The world of Dalston Monsterzz is brought to life through Lolly, Vess, Kay, and Roshan. These characters are all incredibly distinctive from each other, especially in style and pose. Kay and Roshan are two sides of the same coin. Roshan the good boy, best dressed, pudding-bowl haircut. When he gets out of jail, he’s picked up by his friend Kay: a guy with cool hair, trying to sell coriander as weed, styling himself as a badass who somehow still manages to fall flat on his face with both hands in his pockets, a fact that Rosh never lets Kay forget.
It’s easy to see that Kay is styled off of Kaneda from Akira, with the little nods in his red jacket, his red scooter, and the capsule decal on his dime bags. He has swagger in spades and isn’t afraid to do what he wants, even if it blows up in his face. And if Kay is Kaneda, then Rosh is Tetsuo, the plainer kid who’s friends with the hot-headed punk, trying to keep up but getting involved in things that are bigger than him.
Lolly stands on her own, not just as the only prominent female character, but as the only main character who can ride one of these infamous monsters in heels. She’s got the prickliest personality. Lolly is a cut above the rest in fashion, in personal style, in bubblegum-pink hair and bluntness. She’s never afraid, period, and only hesitates when she’s backed into a corner.
Our resident bad guy is Conrad Vess, businessman, super wrinkly, and Lolly’s stepfather. You find out early on that Vess has been searching for her stepdaughter while holding unground matches in a maze called The Zag. Matches were men are pitted against monster to the amusement of any high-paying businessman. He’s terrible looking, has a terrible personality, and pits men against each other so that they might fight his wife’s monster, who he keeps sedated so the monster can be stronger.
One of the best things about Dalston Montserzz is the art, especially the panels and colors. The layout of panels and how they’re placed over each other also lends itself well to the kind of dynamic storytelling that Dalston Monsterzz does. This is really present during the battles in the Zag and how the news will clip in over a scene to provide a little context to a scene coming up.
The Zag battles are especially striking, with the panels broken with jagged lines and refitted together like broken pieces of glass, and with all of the panels in red to enhance the danger of the situation and the closeness of death. Some panels are a whole page of action, with one or two smaller panels at the bottom to continue the rest of the action.
One of my personal favorites is the two-page spread of Lolly and Rosh holding open a map of the area, with circular panels displaying the monster gangs, their names, and what they’re known for. It’s one of the most impressive parts of the book, the union between human and monster, and it’s shown in the full two pages. Dilraj really plays with the panel layering and sizes, spicing up scenes and utilizing that room to display as much of the monster world of East London as possible.
The biggest problem I had with Dalston Monsterzz was the world. Simply put, it felt unfinished. The basic ideas were there, but there wasn’t as much background or context to the story as there could be. With a story that has monsters that spring up from humanity’s constant need to expand and tear up the land for more and more, I felt that Dalston Monsterzz could’ve been bigger. The comic ultimately felt like a snapshot of a larger picture that I’ll never be able to see.
At the end of the day, Dalston Monsterzz is a fun read if you want to dip your toes into a world and read one of its stories. It pops in all the important ways, grabbing your eyes with lots of color, dynamic characters and panels, and a dramatic finish among the skyscrapers. It’s the kind of read that makes you want to go out and find a monster for yourself and learn how to ride it, even if you end up scaling buildings sideways.
Dalston Monsterzz comes out on March 6th this year in all its neon yellow, gangly monster glory.