Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Part monkey. Part truck. All deeply disturbing.

That is not an easy cover to resist, is it? There's something vaguely horrifying about the character on it—Is it a truck shaped like a monkey? A monkey shaped like a truck? Is it made of metal, or flesh and fur?!—and something disarmingly obvious yet mysterious about the title, brought about by the juxtaposition of two words that clearly don't belong together in most contexts (And yet both words are ones a lot of little kids like, which puts this title at least somewhere in the general vicinity of the marketing super-genius of Chris Gall's Dinotrux).

As repellent as I found the idea of a, um, monkey truck, I had to find out what exactly it was, and so borrowed this from the library I was in when I saw the cover.

It gets scarier immediately, as it turns out that Monkey Truck is not, in fact, a truck shaped like a monkey, made of the usual metal and mechanical truck parts merely shaped to resemble a monkey, but he is, instead, a living, breathing, eating, excreting, biological, flesh and blood organism...albeit one with four wheels (plus arms! Giving it six limbs! Unheard of for mammal, and, indeed much of the non-bug portions of the animal kingdom!).

Monkey Truck is also about the size of an actual monkey, as the first page reveals, when it shows him speeding beneath a trio of monkeys in a tree. I suppose that fact should make him less scary to me, but, for some reason, a tiny mammal in the shape of a truck nauseates me all the more. Here we see Monkey Truck posed with several other animals of the jungle, so you can get a pretty good idea of how big this unnatural horror is:Here you can see his underside, complete with a view of the axle that holds his wheels to his body: Oh, here's a perhaps slightly less disturbing reading of Monkey Truck—perhaps he is some sort of half-monkey, half-truck, cyborg-liked fused organism? Like, a monkey with mechanical parts bolted to it? I think I'd find that a lost less disturbing than the idea of a monkey-like creature with a hollowed out back-cavity serving as the bed of his pick-up truck-like shape.

Well, whatever Monkey Truck is, who is he, and how did he come to be? Michael Slack doesn't really get into his origins, but Monkey Truck is a sort of hero of the jungle. The rhyming prose of the picture book begins:
When there's trouble in the jungle, Monkey Truck knows what to do.

Here he comes racing to the rescue!
The first rescue he performs is speeding to snatch a chameleon out from under the giant foot of an elephant, which was about to unknowingly trample the poor creature.

Then we get a montage of some of his services, including rescuing a butterfly from a venus fly trap and untangling a pair of angry snakes: Soon after, we get a big action sequence, which serves as the climax of the book. The hippos get stuck in the mud just as the water is rising, and Monkey Truck pulls them out, puts them in his back and speeds away from the water. It turns out there's a tsunami, and Monkey Truck must outrun it, all the while grabbing various jungle animals with his monkey arms and tossing them onto his back, so he can haul them to safety before the wave crashes on him.

It's pretty exciting, actually, and I'm sure would be an awful lot of fun to read to or with a little kid, especially a room full of them, as the narration shouts monkey noises "OO! EEE! OOO!" and extolls Monkey Truck to "Go! Monkey Truck, go!"

Slack draws great jungle animals—his bizarrely upsetting-to-me-personally central character design aside—the designs are big, bold and and vaguely toy-like. The characters exist among fun, compelling plants and scenery that makes for a playground of a jungle. The tone and texture of the book is thus an enjoyable, engaging one, and it's a book I enjoyed spending time in. Even if there's a pretty good chance I'll wake up screaming "Aaaaaaaaaa! Monkey Truck!" in the middle of the night.

For a better idea of what the book looks like than what my rather poor scans provide, you can check out some pages from Monkey Truck in Slack's "Kids Books" gallery. I'd recommend spending some time clicking around Slack's site, as there's a lot of great stuff on there, particularly in the"Monsters" and "Character Development" galleries.

1 comment:

designercopy said...

If this freaked you out, I wonder what your reaction is to Disney's Jungle Junction: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0npQ9FA6RlQ