Reviews||

Naming Monsters by Hannah Eaton

7th Oct 2013

★★★★
Naming Monsters by Hannah Eaton
Hannah Eaton’s début graphic novel centres around Fran, a teenage cryptozoologist. She isn’t sure if the creatures she meets are real or not, but they frame her adolescent tales and embody her fears...

The protagonist Fran describes her feelings of anxiety and lack of control, “but one thing can usually stop the feeling in its tracks – naming monsters.” And that’s what she does at the start of each chapter: describes a creature from folklore and provides anecdotes of its behaviour.

When we return to Fran’s life, she often sees or feels the monsters around her. These creatures represent her inner demons as she copes with a difficult situation at an already awkward time of life.

When we return to Fran’s life, she often sees or feels the monsters around her. These creatures represent her inner demons as she copes with a difficult situation at an already awkward time of life.The idea of monsters representing emotions could have fallen horribly flat if done clumsily, but Eaton handles it well and does a good job of avoiding cliché.

Fran is a compelling narrator, teetering awkwardly on the edge of adulthood as she tentatively awaits her exam results and worries about their impact on her future. Her tone is conversational and very readable.

The story takes place in London over a day and a half in 1993, mostly with Fran’s best mate Alex in tow but also featuring her down-to-earth Nan, semi-estranged dad and selfish, immature boyfriend Sam (or ‘Needle-Dick the Bug Fucker’, as Alex calls him).

For all the mythical beasts and unavoidable problems, it’s not an altogether serious and gloomy tale. There is plenty of humour to be found, some of the rude variety (look out for a weirdly sexual dream sequence featuring Sting as a cult leader).

Fran herself is witty and cynical in her choice of words. At one point she sarcastically thanks Sam “for the formative sexual experience.” She also refuses to be taken in by a dodgy medium claiming the ability to communicate with the dead relatives of local old ladies.

The cultural references are perfect for teenage girls kicking against mainstream society in the early 90s: The Breakfast Club gets a mention, as do Twin Peaks, Slash from Guns N’ Roses (who Alex assumes she is going to marry), The PixiesThe Wonder Years and riot grrrl.

The girls acknowledge their distance from American TV, wishing they had a soundtrack to make their lives seem more glamorous: “Even drinking cider round the back of Argos would look all noble and cinematic.”

There is some focus on the class disparity between Fran and her very middle class dad – she expresses shock and delight at the idea of a smoked salmon platter for ‘brunch’ (itself an alien concept).

Sam is “very posh and Alex thinks he is pretentious.” In contrast, Fran lives with her East End Nan, who eats tinned pies and reminisces about getting free orange juice on the NHS.

The visual depiction of characters, while obviously stylised, is realistic in that they’re of various shapes and sizes and don’t conform to idealised visions of beauty. Fran has the usual teenage hang-ups about her body: “Oh, I am disgusting and foul. No wonder nobody loves me.”

The story is definitely engaging, and the artwork really complements the subject matter. The drawings are very nicely done; light pencil strokes with lots of cross-hatching and different textures, switching to darker strokes for the monster chapters. The atmosphere is eerie and poignant.

Published by Myriad Editions, who are doing some exciting things with graphic novels, Naming Monsters is a fascinating psychogeography of London and a paean to coming-of-age in 90s Britain. It’s well-crafted, and all the more impressive for being a début – hopefully there’s more where this came from.

Comments

  • Ayana says:

    I loved this book! could definitely relate to the misfit 90s girl protagonist, haha. Such beautiful intricate illustrations, a real labour of love. I saw the author at a reading too, and she really knows her folklore

    • Alexis Somerville says:

      Yeah, it’s so nicely done. Jealous you saw her at a reading, I missed one in Brighton in summer. Ha, I had the same reaction to the misfit 90s girl! So relatable 🙂