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Monkey and Spoon
By Simone Lia
Published by AdHouse Books

If James Kochalka writes and draws so simply that he creates the impression that anyone can do what he does, Monkey and Spoon is a well-intentioned corrective to that fallacy.

Monkey and Spoon is a small 112-page graphic novel, a minor rumination on the mutual reliance of longtime relationships, the manner in which people who love each other come to know each other's strengths and weaknesses. Where it wants to be charming and meaningful, though, it more often is charmless and clichéd.

The simplistic artwork is a primary problem. We know the soda is fizzy because it's labeled "FIZZ." We know that's a loaf of bread in the cupboard, because there on the wrapper, it says "BREAD." Funnily enough, though, we forget that one of the titular characters is a spoon, because she most often looks more like a simply-drawn human housewife with her hair in curlers; we only occasionally get a shot of her entire spoon body. However does she stand up?

We never forget that the monkey's a monkey, though, because we get 112 pages of almost the same expression on his face on every page. The high-concept pitch may have been "It's Monkey vs. Robot, only without the Robot. Or conflict. Or Fun." Not to say Monkey and Spoon doesn't want to be fun. I'm sure it does. But...

The characters evince a degree of charm and warmth on the dedication page (the first time we see them after the cover), but the story itself seems a bit cold and directionless for all its apparent good intentions. There's little in the way of fun or entertainment beyond the initial premise of "They're married, a monkey and a spoon." Oh, it should be noted that either this is a really tiny monkey or a really big spoon. Probably the latter.

Being a story, of course, there is some drama. The monkey's stuffing falls out and the spoon's eye falls off, and, Waltons-like, they help each other back to their status quo. Tit for tat, you wash my back and I'll wash yours. You get the feeling that a deeper metaphor is sought, but while toy monkeys can indeed lose their stuffing, I've never heard of a spoon losing an eye. So try as I might, the point, one could say, evades me here. Like all AdHouse books I've read, the production quality here is top-notch. It's a beautifully produced book in need of a worthwhile story to accompany it.

A note on the flap says that creator Simone Lia has "Written and illustrated several books for children." I suppose this might be another one, then. It's difficult to imagine anyone over the age of 8 getting much out of Monkey and Spoon. The difference between Kochalka's stuff and this, then, being that Kochalka's best work has multiple layers of meaning that reflect back on each other in often delightful and unexpected ways. There's little reflection to be found in Monkey and Spoon, and even less delight. Despite its good intentions, all the cuteness and fun to be wrung out of Monkey and Spoon is exhausted after the first page. And there are 111 more after that. Grade: 2/5

-- Alan David Doane



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