If the name Jellaby sounds familiar, then you might have had the pleasure of coming across him/her in other stories before. Jellaby has had a storied and award-winning life. Our friend has been published as an online webcomic (nominated for an Eisner Award), had short stories in several different Flight anthologies, and this very book, Jellaby: The Lost Monster, was published in 2008 and won the 2009 Shuster Award for best Comic for Kids. And now, after being out of print for several years, Jellaby’s first adventure is being reintroduced to the world for new and old readers to discover again.
*Note: Jellaby appears to have no gender, or at least not one that has been disclosed. In order to have a pronoun to refer to, I will be using s/he.*
Portia is a quiet but bright young girl who has just moved to a new neighborhood and a new school. It’s hard enough to get used to these changes, but she’s also adjusting to life without her father (who has mysteriously disappeared), trying to make new friends, and to make things even stranger, her mom is acting distant! What’s a young girl to do? One night, after being awoken by a nightmare, Portia takes a midnight walk in the forest and finds a young, lost, shy, sweet purple monster who she names Jellaby. Portia’s life with Jellaby is about to become a lot more interesting as she and her new friend Jason try to figure out where Jellaby came from and what secrets s/he might know.
Somehow I missed Jellaby’s adventures the first time around. I remember seeing a few of the short stories in the Flight anthologies and thought Jellaby was interesting, but was for young readers only and would not appeal to me. That was a huge mistake on my part. While on the surface Jellaby looks like a book for the kindergarten crowd, given that it has a purple monster and young kids, looks are deceiving. In Portia, Kean has crafted the type of character that we all tend to look for, but have so much trouble finding—a young woman who is not afraid to stand up for herself, is intelligent, and won’t hide who she is just to make friends. Jason is a similar type of character, someone who is facing challenges greater than we might imagine, but is not afraid to be himself. I love finding characters and books like this that show the power of being yourself, so that I can recommend them to readers who are told they should change who they are to fit in. Jellaby adds humor into the mix, as s/he isn’t able to talk and instead communicates non-verbally. It’s fun to watch him/her figure out the world and learn to communicate with others, as well as find out what is and isn’t edible—including flowers.
While the artwork appears simple in nature, with thick lines delineating the characters and a simple color palette to give them depth, they are stunningly beautiful. Also, how can you not love the design of Jellaby? S/he’s a lovable purple monster that doesn’t look like Barney and is one that you want to hug, take home with you, and keep safe. Seeing the human characters interact with each other reminds me of early Charles Schultz’s Peanuts, as the characters have heads that are a bit too large for their bodies, but capture that emotion, intensity, and movement that we all seem to have when we’re young.
I can’t wait to read the second book in the series. I hope Capstone republishes it soon, and that Kean has the opportunity to write more adventures of Jellaby, Portia, and Jason. I would highly recommend this book to fans of Andy Runton and Kazu Kibuishi.
Jellaby: The Lost Monster, Book One
by Kean Soo
Publisher Age Rating: 9-13