Vampire comics aren’t hard to find, but they are not all created equal. Marvel and DC will occasionally throw out the idea “what if your favorite character was a vampire/had to fight vampires” and those books don’t always land because the conceit doesn’t hold up in the existing worlds. Little Monsters, on the other hand, has created its own mythos. While some parts of the world are immediately recognizable, it has its own ideas and plenty of intrigue. The irony is that the real success here was when the creators humanized the vampires and gave us reasons to empathize with the characters we meet. The book starts slowly, drawing you in with a quiet, deliberate introduction to the characters and the city they inhabit. It builds in tension and is very measured in pace until something eventually gives, then it’s a faster, jarring experience driving towards a cliffhanger ending.
Romie, Yui, Lucas, the twins Ronnie & Raymond, Billy, Bats and Vickie emerge at night into the abandoned city that is all theirs. It is a black and white world with only the smallest touches of color, mostly provided by the drawings Romie leaves scattered around the city. They have been here, on their own, at least over a hundred years, as best as they can remember, living on rats and whatever else they can find. They play the same games, have the same arguments, read the same books and live the same day over and over. We meet them the day everything changes, as Billy happens upon a human man trapped under some rubble. This is the first regular person they have seen in centuries and while they were told never to feed on people, Billy cannot help himself. This incident will shake their world and bring everything they thought they knew in question.
Romie is the oldest of them all and theirs is the first backstory we see from The Black Forest in 1763. Romie leaves their dying parent to cut firewood, but when they return a vampire has drained the man dead. “I’m sorry,” the vampire tells Romie. “I have been traveling a very long time and I—I was so hungry. I thought he was alone. But now you are alone. Yes? Well, you need not be. You need never be alone ever again.” This type of introduction will happen again in Orange County, 2029 to Billy, Nebraska, 1933 to the twins, and Hiroshima, 1945 to Yui. They are children found alone after a misfortune befell their parents/caretakers and this mysterious figure offers them to never be alone or hungry again.
When we meet the children, they have been living without “the elders” (who we don’t meet in this volume) for several hundred years. They were told to stay in the city for their safty and that the elders would come back for them. Now that a human has wondered into their midst, the kids no longer know what to believe. Billy thinks it is time to leave and hunt more of the humans because after his first meal he realizes they have been lied to. It is the best he has ever felt and the world itself feels different. Yui, Lucas and Romie do not want to leave and they don’t want to eat people. It goes against everything they’ve been told. Romie found a young girl who followed her father (who Billy and the others have killed) and is now trying to hide her from Billy and his faction. The point of no return is when Billy and company find the human camp and in the ensuing fight lose one of the twins. This volume ends with so much unanswered and so much at stake that I’m already frustrated I have to wait for the next volume.
If you have read the series Descender or its follow up Ascender, then you already know how captivating the creative team of Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen are. Little Monsters is a distinctly different book than those, but it contains all of the hallmarks of this creative team that made their previous series so enjoyable. Nguyen is one of the most striking and unmistakable artists working today. While this book might not show off his effortless use of watercolors as it is so stark, his approach to layout and building rising action are second to none. The publisher rates this comic Mature and as it is about vampires, the blood won’t surprise you. However, there is very little in the way of bad language and nothing sexual so I would make the argument that older teens can enjoy this macabre story as well. I also wouldn’t label this has a Horror genre book, although there is plenty of suspense. The fact is that they are children in every sense except that they are now ageless. There is a lot left to explore in the next volume and as this is an ongoing monthly comic, libraries picking it up should keep an out for future installments. I enjoyed this as much as anything I have read this year and very much look forward to seeing what is next!
Little Monsters Vol. 01
By Jeff Lemire
Art by Dustin Nguyen
Publisher Age Rating: M
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)