Thrift Store Finds: Monster of the Year

This week, we’re going to take a quick look at Monster of the Year, written by Bruce Coville and published by Pocket Books under their Minstrel Books imprint in 1989.

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Bruce Coville is a writer primarily of middle grade/young adult fiction most famously known for his “My Teacher” series of sci-fi paperbacks. With titles like My Teacher is an Alien and My Teacher Flunked the Planet, Coville traded heavily on science fiction tropes to great success. Most of my friends in elementary and middle school loved Coville’s books, which were full of independent pre-teens messing with the adult world in one way or another. My own interests at that time tended more toward horror and fantasy than sci-fi. In that respect, Coville had me covered as well with his Camp Haunted Hills and Magic Shop series of books, respectively.

The plot of Monster of the Year revolves around two sixth grade boys who through various means, create a fake billboard advertising a “Monster of the Year” contest in their hometown of Syracuse, New York. When the contest is taken for being real, Syracuse begins to fill up with actual monsters. The initial appeal of the concept was getting ALL the majorly notable monsters together in one book. As you can see by the cover, Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, and every other monster you’d expect grace the pages of Coville’s book. As a kid, I was gonzo for monsters and this book was an easy sell.

Coville takes the book an irreverent step further by painting the monsters as somewhat desperate to win the award and get their flagging careers back on track. He fills Monster of the Year with clever, meta-textual references which tickled me as a kid and still work now. For example, Godzilla enters the contest (cleverly rechristened “Gadzinga” so as to avoid lawsuits) but he’s only about three feet tall. Of course, every knows those movies were made using miniature sets, right?

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This is some decently clever stuff for a YA book and Coville fills the novel with similar gags.

If you’re a keen eyed fan of comics, you’ll recognize from the above picture the other reason why I wanted to write about this book. Illustrations for Monster of the Year were provided by none other than Harvey Kurtzman!

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Kurtzman’s legacy in comics is vast. He’s most remembered for creating MAD for EC Comics in the 1950’s but even outside of MAD, Kurtzman’s resume is filled with many other important editorial and artistic endeavors. I’ve never been as huge a Kurtzman fan as some, but I recognize the artist’s impact on the medium and generations of cartoonists who were either influenced by him directly during his time as a teacher at the School of Visual Arts in New York City or indirectly with his comics.

A lot of the hallmarks of Kurtzman’s work are present in these illustrations. He employs super-exaggerated styles to convey whatever emotion is going on in the scene, as he does here when Mike, the protagonist of the book, is startled in his basement by his best friend Kevver.

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I read through Monster of the Year in about an hour and it’s still a fun book. Coville’s prose doesn’t talk down to his readers and he offers a compelling “us vs. them” story which young people could enjoy almost twenty-five years after the book’s publication. Kurtzman’s illustrations are find for what they are, but probably don’t number among his best work. He passed away in 1993 and most reports say he was ill for much of the late Eighties. Honestly, given what I know about Kurtzman, this seemed like a weird job for him to take on… until I read the Author and Illustrator credits at the end of the book:

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I suppose I’ve got a NEW book to start hunting down in thrift stores!

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