Perhaps you need a measure of understanding to really enjoy John Kenn Mortensen’s Sticky Monsters, a previous history of engaging with Maurice Sendak and Edward Gorey. Mortensen himself obviously feels the need to defend the book, including a short prefatory remark about how he writes and directs shows for kids in his native Denmark and is really busy and doesn’t have a lot of time but, you know, when he does have time he… draws monsters on Post-It notes. That’s right. He draws monsters on Post-It notes. Sticky Monsters is a collection of said monsters, each page one drawing either landscape or portrait. And it’s entertaining as all hell.
Sticky Monsters is the kind of book that had me at hello (had me turning the pages, loving the drawings, even as a voice in my brain kept asking in increasingly shrill tones what precisely it was that I liked). Mortensen is fond of floating wraiths, the kind of creatures that appear in the background of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, garments all frayed, eyes vacantly staring. He is also fond of enormous penis-fingered beasties who seem to loiter by the edge of rivers or hardly concealed among taller trees. You get the sense these creatures loom up without people really noticing, as if the speed with which they travel is so slow that people will one day remark, ‘Has that always been there?’ Underwater beasts are confused for islands, enormous wolves with slavverin’ fangs are largely ignored and bizarre Nosferatu-esque pointy heads congregate like nervous wedding guests.
Children feature prominently also, but rarely seem bothered by what they see. Either the kids blithely pass by (two kids on a hand operated rail cart cross a high bridge whilst a huge Siamese twin of a hairy monster snaps at them with open mouths – you’ll notice Mortensen likes open mouths and strange teeth too), or stand in trees staring or look vaguely put out when they go to collect water from the well only to find a dirty great mass of hairy tendrils is in the way. A lot of fun is to be had by peering into the background of his detailed doodles – spying a person who seems to be putting their bins out as a building-dwarfing giant edges along a wall, peering at a small funeral party on a bridge who themselves don’t seem to have noticed a batwing eared, bird beaked freak with long claws hovering over them and wondering about a mother and daughter who, from the way her hair is blowing, appear to be fleeing something in a boat in a force 10 gale as a prehistoric fish looms up at them out of the murky depths.
There are also stranger signals of a darker world to come – strange men in stove pipe hats summoning meaty eels with circular teeth (meaty tendrils that go on to grow in size, the stove pipe hat man returning later in a hot air balloon to observe much larger animals that resemble nothing so much as bisected muscles with teeth, mini Rancors if you will), well-dressed gentlemen in homburgs offering help to desperate-looking antler headed zombies and bald butchers viewed from a distance given to standing by open windows covered in blood. I could go on. There are monsters who want to steal balloons, unfortunate submarines and malicious girls given to whispering secrets in the presence of remedial, ram-horned wild things. All told, it’s a lot of fun.
The only thing I’d want from Mortensen in the future are maybe some words: whether he takes a leaf out of Gorey’s book or just Tim Burton’s (whose Lonely Death of Oyster Boy is a good benchmark for what Sticky Monsters is like – if you like one, you’ll like the other), we could do with either a bit of a story or a sense of the context in which these stories appear. All told, though…
Any Cop?: Sticky Monsters is a surprisingly huge amount of fun for kids and parents but possibly most particularly parents. We can’t wait to see what John Kenn Mortensen does next.