Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters #1
Writer: Chris and Laura Samnee
Artist: Chris Samnee
Color Artist: Matthew Wilson
Cover Artist: Chris Samnee & Matthew Wilson
Publisher: Oni Press
I love when a story opens rambunctiously. The first issue of Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters, the new series by Chris and Laura Samnee with colors by Matthew Wilson and letters by Crank!, starts in just such a way. After a gorgeous scene-setting page displaying a few wonders from a fantasy world that seems to sprawl along the coast of the continent of Ghibiland on the planet Mononoke IV we meet Rainbow, who just cannot seem to keep up with her little sister. That little sister is Jonna. You know, from the title. And when we first see Jonna we learn she’s a small girl with hair that would make Dragon Ball’s Goku envious. With impetuous energy and superhuman strength she’s leaping and tumbling through the trees and running free… until she encounters some kind of vast creature. You know Jonna’s full of pepper because instead of fleeing she blasts right at it.
This comic’s intended for audiences aged nine and up, but that’s engaging and rambunctious enough an introduction to the sisters to put a smile on anyone’s face.
Cut to a year later and now Rainbow spends her days wandering a dustier, dryer place searching for the missing Jonna. People here live on the margin. Food’s not as plentiful. What happened in the interim? The characters know and we’ll find out as we explore this setting that’s at once mysterious and new but also reminiscent of some book we read many years ago, or was read to us by someone we love. You know, the fabulous one whose title you can’t quite remember and so you’re looking for it everywhere and you’re not even sure it exists. But of course it does. Oni Press just started publishing it this month.
The first issue of Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters is a visual treat. Which is what you’d expect from Chris Samnee and Matt Wilson, after all. Their superhero art has a timeless quality to it, but infused with the same kind of fresh enthusiasm for the medium you find in Mike Allred or Darwyn Cooke drawings.
Samnee’s storytelling here is an incredible Jonna-worthy leap as far as I’m concerned. Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters finds Samnee working in an Avatar: The Last Airbender mode, or after having read the Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind manga by Hayao Miyazaki a thousand times without sleeping. Samnee renders the characters and world in a fun open line look which allows colorist Matthew Wilson to work atmospherically, with natural tones, lush greens and blues in the early going giving way to paler browns and grays later in the story. Along with Samnee’s assured rendering comes his intense editing, of choosing which visual details to include and which to omit. This means an emphasis on character expression and body language against backgrounds rich in content but far from busy. There are plenty of spaces where our eyes can linger and explore. From the wide panels of the brisk opening sequence giving way to epic two-page spreads to the quieter interlude in a tent where Rainbow and her cheerful benefactor Gramma Pat share a meager meal while having a chat Samnee’s art confidently moves in and out of varying scales.
As writers the Samnees wisely leave a lot unsaid for now. After their vigorous beginning they follow up with character moments, with conversational tidbits and pieces teasing a wider world and full of various mysteries and adventures to come. There’s a missing sister. There are gigantic monsters. People in the tent village seem to know more about Rainbow’s quest than we do, but they also just quietly go about their daily routines, puttering away on rattletrap-looking contraptions, or cooking their food. A stomach’s gurgle provides incitement. The story promises something grand in the future and in the present delivers something more intimate, something intriguing.
What more do you really need to know at this point? Obviously we’ll see Jonna again sometime, possibly sooner than later, and we’ll learn about these monsters and what happened during the previous year. Rainbow is certainly equipped to carry us along on this quest for discovery. With her purple hair, her practical overalls and sensible boots she’s ready for adventure even if she’s not exactly courting it the way Jonna did.
But I do have questions and concerns of my own.
What exactly is an unpossible monster? A possible monster, I suppose, is one you might actually meet. A terrible person. A great typhoon. An impossible monster is one that could never exist. A monster confusing cause and effect. A monster created by an omnipotent god but so large even that god couldn’t lift it. But an unpossible monster must be something else entirely. One that maybe violates the laws of probability in some way so that it exists when it should not. And more than one?
Not sticking around to find out after this fun a first issue?
Now THAT’S what’s unpossible.
Published by Oni Press, Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters #1 is available in print and digitally now.