An adult Where the Wild Things Are, Naming Monsters is a warm, compelling graphic novel about a college student grappling with her emotions after losing her mother, but without knowing how to express them.
Fran is a keen amateur cryptozoologist – an expert in the study of animals that may not exist – and she can’t quite tell if the animals she meets are real or part of her imagination. But one thing is for sure: monsters are all around us.
The year is 1993, and we join Fran on a wild ride around London while she negotiates its real or imagined menageries. Tales of strange creatures that might-have-been introduce each stage of her journey.
Fran’s adventure, often with her best friend Alex in tow, is a psychogeography of London and its suburbs – a picaresque graphic novel in which the grief of losing her mother is punctuated by encounters with her semi-estranged dad, her out-of-touch East London Nana, a selfish boyfriend, and the odd black dog or two.
Hannah Eaton shows in sensitive pencils and beautiful penmanship what happens when your emotions become personified by monsters, and how you can learn to live with them.
Alex Fitch talks to Hannah Eaton about her folkloric graphic novel Naming Monsters. Originally broadcast Monday 21st October 2013, on Resonance 104.4 FM (London): http://panelborders.wordpress.com/2013/10/21/panel-borders-spirit-animals-hannah-eaton-and-dan-white/
The Quietus27 January 2017
Although this came out in 2013, I picked it up after seeing Eaton
speak at a Laydeez Do Comics
event back in November and then read it just after I submitted my best of 2016 top three for this column. If I’d read it before it probably would have made it in because this is a beautiful comic. Visually it is clumsy in places where in this debut graphic novel the artist over reaches a little in the depth and framing of her scenes, but the structure of the story is flawless and the poignant combination of text and imagery is breath-taking in places, capturing mundane moments that sit within the tensely wound space of the narrative with a heartbreakingly honest depth. The story is familiar, coming of age while dealing with grief and exam results, but that makes it very easy to empathise with protagonist Fran’s fragile grip on the last few days of her summer of denial. To distract herself from her own fears and loss, she obsessively catalogues mythical monsters, mainly from Celtic folklore but with a few international characters thrown in. These stories are separated from the main narrative by a difference in drawing style and medium, the scratchy ink of the monstrous segments compared to the soft pencil of the ‘real life’ segments seeming to suggest that these in their way are more real than the teenage girl’s experiences. But of course as the book goes on the styles as well as the perspectives of the two begin to intertwine, including a third painterly style reserved for dream sequence, leading to a satisfyingly cathartic conclusion. Not one for younger readers as graphic sex and horror imagery is here, but what tale of a 16 year old’s life would feel real without that?
Kirkus Reviews23 September 2015
With… deliciously unsettling details and the throbbing of her stacked, crosshatched lines shading images to the look of molded pewter, Eaton shows a great familiarity with the terrain of dread. One image—terrifying and almost totemic in its simplicity—shows Fran in a barren room, facing a darkly opening door. Near the end of the story, a pair of powerful nightmare sequences feels cut from the same cloth as the darker parts of David Lynch’s works—striking visuals, hauntingly concise language, and incantatory pacing. Yet cutting through the darkness and dysfunction are humor and hope. Eaton has a great ear for dialogue, and the Punch-and-Judy faces of her smaller figures have a folk charm befitting the work. Things spread a bit thin with the story ranging over teen angst, grief, wild grandmas, classism, drugs, divorce, explicit sexual awakening, pop culture, and the possibly supernatural, but an open heart anchors the work.
A warmly off-kilter coming-of-age story that evokes more than it explains.View source
A strange and haunting contemporary folk tale about how our inner demons can be battled against but seldom defeated. It will stay with you, incubus-like, long after you've finished it. Beware and enjoy.
Andy Oliver, Broken Frontier
Eaton has an astonishingly keen ear for dialogue, catching the particular rhythms and inflections of teenage banter with an ease one rarely sees in any form of fiction, let alone comics. Eaton’s idiosyncratic psychodrama is an absorbing mix of the quirky, the sinister, and the very human, and yet another perceptive publishing choice for the Myriad back catalogue.
Another strong graphic novel from this young, emerging publisher, who seem to be making something of a thing for finding and publishing new authors with personal stories to tell... It’s a confident and assured debut graphic novel from Eaton, hugely enjoyable, very readable, the pace well-pitched, the characters lively and interesting. It’s very, very good.View source
An Armchair by the Sea
This was one of those books that I knew was going to be good right from the start, and it didn't disappoint... Naming Monsters is beautiful and honest and if you were a teenager in the '90s you will probably love it.View source
For Book’s Sake
A fascinating psychogeography of London and a paean to coming-of-age in 90s Britain. It’s well-crafted, and all the more impressive for being a début – hopefully there’s more where this came from.View source
This is the first graphic novel I’ve read in years and it reminded me how much I enjoy them. A stunning and yet poignant look at life after the death of a loved one through the eyes of the young at heart.View source
Dead Canary Comics
Engaging, with clever humour, musical insights and intellectual musings scattered throughout, providing a warmth to every page. It’s affecting, the emotional moments are given deeper resonance by the subtle method of how they are fed to the reader using folklore and familiarity. If 'Monsters' in comics are as enjoyable as this then I’ll be reading in graveyards from now on!View source
Brighton and Hove Independent
The illustrations are a joy to look at and each page reveals more of the powerful story as [Fran's] journey unfolds. This is a warm, moving book.
This is for anyone who loves folklore, or, indeed, anyone who was a teenager.View source
I admire her ambition in attempting something so complex and seeing it through with such aplomb. I’m not ashamed to say I shed a few tears.View source