Review by Bill Stone
Dilraj Mann has stirred up strong responses to some of his work and this, his first full length graphic novel does the same. This outsized, faux-quarter bound hardback is a bit of a curate’s egg and leaves the reader frustratingly unable to commit either way to an opinion.
The story concerns the Dalston area of East London about to be swallowed up by an unprincipled property developer, whilst at the same time, monsters are suddenly appearing. The link is Rosh, a meek and mild chap who’s been recently released from prison, and his group of friends including the closest thing to a superhero in the story, Lolly, who’s the new girfriend of Rosh’s mate Kay. The story though relies perhaps too heavily on the art and some humour is only conveyed by the images. One that stays in the mind is the monster ridden by Lolly and Rosh sitting atop the bare bones of a disused gasometer, but the story, like the gasometer, is only outlined in bare bones, characters don’t really engage and the matters remain resolutely under-developed.
In contrast, the art is fantastic, vibrant, with varied layouts, veering between detailed and featureless images that keep the reader unsettled and help to move the story along, alongside a more measured approach that makes the story ebb and flow. Faces, though. Mann appears to have a point to make about faces. Almost all the faces are angular and stylised which can have the effect of reducing characters to mere stereotypes. The only exception appears to be the drug dealer whose face is relatively normal in comparison to other characters. The fact that he’s black, wants to get rich and proudly displays a gold tooth, either reinforces his devotion to lucre or adds fuel to controversy. Any suggestion that Mann may be serving racist stereotypes is difused by Dalston Monsterzz being populated by a diverse range of characters and colours. Another visual oddity about faces is how Mann depicts Lolly wiping the floor with a gang, intriguingly called The Hard Faces. As Lolly’s fist hits the gang member, their face seems to crumple and fold over proving them to be very Soft Faces instead.
An ambivalence extends all the way through. The journey is unfulfilling, but the route there is probably, on balance, worth the time spent. Dalston Monsterzz merits investigation but caveat emptor as they say in Peckham.