Writers: Chris Samnee and Laura Samnee
Illustrator: Chris Samnee
Publisher: Oni Press
WHAT IS IT?
An all-ages adventure comic set in a post-apocalyptic world with monsters.
Think Jurassic World with kaiju crossed with elements of Tarzan.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Jonna and her elder sister, Rainbow, have been separated for over a year after a cataclysmic event occurred on their world that introduced giant monsters, widespread drought, and devastation. The last time Rainbow saw her sister was the day the leviathans appeared. Ever since, she has been searching in what remains of humanity, moving from village to village, hoping for some sign of her family's survival.
Then she hears a rumor of a child gone feral who possesses superhuman strength. Could Jonna have survived this long on her own in the wild or will this be just another dead end? Her sister is out there somewhere and she will stop at nothing to be reunited with her.
Better known for his work as an artist, Harvey and Eisner Award Winner, Chris Samnee takes on writing duties for Jonna with his wife Laura, a newcomer to working in the comics field. The narrative execution is superb, if spartan. Vast sections of the story are left largely vacant of dialogue, leaning heavily on illustration work to reveal the plot, which adds to the sense of isolation Rainbow experiences with the absence of her family.
Adding to the cohesion of elements that comprise the piece, Chris also takes on the more familiar role of the artist. With his characteristic signature style, shadows are penned heavily. The linework of the characters is modest but textured, reminiscent of a more robust Kyle Starks portrayal of the human figure. Monsters are full-on kaiju (less Jurassic Park, more Starship Troopers), favoring claw-like appendages over hands.
Matthew Wilson adopts a softer color palette, favoring dusky purples and deep fuchsias alternating with golden-hour yellows and russet oranges, often creating depth by subtly changing a color hue, alternating from light to dark within a panel. Nothing is rendered harsh, as if the world exists perpetually at dawn and twilight.
Sometimes the strongest compliment one can attribute to lettering work is that its placement is so on-point that it goes largely unnoticed, which is the case here with Crank!'s execution. Bubble stacks, when the conversation is more engaged, create pleasant visual curves, allowing the eye to bounce quickly back to the lush visuals designed to carry the story.
Eschewing heavy dialogue, the book is instead abundantly peppered with bold sound effects that help punctuate strong visual narrative moments. One can easily picture sitting in a rocking chair, reading this to a child, and loudly embellishing the sounds with a hearty laugh. Most of these sounds resonate from the monsters, magnifying their size in proportion to the smaller humans.
The minimalistic verbal approach between the sisters helps exemplify the familiarity of familial bonds.
Samnee's panel illustrations remain highly detailed throughout, filling in the negative space with abundant topographical features that create a verdant visual landscape for Jonna and Rainbow to traverse whether they are running through vine-tangled canyons or eating in a cave. The perspective of a child is maintained throughout with a lower-to-the-ground overall profile.
Heads and hair remain one of the strongest visual features for the Samnee's characters. Jonna’s hair is her most expressive feature, an unkempt riot of ginger bushiness like a ball of wool yarn exploded on her head, contrasting with the constrained and practical pink beanie cap of her sister Rainbow. With sparse dialogue, these elements help to narrate the personality characteristics of the sisters and further punctuate their polarity.
The expressive visuals create a tension that expresses the oppositional balance between the two sisters, reflecting the internal struggle we all feel between letting go and trying to maintain control of our lives.
The creative team does an exemplary job at maintaining an all-ages rating for the book. What violence exists is person-to-monster, and it is defensive in nature with little blood. There is no adult language to speak of.
There's a section of coloring pages at the end of the book after the creator bios. Yes, you read that correctly, a lovely series of uncolored sketch pages that you are encouraged to, "Break out your crayons, markers, colored pencils, or whatever you have at hand and color in our heroes! Draw right in the book or make a photocopy, it’s up to you!" This is a lovely touch.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
Although the narrative painting via the visual landscape is strong, there's very little in the way of character development verbally and no explanation for where the monsters came from. Some added context would help infuse some robustness into the presentation.
Specific to Issue #2, some expanded internal monologue from Rainbow would help provide the reader with additional background about their absent family and the presence of the monsters. The context is to illuminate the backstory of the sisters, to build the sense of isolation wandering in search of her family, and to establish the ever-present threat of the monsters.
The monsters themselves are too visually simple. Making them less textured, no doubt, will keep younger readers from feeling too frightened, but their simplistic rendering doesn't fit with the overall compositional balance of the book.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Chris and Laura Samnee set out to create a book about family, one that they could share with their daughters. Jonna and Rainbow were modeled after their two eldest, reflecting their wildly different personalities and the sacred bonds of siblings. From the moment I cracked open its pages, I was taken back to my own childhood and there are inescapable visual references to Captain Caveman or Bamm-Bamm from the Flintstones cartoons in Jonna's slightly feral and incredibly strong demeanor. The dialogue is simple and overall, it's incredibly reliant on Samnee's sensational visuals to both set the pacing and to accomplish the lion's share of narration in the book.
I'm glad to see more content targeted at getting younger readers interested in the comic book format, and it would be easy to dismiss Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters as just a children's book. Indeed, it reads intentionally that way and it's certainly appropriate as an introduction into comics for younger kids ages eight or older. I'm actually having trouble thinking of a better choice, but it's also a lot of fun to read as an adult. The characters dealing with isolation and loss feel universally relatable in these times of pandemic but the inescapable message here is one of self-discovery and hope, which is relevant whether you are eight or eighty and is something we all can relate to.
Oh, and there's cool monsters.
The Samnees have created a little gem of a book here, and I won't hesitate to pick up the next collected volume nor should you.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you are interested in books for 7-10 year olds:
Bone by Jeff Smith
If you like the art:
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Chris Samnee – Writer & Illustrator (@ChrisSamnee)
Samnee inks his own pencil work.
He has worked for Image/Skybound, Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, IDW, Vertigo and Oni Press. This is his first creator-owned project that he and his wife, Laura, have worked on together.
Laura Samnee – Writer
This is her debut comic book, but we're looking forward to seeing even more from her in the future!
Matthew Wilson – Colorist (@COLORnMATT)
Matt Wilson is a graduate of the Savana College of Art and Design where he received a degree in sequential art.
Wilson is a Harvey Award nominee and won an Eisner Award in 2015 in the Best Colorist category.
He likes to listen to the Talking Heads when working late at night.
Crank! - Letterer (@ccrank)
Chris Crank lettered comics for Image, Dark Horse, Oni Press, and Dynamite Entertainment among others.
He plays in a goth rock band called Sono Mori.
HOW DO I BUY IT?
Click one of these:
The image(s) used in this article are from a comic strip, webcomic or the cover or interior of a comic book. The copyright for this image(s) is likely owned by either the publisher of the comic, the writer(s) and/or artist(s) who produced the comic. It is believed that the use of this image(s) qualifies as fair use under the United States copyright law. The image is used in a limited fashion in an educational manner in order to illustrate the points of the author and not for the purpose of entertainment or substituting the original work. It is believed the use of this image has had no impact on the market value of the original work.
All Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright Chris and Laura Samnee or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED