‘Marilyn’s Monsters:’ Advance Graphic Novel Review

Tommy Redolfi has found inspiration paralleling the children’s fable, Little Red Riding Hood, with one of the most famous, popular, and tragic Hollywood stories of all time: Norma Jeane Baker's (a.k.a. Marilyn Monroe) life. Without any flourishes, Norma’s story is a heartbreaking tale of a woman who gave her soul and more to be loved and who was abused by an industry willing to take advantage of beauty - to treat women like an object and to dehumanize for a few bucks. By approaching it like, what is essentially a David Lynchian meets David McKean-style horror story, Redolfi has given readers a transcendent, hypnotic, and emotionally devastating exploration of the terrifying side of Hollywood stardom and, in doing so, has crafted a very human story of abuse endured…with a smile. One of the most famous smiles of the silver screen.

One can’t help but assume that the creation of this work of art being published in tandem with the #metoo and #timesup movements is not an accident. Even if it was a coincidence, the timing is welcome. For every Harvey Weinstein that we see, there are who knows how many we don’t see. Imagine what that was like when Marylin Monroe was a star. You don’t have to anymore. Redolfi turns the oceans of men surrounding Marylin into grotesque, humanoid monsters, all the while hinting at greater, malevolent forces just beneath the surface of an industry built on sex appeal. This unknown texture creates for us the psychological terror that Norma felt. With every image, every word uttered and left unsaid, with every forced smile, we’re drawn deeper into Norma’s mindscape until the most difficult words we hear, right along with Norma, are the words, “We were joking. Just joking.” Of course, the damage is done. We see it on her face. We feel her embarrassment. The height of her stardom isn’t the end of the story, that’s only a part of it, and only part of the descent into the abuse Norma endured, as Marylin meets a young girl and begins to live out her childhood in a surreal series of expressionistic exchanges.

Redolfi uses a wide range of styles to capture the emotional landscapes of Norma Jeane Baker’s journey and transformation into Marylin, and as a human who cannot escape her scarred past, sometimes juxtaposing those styles to create a harsh psychological and emotional effect for the reader. We experience her sadness, loneliness, fear, shame, and joy. In one instance, Marylin, who is angelic and radiant (Redolfi treats her with the same tenderness that Da Vinci treated the Mona Lisa.), sits with a late-night talk show host who is portrayed as a tiny, cartoonish goof, more a walking circle than a human figure, with a giant smile plastered on his face, almost as if he’s there to mock and taunt Marylin, who hardly gets a word in. You feel her grow smaller and smaller, sometimes disappearing from the image altogether like the Cheshire cat leaving nothing but her smile behind. That smile becomes an image that represents pain more than any other image in the book.

By putting us in the shoes of one of the most iconic women of all time and using the empathy we feel for her simply through our connection with her persona and, in some cases, the worship of that persona, by deconstructing Marylin and showing us the Norma inside, Redolfi has transposed that empathy and put us in the shoes of every person that has ever been abused. Marylin’s Monsters has to - it needs to - be read. As a pop culture-seduced society, we’ve been taught to treat people the way we see the camera treating them, and to become the people that the camera shows us as being perfect. It’s said that the camera has been the “male gaze.” Thankfully, that’s beginning to change, and through sheer force of the public scrutiny’s will, it is getting better; however, with social media, it’s amplified in other ways. We have to understand how our gaze affects people - how our actions, something as innocuous as a crass tweet, can destroy another person a little bit at a time.

Marylin’s Monsters has immediately taken a spot next to David Lynch’s Fire Walk with Me as one of the most powerful portrayals of abuse that I’ve experienced and one of the best graphic novels I’ve read this year. It’s flawlessly beautiful in its artistic expression which makes it all-the-more heartbreaking to experience.


Creative Team: Tommy Redolfi (story, art), Mark Bence and Tommy Redolfi (translation), Fabrice Sapolsky, Alex Donoghue with Amanda Lucido (US edition editors), Vincent Henry (original edition editor), Jerry Frissen (senior art design), Fabrice Giger (publisher)
Publisher: Humanoids
Click here to purchase.


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