Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
There’s no better time than this weekend to remember your mom. (You … did remember it’s Mother’s Day, right? Don’t be an ungrateful punk. Pick of the phone and call her.) It’s a good time to recall all the things she’s done for you, like patching up your boo-boos, cleaning up after your messes, and all the other stuff chronicled on the pressed cardboard pulp of Hallmark cards.
It’s a tough and often thankless job … but it could be worse: Take, for instance, Katie Cook’s Gronk, which follows the adventures of a young mother whose child is a monster. A literal monster.
Dale is a young woman who lives in an isolated cabin deep in the woods of British Columbia. She loves her nerdy pursuits, and she works from home, but from what we can see she doesn’t socialize much. Everything changes when she encounters a young runaway chasing a kitten.
Gronk is a tiny green-skinned monster with blonde hair who doesn’t fit in with her kind: She’s too sweet and polite, and she’s terrible at being scary. She does, however, have a big imagination. After a monster rips up her beloved plushie, Gronk runs off … to the magical, far-off land of Canada.
Dale may be a confirmed introvert, but she also has a big heart. She can’t bear to turn the little cutie away; Gronk is just so huggable! (Seriously, there is an awful lot of hugging going on in this comic. If you’ve been waiting for a comic where you can see arms squeezed tight around big squishy bodies, then Gronk is if you. If you recoil at the mere thought of human contact, perhaps seek comics elsewhere.) And thus, Dale embarks on a new journey … the adventure of motherhood!
Raising a kid is alien territory for Dale. She’s a clueless single mom who’s picking up new parenting techniques day by day. She falls back on formative experiences from her own childhood: Gronk is raised through Muppets and Star Wars DVDs. (That’s likely drawn from Cook’s own experiences, as Star Wars and Fraggle Rock are but two of the licenses that she’s worked on.) Dale probably should do something about Gronk’s love of junk food, although it’s not immediately apparent if that’s detrimental to a monster’s health. Besides, Dale’s own junk-food addiction is probably more enabling than anything.) Gronk is also wildly imaginative, and she often gets so carried away that she makes messes of epic proportions.
To the most severe observers, this might seem like Dale is a bad mom. Certainly, she should make sure Gronk watches less TV, and that her diet is limited to vegetables and hummus. But Dale does what she can, and Gronk seems to be turning out OK so far. Dale is well versed in modern technology, and the comic has some nice observations at how modern technology and raising a child. Truly, Gronk absorbs nerd culture like a sponge, but it feeds a mind that had previously been starved of creativity and imagination.
Best of all, there is love. Dale often seems harried and tired, trying to balance her career and the responsibilities of raising a child. But there is a sweet scene when her eyes fill with tears of joy. She opens a present from Gronk. It is a coffee cup. Doodled on it is a heart, and written inside the heart: “I love mommy.”
Yeah … Gronk is a little like Family Circus, but rooted in the realities of modern life. So call your moms, dear readers. It’s the right thing to do.