By Tony Millionaire (Fantagraphics Books)
Cartoonists have more than their fair share of individuals with a unique perspective on the world. Elzie Segar, Ronald Searle, Charles Addams, George Herriman, Gerald Scarfe, Rick Geary, Steve Bell, Berke Breathed, Ralph Steadman, Bill Watterson, Matt Groening, Norman Dog, Gary Larson – the list is potentially endless. Perhaps it’s their power to create entire sculptured worlds coupled with the constant promise of vented spleen that so colours their work – whether they paint or draw.
Born Scott Richardson, Tony Millionaire clearly loves to draw and does it very, very well; seamlessly referencing classical art, the best of children’s books and an eclectic blend of pioneer draughtsmen like, George McManus, Rudolph Dirks, Cliff Sterrett, Frank Willard, Harold Gray as well as the aforementioned Segar and Herriman with European engravings from the “legitimate” side of the ink-slinging biz. He especially cites Johnny (Raggedy Ann and Andy) Gruelle and English illustrator Ernest H. Shepard (The Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh) as formative influences.
As well as assorted children’s books and the fabulous Sock Monkey, Millionaire produces a powerfully bizarre weekly strip entitled Maakies which delineates the absurdly rude and surreal adventures of an Irish monkey called Uncle Gabby and his alcoholic nautical comrade Drinky Crow (see Drinky Crow’s Maakies Treasury for further details).
In 2007 he produced the acclaimed and award-winning Billy Hazelnuts, the salutary tale of a Golem built from garbage by oppressed, vengeful rats and mice. Originally a ghastly, fly-bedecked monstrosity Billy was rescued and redeemed by little girl scientist Becky who gave him Hazelnut eyes and a fresh-baked confectionary body, and they went through a series of uniquely fantastic adventures.
Now he’s back in another strident, striking, fantastical folktale voyage. Irascible, good-hearted, fiery-tempered and super-strong, Billy is adapting to life on Rimperton Farm but has a few philosophical problems with the natural world: notably everything in it is icky, oozy and wants to eat everything else in it.
After a titanic tussle with the farm cat and an owl, Billy reluctantly takes responsibility for a newly hatched owl chick – an ugly, vicious, violent baby brute that keeps consuming whole chunks of his baked body…
After consulting the confectionary conjuror and all-around wise man Rupert Punch, Billy resolves to return the chick to its lost mother, undertaking a hazardous and utterly surreal journey through Millionaire’s incredible signature land-, sea- and sky-scapes, with the malevolent and opportunistic farm cat “assisting”, but he’s got to hurry: the ungrateful baby bird has already eaten the back of his head and an entire arm…
Rendered in Millionaire’s captivating black and white line, this darkly frantic race against time is a charmingly belligerent fantasy yarn with the requisite happy ending that will appeal to kids on any age, full of action, wonder, imagination and good intent, clearly promising that the author will soon be the worthiest contemporary successor to Baum, Sendak, the Brothers Grimm and Lewis Carroll.
Brilliant, scary, poignant and lovely, make Billy Hazelnuts a part of your leisure-life now.
© 2010 Tony Millionaire. All Rights Reserved.