Monika Volume 1: Masked Ball
Writer: Thilde Barboni
Artist: Guillem March
Translator: Edward Gauvin
Publisher: Titan Comics
A review by Amelia Wellman
Desperately seeking information about her missing sister Erika, Monika follows a lead that takes her deep into the murky underworld of anonymous, decadent masked balls. Intoxicated by the power and mysteries surrounding her, she learns that the path to knowledge can be strewn with dangers she’d never imagined before. Monika Volume 1: Masked Ball promises that “the sublime decadence of the chase leads only to pain”. Will you, like Monika, go willingly into it?
The story of Monika Volume 1 is a surreal erotic mystery-thriller with some light sci-fi sprinkled here and there. The arc of Monika’s struggles flow just strangely enough to make the entire comic feel like an ethereal dream. The titular character Monika is a strange character. She has a selective memory issue from her childhood and approaches reclaiming her memories naively, rushing headlong into any situation because she just doesn’t seem to know any better. She’s a visual artist that’s working on her magnum opus; a project that has her putting on different personas as she constructs it. She comes off as someone that would rather be someone else. She’s either the most vacant character I’ve ever come upon or the most complex.
The world Monika lives in is a future near to our own with extremist groups pushing their religion into their political agenda and advanced android AI. How Monika, her lover Christian, her missing sister Erika, art, politics, religion, and androids are all interconnected remains a mystery at the end of Volume 1 to be picked up in Volume 2: Vanilla Dolls.
What’s going to draw you into Monika Volume 1 and keep you enraptured until the very end is the art. This is such a stunning comic. Without a doubt, one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Each panel is intricately drawn with dozens of little details that work hard to bring the world to life. The weave of a basket or the pattern on tiled floor matter here. There isn’t a single feature that’s overlooked. The world and the people that inhabit Monika Volume 1 are soft and delicate with wispy, rounded lines. The water colours throughout provide vivid splashes of colour and the light and shadow that are present in every panel create a compelling and overtly sensual atmosphere. Whether the characters are surprised, curious, frightened, confused, or in the midst of passionate sex, you’ll always know exactly what’s on their minds. While some comics’ art shows only what the text is saying, Monika Volume 1 has art that will tell more of the story than words ever could.
Buy it! Of all the comics I’ve read in 2016, Monika Volume 1: Masked Ball is the most striking in both art and story. The strange, erotic thrill of the story paired with the sensual art will instil a feeling of dreamlike ether in you that will leave you craving more of Monika. The sublime decadence of the chase leads only to pain, but you’ll gladly grin and bear it for more of what Monika offers.