Nobrow has exploded onto the American comics scene in the last couple of years, and while I picked up a few books from the publisher at CAKE this past June, they’ve still been sitting on my ever-growing pile of comics to read. So when our benevolent dictator Danny Djeljosevic asked if I would like to review Andrew Rae’s Moonhead and the Music Machine, it felt like the perfect place to dive in; I couldn’t resist the charm of an idea like this one.
Joey Moonhead is a normal teen boy in every way except for one: he has a moon for a head.
I can’t tell if I have just been lucky with what I’ve read lately or if the teen/young adult market for comics is actually producing some pretty stellar work. Don’t get me wrong, Moonhead and the Music Machine isn’t on the same level I found Tomboy to be at, but it’s a clever re-envisioning of the traditional high school drama/coming of age story.
There’s nothing particularly innovative about the story—aside from Moonhead’s moon head, of course—but a story like this doesn’t need to be revolutionary in order for it to be good. It just needs to present important ideas, like the necessity of believing in yourself and your friends, and do it in a way that keeps the reader interested. That said, Moonhead and the Music Machine does break some important ground in the high school drama genre: by making Joey’s moon head the excuse for his outcast status, Rae gave readers an abstraction that could stand in for their own differences. But the rest of it is pretty much par for the course.
This is the first of Rae’s works that I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and while the story, plot, and symbolism were all serviceable I was truly impressed by his art, particularly his use of color. From the cover, we see the eponymous music machine spews alternating bands of blue and pink sound from its body—a synesthetic effect that feels could be lost in other media—and these vibrant coloring choices pervade Moonhead and the Music Machine, particularly in the two vertical double-page spreads where we see music literally transform Joey’s classmates. From the opening big bang to the ending jam party with Joey and friends, Rae makes palette choices that are bright and uplifting, and the most engaging pages are those where he just lets his imagination run wild designing intricate psychedelic landscapes and page after page of album covers.
Indeed, Rae is unafraid to meander, and while that’s the kind of thing that may upset readers—particularly those for whom the 20-page monthly comic has prioritized economical and efficient page layouts—I find it quite welcoming. The first 18 pages have a total of three words, but if these expansive visual productions aren’t quite for you, remember that you can flip through them quickly if you desire. But I don’t recommend it. There exists too little wonder in today’s comics, and by blitzing through visual explorations like Rae’s looking for that familiar anchor of text to cling onto, you ignore one of the most important parts of the medium: the art.
As I expected, Moonhead and the Music Machine just has me all the more excited to dive into the other Nobrow comics I’ve been sitting on for a few months. If you like comics—and who doesn’t—you should keep an eye on them.
Moonhead and the Music Machine is published by Nobrow Press and can be found at quality book and comic shops.