Monkeys & Midgets, a one-volume comic (with planned sequel) from writer Mike Gagnon and illustrator Nelson Danielson, tells the story of the Empire Wrestling League, a midget wrestling federation run by the spineless Petney and his mysterious partner, the quick-tempered Hapblast. When the league falls on hard times financially, the unethical would-sell-their-soul-for-a-buck owners devise a new gimmick: to make their midget wrestlers face off against monkeys in the ring. Mild plot twists ensue.
The title, Monkeys & Midgets, implies that cheap humor will ensue on both counts, much to the dismay of the little people in today’s age of political correctness. However, the “midget” aspect of the premise is barely touched upon (which is probably a good thing)—it is set in a midget wrestling league, yes, but outside of the book’s title, there’s almost no way to tell. The monkeys play a much larger role, but even still, the main focus here is on the relationships the wrestlers have with one another (and with the league’s corrupt owners, and, yes, with the monkeys). These relationships are painted in broad, bright strokes: there are clear bad guys, and clear good guys, and it’s not hard to tell who’s who. The story arc is equally trite, but it works well within the comic: hero likes girl, boy tries to impress girl with his mad wrestling skillz, boy saves girl from the dangerous bad guys and becomes a wrestling champion, boy and girl plan wedding. Most of the characters are easily summed up by one governing trait (Davey = good, Machismo = arrogant, Hapblast = evil), but the vast majority are likable enough, and the bad guys are as devious-but-bumbling as expected.
While Gagnon does make a couple drag queen jokes, and Felix Francais is pretty much a walking, talking stereotype (with a phonetically-represented accent to match), on the other hand, the midget wrestlers are developed exactly as any normal wrestlers would be, and, even more surprisingly, two relatively minor male characters fall in love and are happily married at the book’s end. This is refreshingly portrayed as completely normal: there are easy jokes made on them, as throughout, but they target other, previously-developed aspects of the characters, not their sexual orientation. In fact, for a comic with “midgets” in the title, Monkeys & Midgets is surprisingly warm-hearted and accepting. The overall message appears to be that the supposed outcasts of society, be they monkeys, midgets, or both, have real emotions and deserve common respect.
The artwork is, if not stunning, cartoonish and easy to follow, and Gagnon’s writing is earnest and well-intentioned. A look at the cover is a quick tip-off that this won’t be high art, and it doesn’t try to be. Rather, this is a fun little comic, and if it’s never laugh-out-loud funny, neither does it bore. It’s a quick read too (I got through it in under 20 minutes), so it might be smarter to borrow this one from a friend. All things considered, Monkeys & Midgets is an easy, fast-paced throwback to silly childhoods that won’t disappoint you as long as you don’t go into it expecting anything more.