Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Moonhead and the Music Machine, by Andrew Rae

Moonhead and the Music Machine is a whimsical colourfest that tells the story of Joey Moonhead, a schoolboy with a moon for a head. He's bullied and harassed by the cool boys at school because he is different, so he shrinks to the sidelines with his friend Sockets and escapes into daydreams. When I say he escapes into daydreams, he literally loses his head; his moonhead goes soaring through the skies to tropical jungles, to the outer reaches of the universe- leaving his headless body sat in assembly or in a meeting with the principal.

When Joey decides to enter the school talent competition, he builds a music machine of his own design. It never really cooperates for Joey, but when his mysterious new acquaintance, Ghostboy has a go, the music machine creates beautiful, transformational sounds. These are beautifully represented on the page in huge, psychedelic waves of pink, yellow and blue. Basically the book follows Joey on his journey from freak boy to talk of the school, and documents all the mistakes and discoveries he makes on his ascent to schoolyard fame.

Reading this novel I grew incredibly fond of the art style very quickly- the bold colours, the cheeky circle motifs that kept showing up, the comic strip style (but not format), the gently expressive faces on the characters. I really liked the little spikes of sarcasm and anger, particularly during the school scenes. It gets a bit Revolver in places, a bit Lichtenstein in others. It's a pretty unique, pretty mixed lot with obviously diverse inspirations.

For ages I just couldn't work out what this book was trying to do- it just didn't make a lot of sense- but then I realised that Moonhead might actually be a teeming pile of metaphor wrapped up in a psychedelic tale of a schoolboy finding a talent, finding his confidence and forming a band. Initially, the detailed every-day scenes (a car-filled street, a playground with a kid with a another kid in a headlock, school pupils dangling from the doorframes...normal everyday stuff) the reader thinks, "This is all far too normal for a guy to just have a moon for a head"...but then when you start thinking of the unusual head as a metaphor for difference, and his ability to wander free from his body as a symbol of imagination and creativity...then everything sort of falls into place. Then it seems obvious and the reader feels a bit dim for not realising that earlier.

The book is really all about friendship, about having belief in oneself, about the power of music to unite and about being loyal to the people that support you. I think the music especially is effective. How do you show music in a graphic novel?! What a dilemma, pulled off without a problem though- the shapes and colours on the page perfectly explain the marverickness of whatever musical movement Joey Moonhead belongs to. I love how the illustrator shows how music unites and transforms (literally in this case- all the other pupils' weirdness becomes externalised) and how it gets across that once everybody's weirdness, uniqueness, whatever, is out in the open then everybody can be weird together, in one massive happy bunch. Music gives Joey something real-world to escape into, he keeps his head a lot more once he becomes a musician. I loved the fake LP sleeves that Joey way rifling through when he was grounded to the spare room too. 

It's pretty much just an ode to music and its renegades. Kind of like Frank but with a more Fight Club ending. It's a sweet story, easy to read in some ways, unfathomably complicated in others. Moonhead and the Music Machine is an unexpected delight and I'm so glad it's been brought to my attention. I can't wait to see what students think to it.

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