As a writer for The Colbert Report, Frank Lesser has been part of many short satirical segments that mine for humor while maintaining a sharp edge of social commentary in the overcrowded world of politics and current events. Rather than making real news look outlandish, Sad Monsters: Growling On The Outside, Crying On The Inside reverses the formula by grounding the fantastical in the mundane. It’s entering an overcrowded market with a much softer outlook than Colbert, but still manages to maintain an endearing sweetness over its 39 short essays.
In a brief volume that owes a serious debt to David Sedaris’ Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, Lesser personifies all kinds of monsters to hold a funhouse mirror up to humanity. Vampires, zombies, werewolves, succubi, and other film monsters take their turn in the spotlight, narrating in a humorous, detached tone about the lesser-known parts of their lives. “Questioning Godzilla’s Existence” is a series of diary entries from the friendless giant lizard during an existential crisis, while “Missed Possessions” reads like the Missed Connections section on Craigslist, except that it’s about finding love through demonic possession.
The best essays mix the humor of monstrous creatures in human scenarios with a dash of social commentary. “Crypto-Racism” features a gun-nut Bigfoot complaining about mythical-creature border control, trying to stop the “problem with illegals coming across the wardrobe from Narnia.” The narrator of “The Joy Of Unicorns” publicizes the little-known fact that “every abstinent teen gets her own unicorn as her BFF.” Lesser effectively keeps his stories under five pages, short enough that the satire doesn’t stretch too thin over an entire book—the main stumbling block for novels like Pride And Prejudice And Zombies or The Meowmorphosis.
Though it’s rarely insightful, Sad Monsters is largely cute throughout, drawing smiles instead of laughs from “Igor’s Resume,” “Van Helsing’s Patient Notes,” or “The Yeti Wears Prada”—a letter of recommendation for an abominable snowman applying for an editorial-assistant position at Vogue. There’s nothing incredibly new here, in form or in substance. The “Gremlins Owner’s Manual” is particularly derivative, but there is a small delight in stories like “Whoa Oh, Here She Comes,” the humorous repositioning of Hall & Oates’ “Maneater” and other pop songs as actual warnings about mythical monsters.
Lesser crafts his portraits of misunderstood monsters with care, not getting too didactic about any particular message. The interspersed drawings by Willie Real are impressive, though they up the twee factor considerably—the best being a picture of Godzilla sitting atop a building with his own personal rain cloud ruining his day. These are short, sweet stories that may not stick in readers’ memories for long, but Sad Monsters belongs above most of the genre-fare that is only fishing for zeitgeist approval.