Billed on its cover as “a delightful tale of adventure, imagination, ant farms, and shrunken heads”, The Adventures of Tony Millionaire’s Sock Monkey may appear at first glance to be a bit of innocent fun aimed at children. However, the short stories within its pages are aimed distinctly at older readers, frequently showing a harsh collision between childlike wonder and cruel reality. The exploits of Uncle Gabby (the titular Sock Monkey) and his friend Mr Crow always begin innocently enough, but have a habit of ending in dire misunderstanding and violence.
Much of the compelling strangeness of these stories hinges on Millionaire’s artwork. Beautifully detailed in stark black and white, Sock Monkey looks like a Victorian picture book, emphasising the strange limbo between children’s fantasy and the slightly hopeless’ real world’ these stories seem to exist in. Uncle Gabby himself is an endearingly lanky-limbed, behatted character drawn with energy and humour, and the wide button eyes and flustered, flapping wings of Mr Crow visually convey his near-constant state of mild exasperation (Mr Crow is a small, stitched crow who, at least initially, is oblivious to the fact that he and Gabby are children’s toys, and is baffled and angered by his repeated failure to achieve flight. Also, he has a drinking problem). All round, it’s a great looking book and it’s easy to pore over certain pages and panels just admiring the sheer detail of it all.
Then there’s the beautifully verbose, flowery dialogue that Millionaire gives his characters. Whether ‘rescuing’ a colony of ants by throwing them out into the garden (as hungry crows circle overhead), or trying to return a shrunken head to its island of origin, the back and forth between Gabby and Mr Crow is great fun, and their blissfully innocent, misguided interactions with the world around them make for some genuinely smile-cracking moments. Their amazement at fairly everyday items is a repeated source of amusingly elegant, poetic language (for example, upon discovering a chandelier, an amazed Uncle Gabby waxes lyrical about this “succulent, starry palace… heaven’s constellated wilderness”).
Uncle Gabby and Mr Crow are essentially innocent children’s toys who, in their eagerness to help their friends and discover more of the world, unwittingly cause a trail of mayhem. Despite this, they remain loveably ignorant of the chaos they unleash, and they are fundamentally good-natured and charming throughout. Overall, Sock Monkey is funny, eccentric, and ever so slightly menacing, and a true gem for anyone looking for something a little left-field in their comics.