fantasy and science fiction book reviewsMoonhead and the Music Machine by Andrew Rae

MOONHEADI’ve recently had the good fortune to discover comics and graphic novels published by Nobrow Press, and if you’ve never heard of Nobrow before, Moonhead and the Music Machine by Andrew Rae is an excellent place to start. It is a stunning graphic novel that is representative of Nobrow‘s highly selective catalog. Nobrow puts out high quality art books, so if you are a fan of sequential art, you’ll want to get your hands on their new releases. In addition to high quality content, each book has unique dimensions that are well-suited to the nature of each individual project. As a result, the books don’t look like all the other comic books put out by most companies. Nobrow even uses higher quality paper than other publishers. They also have developed a printing process that one notices immediately. When I took a sample of different Nobrow books to show the students in my college English classes, they all wanted to pick them up right away and flip through them: I have never had such a positive response to a stack of books (including other comic books) from a group of college students.

moonhead 2At first glance, Moonhead and the Music Machine is a bizarre graphic novel told in vivid, day-glow colors about a strange kid with a moon for a head. But at a very basic level, it is also a tale with which we are all familiar: a high school boy’s coming-of-age story. Joey Moonhead is a dreamer who doesn’t quite fit in. He daydreams about the popular girl while being friends with only the outsiders. He is picked on by the popular boy and his friends, chastised by his teachers, and misunderstood by his parents who scold him for not doing better in school.

This basic plot may sound a bit too common for all my talk of uniqueness, but the manner in which the story is told makes Moonhead and the Music Machine worthy of five stars. The fact that Joey has a moon for a head allows the artist to convey the conventional in new ways. For example, at the start of the book, Joey sleeps in and almost doesn’t make it to school; however, only his head sleeps in. His body, all dressed for school, makes it to class on time and is sitting at his desk as roll is called. His head barely flies into school on time for him to answer as his name is called. Also, his fairly common daydreams about the popular girl are given uncommon presentation with vivid images of those dreams: his head — sans body — flies off into a flowery landscape with the blonde high school beauty.

MoonheadFinally, the resolution combines the common, the trivial, with the fantastic. The themes in the stories will resonate with anyone who is in high school or went to high school, but the artwork will make you want to show Moonhead and the Music Machine to everyone you know because of how different it is. The story’s crucial moment is the talent show during which Moonhead, with the help of his friend ghost boy, shows his peers the Music Machine he made. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there is absolute brilliance in this story: How Moonhead comes to understand his relationship with ghost boy, how his music changes many of the other students, how that impact is shown visually, and how Moonhead deals with his new-found popularity. But most amazing is that this graphic novel shows how effective visual art is at telling stories about sound, about music, and about how important music is to our lives, particularly when we are teenagers, dealing with the stress of coming of age. Do not miss out on Moonhead and the Music Machine, and make sure you start looking for other great works put out by Nobrow Press. You’ll certainly be hearing more about Nobrow‘s offerings from me in the near future.


  • Brad Hawley

    BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

    View all posts