Banana Sunday Makes Noise With Silent Comedy: Advanced Review Of A Simian OGN

by Rachel Bellwoar

I didn’t think a graphic novel about three monkeys going to high school would be the one to remind me that sound is superfluous, and Banana Sunday isn’t a silent comic, but rarely has dialogue been so dispensable, or art been given the space to lead.
Let’s put that another way. Banana Sunday could be a silent comic. It chooses not to be. Every line that comes out of gorilla Go-Go’s mouth is pure gold, and this isn’t a knock on Paul Tobin’s writing, but sometimes, until dialogue gets taken away, you forget how much information can be imparted without words, and Banana Sunday takes every opportunity to let artist Colleen Coover shine.

There’s the main story being told by the monkeys’ guardian, Kirby, but the monkeys steal the show, and frequently I found myself checking to see what they were up to before taking in Kirby’s dialogue. They have their own goals and agendas, and aren’t always hanging on Kirby’s words, so each panel asks for more time from readers to investigate what they’re up to, at the same time that Kirby’s talking with her peers.
The thing is Go-Go, Chuck (the orangutan), and Knobby (the spider monkey) can talk, too. That’s why they’re enrolled in a human high school, but where you’d think that would make them chattier than primates already are, the first three pages are almost devoid of noise. You may not realize they can talk when the bus drops them off at Forest Edge High School, but the information you’re given visually about their personalities (Chuck is an intellectual, Knobby’s a romantic, and Go-Go likes bananas and sleep) more than makes up for it.
As they carry out their slapstick routines, Kirby (who’s a teenage girl starting high school, too) tries to make the adjustment easier for them, but even her new best friend, Nickels, wants to break the story of her talking monkeys for the school paper.
Originally released in 2006, this is the first time Banana Sunday’s been published in color and colorist, Rian Sygh, adds a 60’s vibe that’s bright and wholesome, like Bye Bye Birdie, yet is also able to express Kirby’s anger, when she endures some serious bullying at school (adults are a rare sighting in Banana Sunday but while I believe Kirby’s bully could physically hurt Kirby without getting caught, the posters she hangs up around school should get her noticed by the faculty). There’s this purple aura Kirby gets around her head when she’s mad, and I wish more comics would do this to indicate anger, because it’s that heat where you don’t have to say anything. The anger emanates off you.
I never read the original Banana Sunday but, in an introduction, Tobin explains that other edits were made as well, and there’s something really appealing about Oni Press giving the creative team this chance to bring it back. You don’t always see creators return to their earlier works and, since Banana Sunday Tobin and Coover have created the Eisner winning series, Bandette, but Tobin acknowledges wanting to revise certain parts, and that’s a feeling many writers should be able to relate to from experience.
While Banana Sunday could afford to lose its male lead, Martin, a love interest that feeds into false expectations about high school romance, Nickels is a character I’ve never seen before (and that’s saying something, since “teen reporter” is basically young adult fiction’s favorite job). Maybe lucking out on a best friend so quickly is unrealistic, too, but Nickels is worth the stretch, as she crashes Kirby’s date and unabashedly crosses the line, in the name of her journalistic calling (the fact that she has 5¢ shirt, too, which completely eluded me for a while, is a stroke of genius).
Go-Go is another character you could gush about for hours. Introduced as the Dopey member of his primate trio, his character is expanded upon with amazing inventiveness, and, when you’re most susceptible, his eyes might make yours water, he’s such a sweet ape.
Is an education really what these talking monkeys are after, or is Kirby holding something back from Nickels after all?
For fans of The Three Stooges and sitcoms set in high school, like Sabrina the Teenage Witch, find out when Banana Sunday goes on sale October 24th from Oni Press.

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