A taste of Monkey Food

“Monkey Food: The Complete ‘I Was Seven in ’75’ Collection” is Ellen Forney’s autobiographical look at her life as a kid in the 1970s.

We all know that the 1970s are ripe for harassment. It gave us “The Brady Bunch,” bellbottoms and carpeted walls after all. However, “Monkey Food” doesn’t take the easy, familiar shots at the disco decade. Instead, she warmly cartoons her memories of the era. While she references 1970s mainstays such as Judy Blume books and Pop Rocks, Forney’s graphic novel is more personal than that.

Because of her approach, the book has remained funny and touching years later. You see, the book was published in 1999 following a successful run in several alternative newspapers, and it’s held up well since that time — even after the likes of VH1’s “I Love the 70s.” “Monkey Food” doesn’t recycle old jokes. This isn’t an effort to descimate a decade. It’s about what it’s like to be a kid.

With that goal, “Monkey Food” is drawn in a playful comic strip style that’s simplistic without being simple. Sure it’s drawn with thick, kid-style strokes and cartoonish characters, but you sure won’t see a a 10-page spread on dogs mating in “Peanuts.”

 Yep, 10 whole pages.

That brings us to a key point: Even with its kid-friendly art style, its content is decidedly adult. Inside “Monkey Food” you’ll find stories of dope-smoking parents, nudist camps and drug busts.

And while Forney readily admits that her parents were into an “alternative lifestyle,” it’s also apparent that life gave the future artist just the right perspective to dissect the decade and turn a critical eye on her own past. Rather than just accepting things the way they were, Forney has enough hindsight to pick apart her life and everything that happened around her.

Again, “Monkey Food” is packed with minor details that will help revive your memories of the 1970s. She tackles shag rugs, “The Bionic Woman,” God’s eye wall art, tips on feathering your hair and  using CB radios, but that’s not the whole story here. The story is a young girl’s life revealed.

My favorite part of the book wasn’t a particular story, but rather Ellen’s constant bug-eyed looks of horror. Just about every page has Li’l Ellen, eyes fanned wide and pupils dialated as she wards off humiliation, battles her brother and frets about the impending doom that could only be dreamt by a seven year old.

Sure, “Monkey Food” has its dose of nostalgia, but more than anything, it’s about being a kid, and that’s a universal memory no matter what decade you remember.

Monkey Food: The Complete ‘I Was Seven in ’75’ Collection
Fantagraphics Books
ISBN 1-56097-362-5
Art and story by Ellen Forney


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