April 08, 2021


Wallace the Brave 3: Wicked Epic Adventures. By Will Henry. Andrews McMeel. $11.99.

Where, Oh Where, Is Barnaby Bear? By Wendy Rouillard. Andrews McMeel. $8.99.

     Slightly skewed versions of everyday childhood events are the stock-in-trade of Will Henry’s gently evocative Wallace the Brave comics, whose third book collection focuses mostly on Wallace and best friend Spud – although Wallace’s other best friend, Amelia, gets her due, and so does Wallace’s distinctly peculiar little brother, Sterling. There is an underlying pleasant warmth to all the quotidian doings in Wallace the Brave, with the world mostly perceived and experienced through children’s eyes – a refreshing approach in our ultra-cynical era. Wallace and his family and friends have only the slightest contact with technology (Wallace’s dad is a lobster fisherman), and most of their interactions feel timeless. One strip has Wallace and Spud “hitchhiking to Bolivia,” with Wallace carrying the traditional and very old-fashioned bundle of belongings tied to a pole. One has Wallace and Spud contemplating the freedom of summer vacation, which to Wallace means “freedom to do whatever we want” and to Spud means “freedom to order a large pizza with any toppings we desire” – and when Wallace urges Spud to “think bigger,” Spud says, “Extra large.” Summer vacation is also Wallace’s cue to engage in “the tradition of casting them [his shoes] into the depths of the ocean,” since he will not be wearing them for three months. Wallace the Brave includes a certain amount of fantasizing – particularly nicely drawn by Henry – such as Spud figuring out that his superpower is to “take naps on criminals to slow them down” (the panel showing him doing just that is delightful); and Spud fearing bridges because “one day a troll is gonna pop out and ask me topical trivia questions” (and the immense, looming troll asking “what is the northernmost state capital?” is perfect). If Spud, with his large, refrigerator-shaped head, is always a bit askew in the world, Wallace has his own run-ins with reality. In one multi-strip sequence, Amelia produces a “Tibetan red head chili pepper” so hot that “I needed a fake I.D. to buy this baby,” and of course Wallace eats it, and the multiple drawings of his reactions are hilarious – right up to the one in which he exclaims, “I can smell the light!” This is also a rare technology-including sequence, showing a Tibetan pepper-growing monk talking on a cell phone and Amelia taking a video of Wallace’s crazed pepper reaction and saying, “This is gonna get a bazillion views.” The characters in Wallace the Brave have distinctive personalities, and stay so true to them that the occasional deviations are themselves topics of Henry’s humor. Thus, one strip here has Amelia talking in a decidedly non-Amelia way to another girl who invites her for a visit (“I’m, like, super totally thrilled” and “T-T-Y-L”) – then explaining to Wallace that “her house has central air.” That is definitely Amelia; and Wallace and Spud are equally definitely themselves; and even Wallace’s parents and brother Sterling are characterized cleverly and precisely. Only Wallace would describe “a sweet job” as being one where you are “the person who wears slabs of butter and skates around Paul Bunyan’s pancakes,” and only Henry could visualize that scene so unerringly – or add to it with Spud’s remark, “I once ate a stick of butter in two bites.” Wallace the Bold does not go boldly into new territory so much as it perfects a journey into the well-worn but always fascinating realm of childhood wonder and almost-reality.

     Wallace the Brave is a comic strip for adults, but the notion of everyday adventures works for children, too – even very young ones. In fact, fantasy-adventures in books for the youngest readers and pre-readers can be a lot of fun and can help introduce children to the overall notion that books can take you anywhere and “anywhen.” Wendy Rouillard does just that in a charming little board book called Where, Oh Where, Is Barnaby Bear? It opens with a nighttime scene of anthropomorphic animals using flashlights to search for Barnaby, and continues with simple and nicely done illustrations showing lots of possible places where Barnaby could be. “Is he in a balloon?” He is seen floating above a shoreline, with a lighthouse below and a smiling whale in the water. “Has he flown to the moon?” The moon, planets and stars smile at Barnaby in his spaceship, which has a bold “B” on the side. The initial also appears on an aircraft and bear-sized helmet: “Is he flying a plane?” Or, perhaps, “Is he caught in the rain?” No initial in that illustration – just Barnaby in slicker and galoshes beneath a multicolored umbrella. Wherever Barnaby is, or rather may possibly be, he is shown smiling and enjoying himself, and the creatures around him are happy, too, including fish when Barnaby might be fishing and crabs when he may be “filling his net with crabs at sunset.” Eventually, children find out just where Barnaby Bear is: asleep in his cozy bed with the animals seen at the start of the book, and with the moon and a star smiling in on the scene. So a bedtime story turns out to be what this book is – but it is also an easy-to-follow adventure tale and maybe even, if adults suggest it to kids, a story about dreams, for all Barnaby’s imagined activities could simply be things about which he is dreaming while peacefully asleep. There is nothing grand or large-scale here – just a sense that it is fun to imagine all sorts of out-of-the-ordinary activities while home, safe, in bed.

No comments:

Post a Comment