While there can be no real successor to the humor, warmth, and wry philosophy of Calvin and Hobbes, Will Henry comes in a close second with his quirky comic strip, Wallace the Brave.

Set in the near past in the quirky town of Snug Harbor, Wallace and his friends, the square-headed and anxious friend Spud and new girl Amelia, explore the town, the ocean, and experience all the fun and nostalgia of a screen-free childhood in their little fishing village. The setting is contemporary enough for them to have a teacher with dark skin, the girls wearing pants and playing with the boys, and the occasional mention of electronics. However, the kids wander freely across the little fishing village, limited only by their imaginations (and their fears), and summer is a time of unlimited fun with no resource to video games, television, or cellphones but plenty of trips to the local comics store, ice cream, and Wallace’s grand pinball ambitions at the local arcade.

Some strips keep the story going for a few pages, as in the epic and milk-snortingly funny story of a snake found in the boys’ bathroom. Wallace wants to save the snake, but is reluctant to touch it. Spud’s anxieties come out full force, as he loudly declaims “Wallace!! It’s a slithery rope of DEATH!!” While Amelia is too disappointed by her trip to the boys’ bathroom to investigate the disturbance. Alas, the story ends tragically when they slip the snake into the wrong locker and the gerbil brought for show-and-tell is no more. “Serves her right for havin’ such a dinky pet,” mutters Amelia, and that’s that.

Other stories are told in a few quickly drawn panels, including Wallace’s grand dream of getting a llama, an analysis of the motives of seagulls, reflections on the joys (and tribulations) of being a grown-up, and more. There are a few outdated characters and strips. Gordon, the hall monitor, is a stereotypical nerd, complete with asthma, who shows up in a few strips. Spud’s anxieties are played for laughs—he’s scared of giant fish, monsters, heights, and pretty much everything else. This is not surprising since things keep happening to him, like a skull suddenly showing up in his cut-paper snowflake. Although some peripheral characters like the teacher have darker skin, all the main characters are white.

Henry’s art has a quirky, sketchy quality that clearly marks his individual style. Some of the characters have long, rectangular heads, while others have more rounded looks with long, pencil-like noses. Wallace is a happy-go-lucky character with a slight smile as he meanders his way through life. Spud features circles under his eyes and a worried mouth, pulled tight. Amelia is all about the frontal attack, from her ebullient red ponytail to her straight eyebrows and determined mouth. A few scattered trees curl and twist their branches, and bugs, leaves, and flowers swirl and dance across the background, giving a feeling of a constantly blowing wind.

Genuinely funny, with moments of introspection on what it’s like to be an adult—and a kid—this is sure to entertain both children and adults with both a nod to a nostalgic past and a wry tip of the hat to the modern world. Hand to fans of Calvin and Hobbes and other popular newspaper strips.

Wallace the Brave
by Will Henry
ISBN: 9781449489984
amp! comics for kids, 2017
Publisher Age Rating:

  • Jennifer

    | She/Her Youth Services Librarian, Matheson Memorial Library

    Reviewer

    Jennifer Wharton is the Youth Services Librarian at Matheson Memorial Library in Elkhorn, Wisconsin where she maintains the juvenile and young adult graphic novel collections and was responsible for creating the library’s adult graphic novel collection. She is constantly looking for great new comics for kids and teens and new ways to incorporate graphic storytelling in programming. Jennifer blogs for preschool through middle grade at JeanLittleLibrary and has an MLS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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