There’s a secret in a house made of bones in the middle of the woods. John Motts has lost his dog Beth. She wouldn’t have run away, so John thinks someone must have stolen her. Familiar faces suddenly turn into suspects, and John isn’t sure who to trust. His journey to find her brings him to the walrus, who always has sage advice. The walrus lives in a yard next to the neighborhood church, which is piled high with garbage bags filled with the walrus’s possessions. According to the walrus, one must constantly sort their possessions into the appropriate bags so that they know where to find everything, though one must take care not to use too few or too many bags. This advice, as metaphor or practicality, is lost on John, and so he ventures to the woods for answers—the woods which no one must ever enter—where he finds more than he could have expected.
This bizarre short tale was adapted by Gavin Fullerton from a novella by Patrick McHale, who is known for his equally bizarre series Over the Garden Wall. The story seems to take place in a past time—the kids play jacks on the sidewalk, the hairstyles are big, and there’s no digital technology to speak of. The colors are slightly muted and bleed past their outlines, invoking a newsprint-like aesthetic that contributes to a dated timeline.
John Motts is an odd character; always represented as grayscale in a colorful world, he is simplistically cartoonish compared to the people around him, with a large, egg-shaped head that is reminiscent of Bone or Jimmy Corrigan. He’s fairly single-minded, focused only on the task of finding his beloved dog. His behavior and his decision-making processes are slightly strange. For example, when he first notices his dog is missing, he thinks “I should tell the policeman who is my neighbor,” not “I should call 911 to report this to the police,” and he walks to the policeman’s house in order to do so. The whole story feels like a dreamscape that is slightly misaligned with reality; there seems to be an internal logic to the behavior of the characters, but it’s not something you can quite figure out as an outsider. This uncertainty creates a somewhat haunting tone to the story—anything can happen, and there’s nothing quite as frightening as the unknown. Much like a dream, it seems that the longer he spends searching, the more lost he finds himself.
Despite the haunting tone, the story is not particularly scary. This is partially due to John’s attitude—for all that happens to him, he seems to take it in stride, and never seems to be particularly scared. Even the most fearsome character is not drawn as particularly terrifying. Fullerton represents him as cartoonish, like John, and he seems more lonely than anything else. Even when he is enraged and threatening John, John’s reaction is that of anger rather than fear, which only serves to make his opponent sad. In another scene, John is pursued at gunpoint, but rather than worrying for his safety, he asks his aggressor if he has seen his dog.
BAGS (Or a Story Thereof) is a bizarre tale laced with the deep sadness of losing something dear to you. The original novella was released along with a soundtrack (available at somebooks.bandcamp.com) that makes for wonderfully haunting ambiance for this lonesome read.
BAGS (Or a Story Thereof)
By Patrick McHale
Art by Gavin Fullerton
Publisher Age Rating: grade 3-4
NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13), Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18)