Humanity has confirmed over the years that, while getting old is inevitable and, frankly, better than the alternative, it is not necessarily a pleasant experience. Sure, there’s the accumulation of wisdom, but there also comes the gradual breaking down of one’s physical body, exemplified in accumulating aches and pains along with the mental realization that the activities one could do as a young person are no longer possible. That seems to be the overarching theme in artist David Small’s newest collection The Werewolf at Dusk And Other Stories. But Small, through these stories, also explores other dilemmas plaguing the human condition.
The book covers three stories written and drawn by Small. The titular first story is based on a tale by Lincoln Mechel about a werewolf near the end of his life, ruminating on how much of a monster he can claim to be now that his teeth aren’t as sharp. The second tale, a semiautobiographical yet surreal tale called “A Walk in the Old City,” concerns a psychoanalyst who takes a walk in the city only to discover giant spiders around him as he descends deeper and deeper into a dreamworld. The third story is a reinterpretation of Jean Ferry’s “The Tiger in Vogue” (also translated as “The Society Tiger”) and depicts a particular kind of show featuring a tiger wearing a distinguished suit and made to perform in front of a crowd.
Some might remember Small from his award-winning graphic memoir Stitches, while others might have seen his work as an illustrator of children’s books. It is his aesthetic earned from illustrating children’s books that he brings into these stories. Throughout the book, he displays a talent for telling a story with pictures and words, never letting the narration take away from the eye-catching artwork. For those adults who read children’s books, or just those with a particular nostalgia for those books, their eyes and their hearts will be drawn to Small’s collection.
It is indeed lovely artwork found here. Most of the colors Small chooses are mellow blues and shades of gray, except where violently bright colors are used to draw the eye as much as show contrast. These and other well thought out choices are sure to engage readers. Along with the body of the wolf seemingly superimposed over the man in his younger days, the eyes of both man and wolf gleam blood red. The orange of the tiger and the browns of the Nazi uniforms also stand out (and it is rare for the color brown to stand out in such a way). The lines and depictions might bring to mind classical paintings like Edvard Munch’s Scream and, much like a classical painting, these pictures tell a story that goes beyond a few brushstrokes and colors on a canvas.
In fact, though this book very much looks like a children’s book, it stands out for its exploration of adult themes. Not only the pain of growing old and obsolete, but also living in a world where atrocities are common and even seen as entertainment. This book would do well in graphic novel collections wanting to show works that pay homage to a classical aesthetic as well as push the boundaries of the graphic medium.
The Werewolf at Dusk: And Other Stories
By David Small
W. W. Norton & Company, 2024
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)