Comics review: Are We Lost Yet? by Will Henry (Wallace the Brave collection #4)

(courtesy Simon & Schuster)

There’s a lot of things we gain on our headlong rush to adulthood – increased self-choice, that special someone (hopefully), personal and career fulfillment; all of them mostly good and wonderful things – but there are some very precious things we lose.

One of them is that sense of carefree abandonment that comes with a loving childhood and secure family home – no matter how awful the world around us might be, and for this reviewer there were bullies everywhere 24/7 from kindergarten through to the final year of high school, you can take refuge in the endless possibilities and wonder of being a kid.

If you’ve forgotten what that’s like, and honestly, it’s a hard thing to do hang onto (though not possible), then one way to get it back, at least for the time it takes to read 171 pages of comic strips is to dive into a Wallace the Brave collection, a love letter to the surreal innocence and fun of childhood by Will Henry (the pen name of William Henry Wilson, whose own growing up took place in the town of Jamestown, Rhode Island.

Snug Harbor, in which the adventures of Wallace McLellan are set, draws much of its inspiration from Jamestown, and it’s honestly a delight to return to this piece of cosy small town America in the latest Wallace the Brave collection, Are We Lost Yet?

If you note a sense of optimism and hopefulness in a title that would usually cause some alarm (no one likes losing their way, right?), then you’ve nailed the very essence of this wondrously lovely comic strip which harkens back to the types of carefree childhoods evident in the comic strips like Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbes (with which it shares a lot of surreal-adventures-of-a-super-game-for-anything-young-boy DNA) and Cul De Sac.

Simply put, reading a Wallace the Brave strip, or ideally as many as you can get your hands on, is like bike riding with your friends on a summer’s day through the countryside or, perhaps, searching for a fish-man coming ashore to sell you vacuum cleaners?

I’m sorry, what what now?

Ah yes, that is another joyful part of Wallace the Brave – its capacity for playfully OTT flights of fantasy when you imagine a simple water puddle leads through a portal to another dimension or that Bigfoot and mermaids hang out by the seaside drinking coffee or what it might be like to bring the beach inside to the pinball parlour.

All these imaginative drops of speculatively silly joy are part and parcel of Are We Lost Yet?, a collection that takes us back to Snug Harbor and Wallace, besties Spud, riven with anxiety and often trailing along nervously in his BFF’s wake, eager rulebreaker Amelia and newcomer Rose, a nerd who knows things and is the rule-observant to everyone else yang (she’s even a hall monitor for goodness sake!)

Naturally we also get to spend a lot of time with Wallace’s weird younger bug-eating brother Sterling and his long-suffering but fun parents who while they have to enforce fairly normal rules like wearing clothes and going to school on the first day after summer break, are also not averse, in this case Wallace’s cool surfing mum, to joining their sons on the second floor of the house to soak an unsuspecting father and husband with water or attending Wallace’s annual end of the school year, shoe toss into the water:

WALLACE: “Mom, Dad! You came!”
MOM: “Why fight it?”
DAD: “Popcorn?”

While Calvin’s parents tended to look askance at their son’s highly imaginative antics, they also evinced the same kind of weariness of Wallace’s hip parents who veer between going with the flow and doing the enforcement of authority thing which Wallace, despite chafing against rules and regs, does go along with.

He is, at heart, a good kid so what you don’t get in Wallace the Brave is a tearaway, obnoxious nightmare who makes you want to run for the hills; rather, what Henry doles out with vivacity, evocatively bucolic visuals and sparklingly rich dialogue and fulsome characterisation, is a good kid simply being a kid, and while he bends the rules and has flights of fantasy worthy of Walter Mitty, it’s all in good fun, the perfectly expressed rambunctiousness of carefree childhood that just happens to feature Spud being mistaken for a raccoon by a nearsighted animal control officer, Amelia spectacularly throwing a pumpkin off the school roof – the visual alone on that one is reason enough to grab Are We Lost Yet? – shirtless chocolate dances in the kitchen.

It’s this pure evocation of the sweet, unfettered joys of childhood, soundly and safely within the bosom of a loving family, secure friendship network and a cosy, caring small town with just the right amount of quirk to go with an idyllic vibe, that makes Wallace the Brave such an escapist balm for the adult weary soul.

And it’s what makes Are We Lost Yet? such a brilliantly delightful read – we get to find out what the protocol is if Wallace is ever abducted by aliens, if you can wear a fully functioning aquarium as a hat and and whether mums, well one in particular, is happy to join her son on the mud flats, all while reliving the very best parts of being a kid in a town and with family and friends that make you feel as if everything is going to be all right.

It’s a great big hug of a joy to read, a break from the bigness and overwhelming demands of adulthood, where the only things you need to worry about are not wearing shoes, deciding whether you should greet people with “Hello” or “Jell-o” and whether a small, smooth rock makes the perfect Christmas present for your mum (yes it does, and yes, it will warm your heart).

Related Post