The best comic strips offer something far beyond beautiful art and pithy, clever lines of often funny dialogue – they take us somewhere reassuringly special, a place removed from our own reality that reminds us of things we have either left behind or which have fallen, hopefully just temporarily, off life’s radar.
Wallace the Brave is one of those rare comic strips that occupies this diversionary sweet sport, taking us back with glorious happy detail to childhood where everything seemed possible (and in Wallace’s expansively imaginative case, “everything” is the only word that applies) and happiness as an unconscious natural product of being alive.
It’s especially poignant when, say, you have just lost your sole remaining parent to cancer and you desperately not want to not so much escape somewhere but simply remember what it was like to feel untrammelled (school aside because UGH), free and unaware that life comes with some pretty hefty limitations and onerous burdens in adulthood.
That may sound like an awful lot to pile upon one comic strip but if you take a lot at strips like Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes and Cul de Sac which share a lot of existentially pleasing DNA with Wallace the Brave, who happily lives in the evocatively cosy town of Snug Harbor, evoking the glories and perceived burdens of childhood (looking back, not so onerous after all) pretty much comes with the finely inked-in territory.
Stepping into a book such as the just-released Snug Harbor Stories: A Wallace the Brave Collection!, you immediately feel the burdens of life slip away – it’s a magically weightless transformation that comes with some fairly weighty insights, the kind that somehow help you figure out the present by taking a carefree deep dive into the past.
In Wallace’s world, where his parents, though often exasperated, love him, it is entirely possible to make top hats out of pancakes (you need the plans, dad!), spent your summers with your family performing in a fiery circus act atop biplanes, go hunting for Sasquatch (with the appropriate amount of blueberry face paint, of course) and imagine a hobgoblin lives under the own bridge, felt only by a kindly fisherman.
It is also not surprising that your friend may swallow a firefly and light up from the inside (awww Spud, don’t go changing a thing), or that animated condiments may fight it out atop a restaurant table or that gorgonzola cheese can mutate over a weekend in a neglected school desk and turn into a sentient being hungry for human flesh.
Yep, in the mind of a child like Wallace who hasn’t yet learnt that horrible, and often untrue lesson of adulthood that some things simply aren’t possible, if you think it, dream it, want it or expect it, it will happen.
And thanks to the clever, witty, insightful writing and evocative artwork of one Will Henry whose takes his inspiration, in part, from his hometown of Jamestown, Rhode Island, it almost always does.
There is a gloriously unfettered limitlessness to Wallace the Brave which accepts as childlike gospel that impossible simply doesn’t exist as a word.
Reading a collection of these comic strips, or even reading them once a day in happy snug little moments that inject some heady joy back into exhausting cubicle-dwelling days, you begin to feel that telling yourself you can’t do something is a huge betrayal of life’s many and varied possibilities.
That’s not say that Wallace the Brave is a fantastical world where everything you want to happen does actually happen.
Even in Wallace’s world, there are rules and boundaries – his parents are actually pretty good at what they do, and impose just the right amount of rules and regulations and boundaries that Wallace and his amusingly feral younger brother Sterling, are secure in the exact parameters of their figurative neighbourhood.
But within these boundaries, which annoyingly for Wallace at times, come with some fairly immutable physical laws and reasonably fair societal conventions, Wallace is allowed to dream, to play, to imagine, to hope and to act, confident that while not everything will work out, he’s at least allowed to see if it might.
It’s a magical place for a childhood to grow up, and it’s one I was allowed to inhabit where the parameters were clear but what happened within them was solely the product of my ridiculously fertile imagination.
As Wallace, Spud and the redoubtable Amelia, who by the way does not want to be a princess for Halloween, go through life, even when it takes place at school where adulthood exists, in barely-tolerated guise, in nascent form, the idea that fisherman like Wallace’s dad fight sea monsters, sail every last one of the seven seas and find lost treasure isn’t romanticisation it’s actual life.
Sure, the adults in us know life is rarely that purple-patchy wonderful and comes with a whole more dross than anyone should have to endure, but in childhood, it’s all cream buns and limitless possibility, where the best, not the worst, is the giddily happy default.
Henry captures this extraordinarily wonderfully, not simply in his simple clean but highly immersive artwork, which creates a place so bucolically perfect living there seems not only desirable but entirely possible, but in his dialogue which is funny, poignant, thoughtful, heartfelt and gorgeously bonkers.
Just like childhood, which pays as little heed as possible to what is and imagines what could be, all the while running through the fields or into the waves with carefree abandon.
Maybe life isn’t as wonderful as depicted in Wallace the Brave, but when your reading a collection of Will Henry’s heartwarmingly funny strips, you know in the deepest part of your inner child that it most certainly is, and being allowed to return there, however briefly, is a gift without any estimation.