Childhood is a magical, wonderful time.
In the world of Wallace the Brave, drawn by Will Henry, the pen name of Jamestown, Rhode Island-based Will Wilson, it’s all that and more, a whimsical, fabulous place where you can muse on what it would be like to “heroically [ride] a llama to school in front of grandiose sunrise”, speculate whether the gnarled stone wall on which you’re walking saw some serious sabretooth companionship, and dream of how much fun it would be to live in a house atop a giant tortoise so you never got bored with your location.
Or what about wishing you could have a rhino or a talking pelican as a pet? Speculate that prints in the snow were made by a garrulous multi-legged monster, and picture the fun you’d have with an accordion-playing gnu.
Such is the delightfully oddball childhood of Wallace, “a bold and curious little boy” who lives in Snug Harbor with his fisherman dad who has a dry sense of humour and a willingness to push boundaries, his loving but no-nonsense mum and his off-the-wall weird brother Sterling who is best described as lovably feral.
Throw in school friends Spud – a running gag is that Wallace’s dad can never remember his name – and ballsy Amelia, who doesn’t quite get the nerdism of her two male friends, and you have one of those comic strip casts that are witty, silly, sweet and above all, a joy to spend time with.
Coming in cold when I first saw the collection on a web page somewhere, I had no idea how much of a delight Henry’s Calvin and Hobbes-ish strip would be.
Beautifully-coloured worldbuilding and brilliant characterisation, such that you pretty much get Wallace and his idiosyncratic family and friends within the first few strips, give the strip the air of the lost world of childhoods past where filling in time meant racing around town, spending time in comic bookstores, imagining that the drab reality of life is way cooler and more exciting that might otherwise be the case, and lending your expansive imagination run gleefully riot.
According to a piece on Henry in The Sun Chronicle, Wallace the Brave reflects the artist’s own relaxed childhood, and while he denies he and Wallace are too alike in an interview on The Huffington Post – “I don’t believe I was THAT rambunctious as a kid. My mother may disagree” – you have to imagine that Henry’s inner child has a fairly substantial role in shaping his engagingly cheeky protagonist.
One of the things that drew me to the strip almost immediately is its absence of any real dark elements; there are no noxious bullies, Wallace is never horribly naughty and malicious, acting much as you’d expect a happily well-adjusted kid who’s well-raised and lovingly-parented to be, and school is trying and boring at times but never too horrible.
Some might think this is unrealistic but the joy of Wallace the Brave is that it gives us, much like Calvin and Hobbes did, and does, a window into the kind of childhood of which we were all capable of, and might have wished for, but perfectly never exactly realised.
While I was deeply-loved by my mum and dad, and had a secure, content childhood in some senses – days spend riding my dragster bike across town and sailing LEGO ships down now-filled in streams were carefree ones by anyone’s notion – I was insidiously and endlessly bullied from kindergarten through to my second-last year of school, and so strips like Henry’s bucolically mischievous, rampantly and amusingly imaginative, and sweetly funny Wallace the Brave give me the chance to live out a childhood I sort of had but never fully.
If wish fulfillment could manifest as ink and paper – Henry still draws by hand, describing himself as “a 32 year old dinosaur [who’s all] pen, paper, ink and watercolor” (The Huffington Post) – and I could relive my ideal childhood, it would most certainly find form as Wallace the Brave.
I’m sure there are people who might find this sort of quirky idealism a little twee in our cynical postmodern age, but the popularity of Wallace the Brave would suggest that a great many more people find its adventurously, cheekily sweet outlook just the tonic in a world-weary world that’s forgotten the value of some pretty important things:
“Henry hopes that readers get a laugh out of Wallace the Brave. He also hopes they appreciate the sense of nature that the comic exudes and the strong bonds of friendship and family.” (The Sun Chronicle)
Let’s face it – while nature is getting a clobbering at the moment thanks to climate change deniers, there is something deeply healing and rewarding from being it and connected to it; even more so, when that connection includes the powerful closeness of ties to family and friends.
Like Mutts, Henry’s endlessly joy-inducing world inspires you to believe the world can be a whole lot better than it is, and sure reality might try and disabuse of that notion, but I like the idea of trying rather than simply giving up and surrendering all the concrete, isolation and negativity of the modern world.
Henry’s real achievement is restoring our belief in some fundamental building blocks of a well-loved and happy life while giving us a good giggle and a soul-restoring laugh, and frankly if that’s not a life well-used, then I don’t know what it.
Make sure you read Wallace the Brave – it is indisputably good for what ails you, and while like Wallace you might find reality strangely resistant to your flights of imaginative hopefulness, you’ll be far better off conjuring up a world where a net full of flying fish might take your father off his fishing boat into the sky or giant cyclops skulls sit just below the ground than not even bothering in the first place.