There is an exuberant delight in every single panel in Wallace the Brave by Will Henry, the pen name of William Henry Wilson who lives with his wife and kids in Jamestown, Rhode Island from which he draws inspiration for the bucolically quirky of Snug Harbor in which the strip he has drawn from 2015 is set.
Centred on the fearless figure of Wallace, who has yet to find a challenge he wouldn’t accept and a banal situation to be made all the richer by his limitless, fantastically-inclined imagination, and his friends, the far more timid Spud and feisty Amelia, Wallace the Brave is one of those brilliantly rich comic trips that takes you back to the heady days of carefree childhood where sea monsters lie in wait off the shoreline and carnivorous butterflies as big as anacondas stalk the murky waters of the Amazon.
Channeling a distinct Calvin and Hobbes vibe but with a voice very much its own, the strip is one those escapist pieces of joy that make being an adult, which seems determined to stop all the wonder and magical possibility of life, suddenly inordinately wonderful again.
As you lose yourself in the perfect little seaside town of Snug Harbor, where grand adventures seem to lurk around every forested corner and teachers must contend with kids who see the world very differently to we mere mortals of more advanced age, Wallace the Brave rewards you with a vibrancy of carefree silliness that feels very grounded and full of love, friendship and a warm sense of belonging.
The third collection to be released of Will Henry’s genius comic stripping, just-released Wicked Epic Adventures (another Wallace the Brave collection) – it follows Wallace the Brave (2018) and Snug Harbor Stories (2019) is full to the brim of warmth and whimsy, happiness and flights of imagination so sustained and extravagant, and borne with stoic parental patience by Wallace’s parents (who must also contend with his hilariously strange brother Sterling) taking us from the barely-tolerated surrounds of Moonstone Elementary School to the many appealing nooks and crannies of an island that, in a reverse of the TARDIS, seems to be way bigger on the outside.
Admitting in an interview with Rhode Island Monthly that much of the Spud-unsettling adventuring that Wallace gets up to is autobiographical – “I’m pretty much writing stories about growing up. Ask my mother, she’d have a lot to say about it.” – Henry has a well-judged handle on what it’s like to be happily and contentedly lost in the myriad joys of childhood.
Wicked Epic Adventures stays very much in that vein, offering up a world where, sure, Wallace, Spud and Amelia have to go to school which interrupts the fun of life – let’s be honest, almost all of us thought that, even if secretly we loved school (this reviewer loved the learning, not so much the bullying but that’s a whole other story) – but where the possibility of weird and wonderful things happening is only a moment away in Wallace’s imaginatively fecund mind.
To illustrate just rich Wallace the Brave is in gloriously odd departures from the boring surrounds of real life, this collection opens with Wallace telling Spud, poor frightened of life Spud, that “a giant squid was found in Snug Harbor”, an enthralling exciting fact for Wallace but an invitation to fear yet another thing for his bestie who responds to Wallace’s breathless announcement with “Guess I’m diggin’ out the ol’ night light”.
Naturally being the kind, caring friend he is, Wallace understands Spuds fears and seeks to reassure him? Yeah, not so much with the avidly self-referential Wallace following up Spud’s fearful note to self with “KILLER CALAMAAAAARI”.
He also instils in Spud a respect for the natural world, or perhaps that should be the unnatural world, when he tells him that jellyfish, far from being “disgusting” are actually worth being kind to for a highly out-there reason.
“Spud, be kind to the jellyfish. One day they’re gonna float up to the mothership and give their final report. Trust me, you want to be on their good side.”
There are, of course the usual heartbeats of childhood thrown into the more gorgeously over the top elements.
We see Wallace break his arm and make the most of the celebrity it brings him (while his mother, who is kickass surfer and sees hurricane-induced swells as a thing of possibility, not fear; hmm, wonder where Wallace gets his bravado from?), and watch him spend time with his dad, a lobster fishermen, who handles his son’s flights of hilarious fantasy with the consummate ease of someone who likely had the same thoughts himself as a kid.
The giddy joy of Wicked Epic Adventures and indeed and of the daily Wallace the Brave comic strips Henry produces, is that it manages to be both madcap imaginative and heartfelt and sweet, a wonderfully centred place where your parents love you, your teacher somehow survives your more outlandish moments while teaching you, and your friends are always there even when you decide you’re going to go trick-or-treating at the creepy Finnegan guest house which is, in the unassailable wisdom of childhood, most definitely haunted.
Being an adult isn’t all bad, it’s true but in the midst of commuting, paying bills and trying to get all the things on your day-to-day list of Things To Do done, it’s nice to have a place like Wallace the Brave to escape to where you can imagine there’s a job spreading butter on Paul Bunyan’s giant pancake stack, where you superhero power could be napping on criminals to slow them down, and where your home, if you’re really lucky, might get picked up in a hurricane and dropped onto an island where colossal iguanas are the dominant species, changing your life forever and banishing lacklustre humdrum for the duration.