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REVIEW: Missing

REVIEW: Missing

Aneesh Chaganty, Will Merrick, and Nick Johnson have spent the last few years slowly building an anthology of films that deal with missing people and the growing sophistication of technology in our lives. They arrived on the scene with Searching in 2018, told entirely through computer screens. Then came Run in 2020, and now, after a Covid-19 delay, Missing. Chaganty directed the first two with Merrick and Johnson as editors; but now the editors have become screenwriters and make their directorial debut with the new film.

They have intertwined the characters from the three films so you actually get some closure for Run with dialogue in Missing.

The new film swaps the father seeking his daughter from the first film as this time, teenager June (Storm Reid) uses her laptop and computer skills to track the whereabouts of her mother, Grace (Nia Long), who has disappeared in Colombia with her new boyfriend Kevin (Ken Leung). Since she can’t leave America, June finds Javier (Joaquim de Almeida), a gig worker, to do the legwork in South America.

The film is the best sort of onion, with every new layer revealing twists and turns, upending what we thought only minutes before. No one is who they appear to be and June, still mourning her dead father, feels increasingly alone, isolated, and just a tad paranoid.  That she relies entirely on her computer for a real connection to the world works as a metaphor for so many teens (although, as a teacher, I jealous at how adept she is with the laptop compared with my own high schoolers).

There’s enough action and danger tossed into the story that we’re not just sitting and watching June and Javier do the real work, similar to a Twitch experience. Here, the tyro directors do a fine job ratcheting up the tension and handle the action just fine. They’re helped with a solid cast led by Reid, who has never been less than impressive in her roles.

The film, out on Blu-ray with a Digital HD Code from Sony Home Entertainment, has a fine 1080p transfer that lets all the digital screens and computer graphics shine. The visuals are improved by the excellent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack.

The disc comes with a very fine assortment of Special Features, including Storm Reid and the Challenge of Missing (5:34); The Screens that Rule Our Lives (5:10); Hunting for the MISSING Easter Eggs (8:28); Misdirects, Online Crimes and the Social Media Mystery of Missing (6:53): Making a Frame Timelapse (0:48); Deleted Scenes (9:07); Filmmaker’s Commentary with producer Natalie Qasabian, Merrick, and Johnson.

Blood of the Virgin by Sammy Harkham

Blood of the Virgin by Sammy Harkham

Literary fiction is identifiable in any format: the story of unhappy people told with care and grace and close attention, from outside.

It’s not necessary that it be set in the recent past, but that helps: sometime just long ago to be before the working lives of the audience, but still familiar – say, fifty years or so.
It’s not required that the main characters be married, but they probably are. They probably have young children – a baby, preferably, to have someone they need to care for, to care about, who is not old enough to be another character. If they’re married, they fight. They probably separate, at least temporarily, at least physically. At least one of them sleeps with someone else during the story. And there are conflicts between their married lives and the work of at least one of them – probably the one whose work life is closest to the creator, the one who does something vaguely artistic.

Sammy Harkham’s Blood of the Virgin  is a major literary graphic novel: it does all of the things expected of the genre, and does them well. It has a novelistic heft and scope, even including very loosely related flashbacks to earlier people and times. There may be something slightly obvious about it: it does hew really closely to the conventions of its genre. But it’s a strong entry in that genre, a book that has a good version of the core story to tell and that tells its story with energy, passion, and a precise eye. More importantly, it’s not a genre that comes up all that often in comics to begin with, so it looks fresher and more exciting as it is that it would have as a movie or a prose novel.

Seymour edits movie trailers for a cheapie horror-movie production company; it’s the fall of 1971. He’s twenty-seven; he’s had this job three years; he’s ambitious in the sense that he loves movies – unabashedly loves horror movies – and that he wants to keep doing them, to get closer to the core of filmmaking. I don’t know if he has grandiose artistic visions that he wants to see on screen; I get the sense that, at this point, he has changes he wants to ring on established ideas and that his ideas will keep iterating, keep developing, as he works and learns and gets better.

Assuming he gets those opportunities. Assuming he takes them and does well.

He’s written a script – “Blood of the Virgin” is his title, of course. There’s a hole in the company’s schedule that script can slot into. As usual with a business like that, the hole is right now. Seymour has to finish the script immediately, and then dive into being one of the on-set producers for that movie, during the hectic three weeks it films. All of that is a big opportunity, a chance to move up in the business, to get public credits and be part of something real. But it’s also a hell of a lot of frantic, demanding work, right now.

Time is money. Nowhere more so than the movie business. Nowhere more so than in marginal, low-budget businesses.

Harkham gives a great view of the contingent, improvisational, scrambling nature of low-budget filmmaking: Blood of the Virgin is about a lot of things, but central to most of them is what it’s like to make a movie. To be in a location for that day, chasing shots, wrangling actors, fighting with effects, tracking time as the sun inexorably chases across the sky. Planning and strategizing, directors and producers and moguls and assistants, figuring out what they need and what they can get done and what might need to be abandoned. (And “what” always includes “who.”) The big parties afterward, where everyone goes a little crazy, where they all mix more freely. We see all of those scenes, different times during the course of the creation of this movie, as Seymour tries to handle his new responsibilities and to do them the ways he thinks movies should be made.

Meanwhile, his marriage is…well, I don’t want to overstate it. In the annals of literary-fiction marriages, Seymour and Ida are pretty good. They snap at each other angrily only some of the time; they talk past each other only as much as any couple does. They have real affection for each other, when there’s time around hectic movie shoots and a demanding baby. They fuck other people for the usual literary-story reasons, but not often, and pretty far into the book. They are not “doomed” in any way: they can get through this if they want to.

Harkham here is putting it all on the page; this is a big story stuffed with ideas and characters and insights and ideas. There are pages jammed with panels, filled with dialogue, and pages of long quiet late-night drives – it’s set in LA, so freeways are at least a minor character. It’s a hugely ambitious book that largely lives up to its ambitions: there are probably a half-dozen themes I haven’t even touched on here. It’s a big book, a rich one, that tells its story well and has a big, compelling story to tell. It is literary fiction, and we can use more of that in comics: the ambition, the depth, the scope.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

REVIEW: All-Star Superman

REVIEW: All-Star Superman

Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’ s All-Star Superman is described as the finest salute to Silver Age ever to be written, embracing all the silliness and heart found in the Mort Weisinger-edited run of the Superman family of titles. Distilled down into a feature animated film, the story remains the same, just tighter.

The 2011 Warner Home Entertainment release is back, making its 4K Ultra HD debut. I liked it when first released, and the new edition is sharper and crisper, the 2060p transfer is excellent. Is it enough to upgrade? That’s up to you, but it belongs in your home video library in one form or another.

The strength in the adaptation has everything to do with the late Dwayne McDuffie’s screen adaptation, aided and enhanced by a wonderful score by composer Christopher Drake

The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is the same as the 2011 release and sounds just fine.

The 4K disc has two new Special Features, both featuring Director Sam Liu, composer Christopher Drake, producer Bruce Timm, and character designer Dusty Abell. The first is An All-Star Adaptation (7:57), which looks at the challenge of turning a dozen comic books into a coherent 77 minute film. The other is An All-Star Salute to the Silver Age (7:16), which leans into the absurdity of some stories, all aimed at the younger end of the readership.

Also included in both the 4K and Blu-ray discs are the original features: Audio Commentary – with Timm and Morrison; The Creative Flow: Incubating the Idea with Grant Morrison; All-Star Superman #1 Digital Comic; and Superman Now. A digital HD code is also included in the package.

Chivalry by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran

Chivalry by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran

Stories about old people who are happy and content being old, who stoutly resist fantastic temptations otherwise, are I think always the products of much younger people. Actual old people are much less sanguine about looming death, I find, less likely to smile indulgently at mantlepiece pictures of themselves in their younger days, sigh contentedly, and turn their faces away from mysterious elixirs and fabulous potions.

Neil Gaiman was barely thirty when he wrote the short story “Chivalry” in the early 1990s. It’s a light, mostly humorous story. But it’s very much the humor of someone quite young looking at someone else who is quite old, at a light, humorous distance.

Chivalry was turned into a graphic novel recently – just about a year ago – by Colleen Doran, who apparently scripted this version as well as doing all of the art in a variety of styles. (Lettering is by Todd Klein. There’s no sign Gaiman did anything for this edition other than say the word “Yes” and sign some manner of document.)

Lots of Gaiman stories have been turned into individual GNs over the past decade or so – I count a dozen on the “other books” page here, plus multi-volume adaptations of American Gods and Norse Mythology – but he’s probably written close to fifty stories in prose [1], so the well will not go dry any time soon.

This is one of the lighter – I’m pointedly not saying “lesser,” but we’re all thinking it – stories, though Doran brings a formidable, and frightening, level of art firepower to this piece, depicting some pages as medieval illuminated manuscripts and explaining in an afterword the extents she went through to find photos of the actual rooms of the real house Gaiman was thinking about for his protagonist back thirty years ago. (One might think that’s all rather more effort than Chivalry required, but it’s not for us to say, is it? The final product is indeed lovely throughout.)

So: pensioner Mrs. Whitaker finds the Holy Grail in her weekly trip to the Oxfam shop in the high street. She knows exactly what it is, and that it will look nice on her mantlepiece. Soon afterward, the parfait gentil knight [2] Galaad arrives, asking politely if he may have it, since he’s on a quest from King Arthur, with a fancy scroll to say so.

Gaiman, as usual, is not doing the collision of high and low speech thing, as other writers might. Galaad is high-toned, and Mrs. Whitaker is sensible and middle-class, not some comic-opera Cockney. They have polite, friendly conversations, with no hint of drama or conflict. Mrs. Whitaker simply wants to keep the Grail; it looks nice where it is.

Galaad returns several times, with more-impressive gifts to entice Mrs. Whitaker. What he does not do is listen to her, ascertain what she wants, and try to deliver that – that would be a more serious story, and not the one Gaiman apparently wanted to write in 1992. Galaad just wants to find the thing that will get her to agree to a swap, and he does, in the end, since this is a light fantasy story.

The prose “Chivalry” was a pleasant quiet thing, all about what wonderful characters the plucky elderly British ladies of the war generation were, basically a love letter to Gaiman’s grandmother’s cohort. The graphic version keeps the tone and style, and adds a lot of very pretty art, some of which is incredibly fancy and detailed. It is still a very light, fluffy thing, which only very slightly connects to actual life, but this is a very good visual version of the thing this story always was.

[1] It’s difficult to count, since his collections differ by country and mix in a lot of poetry, and he’s also done a lot of chapbook and small-press publications over the years. When you’re the subject of a rabid fandom, you can publish in all sorts of complicated expensive ways and people still buy as much as they can.

[2] OK, Gaiman doesn’t actually phrase it that way. But it is still true.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Maybe an Artist by Liz Montague

Maybe an Artist by Liz Montague

I say this a lot, but audiences are important. If you’re putting something out into the world, and don’t have a sense of who would care about it, it might be because no one will.

But “people like me” is a valid answer. “People like me at age 10” is an even better one. People get quirkier and more specific every year they live; every eighty-year-old is an entirely different microsegment. But kids are still early in that journey; they’re weird and particular but still care about a lot of the same things.

And a good “this is the kind of weird kid I was” book is always welcome. Maybe an Artist  is that kind of book, from cartoonist Liz Montague. It is about her childhood, and it is aimed at people who are children now – or who will be children when they read it; there’s no reason it won’t still be read in thirty years, by the kids of the kids reading it now.

Montague has had cartoons published in The New Yorker, had a strip called “Liz at Large” in Washington City Paper, and did other pretty high-profile cartooning gigs (a Google doodle! illos for the Obama Foundation!), even though she is, if I’m counting correctly, only about twenty-seven.

She gets into that quickly at the end, but Maybe an Artist is about how she got there – it’s the story of how drawing and art were important to her as a child, starting at the age of five in 2001. It’s really tightly focused on Montague, and deeply in her head most of the time. The external stuff of her life is included, some of the time, but it’s all about Montague, and, in the end, all about the pull of creating art and cartoons.

It won, eventually. We know that, because we have the book. But it wasn’t the path Montague or her family thought she was on – she was supposed to get an athletic scholarship to a good school, study something that would lead to a “good” career, and move forward. (And she did a lot of that: Maybe an Artist might be helpful for a lot of driven kids, or kids with demanding parents, to show how you can mostly follow the path laid out for you and still get to exactly the place you want to be.)

Here’s an example: the back cover mentions that the book includes how she “overcame extreme dyslexia through art,” but the book itself never uses the word “dyslexia.” Montague shows her problems with letters, and how she used art to work through it, but this is not a book about problems, or about diagnoses – it’s not that kind of YA graphic novel at all.

Montague has a cartoony, immediate style throughout, and keeps her young self front and center in the book – most of the panels are about Young Liz in one way or another, and Montague gives her younger self a lot of great facial expressions. She also lays out the book in a light, breezy way, with panels most of the time, filling up most of the page a lot of the time, but spilling out or vignetted regularly as well, to give more energy and life to her story.

This is much more a a purely YA book than I usually read; the audience is very much young maybe-artists. But Montague’s voice is true and straightforward and helpful; she gives a great account of the struggles and turmoils of her younger self. So there are joys, even for those who are very much past the maybes of their younger lives.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Danger and Other Unknown Risks by Ryan North and Erica Henderson

Danger and Other Unknown Risks by Ryan North and Erica Henderson

I have no idea why this very specific and distinctive book has such a generic-sounding title. I could make up stories of epic battles behind the scenes, with different factions jockeying for utterly different titles (How Daisy Saved the World! My Y2K Story – Really! The Second-Worst Journey in the World! What I Did on My Summer Vacation World-Saving Trip! My Story, by Marguerite de Pruitt!), and only able to agree, after months of internecine warfare, on this one. But that would be entirely fictional, if amusing.

What we have is Danger and Other Unknown Risks , a title which could apply to practically any adventure story ever told. This one is written by Ryan North and drawn by Erica Henderson, the team that did the Squirrel Girl  comic for several years to vast acclaim and strong sales and the adoration of a huge number of fans, more of them small and/or female than was typical for a Marvel comic.

The cynical side of me assumes that they did Danger so they could have something similar that they would own; the sunnier side of me assumes that they liked working together so much that they just had to do it again. Either way, this is very much the same kind of story: spunky, young, optimistic heroine in quirky adventures across a world that needs to be saved. Marguerite, though, does not have the plot armor Doreen Green did, does not have any superpowers – she has one spell, which has different effects in every realm and borderline useless everywhere – and, even though she is a well-trained Chosen One, her failure is very much possible.

Our world has been transformed. Y2K happened – several hundred years ago, we think, while being a bit vague on how many hundreds – but was instead a magical transformation. The world is now radically balkanized, with obvious borders between different magical zones where physical laws can work entirely differently. (Our heroine, Marguerite, tosses a toad across borders as a testing mechanism, which implies some places don’t support biological life at all…but we don’t see any of those potentially fatal realms in this book.)

Marguerite has been sent by her uncle Bernard – this is the kind of “uncle” like Donald and Mickey and Scrooge, where the actual parents, if there ever were any, are never even mentioned – on this world-saving mission, along with her companion, the talking dog Daisy. The two need to find three specific artifacts and bring them back to Bernard, who will use them in a massive spell that will Save the World. The world needs saving, Bernard says, because the magical realms are diverging more and more every day, and that will eventually Destroy the World if it is not Saved.

Readers of books for younger people may guess that Not All Is As It Seems. Marguerite and Daisy discover Shocking Revelations and The Real Truth and have to Change Their Mission. But they’re always going to Save the World. Along the way, they steal those three artifacts of the Before Times, run away from and/or confront various nasty or otherwise opposed forces, meet some friends and helpers, and, as always with North/Henderson stories, model positive friendship at all times.

Reader, they do Save The World. How could they do otherwise? And if you’ve been looking for something to scratch that phantom Squirrel Girl itch, this is exactly the thing for it.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

REVIEW: Batman: The Doom that Came to Gotham

REVIEW: Batman: The Doom that Came to Gotham

The latest Warner Animated DC feature film adapts the 2000-2001 Elseworlds miniseries Batman: The Doom that Came to Gotham. The fun of the Elseworlds comics, and soon the live-action versions under the new artistic regime, is taking the familiar and imagining them in other times and other places. Here, we do back to the early 20th century and overlay it with a dose of Loftcraftian horror.

Cowritten by Mike Mignola and Richard Pace, two men better known for their artistic skills, this story was designed for visual impact, something Troy Nixey did well in print, and the animators from Jase Ricci’s script and co-directed by Sam Liu and Christopher Berkeley, replicate nicely.

Basically, an arctic expedition headed by Bruce Wayne (David Giuntoli), sent to check on a previous team led by Professor Oswald Cobblepot (William Salyers) reveals horrors and a missing professor. The only surviving is Grendon (David Dastmalchian), but there’s something definitely off about him, so of course, they bring him back to Gotham City.

There’s a mystery to be solved, so the millionaire adventurer dons his cape and cowl and, accompanied by Kai Li Cain (Tati Gabrielle), Dick Grayson (Jason Marsden), Sanjay Tawde (Karan Brar), and Alfred Pennyworth (Brian George), he goes on the hunt.

The great Gotham City triumvirate of Bruce Wayne (David Giuntoli), Oliver Queen (Christopher Gorham) and Harvey Dent (Patrick Fabian) come together at a dinner hosted by the famed archer as the action begins to heat up .

Complicating matters, she tends to, is Talia al-Ghul (Emily O’Brien), seeking a way to resurrect her deadly father, who was responsible for Thomas and Martha Wayne’s death two decades earlier. Toss in Oliver Queen (Christopher Gorham), James Gordon (John DiMaggio), Lucius Fox (Tim Russ), Harvey Dent (Patrick Fabian), Barbara Gordon (Gideon Adlon), stir in a dash of demon, place on a low heat and let things simmer.

If anything, the leisurely pacing of the story hurts it as does a less than clear narrative, so you’re not as fully engaged in the goings-on as one should be. It’s pleasant enough, but the makings of a much stronger, scarier story are not used to their best potential.’

The film is available in the now-standard 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital HD code combo pack. The 4K 2160p transfer is strong, nicely capturing the animated look and color palette. Given the appropriately unique look to this horror take on the DCU, they do a creditable job. The same can be said of the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track.

As for the Special Features, you get a fine Audio Commentary with Liu, Ricci, DC creative director Mike Carlin, and producer Jim Krieg. Additionally, there is Batman: Shadows of Gotham (13:12) and From the DC Vault – Batman: The Animated Series: “The Demon’s Quest” Part One (22:18) and Part Two (22:14) [Only on the Blu-ray].

Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley

Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley

I have children, but I didn’t carry them: I’m the other parent. I have children, but their birth was a long time ago: my younger son was born in 2000.

Which is to say I inevitably read a book like Kid Gloves , Lucy Knisley’s comics-format memoir of her pregnancy and the things that came before it, with interest and some knowledge but a definite detachment.

Another way to put it, inspired by a restaurant my family likes in a nearby town: when you have bacon and eggs, you know the chicken was involved, but the pig was committed.

Lucy Knisley, like my wife, was committed. All pregnant people are, and this is a book slightly more for them than it is for their non-pregnant partners (and for adoptive parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and so on). If I wander into criticism anywhere below, remember it’s likely that Knisley, having lived it, is right and I am mistaken.

Knisley, up to this 2019 book, had a comics-making career entirely focused on memoir, in ways that may have made a lot of people jealous. My life is absolutely nothing like Knisley’s, starting from the basic not-able-to-get-pregnant thing, and she made me jealous a few times – she told the stories she had to tell with grace and insight, making them deeply moving and resonant. There were two books of extended European travel, French Milk and An Age of License . A book about family and learning to cook, Relish . A book about traveling with older relatives, Displacement . And, immediately before Kid Gloves and most relevant to it, the memoir of her wedding and all of the planning and events before that, Something New .

Now that I’ve scared away the people upset by pregnancy cooties – which more men than you’d expect, and not a few women, have serious cases of – I can get into the Trigger Warning. Knisley had two miscarriages before her healthy baby, and there were some medical complications when she did give birth. For some people, that will mean you want to steer clear of this book, and maybe even have already stopped reading.

But miscarriages are vastly more common than many people (me, certainly) realize: one in four pregnancies ends in a miscarriage. Knisley explains what that means while also telling her own story: the strengths of Kid Gloves, like all her previous work, is that combination of personal perspective with deeply researched expertise.

Kid Gloves semi-alternates between chapters about Knisley’s own pregnancy journey, starting with her troubles with birth control in earlier years, and with somewhat humorously-titled sections on “pregnancy research,” which dive into history, demography, social expectations, sexism, and a lot of biology to give a more factual look at what pregnancy is like or can be like. That makes it deeper and more useful than a “here’s some stories about when I was pregnant,” and I think of that as characteristic of Knisley’s work: she’s dependably focused on telling the truth, as deeply and thoughtfully as she can, and not just on telling her own stories.

She’s also not shy about talking about the physical side of pregnancy, which may also scare off some of those without uteruses. There’s a lot of vomit, a fair bit of breastfeeding, and the whole panoply of other body changes that come when several pounds of growing, moving new person start shoving one’s abdomen off in all directions.

Let me expand that: Lucy Knisley is not shy in her work. Her greatest strength is that desire to see clearly, to explain precisely, to guide carefully, to narrate fully – all the things she experienced, all the things she learned, all the things she wants to make sure the world knows. Her art is precise, just a bit cartoony, with soft colors and thin lines, and she’s really good at the page that diagrams a pregnant body, or explodes into multiple text boxes to cover multiple aspects of a single thing, or just shows how she felt when something happened. 

Kid Gloves is not for everyone – there’s more body stuff in here than will be comfortable for a lot of people – but it’s a strong book and one that I hope will find a lot of people who might become pregnant in the future and give them a lot to think about and plan for their own lives. And, along the way, tell them the story of this woman and her family and eventual healthy, happy baby – and that’s why people will want to read it.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.



Gerard Butler was destined for stardom around the time he was the lead in 300 but the fates have not been kind, so he continues to get work, reminding us of his skills. Unfortunately, the quality of the vehicles he appears in varies wildly and thankfully the most recent, Plane, is better than most.

A large part of the credit goes to the always-likable Mike Colter, regardless of the part he plays. Here, he’s a fugitive from justice, being extradited by Butler when their airplane crashes. In a hostile Pacific environment, they are on the run, chased by Datu Junmar (Evan Dane Taylor), and the rescue team led by Scarsdale (Tony Goldwyn), former Special Ops, who knows a thing or two.

Were it just the two of them, the black and white men on the run and opposite sides of the law would loudly echo The Defiant Ones, but with other passengers in the mix, it’s down to a dull roar in the background. Some of the character arcs are interesting, and none of the characters are particularly memorable. There’s even a C-plot with Butler and his scene daughter Haleigh Hekking.

The movie, out on disc now from Lionsgate, was written by Charles Cumming and J. P. Davis, and they do a fine job keeping the suspense going. With direction by Jean-François Richet, this is an enjoyable B film that doesn’t demand much from the audience.

The movie is out in the usual 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital HD code combo pack. The 2160p and 1080p transfers are both top notch, easily capturing the color saturation the tropical clime demands. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is almost as satisfying.

There is not much of the way in Special Features but you do get This Is Your Captain (14:18), spotlighting Butler; Plane Clothes (6:51), Brace for Turbulence (19:14), and the Theatrical Trailer (HD; 2:29).

Snug Harbor Stories by Will Henry

Snug Harbor Stories by Will Henry

I used to read a lot of strip-comics collections: I assembled a full set of Doonesbury back in the day, kept up with Dilbert until the writing on the wall was too obvious to ignore [1], and had multiple books from probably a dozen other currently-running strips over the years. But, somehow, the past decade or so has made that seem old-fashioned. Maybe because of so many re-runs (Get Fuzzy, for example, which I still read in the paper but can never tell if it’s actually new, because it generally isn’t) and legacy strips (too many to mention, not that I ever cared for most of them in even their earlier forms), maybe because of just the weight of time.

Will Henry’s Wallace the Brave is probably the first newspaper strip where I’ve read two collections in…ten years? More or less? So I may end up grumping about some aspects of the strip, because what I apparently do best is grump, but let me underline that first: I like this a lot more than just about anything else I’ve seen in a newspaper for a bunch of years.

Snug Harbor Stories  is the second collection of the strip, after the self-titled first book . It was published in 2019, soon after the strip started running in newspapers. (If I’m reading the Wikipedia entry correctly, it had an extended try-out on GoComics starting in 2015, the first book hit in 2017, and it was actively syndicated into papers starting in 2018.)

And this is a strip comic, so this book is the same kind of thing as the first book, only more of it. I feel like the strip these days is really focused on the kids and from their point of view – so, for example, the teacher and parents are seen from a metaphorical kid-height rather than being viewpoints – but some of these earlier strips are more obviously coming from an adult perspective. I enjoyed that difference, but great strips develop focus and stick to it, so the overall change is both expected and admirable.

I also thought there were even more inventive layouts in this book than the first one, which could be Henry getting comfortable with what’s possible within the physical constraints of the strip. My mostly-uninformed idea would be that inventiveness is easier digitally – as when the strip was only on GoComics in the early days – than in print, but maybe newspapers are not quite as hidebound and backwards-thinking as I assume.

I still like Spud as a character a lot better than Wallace, though I don’t think I’m supposed to. Wallace can just be too much of a muchness, constructed to be the eternally wide-eyed optimist dreamer, like a Tom Sawyer with all cynicism and sneakiness surgically extracted. Spud is quirky and weird and particular, like normal people. But one of the things that makes a great comics strip is characters you argue about, even in your own head – strips are formed over time, through lots of moments and jokes and recurring ideas. So even my saying, “I like Wallace the Brave the strip better than I like Wallace the character” is a good sign for the strip as a whole.

Anyway, this is about a bunch of six-year-olds, and, like all comics, they’re smarter and more articulate and have more physical freedom of action than any six-year-olds have ever had in the real world. Calvin and Hobbes is the most obvious predecessor: the two strips have a similar sense of infinite possibility and joy in the outdoors and exploration. But Wallace is more about community and friendship – Wallace himself is central, but he’s not the whole strip. He’s the catalyst or the glue, but the strip is as much about his friends and family as about him specifically.

And Henry is an inventive, somewhat loose artist with great sound-effects, a willingness to draw weird stuff (people, places, layouts – all of it) and a complete and total lack of fussiness at all times. It’s a lovely, always organic-looking strip full of energy and life

I still think the best way to discover a strip is day-by-day rather than in clumps; the good ones stick in your mind even in small doses like that. But, when you’re ready for a larger dose, Snug Harbor Stories (and the book before and, so far, two books after) are there.

[1] From the evidence of my bookshelves, I think this was 15-20 years ago, which is even longer than I thought. I also should note that I wrote this post in early January, before the recent unpleasantness. But Dilbert‘s creator has been a wealth of unpleasantness for quite some time now.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.