Minis Monday: Little Wolves

Posted by on October 11th, 2010 at 1:00 PM


©2010 James Hindle.


Little Wolves
James Hindle
Black and white; 36 pp.

With Little Wolves, James Hindle makes a concerted commitment to rarified realism, one that rises above escapist fare marbled by tragedy, levity, relief or other narrative niceties.

He resolutely drains any trace of trumped-up melodrama from his tale. As in classical Greek tragedy, there is little effort devoted to cultivating suspense, in part because the story can be so well known to the audience. Hindle’s plotting of contemporary domestic unhappiness could comfortably be encapsulated at any point since the 1960s in a three-minute song on top-40 pop radio, or better yet, in a country-and-western ballad: a married young man doesn’t find love in the wrong place.

Unlike any musical ballad, there is precious little attempt to orchestrate the narrative for poignancy or empathy. The central figure, Cecil Berry, is a generally unsympathetic, however readily identifiable, character. Wife Laura and Other Woman Sarah are less developed and, oddly enough, generate greater interest. There’s at least some mystery to them, some possible complexity hidden below the surface. Moreover, they get to make the most resonant observations regarding Cecil and the situation.

But Little Wolves remains very much his story, through narrative focus and his role as prime mover… well, such as he is: We first meet him, two hours along, lying on the floor of his home until interrupted by Laura bringing home groceries after, presumably, her day at work. Cecil is a successful author and artist of children’s books (so he’s readily identifiable but special, tending toward professionally cautionary). His gravy train is Percy the Wolf, a creation so popular that there’s not only ancillary merchandise but a feature film about him. At this exact moment, Cecil is deep in the throes of cartoonist’s block. His publisher eagerly suggests yet another spin-off (“Pirates are huge this year!”) while the artist struggles with vague hopes for a new character entirely.


©2010 James Hindle.


Cecil is a stymied ghost made material, shallow, vacillating, drinking, clueless and stuck. He effectively embodies modern ennui and isolation, one functionally neutered soul. He is incapacitated creatively, socially, psychologically. We are privy to dreams that comment but scarcely enrich. On the comic’s covers, Cecil towers head and shoulders over his neighborhood, like some B-grade movie monster. All the windows on all the buildings are blank and all the trees are winter-bare.

The cover suggests the limits of Hindle’s interest in visual verisimilitude. Inside organic objects are rendered winter-stiff. It suggests that life hereabouts is brittle, fragile and tenuous with any season of growth well past. Hindle employs a “big-head” style for his characters (think of the Clowes’ cover for Wilson) yet he routinely declines to flesh out faces with emotional detail. (When he does, it is jarring and unnatural, as when he depicts tracks of earned tears.) There’s considerable impact to be found in broad facial vacuousness where honest feelings really ought to be registering. Similarly, wolf Percy is not appealing, not at all what you’d think kids would go for (see especially his nightmare enlargement on inside covers). In this, Hindle may be offering additional comment on the debased nature of kiddie publishing. Or maybe I’m just giving him too much credit.

Not that he needs it, given how effectively he has stuck to his realist guns elsewhere. In his refusal to romanticize, to brighten or lighten the mood, to idealize or encourage (you would-be cartoonists take note!) he has presented an appropriately benumbed vision of a vapid, disquieting existence.


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