Mr. Wuffles!

Created by: David Wiesner

Published by: Clarion Books

ISBN: 0618756612 (Amazon)

Pages: 32

Genre: Drama, Nature, Science Fiction

Mr. Wuffles!

“It’s like The Arrival, but for kids.” That was how I tried to describe David Wiesner’s Mr. Wuffles to a curious party—just off the top of my head. But here, now, days later, that description feels as though it’s made itself at home. I think this is how I’ll likely describe the book in the future. And to those who ask, “But what’s The Arrival?” I will cock my head ever so slightly and with a playful astonishment dancing behind my eyes, I will ask them why they are bothering with talking to me when they still haven’t read one of the most beautiful books ever created. This is not because I refuse to speak to those who haven’t read Shaun Tan’s book. It’s more just a question of why would they would take in the lesser pleasure (my company) when they could be basking in the wonders Tan makes available to the visual sense in The Arrival.

Really, I should just keep a copy ready and at hand for such instances. Then I can simply hand it over and say, “No no, I’ll wait,” while they take the fifteen minutes required to read his book. And then, when they look up and breathe out a quiet, holy “Wow,” I will look at them, smile for the second gift I am about to visit upon them in the space of a single evening, and reiterate: “Mr. Wuffles! is like The Arrival, but for kids.” And now those of you who’ve read The Arrival, just think about what that means for a children’s book.

Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner

These things, children’s books, are a mystery to me. For every gorgeously illustrated Animalia, Snowy Day, or Garden of Abdul Gasazi, there’re piles and piles of eye pollution like the Olivia books. It’s a mystery to me that these eyesores gain popularity when there exist so many sublime works to ignite the imagination and fire the engines of the mind. When it arrived, I worried about which category Mr. Wuffles! would fall into. It came by mail, a gift from my mom to my son for his second birthday. I hadn’t heard of it and so remained aloof to its appearance in our home. That’s no real slight to my mother—when you understand the sheer volume of children’s books that have collected in our home over the last four years, it’s easy to understand my ambivalence. It wasn’t ‘til a couple weeks later that my wife mentioned, “You really ought to take a look at the book your mother sent. You’ll love it. It’s just great.”

And it was. It is. She, as usual, was right. Wiesner’s book is beautifully composed—and, it somewhat surprised me, is actually a graphic novel masquerading as a picture book. Perfect territory for our concerns here.

Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner

The book is largely wordless. Or at least largely English-less. Apart from three instances in which a human addresses the ironically named (and titular) Mr. Wuffles, all dialogue is either animal or alien and is represented by appropriate—though nearly indecipherable—glyphics. While this makes the book an easy read for an illiterate three-year-old, it serves story purposes as well and gives good cause for Wiesner to push his visual narrative to the fore. Mr. Wuffles! is a phenomenal example of how well storytelling can work in the comics medium. The book is short and the plot is tight, but Wiesner includes enough details that the careful reader will see a bountifully full story beyond the simple tale of survival that Mr. Wuffles! first appears to be. My wife was even pointing out cool things that I hadn’t caught on my first read-through.

Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner

But really, wordlessness and great art alone don’t merit comparison to The Arrival. What earns the distinction in Mr. Wuffles!'s case is the additional joys of both some thematic similarities and the opportunity to see the world from a different angle. In Wiesner’s short work, readers become acquainted with Mr. Wuffles, a bored housecat. Despite the name and occupation, Mr. Wuffles is occupied primarily in the role of vicious, unrelenting antagonist. We are prone to think of cats as capricious and aloof, but not usually as cold-blooded killers.11Certainly our culture enjoys joking about the villainous nature of cats, but while we outsize even large housecats substantially, we find it hard to remember that they would be as tigers were we only a little closer to their size. Instead, we don’t think it odd in the least that elderly women should have four or five of the creatures roaming their houses. We forget their natures because we are rarely in the position to fear them. The book’s protagonists, however, stand at a height with a nickel. To them Mr. Wuffles is Jurassic Park's velociraptors or Lost's smokemonster, cruel beings of predatory single-mindedness. Watching the prodigal intergalactic visitors interact with the rest of the life indigenous to Mr. Wuffles’ domain is a treat, and to see them draw in upon a solution to their circumstance is a treasure.

Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner

Really, it’s the details that spark Mr. Wuffles! into the stellarsphere of life beyond mere children’s book or mere graphic novel. This story, for all its brevity, is one of the best efforts in the form I’ve seen this year. Wiesner’s depictions of the cat are superb, rendering the feline with a ravenous fluidity and dangerous agitation. Under his pen, Mr. Wuffles becomes every bit the wild animal that George Clooney’s Mr. Fox longed to be but ultimately found himself unequipped to embrace. Wiesner’s panel-by-panel storytelling is accomplished as well. He dances between splash pages and smaller, more intimate investigations. In my memory, the whole book resembled Walt Simonson’s cataclysmic chapter of The Mighty Thor in which Thor battles the Midgard Serpent. In my recollection, Mr. Wuffles! was a bombastic collection of full-page spreads fraught with a dynamism unseen in children’s picture literature. But returning to the book in preparation for this review, I found that Wiesner balances those more dramatic pages with sections of panelwork in which much of the story unfolds. These are filled with detail and will be delicious to the careful reader. Wiesner is a stunning creator and I’m overjoyed to discover that Mr. Wuffles! is not his first book because that means I’ll be able to witness more of his work—and soon.

 

Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:

3 Stars = Good
2 Stars = Ok
1 Star = Bad

I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.

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