Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 51

Mr Wuffles

by David Wiesner
Genre notes: Children's book, aliens, cats
32 pages
ISBN: 0618756612 (Amazon)

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.

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.

I often compare Mr Wuffles to Shaun Tan's The Arrival. 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 so often as cold-blooded killers. 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 wayward 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.

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