MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The funny pages in the newspaper - they're kind of visual comfort food, the same characters day after day, which is why the success of a new comic strip called "Wallace The Brave" is unusual. It launched just three years ago. It is already appearing in more than a hundred newspapers. NPR's Glen Weldon explains how this comic strip is shaking things up at a time when the funny pages are shrinking.
GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: Think "Peanuts" if Charlie Brown were less of a mope or "Calvin & Hobbes" if Calvin weren't a bit of a psychopath. "Wallace The Brave" is about a family. There's Dad, a fisherman, Mom, a gardener, their almost feral young son Sterling, who never met a bug he wouldn't eat, and his older brother Wallace, a rambunctious, imaginative kid big on exploring. Mostly we see the world of the strip through Wallace's eyes, a sleepy East Coast beach town called Snug Harbor where the streets are lined with ice cream shops and the beaches are dotted with rocky tide pools.
It's a lot like Jamestown, R.I., where the strip's creator, 33-year-old Will Henry, churns out 365 strips a year for a growing audience which devours them in newspapers, online or collected in book form. He runs a gourmet wine and cheese shop in Jamestown. We reached him on his day off.
WILL HENRY: I'm trying to hit that sweet spot where kids enjoy it, but parents will also enjoy it, too. You know, I don't want it to be so, like, sappy, kiddy. And I'd like the parents to get a good read out of it 'cause they're the ones buying the books, after all.
WELDON: The tone of the strip is gentle but not toothless. Wallace's friend Spud is a ball of anxiety and indecision, and his friend Amelia is a tough-as-nails troublemaker. The world of childhood depicted in the strip is a timeless, outdoorsy one reminiscent of strips like "Calvin & Hobbes" and "Cul De Sac," both of which Henry cites as influences.
HENRY: I truly love comic strips and the art of it and how you can get a feeling and a joke across in seconds. And I've just been, you know, studying it and working on it kind of unwavering for the last 15 years.
WELDON: This year, "Wallace The Brave" is nominated for two Eisner Awards, the comics industry's Oscars, basically. But its creator won't be attending the prestigious ceremony in San Diego next month.
HENRY: We do a family clambake every year. And I see all my relatives, and I pig out on lobster and clams. And it's the same weekend. And I got to tell you it's my Christmas. I can't step away from the family clambake.
WELDON: Glen Weldon, NPR News.
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