Grasping for the Wind Rotating Header Image

Graphic Novel Review: BB Wolf and the Three LPs by JD Arnold

Genre: Graphic Novel, Fairy Tale, Allegory
Hardcover: 88 pages
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Publication Date: July 13, 2010
ISBN-10: 1603090290
ISBN-13: 978-1603090292
Artist Website: Richard Koslowski

“The Three Little Pigs” is a classic anthropomorphic English fairy tale about the conflict between a big bad wolf and three house-building pigs. Though many versions have been written that tell the wolf’s side of the story, including one by Caldecott winner Jon Scieszka, almost all have seen the story as a humor tale, one that taught morality or was just funny.

JD Arnold looked at this childhood story and saw something different. He saw a tale of racism, revenge, an allegory for a troubled time in America’s past. Arnold’s vision of “The Three Little Pigs” is not Shakespearean comedy but rather Jacobean tragedy. A graphic novel, BB Wolf and the Three LPs imagines the story as set in 1920, an era of the blues, segregation, and anger.

“They say ya gots to suffer ta sing the blues.”

BB Wolf is an alcoholic, blues playin’ wolf farmer who loves his wife, children, and the farm his family has owned for generations. But through the machinations of the rich, selfish, youngest Littlepig, he is about to lose it all. When he tells his fellow wolf friends, all of whom have been persecuted by the domineering race of pigs, they force a standoff between the wolves and the pigs. But Littlepig is determined to take BB’s farm, and will use any means to get it. Littlepig’s destruction of BB’s family sets off a chain reaction that sends BB in a murderous rampage. He begins a multi-year campaign to hunt down Littlepig and his more powerful brothers.

“Well, brother, I have suffered. I have suffered like nobody’s business.”

By reimagining history through personified animals, Arnold provides just the right amount of disconnect from the subject matter that the reader is able to view the story objectively. At the same time, the certain knowledge these kind of events certainly could or did happen in America of 1920 give the story an emotional punch. The subtle tension of these two elements pulls the reader back and forth throughout the novel, a tuneful blending of the melody and harmony of BB Wolf’s blues song.

BB Wolf is a complex character. The reader sympathizes with BB’s loss of his family, but cannot condone his angry response to it. The reader feels anger over the way the race of wolves is treated so that we understand BB’s anger is both societal and personal, yet we feel moral outrage at BB’s violent murders even as we despise the Littlepigs for their bigotry. Like Dead Man Walking the reader plays the role of Sister Helen Prejean, sympathizing with the killer and his victims.

“I had nothin’ and I lost it all.”

The tragedy of BB Wolf is well illustrated by Richard Koslowski. In black/white/grey frames, Koslowski brings to mind both classic movies and subtly emphasizes the racial differences between the wolves and the pigs. Koslowksi highlights the time and place of the story through the four tones of the panels. BB Wolf’s murders are especially shocking when rendered this way, such that this reader literally reeled back in surprise at violence of the depiction. Koslowski shocks the eyes as much as Arnold shocks the heart, and the pairing of these artisans is a powerful melding.

BB Wolf and the Three LPs is a unique reimagining of a classic fairytale that will be and deserves to be nominated for many awards. It is a tragedy in the vein of Hamlet, one which is both emotionally powerful and intellectually provocative.

“And I’d give anything I could get my hands on ta get it back again.”