Image of a boy with fangs who appears to be howling inside a wolf who also appears to be howling. Both boy and wolf have red eyes. Text says "THE WEREWOLF AT DUSK AND OTHER STORIES DAVID SMALL AUTHOR OF STITCHES"

David Small, the Master

THE WEREWOLF AT DUSK: AND OTHER STORIES rating: 4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐. (Every line of every illustration: five stars).

David Small is a favorite illustrator of both me and my children, and STITCHES is my favorite graphic novel of all time and one of my favorite memoirs. This graphic novel story collection, THE WEREWOLF AT DUSK AND OTHER STORIES (Liverlight/W. W. Norton, March 12, 2024), may be losing a rating star just for not being STITCHES, but I think it’s because the third story, while just as scary as the first two, feels like a misfit to me. It’s scary, but not in the same way.

Our household library has copies of these picture books illustrated by David Small, which I am saving for my grandchildren: FENWICK’S SUIT, GEORGE WASHINGTON’S COWS, THE LIBRARY, THE GARDENER, and THE HUCKABUCK FAMILY: AND HOW THEY RAISED POPCORN IN NEBRASKA AND QUIT AND CAME BACK. FENWICK’S SUIT and GEORGE WASHINGTON’S COWS were both written and illustrated by Small. THE LIBRARY and THE GARDENER were written by Small’s wife, Sarah Stewart. “The Huckabuck Family” is a story by Carl Sandburg1the 1923 collection Rootabaga Pigeons by Sandburg that includes the Huckabuck short story is free to download from Project Gutenberg. that Small illustrated with delicious whimsy, and my children delighted in finding the curious cats throughout the whole book.

David Small is an unbelievable graphic artist and illustrator. He can draw a table lamp in six lines and make it look sad. He can draw a pig in a powdered wig and make a child laugh hard enough to drop the book2The one that cracked my kids up every time is the pig footman standing soberly behind the dining table in George Washington’s Cows, Ferrar Straus and Giroux, 1994). He can draw next to nothing and just about kill me. In Stitches, a single tear on the young narrator’s face in a panel becomes a page full of tears and then a panel of rain. The next 19 panels are rain, no dialogue, and then we are back to the boy’s face again, eyes closed, no tears3 Stitches: A Memoir by David Small, hardcover edition, W. W. Norton 2009, pages 258-267.. Look for the Dark Water of Existential Horror in the middle of this collection to see what I mean. That’s why Small is my favorite. If his objective in STITCHES was to communicate his childhood pain, his objective in this collection is to scare me half to death. It works.

The first story in this collection is “The Werewolf at Dusk” by Lincoln Michel, and I love everything about it. Small himself wrote the second story, “A Walk in the Old City,” which is straight-up horror. The first two tales hold together, making a sensitive reader mortally terrified of getting older (Small is 78 and perhaps feels as though he’s gazing down the barrel).

I didn’t know what to make of the third story, a retelling of “The Society Tiger,” or Le Mécanicien, by the French writer Jean Ferry (published in 1946). The illustrations of “The Tiger In Vogue” are chilling, and Small might be trying to tell us something about the looming menace of fascism.

My favorite illustrations are in the title story. The cover illustration, and a similar illustration of boy-within-wolf in the book, are stunning: testimonies to Small’s monumental talent.

Reading in context:

For a bit of the gothic and breathtaking illustrations, I have long loved the work of Maurice Sendak. OUTSIDE OVER THERE (Harper & Row, 1981), in which a baby is stolen by goblins, has much of the emotional punch and meticulousness detail that Small specializes in. So does the Sendak collection THE JUNIPER TREE AND OTHER TALES FROM GRIMM (Maurice Sendak; Randall Jarrell, and Lore Segal, translators; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973). One edition of STARDUST (Vertigo, 1999) by Neil Gaiman is lavishly illustrated by Charles Vess, and while not as terrifying as this collection, STARDUST has some scary witches, one with a terror of aging.

Other graphic novels I love: PERSEOPOLIS: THE STORY OF A CHILDHOOD by Marjane Satrapi (Penguin Random House, 2004) and THE HANDMAID’S TALE (GRAPHIC NOVEL) by Margaret Atwood, illustrated by Renee Nault (Penguin Random House, 2019).

What I’m reading right now:

TRESS OF THE EMERALD SEA by Brandon Sanderson (Macmillan, April 4, 2023).

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