Erik Evensen’s latest graphic novel, The
Beast of Wolfe’s Bay, is part rural legend/supernatural adventure story, part romance, part
parody of academic life. Brian Wegman, struggling doctoral candidate in
Anthropology, is called upon to help small town cops in rustic Wolfe’s Bay
solve a murder mystery, despite many considering him unqualified for the job.
Along the way, he reunites with childhood acquaintance Freddie Roth, an attractive
comparative literature professor as comfortable talking about folklore as she
is making pop culture references. The two become fast foils, then friends, then
more than friends as they fight Wegman’s severe career fatigue, a jealous investigator,
an army of wendigos and their unhinged human leader, Dr. Greta Wendel.
References to the epic Beowulf
are interlaced throughout the story; for example, Dr. Wendel’s character is a
Grendel analogue. “Hwait!” begins the tale. Wolfe’s Bay is in Heorot County.
In the closing notes, Evensen, a Xeric Award winner for his graphic novel Gods of Asgard, suggests that the book was
planned as a more direct retelling but ended up as a sort of half-baked Beowulf, and while it is true that the
text runs less than a hundred pages and is not an exact adaptation of the epic
set to contemporary times, it doesn’t have to be for uninformed readers to
enjoy it on the surface as a fun, thrilling narrative or for the more literary-inclined to appreciate the
numerous interspersed allusions.
The first page and invocation for The Beast of Wolfe's Bay
Indeed, high school teachers could use the text to help explore
differences between adaptations and stories that are “inspired by” other texts.
Intertextuality is comprised of ranges, after all. Readers in college –
especially those in graduate school – and more than a few doctorates should get
a kick out of seeing professors and university cultures take a few pokes and
jabs. Unless they’re sensitive like Dr. Wendel, in which case I’d advise them
to take field work in a remote location and never return to “normal” life, as
Quirky, quixotic, and upbeat, The Beast of Wolfe’s Bay asks readers to balance between
anticipating new love and anticipating criminal resolution, between jokey
asides and literary subtexts. Often the plot-driving presence of hulking,
killing sasqui is just a strange after note. Embedded within is a subtle critique of the
problems associated with high cultures vs. low cultures arguments and their inherent
notions of “worth,” and Evensen seems to suggest that no matter what one values
and thinks is “real” or important, time, literatures, and life choices always
push against the boundaries of normalcy – and accepting that might be the key
to ending one’s quest happily.
Labels: academics, Bigfoot, Erik A. Evensen, Gods of Asgard, Sasquatch, Super-Powered Word Study, The Beast of Wolfe's Bay, wendigo, Xeric, yeti