As a debate over how and when to repatriate art continues to roil, one clear-cut case of looting in the…
'Wallace the Brave' cartoonist provides a glimpse into the coastal town that inspires him
William Brangham: Cartoonist Will Wilson's syndicated comic strip "Wallace the Brave" appears in more than 100 newspapers nationwide.
But, as David Wright of Rhode Island PBS Weekly reports, Wilson finds his inspiration closer to home.
The story is part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.
David Wright: Father and son dockside enjoying a bit of mischief in Jamestown, just across the water from Newport. It's exactly the sort of scene you might find in the comic strip "Wallace the Brave" set in a mythical seaside village called Snug Harbor.
Will Henry, Creator, "Wallace the Brave": Ah, well, I mean, I'm sure as most Rhode Islanders know, there's an actual Snug Harbor a little south of where we are, Jamestown.
David Wright: That's William Henry Wilson. Like some of the great comic book superheroes, he has a secret identity. By day, he owns and operates Grapes & Gourmet, a local wine shop. But he's also a nationally syndicated cartoonist under the pen name Will Henry.
What pays the bills, the comic strip or the liquor store?
Will Henry: It's the comic strip now, which is -- it's a dream come true. But the liquor store was kind of an opportunistic endeavor.
I was working here in my early 20s. And the owner was very nice. It went up for sale. He lived in Arizona, didn't really want to be here anymore. And he offered it to me at a discount price. And I took advantage of that price.
David Wright: Excellent.
Will Henry: And, because I was trying to do cartoons, I would just -- I brought my drawing desk down here.
David Wright: That little drafting table under the wine rack his window onto the world. Cartooning was something he used to do in his downtime.
And then how'd you come up with "Wallace the Brave"?
Will Henry: I was sitting in that drawing table in there, and looking out the window, and I saw -- I just -- I saw a kid on a pylon. And it was summertime and they were laughing.
And another kid came and just pushed him off of it. And he fell in the water, and splash. And he popped out. And he was laughing ear to -- he was just so happy. And I thought that is -- that's a moment I want to capture, fun, ocean, kids being kids. And there was like a click moment where I saw a path to a successful comic strip.
David Wright: Very briefly, for those unfamiliar, here are the dramatis personae.
Will Henry: The main character is Wallace. He's a -- just an energetic, happy, very positive kid. He's the main character. His best friend is Spud, who's kind of the neurotic -- he's a weird kid. And he's very self-conscious of those weird things.
But Wallace celebrates them. And I think that's what makes them click.
David Wright: There's Wallace's kid brothers, Sterling, who never met a bug he wouldn't eat.
And then there's Amelia, who's the new girl in town.
Will Henry: She's very feisty.
David Wright: And your sister's name...
Will Henry: Yes.
David Wright: ... suspiciously enough, Amelia.
Will Henry: And I would never cross her.
David Wright: The inspiration always close to home.
Will Henry: The weird thing is, when I first started drawing this comic, I was maybe 29, 28. I had no kids. I was married. And the characters, especially the parents, and the kids were very much based on my experience as me being the child, and the parent characters were my parents.
After a couple kids and, like, being in the family life, I have noticed the parents have kind of evolved into my wife and I, and the kid characters, I see a lot more of my kids in them.
David Wright: Can you point to an example where you got an idea from something that happened in your own life?
Will Henry: Yes, absolutely.
There was a comic that just ran last Sunday where -- when I draw my comics, I will either draw them here at the liquor store or up in my studio. And one time, I came down from the studio. And, like, my wife is wearing a cape and like a Dr. Seuss hat and she's holding the ladle.
And the kids are like half-naked.
Will Henry: And they got stuff all over them. And they're playing this imaginary game.
And I just thought, this is crazy. Like, what are you doing, honey?
Will Henry: And they all made fun of me because I wasn't in costume.
And so those kinds of moments, I try to capture for the comic, because they're surprising to me. But they're real.
David Wright: People have compared it to "Peanuts," to "Calvin and Hobbes." It's-old fashioned in a way.
Will Henry: Yes.
I'm trying to build a world where the kids are -- there is technology in the world. But I want Wallace, the main character, to be the one that says, that stuff is fine, but I enjoy being out in nature. I enjoy being out in just the world.
David Wright: And that world never fails to inspire him.
Will Henry: That's the only reason I had the kids.
David Wright: The comic strip and the family celebrating life's daily adventures.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm David Wright in Jamestown, Rhode Island.