An abused boy who flees home and finds refuge in the woods, a talking teddy bear, animal totems and gay love…This 52-page comic beautifully defies categorization.
Centered around the blossoming relationship between two boys, both hurt by life, both searching for human warmth, Legend of Hedgehog Boy is one of the most moving comics I’ve read in some time. Author René Capone manages to blend real-life concerns with (often metaphorical) fantasy elements, creating a story which looks to be extremely personal. The eponymous character is a boy who escapes his abusive home and decides to wear a giant hedgehog’s hide on his head, hoping to be protected from harm. He befriends a disemboweled teddy bear, fixing him–but he can’t fix himself that easily. They build a small hut in a tree deep in the forest, and soon take under their wings another young self-exile, Hedgehog Boy and the newly-christened Kitty (a baptism which involves a skinned cat) falling in love easily and naturally. But not all is fine in their woodland paradise…
There are a few striking aspects in this comic, even apart from the story itself, which is rather unusual. One is the fact that for all the hardships they’ve already faced, the boys fall in love in a tender and never questioned way. This is an unapologetic queer comic. Another one is the fact that we never know whether the fantasy elements are “real” or not. Is the bear a figment of Hedgehog Boy’s damaged imagination? He even tells his boyfriend of a unicorn bringing him a bag of swords. The swords do exist, but does the unicorn? Does the bear? We’re kept in the dark about that, and I must say I really liked that.
There’s also something raw about the emotions displayed by the characters, and the almost Jungian fairytale elements enhance that rawness. As does the forest setting, with its primeval power in our psyche.
The art is also rather raw: when I began looking at the pages, I found them a bit crowded. But when I actually read the comic, I found myself drawn into the story by the fully-used pages, art bleeding from the edges, faces and bodies drawn in an intense, energetic style. There are also four striking color paintings on the cover, inside cover, inside back cover and back cover, bringing the characters to sensual, warm life. I’d definitely like to see a proper, large-sized book showcase of René Capone’s paintings.
Legend of Hedgehog Boy is a comic that’s going to stay with me for a long time. And I hope René Capone will soon give us the second part of his story, which you can buy on his website (or at the Whatever comics shop if you happen to be in San Francisco).