The Legend of Hedgehog Boy, a 168-page independent comic book by writer and artist Rene Capone, conjures up all of the classic children’s tales of young and lost souls fleeing into their imaginations in order to escape the cold, harsh nature of reality. And like Peter, Alice, and Dorothy before him, we’re presented with a brash and courageous hero who doesn’t submit to torment and strives to find freedom and happiness despite the predominant darkness of his past.
This hero is Hedgehog Boy, a young man who escaped from an abusive home. The tormented child spent his nights huddled in a cold cellar and saw salvation only in the ultimate end of suicide. But before all was truly lost, he pulled himself back from the brink and fled to the woods.
And, as the rules of fantasy and magical realism dictate, the woods the boy finds refuge in quietly shift into a land of the imagination. There the boy skins a hedgehog and dons the spiky mantle as a crown of independence. He also meets Frank the Bear, a wounded teddy who bleeds stuffing; because he has no fingers, Frank cannot even mend his own injury. Hedgehog Boy offers his help, and a friendship is born.
The unfortunate truth is that suffering and innocence senselessly abounds in the world. Children are too often the victims—children who seek refuge just as Hedgehog Boy did. Enter Kitty: another young man with a dark past who wanders into the woods and finds his way to Hedgehog Boy and Frank. No, Kitty is not the boy’s given name; rather, it’s the name of his rebirth. Hedgehog Boy skins a cat and offers it to his new friend as a fresh identity. Kitty accepts freely and of hesitation.
A romantic twist occurs when Hedgehog Boy and Kitty unexpectedly fall in love. Homosexuality isn’t addressed, nor should it have to be: attraction and love is boundless, despite clinical labels. But their love is tested when Kitty is kidnapped by a rival of Hedgehog Boy. A journey of rescue ensues.
The Legend of Hedgehog Boy is a personal journey for writer/artist Capone—his personal blog documents that he’s the survivor of childhood abuse, as well as living a very interesting and active life as a young gay man. (Read his blog to learn more. I won’t spoil the details here.) And while Capone’s prose can be a bit turgid and plain from time to time—lacking a deeper poetry that could speak to his lifetime experiences—his black-and-white artwork is strangely effective and remedies any troubles with the narrative. His characters are distorted and dreamlike in their appearance: I felt more than once that I was looking through a fishbowl while admiring the comic’s artwork.
Despite the minor faults with the book, The Legends of Hedgehog Boy is a small triumph for Capone. While he’s a working painter living in San Francisco, this is his first attempt at creating a comic, and it should be admired as a success.
This comic book review originally appeared on Broken Frontier.