Don’t be deceived by the cover. Mimi and the Wolves is no cutesy forest fable, it’s something far more rooted in dark mythological fantasy and dives deep into complex relationships, human nature and spirituality. It’s dark, complex, and quite brilliant work.
Firstly, Alabaster Pizzo comes from L.A. rather than Britain, but seeing as this comes from Avery Hill Publishing, based right here in Blighty, I’m going with the Best of British tag anyway.
Geography aside, Mimi and the Wolves is a rather wonderful thing, full of depth, full of fantasy, but with a real dark edge that reveals far more about human nature than you’d expect from a book starring a sweet looking mouse who happens to meet a couple of wolves one day in the forest…
You can immediately see the fantasy nature of it, even a fairy tale aspect to it. And, in keeping with the original fairy tales and folk tales, there’s a darkness in here, a darkness we see from the very first couple of pages, as the hooded, mysterious, figure of Severine, apparantly talking to the reader, or possibly some unseen figure, talks of us not being the first to wander here.
It feels like a warning, and certainly establishes this as something very different from the cute adventure we might have thought.
After this dark introduction, it’s time to meet Mimi, a mouse who spends her days in seemingly iddyllic surroundings in her treehouse, with her mate Bobo the dog, friends Ceres and Cato on a nearby farm. They farm, they make, they head to town for market, all seems perfect.
But at night, Mimi dreams. Visions of Venus fill her head, setting her off on a new path of talismans and alchemy…
So, after all this time, the thrill of discovering others who share her dreams and visions, even if they are a pair of wolves living in the woods, turns her head. All she wants is to discover what it all means, why her dreams seem to be setting her off on a different path to everyone she knows.
Those wolves are Ergot and Ivy, mysterious, sensual, free-spirits, smoking the lotus hookah pipe as the lounge in their cave, something he friends see as dangerous, yet Mimi sees them differently. In Mimi’s world they’re the other, the epitome of the unknown, temptation, secret, possesing forbidden knowledge perhaps.
Inexorably, Mimi is drawn in, they share her visions of Venus, except they seem to know more than she, and she wants to discover what it all means, wants to uncover this secret that’s been haunting her dreams all these years. But more than that, it’s a path of temptation.
As she spends more time in the woods, her relationship with Bobo falters, he’s frightened, unable to understand what she sees in this new and strange relationship, can’t understand why she’s more interested in the wolves and her new life than being with him. The relationship breaks, but for Mimi it just means freedom…
On one level, this is on the same ground as Jeff Smith’s Bone, that same cutesy tone which holds in its tale a deeper fantasy. But with Bone, the fantasy was always rather subsumed by the characters and their relationships in a friendly, sweet, all-ages way.
Here, the fantasy feels darker, the tone more threatening, always just on the cusp of turning very nasty… after all, wolves are alway sharp of teeth and claw. And in this world of cute little animal people the wolves are noticably other, noticably animal, walking on all fours, hunting still, wild and free.
This is no cute animal fantasy, this is something much darker. This is in the realm of abusive relationships, you might even argue that Mimi is effectively being groomed by Ergot in particular. Or perhaps it’s more cult initiation. In any case, she’s being brought into a world of myth and magic, drug-induced visions, mysterious talismans, bizarre rites and rituals, with those involved keeping potentially dangerous secrets from Mimi.
As you read, the allegorical nature of Mimi and the Wolves is obvious, but it creeps up on you, such is the talent of Pizzo. It’s also a book that Pizzo has as being more or less based on her own experiences.
You can perhaps see as little or as much as you wish, but it certainly covers the wide field of relationships and how they can become either unhealthy or downright toxic, the temptation of something or someone new and exciting, you could even throw in elements of coercive control and co-dependency – all in all, there’s so much to think about in here.
It’s the sort of book that reads beautifully well, but over the course of the pages the sense of lingering dread builds.
And, of course, we’re not yet finished with Mimi, as this first volume is just the collection of Pizzo’s first three self-published books. And there’s plenty left for us to discover, not least the mystery of the mysterious Severine, the question of what role Venus plays in all this, the larger wolf community, including the obvious dangerous Nero, and just what role seeingly carefree Kiko is yet to play.
All this way through and finally, I get to mention the art. You can all see what it’s like in the examples thus far, obviously, but it does deserve considerable praise all itself. It’s simple, certainly, but within that simlicity is a powerful sense of storytelling, wonderful page and panel design, the way she so easily switches between mundane reality and the drug-induced psychedelia and the visions of Vebus are lovely, and then there’s those perfectly realised characters. But there’s so much more besides.
The use of those blacks…
The wonderfully simple way she does wolf fur on Ergot…
But finally, the beautiful simplicity of the way she does her landscapes… I do love a simple tree done so well…
In the end Mimi and the Wolves is a wonderfully intense thing, full of deep, dark secrets, in the woods and in the hearts and minds of the characters involved.
Mimi and the Wolves – Volume 1 – by Alabaster Pizzo, published by Avery Hill Publishing.