A new graphic novel mirrors life in the deep south—with a twist
In the tradition of groundbreaking graphic novels such as Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” and Alan Moore’s “Watchmen,” writer Johnnie (JD) Arnold and artist Rich Koslowski’s new book “BB Wolf and the Three LPs” ingeniously melds the medium of classic comic books with a serious, history-steeped story, all making for an excellent, moving piece of work, which will be celebrated at a release party on July 10 at Comicopolis.
Set in a world mirroring the deep American south of the Jim Crow era, where wolves are the victims of racism and oppression at the hands of hateful pigs, the story follows the life of the title character, a blues musician whose farm and family are unfairly and horrifically taken away from him.
Arnold, who was born and raised in Santa Cruz, says that he practically learned how to read while following the action in the pages of comic books as a young child. He’s been writing most of his life, but really started writing scripts for comics in earnest about eight years ago—this is his first book.
The idea for “BB Wolf and the Three LPs” came about in 2004, when Arnold, who had been working on a variety of ideas, had an onset of writer’s block.
“I asked my wife, Katie, to give me a writing assignment in hopes of getting the juices flowing again,” Arnold says. “Without missing a beat, she said, ‘Why don’t you rewrite the Three Little Pigs?’ By the end of the night I had plotted out the whole story. I finished the first draft of the script within a week.”
Once he had the script completed, Arnold was attending the San Diego Comic-Con in 2005 when he saw artist Rich Koslowski, whose previous books have included the highly acclaimed “Three Fingers” and “The King.” Arnold introduced himself, mentioned his idea, and followed up on the meeting a few weeks later with an e-mail, asking if it was OK to send the artist a portion of the script to read over.
“I was very impressed with the few sample pages and asked him to send the whole story. He was also willing to put his money where his mouth was, and I realized he was committed to the project and I respected that very much,” says Koslowski, who recently moved with his family to Santa Cruz after living in Wisconsin most of his life.
From the disdainful expressions on the pigs’ faces to the look of sadness and rage in the wolf’s eyes, the artwork truly brings the story to life with its emotional and expressive qualities.
“Johnnie was great with allowing me artistic freedom on the book,” Koslowski says. “I tried my best to find a look that best represented the tone of the story and the era in which the story took place. I got into the artwork very quickly and really enjoyed painting the pages. It’s nice when you get to work on a project like this where you can explore new styles without any
Lending to the authentic, old-time feeling of the book is the fact that the artwork is done all in sparse black and white.
“Black and white was a natural choice for the book as we all tend to see the past in black and white … the photos we see from the 1920s are always black and white, the movies black and white,” says Koslowski.
As he was working on the art for the project, Koslowski approached the editors at Top Shelf Publishing, a well-respected company in the comics world that had released a couple of his earlier works, along with books by people such as Alan Moore.
“They loved the idea and signed us before the art was finished. Top Shelf has been great to work with. For them to show interest in my book was quite humbling,” says Arnold.
The resulting book, which has just been released, is an addictive read; blending a tragically touching tale with wonderfully emotive artwork, “BB Wolf and the Three LPs” covers a wide array of important issues in our country’s history—shedding light on a dark part of our past isn’t always an easy thing to look at, but the work is a shining example of how the graphic novel genre is soaring to new heights of sophistication and maturity.
“Comics stopped being kids’ stuff’ years ago,” says Arnold. “So many great writers are writing great fiction using the form. I say this a lot these days, but I truly believe it … we are in the golden age of comic creativity.”
“BB Wolf and the Three LPs” book release party is at 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 10, Comicopolis, 829 Front St., Santa Cruz, bbwolfandthethreelps.com, comicopolisonline.com, 427-1929. Admission is free.