I love it when a familiar story is told in a new way, which is a big part of why I enjoyed BB Wolf and the Three LPs so much. The book uses the metaphor of the children’s story of the Big Bad Wolf and the Three Little Pigs to tell a story about racism in the American South in the 1920s–and how that racism helped turn the Wolf, a simple musician, into a legend.
The Wolf in this version of the story is a blues musician and farmer from the tiny community of Money, Mississippi. BB Wolf was a happy beast, content with his pack–his wife, his kids, and his friends–but the three little pigs from Money are full of schemes. They use Jim Crow laws to quickly bring the Wolf’s world crashing down around him. The decisions that BB makes in reaction to this destruction cause him to make decisions that will result in his doom, but not before he blows down their little pig homes.
His drive for revenge will one day make BB Wolf a legend.
Writer J.D. Arnold’s decision to use animals as the characters in his story gives BB Wolf and the Three LPs a very unique feel, as it’s strange (in a way) to use animals to present a hard life and hard decisions on the Mississippi Delta during Reconstruction. That era is so vivid in my mind that it was difficult at first to adjust to seeing animals walking as people at that time.
Yet, as the book moves along, my comfort with the use of animals grew. The creators are able to make different points than they would have made if they had used people. Readers are able to look beneath the skins of the characters in this story to see the base and animalistic manners of the characters. We have more sympathy for the crimes that BB Wolf commits because he had once tried to be civilized but he can’t escape his primitive, animalistic anger.
Who among us wouldn’t be tempted to react with canine fury at the horrors that BB experiences?
If human characters had been used in the story, BB’s character would likely be held back from literally tearing the pigs’ characters in half. However, BB is a wolf, and his lack of humanity is directly below the surface for him. Savage violence embraces who he is at his core. Once you accept that idea, the rest of the book works really well on that level.
Of course the pigs are venal and greedy. They’re pigs. It’s what they do and it’s who they are. The fact that they put on hoods like KKK members in order to terrorize the wolves makes them seem even more spooky and interesting.
This use of animals as a kind of symbolism allows the story to breathe more than it would have if the characters depicted had been human. We don’t have to make a logical leap to accept the characters’ actions, as we might have with humans.
It’s also clever how the story flows from the children’s nursery story. BB definitely huffs and puffs and tries to blow the pigs’ houses down, but how he does it makes for good and entertaining comics. I especially liked the silent scene that opens chapter three where we see how the wolf is able to penetrate his horror through the house made of bricks. I really liked the sense of movement and energy that illustrator Rich Koslowski shows in that chapter, and how effective he is at building the tension of the scene.
Koslowski does a good job throughout the book of straddling the line between realism and cartoonishness. The buildings, clothes, and objects in the characters’ lives feel true to the time, but the characters are exaggerated and powerful as archetypes.
Some pages are real stunners. For instance, the scene at the beginning of chapter two that shows the explosion of BB’s house is a great use of white space on the page.
BB Wolf and the Three LPs was an interesting and entertaining book that’s a unique take on racism, music, family, and legend.