“If there’s a beast in men, it meets its match in women too,” says the heroine in Neil Jordan’s film The Company of Wolves. Though werewolves have historically been used as a metaphor for male sexuality (the French phrase still used to describe the loss of a girl’s virginity is ‘elle avoit vû le loup,’ or ‘she had seen the wolf’), werewolves have also been used as metaphors for female pubescence. From Angela Carter’s baroque short stories to more overt films like Ginger Snaps, wolves are often used to evoke the wildest aspects of femininity – that which is violent and untameable. Rich Tommaso’s She Wolf is the latest comic to utilise these images, though in issue #1, it’s not particularly clear what he’s trying to say.
She Wolf is the story of Gabrielle, a teenage girl who believes that she has been attacked by a werewolf. Her fantasies and daydreams become increasingly violent as the comic progresses, and they soon begin bleeding into reality, with Gabby terrorising the local dogs in the neighbourhood. Whether or not Gabby has actually been attacked is never made clear, but since she dresses like someone who’s seen one too many Twilight films, it’s certainly possible that the whole attack has been imagined.
But She Wolf, veering between fantasy and reality, is not an easy comic to follow, and the sparseness of Tommaso’s prose gives only the barest pieces of information. With so little explanation as to what is going on, it’s easy to feel unsure as to what Tommaso is trying to express. The scene in which Gabby – dressed as Little Red Riding Hood – sees the wolf eating her naked grandmother is a moment that feels both forced and superficial, particularly because the source material is so rich in symbolism. It’s fair to say that Gabby rejects the sexual aspects of the beast inside her, so what then is Tommaso exploring? The links between lycanthropy and psychosis may be a contender, but with so little information given to the reader, this will probably become clearer in later issues of the comic.
But Tommaso’s art, simplistic and childlike, is the most divisive thing about She Wolf. Some readers may enjoy the flat, surreal style of the illustrations, though the effectiveness of this style seems to vary from scene to scene. Gabby’s fantasies, like that of the demonic school principal, have a certain eerie quality to them, though the illustrations seem less atmospheric in the more mundane sequences of the book. This is a shame, as the design of the front and back cover are both powerful and evocative, conjuring images of religious texts and illuminated manuscripts. But the reason for this style of art might become obvious in future issues, when more is revealed about Gabby’s condition.
All in all, She Wolf is a disappointing comic, mainly because it seems to have nothing new to add to the canon of female werewolf stories. Of course, this may change as we find out more about what Tommaso intends, but in issue #1 at least, She Wolf is far more bark than bite.
Words: Max Deacon @_Max_Deacon