Middle school is a trying time for pretty much everyone and anyone. People are going through big changes and starting to find out who they are as individuals. At the same time, they are trying to fit in with the group. Middle school tends to leave a few emotional scars that stick, even after decades have gone by.
Award-winning writer, illustrator, and cartoonist Dave Whamond found a way to sort through the good times and the bad in his new graphic novel, Muddle School. It’s loosely based on his own experiences of going to a new school at that age.
And it was more than moving up a couple of grades or changing schools. He also moved from an urban environment to a rural one, which added to the potential alienation of the situation.
“At first, it was like culture shock to move from a big city to a place with, at first, gravel roads and sand instead of grass for our yard,” says Whamond, who is now based in Calgary. “But once I accepted it and truly embraced the place, I grew to love living there, and I never would have changed growing up in that town for anything.”
While Muddle School began as autobiographical – “starting with getting thrown in a mud puddle because I was wearing a powder blue suit on the first day of school” – Whamond admits that not everything in the story fits in that category. “Obviously, things like the time travel portion and the alien attack never happened,” he says, “but I did have an overactive imagination.”
The star of the story is a boy named Dave, who relies on that imagination and his artistic ability to find his way through the trials and tribulations of middle school – including incidents such as the aforementioned mud puddle and an embarrassing snot bubble during a class presentation.
His situation is easy for middle-years readers to identify with. “Dave is a typical kid who just wants to fit in and maybe even be liked,” says Whamond, “but is full of insecurities, thinking he is the only kid experiencing this.”
That sounds like middle school – an experience that can be surprisingly lonely yet communal at the same time.
What might have been the hardest part about this project was deciding what to leave out. “It was tough to edit out some of the stories. A lot of material could not be included as it was a bit too crazy for a middle school graphic novel,” says Whamond.
But it’s also a good problem to have. “There was so much that I couldn’t include in the first book that I would love to do another,” he adds.
Muddle School is part of a journey, both for Dave in the graphic novel and for Whamond in real life. He leaves an amazing message to readers with this funny, heart-warming trip into the past.
Whamond says, “I think of this story as a way of ‘grown up Dave’ going back to see ‘middle school Dave’ and telling him that everything will be alright.”