“This valley is special. And I know you know that too. Better than anyone. There’s danger here but… These animals don’t have another choice, they need to be here. We need to protect them” — Marta, Ward’s Valley, p. 84.
|Creator(s)||Bobby Curnow (author), Brenda Hickey (illustrator)|
|Publisher||Top Shelf Productions|
|Environmental Themes and Issues||Conservation, Hostile Environment, Hunting, Habitat Destruction, Animals in Danger, Anthropomorphism, Fire|
|Protagonist’s Identity||Ward: Nonhuman (Gnome), White male |
The comic also features a large cast of anthropomorphized, talking North American animals
|Protagonist’s Level of Environmental Agency||Level 4: Considerable Environmental Agency without Activism|
|Target Audience||Young Adult|
|Settings||Fantasy forest setting|
In Ward’s Valley, the titular protagonist–a grumpy gnome who presents as white–lives alone in a lush forest valley years after his wife tragically dies in a forest fire. However, his peaceful isolation is disrupted when the gnome council decides to repopulate the valley. Despite Ward’s protests, many North American animals resettle in the valley, along with Marta, another gnome sent by the council to supervise the repopulation. Illustrator Brenda Hickey depicts the animals realistically and the creatures do engage in species-specific behavior, such as stags battling with their antlers and beavers obsessing over building dams. The comic does anthropomorphize these animals, though, by having them speak in English and participate in some human-like activities, such as forming alliances. As a result, the comic’s representation of the animals is more fantastical and fun than educational.
As the animals settle into the valley, two threats to their safety quickly emerge. Hungry trolls have invaded the valley, growing out of mud puddles and eating any animal they can capture. Additionally, prehistoric humans move in and begin to hunt the animals. Ward and Marta try to convince the gnome council to relocate the animals to a safer location, but the other gnomes are unmoved by the valley’s plight. Without outside help, Ward and Marta, along with an enterprising squirrel, work together to rally the animals and defend the valley from the trolls. They manage to destroy the trolls, though Ward realizes that his sorrow has attracted the monsters to the valley in the first place. At the end of the comic, Marta convinces him to stay in the valley to heal from his past tragedy, and all of the animals happily settle into their new home.
While Ward and the other characters manage to defeat the trolls, the humans remain an active threat to the animals. Ward initially wants to spend more time with the humans, telling Marta, “I think I can figure out a way to communicate with them. We need to have a better understanding of them” (Curnow 122). However, once Marta convinces him to stay, he apparently abandons this this plan. The comic concludes without resolving the human problem, suggesting that the animals’ apparent happy ending as they settle into the valley will not last long.