When I say that not very much happens in Springtime with Badger & Vole it’s most assuredly not a critical observation. Nor am I damning it with faint praise by saying that’s the inherent joy of Howard Hardiman’s delicately realised silent story. It’s been a few years since we last had the pleasure of spending an on-page day with this duo in the pages of Hardiman’s last Badger & Vole book. But this follow-up is a gentle reminder of what a privilege that experience is.
It doesn’t take too much detective work to suggest that the titular characters come from a place of autobiographical actuality, one symbolic reality removed. Badger and Vole are two anthropomorphic animal avatars who live with their small menagerie of animals in an Orkney Islands idyll. We spend a quiet day with them as they take a walk with the dogs, feed the animals, bake bread and tend to their gardening. In fact the biggest disruption to their day is receiving a delivery; the one concession to the existence of a world beyond their direct experience.
Work like this is a welcome escape at the best of times but immersing myself in its pages after the last difficult 15 months almost feels like a glorious release from reality. Take the beautifully composed and soothing early image of Badger and Vole just before waking, surrounded by their similarly slumbering animal family as a fine example of that. Hardiman’s clear line and keen eye for both the splendour of the natural world and the everyday interactions between people who love each other makes this an utterly charming read throughout.
There’s something so appealing about a comic where the major plot twist is putting on the kettle and having a cup of tea; where the most involved story arc centres on shearing sheep and weaving wool. Like its predecessor Springtime with Badger & Vole is diverting, cathartic and the kind of comic you will want to lose yourself in time and time again.
Comics as a form is such a diverse one in terms of narrative potential. It’s a testament to its versatility that something like Springtime with Badger & Vole that asks you simply to immerse yourselves in the lives of its protagonists has as much storytelling validity as the most complex genre mega-epic. I could happily escape to the world of Badger and Vole for hours on end and now, more than ever, the sheer humanity of this comic without a single ostensible human character is an absolute delight.
Review by Andy Oliver