In Home After Dark, Small introduces readers to Russell, a pretty typical kid who finds himself abandoned by one then both parent, both emotionally and then physically. If the primary job of a parent is to make a child feel safe, then Small renders the world’s worst failing, alongside the kind of casual parenting of old that allowed people to slink away from responsibility until they just dissolved from a kid’s reality ... Social isolation is at the center of the themes that Small explores. Russell is cut off emotionally from his family and never feels comfortable enough to be accepted in the culture of neighborhood kids ... Small’s style accomplishes some beautiful and intimate world-building, with every location, every action, measured against Russell’s perception of it. It’s a psychological map for the characters to ramble through, chased by demons they don’t perceive and grasping for answers they don’t acknowledge as necessary. Is growing up directly related to the moment you realize that you grapple with the same gray terrors as your parents? Small implies that might be so.
Veteran artist and illustrator Small turns a deeply focused lens onto the isolation, loneliness, and relentless cruelty of male adolescence in this immensely powerful new work ... Thirteen-year-old Russell Pruitt, abandoned by his mother and losing his father to a slow decline into alcoholism, navigates a seemingly endless minefield of social interactions as he attempts to integrate into his new school and neighborhood ... Drawn in Small’s signature style, the narrative feels more like a series of sketches that capture the choices made by Russell and the people around him; snapshots of actions and consequences than a traditional narrative ... Spare and powerful, this is not to be missed.
Small’s illustrations are a powerful part of the story. His loose but elegant ink drawings with washes are uncluttered but wonderfully expressive ... The graphics work beautifully with Small’s text, which alternates between dialogue and Russell’s thoughts. The writing shares the understated style of the illustrations, allowing both elements to surprise the reader with their emotional punch. Russell’s story may be set some 50 years ago, but it's all too contemporary in its concerns — a story that might be even more urgent now.
Throughout the book, problems are presented broadly at the expense of the story’s impact. Our protagonist? His father is divorced, and their relationship is complicated in ways that cleanly elucidate the struggles of dealing with a deadbeat dad without getting too upsetting for the reader. Russell’s other friends at school are rowdy bullies whose razzing and roughhousing are tolerated until they beat up Warren for being gay – could it be that performances of masculinity could be toxic? After this altercation Warren hangs himself between chapters, compelling questions of his emotional inner world cut short as fodder for Russell’s character development. Indeed, all these characters eventually prove to have little more to them than manifestations of lessons for Russell to learn, which might be more compelling if Russell’s emotional life were richer. Instead, Russell is a vessel, whose angsty thoughts and blank stares invite the reader to step into his shoes at the expense of a more nuanced portrayal ... The story Home After Dark sets out to tell is admirable. The book will serve the libraries and high school English classes it is doubtlessly bound for well, and hopefully some curious students will be driven to seek out David Small’s previous graphic novel Stitches. Stitches is an autobiographical work which touches on similar themes with a particularity and deliberateness that provides the very urgency that Home After Dark lacks.
[The book] owes its deeply affecting mood to Small’s distinct brush and wash techniques ... Small shows this journey in a visual style that is tempting to call 'cinematic,' panning wordlessly across both landscapes and characters’ faces much as Andrei Tarkovksy once rolled his camera over bleak worlds in search of flashes of beauty ... Small doesn’t flinch from such scenes of depravity, and by the time a cheery light finally seems to arrive to Russell’s darkening world, its fragility is heartbreaking.
...its primary subject is voicelessness ... All of the power of Home After Dark lies with his meticulous pen and waterproof ink drawings ... While another artist might not have been able to resist giving his story a happy ending, Small doesn’t quite go there. He is never sentimental.
Russell is a sensitive, introspective boy of 13, which makes him easy prey for life’s everyday brutalities ... As Russell navigates life in a small, 'Anywhere, U.S.A.' town in Northern California, his greatest challenges arise through the relationships he develops—with his alcoholic father, with an outcast classmate who helps him elude bullies but exposes him to odd rituals, with the clique he forms with two roughhousing friends, one of whom is particularly good at pushing buttons in a bad-boy, alpha-male way ... Small is a master storyteller, moving the tale swiftly through pages with an...array of panels, many of which are wordless or have just a choice bit of dialogue or narration; his illustrations—emotive, kinetic, with a striking balance of realism and cartoon and particularly arresting facial expressions—speak volumes. Grappling with questions of identity and society, the story has the authenticity and ache of universal experience—filtered through the singular eye of a visionary.
In Small’s haunting coming-of-age tale, 13-year-old Russell Pruitt grows like a determined weed in the wake of masculinity so toxic it has literally killed a menagerie of pets in the small California town where he lives with his troubled father ... In a hero’s-journey narrative punctuated by episodic adventures, Russell searches for a sense of 'home,' as Small again juxtaposes the horrors of an unhappy childhood with the bleak underbelly of 1950s and ’60s America illustrated with his signature fine pen lines and grey wash ... With strikingly few words, Small tells Russell’s story in close-ups of bullies’ sneers and bird’s-eye views of parking lots. Cats, dogs, lions, and other animals haunt Russell’s waking life and his dreams, perhaps because he, too, fights tooth and claw to survive. In depicting the toll of the harsh environment surrounding these lost boys, Small unearths an (almost) impossible tenderness.