High school is typically depicted through a superficial lens in books, television, and film. What is often showcased is a glammed up and hyperbolized take on a tumultuous half decade in our lives. However, to their credit, these mediums typically get one thing right on occasion: the ruthless and cruel nature of teenagers.
In the graphic novel Moose, we are reacquainted with the more cutthroat time in our education — when school was neither heaven nor hell, but an inescapable purgatory for those that were different.
Moose is a story about a timid student named Joe who is viciously bullied every day in high school. Jason, Joe’s tormenter, takes sadistic pleasure in making Joe’s life as miserable as he can. However, this all changes one fateful evening when a moose attacks Jason in the forest while he is accosting Joe. The moose knocks Jason down a chasm for which he cannot escape. Joe is then faced with the conflicting decision of saving his tormentor or leaving him to suffer in the wild.
Joe is a relatable character for audiences. He is an introverted teen who keeps to himself and would love nothing more than to read his Lord of the Rings novel in peace; Moose’s abundance of charm relies heavily on its shy protagonist. At his very core, Joe is a kind-hearted soul whom audiences will dread seeing in pain. However, he is also a testament to strength and the will to endure — qualities which make him a strong lead.
Max De Radiguès, much like the late John Hughes, has a strong sense of what it means to be a teenager, although his perceptions are much darker than they are jovial. Moose’s depictions of bullying are at times hard to read; every cruel assault on Joe tugs on the readers’ heartstrings. Likewise, Radiguès renders scenes of Joe’s sexual development with poignant tongue-in-cheek that can resonate with everyone.
In the world of Moose, teachers and adults have a presence that is solely physical — mentally and socially they are disconnected from their students. They are ignorant to the torments Joe faces in the story — which is a fitting commentary that voices both the strong sense of complacency some teachers have towards bullying and the solitary battles young students must face in high school on their own.
To those of us who were outsiders in high school, Moose encapsulates a frighteningly familiar rendition of what it felt like to not fit in. While the art is simplistic and easy to overlook, it is never without its complexity and nuance. Above all, Moose is a rich and thoughtful work that will stay with readers long after it’s over.