Where’s Wally? by Martin Handford

Where's Wally? By Martin Handford
It’s wimmelbilderbuch.

Where’s Waldo? That’s what North America likes to call these books! But the series is from Londoner Martin Handford. He created it in 1986.

The first work published in September 1987. Each two-page spread can take eight weeks to sketch. So, let’s celebrate this iconic wally in all his glory.

Where’s Wally?

Where's Wally sketch of teeming masses in the wimmelbilderbuch style
Your typical Wally/Waldo scene.

Okay, this is a specific type of genre. It’s a wimmelbilderbuch book. A hidden picture book, essentially, with a teeming mass of action.

The genre is famous for its large, full-page spread images with all sorts of stuff going on.

These sorts of works are aimed at kids, as they let the imagination run wild—but they also keep them occupied as they take in the business of a scene. It’s a puzzle book, basically.

There’s a basic plot, though, for the distinctive character with his pet dog (called Woof).

Wally (or “Waldo”, if you will) is a world traveller who only ever wears red and white striped clothing. That includes a fetching bobble hat.

During our research for this piece we came across one blog claiming it’s all an existential crisis (Being and Nothingness gets everywhere).

But most people will view it for what it is—good fun for kids. As we were enthralled by it in the early 1990s.

The aim is to find Wally in amongst the utter mayhem of Handford’s rather spectacular drawings.

It’s genius, really. He took the wimmelbilderbuch concept and ramped it up to an infinitesimal level.

The tiny characters across each page are all wrapped up in a task, meaning active child minds can turn each instance into some adventure story.

All whilst you hunt done that son of a gun Wally. When you find him on the page it’s a nice moment, too. You feel all pleased with yourself.

So, yes. They may lack in prose, but Handford’s fantastic books deliver big on wordless entertainment. Highly recommended to all young readers our there.

We tried to find a video interview of him or some such for his views on creating a cultural phenomenon, but there’s nothing around!

We’ll put it down to being camera shy and leave it be. But, Mr. Handford, we thank you for many happy hours as kids spent furiously pouring over your artwork.

¿Dónde está Wally?

Where’s Wally? was an international hit, so the translation of the name (or the localisation of it) led to the likes of Waldo, Willy, Holger, and other such stuff.

That’s the joy of our cultural world for you! So, here are some of our favourite variations across the globe:

  • Hvar er Valli? (Icelandic)
  • איפה אפי? (Eifo Effy—Hebrew)
  • Missä Vallu? (Finland)
  • Ble mae Wali? (Wales)
  • Gdje je Jura? (Croatian)
  • Hvor er Holger? (Danish)
  • Onde está Wally? (Portuguese/Brasil)
  • Où est Charlie? (French)
  • Where’s Waldo? (America and Canada)
  • ウォーリーをさがせ! (Japanese)
  • 尋找威利 (Chinese)

That also shows just how popular the puzzle books are. They’re spread all across the world and everyone seems to love them. It’s a nice thing, eh?

TV Series & Video Game

The series was such a hit it had to spawn a bunch of spin-off stuff.

The NES video game of 1991 was by Bethesda Softworks. Yeah, that one that’s now responsible for Skyrim, Fallout, and is now one of the world’s leading games developers.

Back in the early 1990s, it had to somehow turn the artistic delights of the Where’s Wally? books into an 8-bit video game.

Right, so that just wasn’t technically possible. The developer tried anyway. The result was a total mess and a terrible video game.

More recently, the fun little romp Hidden Folks did a lot better job. Too little, too late for Wally…

Thankfully, the TV series went a bit better. It enjoyed 13 episodes and ran in 1991, with Townsend Coleman voicing the eponymous character.

We remember enjoying the series as stupid kids, so that’s a good sign. We certainly can recall the annoyingly catchy intro theme.

The 1991 series portrayed Wally as a bit of a bumbling, amiable sort often unaware of mortal danger.

There were also breaks in the show for some of Handford’s sketches, where you had 60 seconds to locate Wally. Fun.

It was an American/Canadian/British joint venture. Cripes, why not just chuck Russia, Japan, and Barbados into the mix as well? Lol, we jest.

Touting a film for the last 11 years, Hollywood has yet to deliver beyond stalling projects. Although Seth Rogen is apparently working on it.

The last update is from 2016, so it’s unclear if it’s going to happen. But a new TV series did begin in 2019, showing Wally still has some fair old clout.

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