Review: Benjamin Bear in Brain Storms!
Does familiarity really breed contempt? Because this is the third Toon Books collection of French artist Philippe Coudray’s one-page Benjamin Bear gag comics, and I’m certainly not feeling anything in the general vicinity of contempt for the cartoonist, cartoons or character yet. Quite the opposite, in fact.
As with previous Benjamin Bear books Fuzzy Thinking and Bright Ideas!, Brain Storms is a deceptively simple-looking book: Its pages consist of 27 stand-alone, one-page gags of three-to-seven panels in length, each starring a bear and one or more of his woodland friends. The degree to which Benjamin Bear is anthropomorphized, like the relationship between the natural world he lives in to civilization, varies depending on the needs of the gag. While the default state is a talking bear in the wilderness, he will get up on his hind legs, ride a horse, drive a car, send a package in the mail, read a book, paint a landscape, and so on.
Putting everything in service of the joke is a commendable attitude in a gag strip, and Coudray’s are always structured around gags that manage the neat trick of being extremely smart–even, on occasion, brilliant–without ever feeling obscure or inaccessible. They are highly visual, so that all of the information you need to get the joke is right there on the page, and it’s presented in the juxtaposition of the handful of panels. It’s a very formalist approach to comics-making, but it’s an immensely rewarding one: Any reader of any age should be able to read and enjoy Coudray’s Benjamin Bear books.
So when I say that this book is just like the first two, and thus more of the same, I don’t mean that as a slight at all. When a comic is this accomplished, more is always welcome.
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About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
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