Saturday, May 5, 2018

My Boyfriend is a Bear

My Boyfriend is a Bear is graphic novel take on a magic realism romance tale. It stars a 28-year-old woman named Nora who's got cool friends, a lame job, and a history of dating jerks. One day while she's out camping she happens upon a bear and runs away, as she should. However, that bear eventually finds his way to her house (and heart), and they start an unlikely relationship. 

In a sense this book follows in the tradition of novels like Kafka's The Metamorphosis or David Garnett's Lady into Fox in that it uses a radical transformation into an animal form to observe the human condition. The bear is a metaphor for a romance with a person who comes into your life and fulfills you in a way you did not expect or need. Additionally, this person may not exactly fit in with the expectations of your friends and family, so there is some static in those areas. Also, there are logistical complications, like having to be without that person for an extended period of time, in this case while he hibernates, which can lead to uneasiness, loneliness, and worrying about the direction of your life and relationship. So, what I am saying in a long way is that this book, for all its fantastical set-up, is actually an excellent exploration of the joys and pains of a real, adult relationship.

What I left out of that paragraph above, and what this book does exceptionally well, is not be all dry, analytical, and academic about the topic. It is also not nearly as dark or fatalistic as those two novels I mentioned above. As you can hopefully see from the excerpt above, this book is a joy to read, with lots of humor and heart. The situations with the bear are sometimes made literal, which is often hilarious, like when he is left alone with a huge ice cream sandwich and just devours and destroys it. The energetic, expressive, and playful artwork goes a long way in providing the sense of whimsy and relatability to the story. The bear might only have a few verbal expressions (Grah!), but boy is he visually communicative. And the human characters are nuanced in terms of their characterization as well as how they are depicted. This graphic novel is expertly crafted all-around.

This book is a collaboration between writer Pamela Ribon and artist Cat Farris. Ribon is very well known for writing animated features like Moana, Smurfs: The Lost Village, and Wreck It Ralph 2, and she also has a number of novels as well as the women's roller derby comic book series Slam! in her credits. Farris is a member of the Helioscope studio who has worked on her own webcomic The Last Diplomat as well as having done work for several publishers. Both creators speak about this book in this interview, and Farris also speaks extensively about it in this interview, too.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been very positive. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review that concluded, "This resonant, absurdist modern fable is a joyful discovery." Oliver Sava called it "a light-hearted, very cute romantic comedy about the ups and downs of dating someone that may not by typical boyfriend material, but has a big heart." Eric Kallenborn called it "a refreshing surprise."

My Boyfriend is a Bear was published by Oni Press and there is more info about it here. This book features some profanity, adult themes, frank talk about sexuality, and one tiny picture of a butt, so it is recommended for readers mature enough to handle those things.
That Arcade Fire shirt cracks me up.

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