Advance Review: My Boyfriend Is A Bear – Beauty And The Beast For Grown-Ups

by Richard Bruton

My Boyfriend is a Bear could be about something deeper than it seems, the search for someone dependable, trustworthy, that search for a soul mate. It could easily be seen as allegorical, all about a modern existence and the difficult search for love.

Or maybe it’s just about having a bear for a boyfriend?

One thing is for sure, Pamela Ribon and Cat Farris have delivered one of the most bittersweet and wonderfully uplifting books you’ll read this year.

It’s unlikely, it’s impossible, but above everything else, it’s something that will both warm, then break your heart, and make you laugh at the magnificently deadpan lines and looks writer and artist do so well.

“My name is Nora. I’m 28 years old and I live in a one bedroom apartment on the East side of Los Angeles.”
“My boyfriend is a 500-pound American Black Bear.”

“Isn’t he handsome?”

Nora’s got a small apartment, an old cat called Nutso, and a shitty job working in a call centre for a pop-up window scam. And her relationship history has been pretty crappy as well. All she wants is someone who’ll love her as much as she wants to love them.

“My next boyfriend will be brave and smart and silly… and he’ll like to be on the couch as much as he likes being outside… and we’ll have adventures… and every night when he holds me I will feel safe and loved… and that’s impossible.”

“No man could ever be all those things.”

Well, that last line proves to be ever so right. On a terrible hiking trip with her latest awful choice in boyfriends, she ditches him after one too belittling comments and heads further into the L.A. hills. That’s where she meets the Bear. An honest to God, genuine, 500-pound American Black Bear.

Ok, so it’s not love at first sight. On Nora’s part it’s terrified running away. On the Bear’s part it’s quiet bewilderment. But, when the bear turns up at her door (or more accurately rooting through her trash) he turns out to be the best romantic partner she’s ever had. He’s caring, gives the best cuddles, considers her feelings, and generally eclipses every other man she’s ever had in her life.

As she says after the first night spent cuddling with the Bear on the kitchen floor after a drunken night out with her best pals…

And that’s just what she does, opens herself up to something very, very unpredictable.

But when your boyfriend is a bear, things aren’t always going to go smoothly. Dressed in his ill-fitting Arcade Fire tee, destroying the fridge on a regular basis, the Bear’s responsible for breaking a lot of Nora’s things… but most importantly for Nora, and for the story…

“…he has never broken my heart.”

Nora might be smitten, but others aren’t so sure. The meeting with the parents could best be described as difficult. And going out in public is fraught with troubles. And her best buds are a little taken aback when she brings a very well-dressed Bear for a brunch date to meet them.

“Nora. That is a fucking bear at our fucking brunch.”
“Holy shit. Like a real bear. A bear at brunch!”
“At brunch! I literally just shit my spanx.”
“He can hear you. And I told you he’s a bear. Specifically.”
“Grah.”

“I thought it was a nickname, you fucking lunatic.”

Through it all, Nora and the Bear get closer, and closer, falling in love, despite all the day-to-day problems that having a 500-pound American Black Bear living in your house entails.

And of course, hanging over everything, there’s the thorny issue of the annual hibernation… that’s the desperately heartbreaking part. You may cry.

“The holidays used to mean laughter, reunions, hugs, warm nights, and hot chocolate by the fire. But not this year.
This year it starts the lonely season.”

Yes, on the surface it looks so cute, utterly charming, beautifully illustrated, a bizarre love story, Beauty and the Beast writ large. But within a few pages, you realise it’s actually a long way from anything resembling an all-ages tag.

Look deeper, as you can’t help doing, such is the nature of the tale told, with Ribon and Farris leaving certain things hanging, never answering the obvious questions that come into the readers’ minds… but instead subtly addressing it at…

“I don’t really like wearing pants. (The Bear is okay with that one.)”

“That ant problem in the kitchen is fixed. And so’s my bed. (We broke it.)”

“Grah!”
“giggle! Okay, let’s go! giggle!”
“Grah!”
“(Mating season was fun.)”

My Boyfriend is a Bear is a very modern, very adult look at the complexities of any relationship, the work that’s needed to make it succeed, the joys and heartbreaks that come along with falling in love. It’s about a girl and her true love. And no, it doesn’t matter that the true love happens to be a bear.

My Boyfriend is a Bear is almost the very definition of bittersweet. It could so easily have taken a hard turn into the sentimental and sugary-sweet, but thankfully, brilliantly, it always holds it’s course. And in doing so, what could have been a simple, if rather unlikely concept, into something with great, almost profound depth.

And funny. Oh, it’s funny. The whole idea, the surreality of the situation presented totally straight, never played for laughs, is what ends up making it so damn funny.

Definitely one to pick up, for the fun you’ll get, for the laughs you’ll have, and for the inevitable tear you’ll wipe from the corner of your eye.

My Boyfriend is a Bear arrives from Oni Press on April 18th, 2018. Written by Pamela Ribon, illustrated and colored by Cat Farris, with letters by Saida Temofonte.

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