Reading Bigby Bear feels like a return to reading comic strips. Maybe it feels that way because I’ve read a lot of Peanuts collections where the strips are laid out like one-page comics, but that’s what Bigby Bear Volume 1 really is: a series of one-page comics by Philippe Coudray starring Bigby Bear and friends. Where Peanuts’ jokes were often verbal (and Coudray’s animals can talk), Bigby Bear’s punchlines tend to be visual. Bigby himself is an artist who we first meet chipping away at a rock with his chisel.
We’re not told in so many words that he’s an artist, but it’s something you piece together after collectively reading all of his stories. Coudray’s art is very loose and uninhibited. There are a lot of sight gags to do with art and perspective. Bigby’s friend, rabbit, will start to break the news to him that something’s happened to his latest project but then Bigby will show him that the project lives on in a new form, or Bigby will do a painting like Jackson Pollock but in order to make money he has to copy it exactly – stop throwing paint and replicate the splatter marks with a brush.
They’re comics you can enjoy on a surface level but they’re also comics you can read into and find deeper meaning (like the Pollock one – where there’s the immediate message of selling out, but also creatively. What happens when you try and produce more of what the people want instead of following your artistic drive). There are cautionary tales, like Bigby and rabbit entering a tandem windsurfing competition, and a few hard-hitting ones regarding environmental issues (like oil spills) that would reasonably concern a bear and rabbit.
Cages are a recurring topic and, more than halfway into the book, Hedgehog sends Bigby a note and it’s the first and only time that Bigby is referred to by his first name. It takes even longer for another bear to yell out “Daddy” and confirm that he’s Bigby’s son (until then it seemed like a jump to assume they were related off their comparative size). Rabbit, who joins Bigby for most of his adventures, is never named at all.
One possible reason for the names being downplayed? Bigby Bear has gone through a few over the years. In creator, Coudray’s, native France he’s Barnabé. In the states he’s been published by Toon Books as Benjamin. While Humanoids’ Bigby gives every indication of being the same bear, it seems like a lot of fuss over a name that comes this close to not being mentioned at all. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect if there was something to hide, but nothing comes to mind, and while it’s ultimately irrelevant to Bigby’s success, it is a curious marketing choice.
Bigby is successful, though. Part of Humanoid’s new all-ages line, BiG, it’s a book that can be enjoyed by anyone, like the comics section of the newspaper if it was taken over by a sculptor bear and his wildlife pals.
Funny, clever, and insightful, Bigby Bear goes on sale February 5th from Humanoids.