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Bear #5
story and art by Jamie Smart

Let me just say it’s a damn crime that Slave Labor Graphics hasn’t flooded the market with Bear paraphernalia. Oh, sure, I’ve seen a T-shirt and some stickers, but this is the kind of franchise fortunes are made on: cute, funny, randomly violent, nonsensical, raucous, and every-so-slightly British.

Bear follows the adventures of a living teddy bear, a psychotic cat named Looshkin, and the poor sod who owns them (He has a name, but I’ll be damned if… Ah! It’s Karl!). The issues, like Milk and Cheese or Dork, collect numerous short stories crammed onto five or six pages each that have no real order or impact on each other.

When you consider that Looshkin burns down the house or gets one of them dismembered in every issue, this is probably for the best.

This month, we see what happens when Karl tries to bring a new pet dog into the house (Looshkin sorta killed the last one, natch). Then Bear finds himself without a body and in a very Misery-esque situation when a creepy old lady tends to his wounds.

Karl finally manages to get a date (with a woman!) later on and foolishly leaves his cohorts to mind the house. Following the ensuing mayhem, Jamie Smart proves his willingness to become a corporate whore by creating an episode of “Bear and Looshkin Bay-Beez” and the issue concludes with a zombie attack and ample reference to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

So, yeah, this stuff is really quick and random, filling each page with dozens of panels and more words than you’ll probably want to read. It tears along with little concern for theme, plot, or characterization and can leave you pretty exhausted if you try to read it all in one go (I can only imagine the strain the trade paperback will put on the average adult reader).

Now, I’m all for random violence and cute little animals bludgeoning each other with lawnmowers, but the story structure… well, there just isn’t any. It’s the kind of problem that makes Milk and Cheese comics so hard to read at times. Jhonen Vasquez was able to avoid this by continuing threads in Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and doing some eleventh hour plot fixes to tie the whole thing together. Here, it’s all about rapid fire adventuring that allows you to pick up any Bear issue without reading any of the prior ones.

Yet when Smart does one page stories with peripheral characters like Elliot or Justin, there’s no thread to come back to when the next Bear story starts. Unlike Vasquez’s Filler Bunny or Happy Noodle Boy, it doesn’t feel like a quick little commercial break so much as an obstacle to get past.

But I should really quit comparing Smart to Vasquez because this material isn’t about blood, aliens, or Goths at all. His art style is more akin to Evan Dorkin’s work, but it inhabits a completely cartoony reality where people rarely look human and cats seem to have cones for ears. The method is a strange mix of hatching and solid blacks and whites and Smart writes so many curses against his brushes in the margin that I can only wonder what tools he must be using. Regardless, it’s instantly eye-catching.

What makes me keep referring to Vasquez, however, is the audience that should be reading this book. Bear is a definitive Slave Labor book that should appeal to comic fiends, angry teens, anglophile lites, and possibly a few teddy bear collectors (though I really doubt it). With the almost quarterly release schedule, it’s probably better to pick up and put down rather than barrel through in an afternoon, but, like Johnny and Lenore, this title should be riding Hot Topic shelves for years to come.

So, dammit, where’s the merchandising?! Where are my Bear and Looshkin plush dolls? Where’s the big satanic Looshkin patch for my backpack? Where’s the giant-headed Bear air freshener for my car? They’re sitting on a freakin’ goldmine here and they don’t even know it!

Please! Take my money!


Jason Schachat

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