Bear, Bird and Stag Were Arguing in the Forest (And Other Stories) / Madeleine Flores

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Alec Berry | June 23, 2014 | Available from Birdcage Bottom Books

I could make an example of this comic book, but that’d be too much. It’s just a solo anthology full of strips - some good, some bad. Not a portal to the zeitgeist, nor something definitive. Just a comic, right and wrong.  

Still, though, I would like to. Because it does seem, in some ways, that Bear, Bird and Stag Were Arguing in the Forest (And Other Stories), when it stumbles, prolongs a style of in-the-moment, haiku-like cartooning that’s quite popular now, and when you’ve grown a little tired of that, well, you need something to hang publicly. Just to take the edge off. 

I shouldn’t nail its faults purely to a particular approach; I’m not even sure it’s correct to call them “faults.” There’s just a clear divide in this book, where of the four shorts presented, two convey a range in tone, pointing to a Madeleine Flores’ capable of telling us something mixed and without definition, while the others remain one way, resting on cute thoughts better left in tweets. That one way is fine, yeah, maybe even fun. It just creates throwaway, warm-up work - or blog content - versus something you’d print for a release, especially when the other strips do what they do on parallel pages, arriving fully formed.

Surprisingly, the title strip does the most, first portraying itself as another funny animal comic, so that it can later stick you with a bit of poignant truth. It’s dressed ordinarily, too, hanging out in 4-panel grids, for the most part. And compared to the other pieces - which occupy no presence of a grid or panel, really - it draws a cold difference between the lucid, Internet-scroll design of those, highlighting a further sense of something traditional in this one. 

"Weave" is a story, too, where the expected is buried as to lock eyes with a more intelligent, interesting ending. Where it could leave its character despondent, without cause, it instead uses this character’s struggle to insight a new purpose. Flores’ line art here - disjointed and ambiguous - allows the piece to impressively hold both a definition, with such concern for the human figure, while also opening the role to anyone.  

But it’s those other moments - like “My Body is a Vessel For My Soul” - that settle for what they are. They’re well drawn, but the rest of it doesn’t care to stand out. It’s cool only being something to Like and forget. Which could be said for a lot of this stuff, in general. But that’s also the nature of comics. They’re produced relatively quickly in terms of entertainment, and most cartoonists publish what they will. Which can be fascinating as a process junkie, but in this case, trying to structure a completed comic, it’s unnecessary weight included.  

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Alec previously wrote about Number 1, another Retrofit Comics release, here.