Month: September 2012

Review: ‘Bjornstrand’ by Renée French

Posted by – September 23, 2012

Two elements that I can definitely walk into a book ready to love are the giant, mysterious monster genre and the furry, soft-focus art of Renée French. Her comic “Bjornstrand,” which I picked up at SPX last weekend, delivered on both counts, and it was every bit the plushy, bizarro children’s book belonging in a box alongside David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” that I would have expected it to be.

I remember one of the first indie titles I got to review for Wizard Magazine when I was on staff there back in the day being a Renée French book (2007’s “Micrographica,” I believe), and that was my introduction to her work.

“Bjornstrand” the book is an extension of the creature/character exploration French has been doing in her webcomic “Baby Bjornstrand.” In one sense it’s a little reminiscent of “Cloverfield,” in that it’s about a mysterious, potentially deadly creature emerging out of nowhere—and the story is being told through the lens of French’s art, which endows any comic story she’s telling with a slight sense of vagueness.

The tale is playful, due to the inherent contradictions being implemented. Every page is devoid of any anger or wrath, though the language of the tiny speck characters is full of obscenity. Bjornstrand is gigantic and capable of rampant destruction, but his eyes are cute, shiny balls that make him look like a blown-up Pokémon critter. Even the art style, which is soft and dreamlike contrasts with the realistic banter and harsh tension that drive the comic.

Like Tom Spurgeon, I found myself wondering about the significance of the title character’s name and whether or not it’s a nod to Gunnar Björnstrand. (I wondered about this ahead of SPX, but neglected to bring it up when I had the chance.) I have seen a lot of Ingmar Bergman movies starring Gunnar Björnstrand, and it’s certainly noteworthy that many of those films take place in isolated locales near the water, much like the setting in French’s comic.

Additionally, I am going to break out my Swedish knowledge here and point out that if you split that name into two pieces—”björn” and “strand”—those words mean “bear” and “beach.” So there is a possibility the name is just there to poke fun at the dichotomy that is Bjornstrand (or embody the essence of a beast emerging from the water).

Personally, I like to think that all of these competing ideas are in play, helping French’s narrative to keep the reader on their toes as she treads carefully, writing a cute story that could topple and plunge into horrific chaos at any moment.

SPX 2012: Reviews incoming

Posted by – September 15, 2012

I’m pretty sure today marked my fourth visit to the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Md. I’m about 95-percent certain on that count, but don’t hold me to it. It was piles of fun, I brought home piles of comics, and I saw a few legends of the medium.

The first of those was Daniel Clowes, and I didn’t get to see him speak. Fortunately, I did drop by two supremely memorable panels—the first of which featured Françoise Mouly speaking about her history in publishing, and the second of which featured Gilbert Hernandez in conversation with Sean T. Collins. Given that Sean is one of the best read and most insightful Love and Rockets readers around, this turned out to be a highlight of the show, especially when a fan chimed in at the end to ask Gilbert how he feels about the band Love and Rockets.

I also flipped through loads of great new books and brought a few home. I miss my minicomics hook-ups in Chicago dearly, so SPX provided a great chance to grab some indie/alternative works and make up for lost reading time since my move out to D.C. What you see here is a sampling of that haul, so as you can imagine I plan to run a few reviews here in the coming days.

In fact, expect to see a few thoughts on Renee French’s “Bjornstrand” shortly.