Benjamin Bear’s bright ideas include unique methods of getting rid of fleas, herding sheep, and making two things out of nothing, but even the bear’s brightest ideas are out-shined by those of Phillipe Coudray, the artist/author who created Benajmin and, therefore, does all of his thinking for him.
Bright Ideas is Coudray’s second offering through Toon Books, following 2011’s Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking, and it offers more of the same, which, given the high quality of Fuzzy Thinking, is high praise indeed. As with the previous book, each page of Bright ideas is a standalone gag comic, with its own title and three-to-five panel sequence of events leading to an often quite inspired punchline.
Coudray’s artwork has an almost diagram-like simplicity to it, the flat space and characters and just-enough details appearing highly reminiscent of classic newspaper cartooning, with gentle, natural-world characters and situations and a just off-kilter sense of humor that should appeal to any comics reader who falls under the “up” part of the suggested readership of “4 and up.”
There’s a bit of Crockett Johnson, a bit of Beatrix Potter and a bit of Gary Larson in Coudray’s Benjamin Bear comics, a suggestive and enticing set of reference points for his work, surely, but they are just that—reference points. While Coudray’s gag strips might remind a reader of the work of other writers, artists and humorists, his strips—many of which are the point-out-to-a-friend or, had they appeared in a newspaper, cut-out-and-hang-on-the-fridge level of quality—are very much their own thing. The only thing the strips in Bright Ideas really resemble are the Benjamin Bear strips in Fuzzy Thinking.
For those who missed the first book, and it doesn’t matter which order they are read in, each strip features the title bear and often an animal companion. Most often it is a recurring rabbit character, but there are other bears, a fox, a dog, a goldfish and several sheep; the selection of the cast is usually dependent on the nature of the joke, and what size or species is called for.
They are wild animals, living out in nature, and only taking on anthropomorphic qualities or props from the civilized, human world when necessary of the joke. These usually start out as dares, bets, stray observations, attempted favors or sudden inspirations, and unforseen complications or unexpected resolutions are employed in answer, often to the surprise of the reader.
The youngest of readers should enjoy these strips, most of which have few words, some of which have none at all, but it’s hard to imagine a comics reader of any age who wouldn’t enjoy these.
I’m grateful to Toon Books for publishing these and bringing Coudray’s work to English-reading, American audiences, and the only downside I can see about the arrangement is that some grown-ups might miss out on some pretty great comics simply because they’re published in a book geared towards kids.
I wonder if anyone knows a good way around that dilemma? Maybe I should ask Benjamin Bear, or, better yet, Phillipe Coudray. When it comes to solving problems, they both always seem to have good ideas.