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Review: ‘Love: The Tiger’

Love: The Tiger
Written by Frédéric Brrémaud
Drawn by Federico Bertolucci
Magnetic Press; $18

This beautifully drawn, oversized hardcover is a typical, day-in-the-life narrative—but that of a magnificent creature that doesn’t really have typical days. For a tiger, like all wild animals, every day is a constant struggle to find enough food and water to survive, to avoid being killed by any other animals, and, if time and opportunity permits, to do whatever it takes to propagate the species, no matter how dangerous doing so might be.

The tiger in Brrémaud and Bertolucci’s wordless but visually eloquent story shouldn’t have too hard of a time, one would imagine, given the fact that he’s technically the apex predator of the beautiful southeast Asian jungle environment in which he lives. But while his chosen prey for the day, a hapless tapir, is no match for him in a fight, it sure is a lucky tapir, and sometimes luck makes all the difference. Throughout the book’s 80 pages, the tiger occasionally decides on smaller prey as opportunity arises, but everything has its own defense, be it the monkeys’ numbers and ability to throw things, a bird’s ability to simply fly out of the reach of his claws, or an elephant’s sheer size.

The jungle is teeming with other dangers as well, including a crocodile, fish that looked like piranha to me (but couldn’t be, given the setting), a pair of panthers, and, most unexpectedly, ants.

We follow the tiger as he faces and overcomes these various threats, often in surprisingly thrilling and dramatic scenes, while in the background we see other, more sly predators pick off prey here and there, and the mating rituals of the tiger’s neighbors, some of which end in their deaths.

Bertolucci’s painted artwork is stunning and extremely naturalistic without being photo-realistic. It looks like nature illustration, but, because of the need to tell a story rather than simply giving the reader a picture to glance at between reading paragraphs of text, his illustrations are imbued with a dynamic sense of motion and a rather vivid life.

Almost without exception, the animal characters never take on the slightest hint of anthropomorphism (That exception? The tapir gets a little cartoony around the eyes, conveying emotions like surprise and fear in a readably human way.) Given the subject matter, the setting, and the species of some of the characters, there’s a real temptation to compare it to the Disney animated adaptation of The Jungle Book, but while the panels might flow like a film, there’s little else to suggest that fanciful human story of jungle animals.

Here, seemingly every square inch of the jungle–captured as it is in squares and rectangles of a few inches in height and width–is full of living things, hunting, killing, hiding, escaping, fighting, dying, eating, and mating. Even when our protagonist doesn’t directly cross paths with danger, the artwork tells us it’s close by, as in a panel in which the foreground slithers with cobras while the tiger stalks through the background. It really is a jungle out there. Or, rather, in this book.

As for meaning beyond that, Brrémaud and Bertolucci don’t give readers a lot of clues, although if the ending is meant as anything other than a dark joke (and, perhaps, a subtle subversion of the aforementioned Jungle Book movie, where the tiger is the villain and the human the hero), it certainly seems to say something about humanity’s unsuitability to survive in the real jungles of the real world (at least as they existed before we started cutting them all down and killing their inhabitants, often on purpose but just as often incidentally).

It’s a cryptic title though, and a three-sentence title-page preference is the closet the creators come to a mission statement before pulling the reader into their harsh, beautiful world. “In the animal kingdom, animals neither love nor hate each other,” it reads, explaining that love and hate are rather part of a natural whole, a divine “elemental love” of the sort “that mankind could never experience.”

Perhaps not. I did love this comic though. Not elementally, no, but certainly in the way that a human being can love a comic book.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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