Jarod Roselló. Publishing Genius, $14.95 paperback (210p) ISBN: 978-0-9906020-4-0
In Sandra Beasley’s poem, “To the Lions,” the speaker exhorts the lions to find their true feral nature: “Time to stop lifting the wallet/ from the corpse’s pocket./ Time to gather your most/ fuckable queens.” At the end of the poem, she delivers one last command: “Stop this kitty kitty nonsense,/ this apologetic yawning./ Show us why your tongue/ is covered in hooks.” In the wake of Cecil the lion’s shooting by the now-internet-famous dentist, and the subsequent backlash against prioritizing animal deaths over human deaths (especially POC deaths), The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) Be Found fits in perfectly.
There are two parallel narratives in The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) Be Found: the text, which tells the story of a persistent wrong number, and the artwork, which tells the story of the Well-Dressed Bear’s persecution. Although seemingly separate, they occasionally merge within the artwork. The wrong number that rings, again and again, evokes Murakami while the menacing streets filled with hooded figures and helicopters beaming searchlights evoke a kind of noir/sci-fi mystery. Rosello does an excellent job in finding the strange in the ordinary and making the unfamiliar familiar.
Though seemingly disparate, both narratives do have thematic resonance. They both explore the complex issue of identity, often through the lens of mistaken identity: the Well-Dressed Bear is not Jonathan and does not know Jonathan, as the woman on the other end of the phone insists, and the Well-Dressed Bear is not the criminal bear plastered on billboards that the vague mob-like police are hunting. And yet, both the woman on the phone and the police-mob are insistent, beyond all reason, that he is. Similarly, the Well-Dressed Bear, feeling the negative stigma against bears in this world, occasionally puts on a mask that turns him into a passing human—one that can walk through the world without the tell-tale accent “which earned him years of teasing and bullying as a cub” or, of course, without the furry face.
Both narratives also explore our search for connection. In the text narrative, the woman is seeking Jonathan, who may or may not be alive, who may or may not actually exist, and through her varied emotions—anger, sadness, desperation—what she truly seeks is connection. The moment she thinks she is speaking to Jonathan, all she says is “I found you. I found you.” And the Well-Dressed Bear, once he escapes the police-mob (the title, after all, is true), finds a connection with an unlikely group.
A couple of real-world parallels spring to mind: the author, a self-identified Cuban-American, explores the difficult nature of existing in a country that routinely stereotypes and stigmatizes Hispanics. The bear, after all, is not just a bear—he is a well-dressed bear, a respectable bear. Plus, the hooded figures look like aliens wearing hoodies, and though initially figures of fear, they are ultimately the catalyst for the Well-Dressed Bear’s search for identity and his place in the world. The hoodie, from protests for Trayvon Martin to the cover of Citizen by Claudia Rankine, has become a powerful symbol for the growing #blacklivesmatter movement.
Though a short read, as most comics are, The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) Be Found can withstand several readings, which is the testament to a well thought out and layered book. Spend some time with a well-dressed bear in this engaging and enigmatic tale. (August 2015)
Purchase The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) Be Found HERE.
Reviewer bio: Melissa Reddish is the author of The Distance Between Us (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2013) and My Father is an Angry Storm Cloud: Collected Stories (Tailwinds Press, 2015). Her stories, poems, and reviews have appeared in print and online journals. She teaches and directs the Honors Program at Wor-Wic Community College on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. When not writing or teaching, she likes to do stereotypical Eastern Shore things, like eat crabs smothered in Old Bay and take her Black Lab for long walks by the river.