By Lilli Carré (Top Shelf Productions, 2006)
Strictly speaking, Tales of Woodsman Pete is a comic, and it is funny and action-packed and presented in a series of frames. But it’s also touching and tragic, tender and wrenching—a stellar example of the sheer range of possibilities implicit in this surprisingly expansive medium.
Let there be no doubt: Lilli Carré is an artist. Her words are pure literature: intelligent, economical, unexpected. On the visual side, her line is confident yet simple, resembling a woodcut incision; her figures are unassuming, endearing, and utterly distinctive.
Our hero Pete is a thickly bearded hunter who lives alone in the woods surrounded by things that he has killed: his best friend Philippe (an inanimate bear rug), some mounted deer heads, and the specter of a wife slain accidentally (by buckshot or pollen, we never find out which). Pete monologues endlessly in search of conversation, ever nostalgic for missing companions but cheerfully unaware of his complicity in finding himself alone. When Pete’s house is crushed by a falling tree, the narrative frame shifts to examining the lives of the blue ox Babe and his pal Paul Bunyan (presumably the one who caused the tree to fall on Pete’s house), who is gloomy from reading Proust and depressed that, because of his bulk, it takes so many beers to get sufficiently drunk. We learn of Paul’s problems with women, not a few of whom he has “mistakenly crushed” in the act of attempting intimacy. Paul—like Pete—leaves a heavy footprint, invariably annihilating the things around him without agenda or animus. He just doesn’t fit in this world.
The narrative shuttles back and forth between Pete and Paul, two sides of a coin, united by their full beards, their utter sincerity, their love of skipping stones, and their dogged pursuit of something undefined. They are dreamers both, and both marooned in solitude. We are left wondering whether Pete is dreaming Paul or Paul is dreaming Pete. Ultimately, the pleasure lies in the question itself.
At twenty-four years of age, Carré has loudly crashed the indie comic world, and is particularly well known in her hometown of Chicago. She also makes short animated films, one of which has shown at Sundance. She’s a genius in the comics medium, but would likely be a genius in any medium. Her Pete is a worthy introduction for the curious—an incisive, delightful primer in what’s so exciting about comics these days.