Book Review: Texas Platters

Austin's big brown bear of a singer-songwriter-Stratocaster, Jon Dee Graham, doodles his wife, real-life concerns, and ardor

Texas Platters

Love Notes From the Bear

by Jon Dee Graham
52 pp., $35 (paper)

Can memes live on paper? Singer-songwriter-Stratocaster Jon Dee Graham wasn't just a big brown bear in his previous lives and next ones. He stalks Austin and listening rooms around the wilds with the voice and claws to prove it. To his bear keeper (book curator) Gretchen Harries Graham, he's Ursidae Teddy, so he draws, scribbles, and paints her Love Notes From the Bear. Establishing narrative in minimal bold strokes, the opening bear frowns in profile, crude outline accessorized with a squiggle for the mouth and accented dot for an eye – gruff, determined. Above: "Off to Face My Day." Below: "I will also be loving you," with a heart painted red. Simple, it needs no explanation, mostly because JDG remains a communicator of many miles and repute. The facing page, a bear leaving with a suitcase, addresses just that succinctly: "He hates to leave home." (Maybe he doesn't like leaving Chronicle Music MVP William Harries Graham alone with his paints.) The panel "How It Works" boils it down further; "Home" owns noon on the dial, while "Music" sits below at 6, and all points in-between come labeled "Insanity." The banality of life (post office, Home Depot, H-E-B) matches modern convenience (trash bags, paper towels, "bear struggling to get Sudafed out of foil packaging"). And smokes – fields and fields of tobacco. Perhaps not unrelated, an equal amount of 12-step meetings are attended. "Gone to buy cigarettes and art supplies ... Must make bears." Black-and-white scrawl, watercolor sunset, or the midpoint – red Santa hat on a head-down, monochromatic bear with an X for an eye ("ruff nite") – tally more than doodles through a sum total of truth and tone. Late in the arc, inside the bear's brain, an arrow points to one half ("Never wanting a spinal tap ever again, 100%") and the native Texan's mangling car wreck of 2008 rears its broken back, knees, and ribs. So he draws flowers for his spouse and presents them as a bouquet – one that might fade, but never wither. (Book release happens Sunday, Feb. 14, at the Continental Club Gallery in a special Valentine's show.)

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