The Newest Comic Book Superheroes: The World’s Endangered Tigers

The new graphic novel ‘Love: The Tiger’ presents the beauty and savagery of the beloved but imperiled big cats.

(Illustration: Federico Bertolucci and Frédéric Brrémaud)

Mar 6, 2015· 2 MIN READ
John R. Platt covers the environment, wildlife, and technology and for TakePart, Scientific American, Audubon, and other publications.

An aging tiger wakes in the rainforest, stretches his aching muscles, and sets off on a hard day’s travels looking for prey. His search will include encounters with a tasty tapir, a pack of angry monkeys, and an elephant that just might spell the end for the big cat.

No, these aren’t scenes from a nature documentary. They come from the new graphic novel Love: The Tiger, a book-length comic that depicts the beauty and savagery of nature.

French writer Frédéric Brrémaud, who collaborated on the graphic novel and two more books in the series with Italian artist Federico Bertolucci, said they did not set out to convey a specific message with their book.

(Illustrations: Federico Bertolucci and Frédéric Brrémaud)

“Instead we wanted to show nature as it is—beautiful and cruel at the same time,” he said. “It was a reaction to many documentaries that humanized animal behavior.”

The book, which was recently released in the United States, contains no dialogue, narration, or sound effects. It is told completely through action, like a silent movie.

The duo set out to create a powerful reading experience—something they accomplished—but they had loftier goals as well. “We also wanted to explain that the animal world we are showing has almost disappeared, and to protect it, we need to act and let people know about it,” Brrémaud said.

(Illustrations: Federico Bertolucci and Frédéric Brrémaud)

Brrémaud acknowledged that the book is a bit of a fantasy—the untouched natural world it depicts doesn’t really exist anymore, and the book includes some species that would not live in a tiger habitat. Even so, they took great pains to depict animal behavior in a naturalistic manner. “I was raised among many animals, and Federico has studied animals as an illustrator. That upbringing and a great passion for the animal world is what we wanted to portray.”

(Illustrations: Federico Bertolucci and
Frédéric Brrémaud)

Love: The Tiger was originally published in Europe in 2011, where it won the Special Jury Award at the Lucca Comics Festival, the continent’s largest comics-related event.

“When I first encountered the series, it really struck a chord,” said Magnetic Press president Mike Kennedy, who published the book in the U.S. this month. “I’ve always been a huge supporter of animal rights and conservation, so bringing these books to the North American market was a privilege.”

American comics writer Jim Ottaviani, whose 2013 graphic novel Primates depicted the lives of Jane Goodall and other ape researchers, praised Love: The Tiger and its impactful storytelling.

“Comics have limitless potential for all kinds of stories, but they work particularly well in a wordless book like Love: The Tiger, which shows a wide range of animal behavior via a strong narrative arc but without commentary,” he said. “By doing so, it forces readers to slow down, insert themselves into the scene and into the minds of the animals themselves and figure out why something just happened. And though scientists frown on anthropomorphizing, it’s essential for empathy, and that, in turn, is essential for conservation.”

Although Brrémaud said he thinks the book itself cannot directly change the world, it has already been used to help educate people about tigers.

The French conservation association Planet Tiger used the book in its “Children of Hope” campaign, and pages from the book have appeared in news magazines in several countries.

“We found that children always read the comic page before reading the article,” Brrémaud said. “In the end, a drawing works better than a long speech.”

Love: The Tiger will be followed later this year by two more volumes, Love: The Fox and Love: The Lion.