Review: MOTHER #1, by Céline Loup

Céline Loup’s comic HONEY
#1 from 2013 made last year’s “Comics That Challenged Me” list for the way it
made me interrogate my own privilege as a white man. Now Loup is back with a parallel
story, MOTHER #1, a 28 page black and
white comic with color cover. Loup’s comics thus far have been set in an
anthropomorphized insect world; the world of honey bees is where HONEY #1
started, and where MOTHER #1
continues.

Before starting in on the review proper, it might be
beneficial to understand a few basic facts about bees. Most bees in a colony
are female, and perform all of the functions of the hive, from taking care of
larvae, gathering food, protecting from invaders, and even things like cleaning
the hive. A small portion of larvae are male; male bees are called drones, and
for the most part, they’re entirely useless to the hive. Drones do not have a
stinger, and they do not collect food. They must be fed by female bees. Their
purpose is to fly far away from the hive and find young queens to mate with. A
queen bee will mate with up to 40 drones and store their semen for the
remainder of her life to lay fertilized eggs. The drone, when it has completed
mating with the queen, will die, much like a honey bee that stings a human.

In MOTHER, we see
a drone bee spending time in an open field, waiting for his queen to arrive. He
fights with another drone; and finds a queen bee (or rather, she finds him).
The rest of the book is the development of a relationship between the queen and
the drone. Loup has a strong command of the human form in the illustration in MOTHER, and an eye for detail. Many of
the pages are packed with leaves, flowers, dew, and despite all of it, each
panel reads cleanly. The result is a comic where each page is worth spending
some time with, if only to find things you missed on the first pass.

I think it’s important to note how open and vulnerable both
main characters in Loup’s comic are, both in terms of how they interact with
the world, and how they interact with each other. The queen takes care of the
drone, and protects him from danger. The queen bee is both dominant in the
relationship and also a savior to the drone bee, both physically and
emotionally. Nowhere is this most evident than in the last part of the book, in
the sex scene, where the drone’s anxiety and the queen’s love and acceptance
are so earnestly evident. “Take this from me,” the drone says, “Use my body
until it can give you no more.” This dominance echoes notes from HONEY; in that
story, the male figure was absent, and here, Loup identifies the male as
inferior. This is an essential truth about bees, but it highlights the way Loup
focuses on telling stories that are female-centric, which is at odds with so
much of comics, indie or otherwise.

Loup references betrayal at the beginning of the book and
sporadically throughout, references to some kind of event in the past that has
affected all the bees; it’s not clear if this betrayal is cyclical, but given
the nature of honey bee hives, I think it’s likely. Perhaps the queen feels betrayed by her old hive as she leaves to find a mate and start a new colony? I cannot fully say.

I think it’s important to
note that the sex scene at the end of the issue is
easily misinterpreted as “betrayal” because the inevitable death of the drone –
not pictured in this first issue of MOTHER, but assumed. But the drone gives himself up willingly to the
queen. “All that I am is for you, my love,” he says. I think we will need to
wait for the second issue to see what Loup has in store. But in the
meantime, MOTHER is a fascinating and
beautiful comic about bees, and ultimately, about the fragility and beauty of
human love. Recommended.

——

Céline Loup blackblobyellowcone is a cartoonist and illustrator based in Baltimore. You can find more of Loup’s work here, and buy copies of MOTHER and HONEY at etsy.

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