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Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

Book cover for Bear
Book cover for BearBook cover for BearBook cover for Bear

Beautifully conveyed and emotionally resonant, Staffan Gnosspelius’ debut is a picture book for adults about mental illness and isolation, illustrated here as a bear with a cone stuck on its head. It is a story of struggle, but also a story of the importance of leaning on one’s community in times of crisis.

Bear, Staffan Gnosspelius’s debut book, is a gorgeous visual meditation on depression. In this deeply affecting, wordless picture book for adults, a bear is maddeningly afflicted with a cone that covers his head and that he is unable to take off. He furiously stomps and yells and tears at the cone, he implores the skies and fate for relief, he is drawn to dark and wild and scary places. The depths of his sadness feel like a defeat. It’s a battle he wages until he’s mentally and physically exhausted.

Then, one day, Bear hears notes of music, the humming of a friendly hare. The hare hovers nearby, concerned, sometimes driven away by Bear’s frustration and anger, more often staying close and gently offering support. The author began drawing a bear with a cone on his head as a way to make sense of how a person close to him was suffering from mental illness. The resulting book is both an emotional gut punch and a warm embrace, recognizable immediately to anyone who has ever suffered or loved someone who has suffered in similar dark places. In other words, all of us.

Book cover for Bear
Book cover for BearBook cover for BearBook cover for Bear

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“An excellent example of silent narrative conveying feelings of entrapment and resistance, feelings that are not easily described – or even understood – but still necessary to witness, to resolve.”

“What better way to convey the feeling of the wordless country of depression and the adjacent state where the beloveds of the sufferers suffer alongside than through spectral prints and drawings that manage to be both terrifying and delightful? With Bear, Staffan Gnosspelius has captured the abyss—tentacled, thorned, rife with traps, drained of color, light, and language—and the respite and grace offered by love. This is a deeply tender and wondrous book.”

“A bear with a cone stuck on his head struggles to free himself in a number of ways, but nothing works. A hare tries to help without success; he is heaped with the bear’s invectives and venom. The bear wanders off, encountering a monster and a bear trap, while the hare waits nearby, ever patient, forgiving, and encouraging. When the bear does free himself, it presents a new challenge as the nature of the animals’ relationship changes. In frustration and desperation, the bear puts the cone back on, but as his former problems re-emerge, the hare helps him to remove the cone once and for all. The book is a powerful visual metaphor for depression and its effects. The cone’s origin is not revealed, but this only makes the message more universal and relatable as the bear struggles to bear the burden of his affliction. The book ends with the two animals seated together in peace, the cone resting between them, a representation of the ongoing weight of mental illness on their friendship. The book’s artwork is gorgeous and emotive, with incredible detail in some panels and simple sketches in others, so that weight and complexity are manipulated for maximum impact. Though most of the book is black and white, the rare use of color is representative, and the final illustration uses it to hint at a more promising future. Bear is an outstanding graphic story — an example of the power of images to communicate complicated feelings.

“A dark and beautifully tender allegory, elegantly and emotionally drawn in Staffan's unique style. His work will transport you to another world.”

“Bear is a beautiful book. Staffan Gnosspelius has clearly felt each joyous peak and desperate valley alongside his characters and their emotional world is brought to life in every line.”

“Bear is a moving portrait of the relationships born out of mental illness and love. It’s a dark and beautiful journey, exquisitely executed by an artist and storyteller at the height of his power.”

“This slim and sweet yet eerie wordless fable by Swedish artist and printmaker Gnosspelius begins with the funny-sad image of an enormous bear with its head stuck in a cone. A lanky rabbit tries to help, undaunted by the bear’s anger and frustration, and the two animals become wary companions. . . Gnosspelius’s delicate black-and-white art, so sure with light and shadow, imbues the gloomiest encounters with natural beauty. As the bear and rabbit make their way toward a silent understanding, they pass through the darkness, and slowly pages of soft, bright watercolors occasionally appear and suggest dawning relief. As an allegory about depression, connection, and friendship, this work will strike a chord with receptive readers. Each page is a piece of art worth poring over.

“Those of us who have lived with depression know the way it blindfolds us to beauty, the way it muffles the song of life, until we are left in the solitary confinement of our own somber ruminations, all the world a blank.. . . That is what Swedish-born, London-based printmaker and graphic artist Staffan Gnosspelius explores with great subtlety and soulfulness in Bear — a wordless picture-book for grownups about life with and liberation from depression. ... So it is that the song of life begins singing itself through the bear and the cone comes gently off — a tender reminder that no one can save anyone, not even with love; that we only ever save ourselves when we are ready: but love is what readies us to be our own savior.”

Staffan Gnosspelius

STAFFAN GNOSSPELIUS was born in Sweden and studied visual communications at Edinburgh College of Art and at Chelsea College of Art and Design in the U.K. Since 2002 he has lived in London where he is a printmaker, illustrator, and artist. Staffan is the author of the children’s book, Julia and the Triple C, which will also debut in the Fall of 2022.