Review by Woodrow Phoenix
Anouk Ricard is a French author and animator best known for the Anna and Froga series of books for children, nominated for multiple Best Book awards at the Angoulême International Comics Festival.
Benson’s Cuckoos, originally published in French as Coucous Bouzon, looks like it’s going to be a simple, one-dimensional parade of lightweight jokes about office life. The generic work settings are basic and brightly coloured. The protagonists have giant animal heads that are all mixed up so an elephant, a duck and a horse are equal in size and status, as if drawn by a talented eight-year-old child who doesn’t know anything about zoology except what she’s seen in cartoons. As soon as you’re past the second or third page you can see that Ricard is using this naive style to undercut the grossness, stupidity and venality that makes up a typical interaction in the cuckoo-clock factory where Richard, a blue duck, starts his new job. He’s hired as a replacement for George, who apparently just walked out one day and didn’t come back. A day of coping with lazy, rude, oafish, incompetent and paranoid co-workers in the office makes it obvious to Richard why he left. Nobody seems to do any work. The boss Mr Benson, a fluffy white poodle, is alternately manic and absurd, bullying his staff and then bursting into fits of tears. And then George’s family appear on TV pleading for him to come home. Just what did happen to George?
The dry and absurdist humour places this in the same area as workplace sitcoms such as The Office or Parks and Recreation, mixed with the illogical cartoon visuals of shows like Uncle Grandpa and The Regular Show, where there’s no real reason for the way things look – juxtaposition is funny and that’s about it. For instance none of the animal-headed characters behave in a way related to what ‘species’ they might be. There’s no real reason for them to be animals at all, which makes their appearances even sillier.
Underneath all the seemingly random goofiness there is a plot. When the group leaves the office for a company retreat it comes to the surface, and the book switches genres from sit-com to detective story. The change of tone makes the ending more conventional than expected, but you will want to read the story again immediately to see how Ricard scattered clues to her mystery through the first half of the book. Benson’s Cuckoos is several kinds of story in one, mostly a funny and pointed satire of office politics that will appeal to anyone who has to work with idiots.
The French edition of Coucous Bouzon was awarded an Angoulême Special Jury Prize in 2012.