It was the sale that made me do it, and boy, am I glad.
Last weekend, ComiXology had a half-price sale on Top Shelf Productions comics and I used the opportunity to buy, among other books, Alex Robinson’s early 2000s graphic novel Box Office Poison, and then, I actually read it (all 608 pages of it).
Slice of life: Robinson fleshes out his major and minor players.
Box Office Poison is what is called a slice-of-life comic. The genre is especially popular among some alternative publishers such as Drawn and Quarterly and Top Shelf itself, although Top Shelf does have a varied portfolio, including the latest works of the legendary Alan Moore. Set in Brooklyn, Box Office Poison tells the story of an aspiring writer, Sherman, who is now a salesman in a book store; his manic girlfriend Dorothy, a magazine writer; his flatmates, history professor Stephen and his girlfriend, cartoonist Jane; his friend, aspiring comic book artist Ed; and veteran comic book artist Mr Flavor, who lives in near-penury while a character he created makes hundreds of millions of dollars for the publisher.
Like most slice-of-life comics, Box Office Poison is about ordinary people who, like other ordinary people, obsess about life and food and love and sex and relationships and a better future. Given its cast of characters, it is also about writing and comics, and, lest I forget, the business of book stores.
The best slice-of-life comics are those that have interesting characters, and Robinson fleshes out his major and minor players—and there are many of these, from the archetypical cranky landlady to the unusual lesbian sister—as well as you can expect in a 608-page book. Everyone in the book is in transition. Sherman is looking for his first big break in writing (he doesn’t get it); Ed is looking for an entry into the comics business (he eventually makes it, but in an entirely unexpected way); Jane is looking for a publisher for her comic-biographies (she finds one); and Mr Flavor is looking for justice.
Robinson tells their stories honestly and with a light touch. Dozens of subplots emerge, diverge, and then converge again, amplifying the feeling of incestuousness that pervades the book; everyone knows everyone in some way. All the while, the story moves inexorably forward (even tangled tales need a denouement). Robinson’s illustrations are almost cartoonish, but he has a way with words—especially dialogues—and there’s that thing he does to show continuing conversations or a crowd scene that I haven’t seen anyone else do as well.
R. Sukumar is editor, Mint.
Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org