Review: Box Office Poison Color Comics #1

boxofficeAlex Robinson‘s 2001 and 2002 Eisner and Harvey Award nominated graphic novel Box Office Poison returns in colored form as Box Office Poison Color Comics #1. Plus there’s annotations and commentary at the end of every issue as Robinson looks back on the comic that he started creating in the early 90s. The concept of the book is pretty simple: it’s about young people in Brooklyn in 1994 (When rent was $250 a month!!) trying to make ends meet and possibly doing something creative or falling in love along the way. This issue introduces the main character Sherman, a wannabe writer/bookstore clerk; his roommate and best friend Ed, a cartoonist/hardware store worker who are moving into an apartment with Stephen, a history professor and his cartoonist girlfriend Jane. Interspersed with this main plot is flashbacks to Sherman’s last year of college, which is basically boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, drama happens, and boy breaks up with girl.

And Pat N. Lewis’ sepia color palette really adds to wistful quality of the Sherman flashback scenes with “The Bohemian Girl” (A reference to an old Laurel and Hardy movie.) Robinson’s dialogue gives them an easy chemistry as they talk about old movies, masturbation, and all that jazz while the perforated gutters make the flashbacks seem like pictures in an old scrapbook or diary. He goes silent during their breakup using gestures and faces to convey the feeling of heartbreak that overwrought dialogue could never do. Robinson also doesn’t paint Sherman’s ex as the villain as he is the one who snaps at her and says that she lives off her parents instead of toiling away at a minimum wage bookshop of him. He feels guilty that they are paying for their trip to Europe and decides to react that way instead of talking it out. But this is why he is little out of it when Box Office Poison starts.

There isn’t really much plot in present day sequences apart from introducing the characters and some okay slapstick gags about moving, like Ed trying to walk up stairs and playing with his rotund belly instead of helping Sherman unpack his thousands of books. (I can definitely relate to how heavy those damn book boxes are and also being distracted by reading instead of unpacking.) The introduction to Stephen is pretty funny too as he has a scowl across his face, and Ed and Sherman have a thought bubble about him being an axe murderer. However, he happens to be a nice, polite, if slightly workaholic who takes Jane and the guys out to Chinese towards the end of the issue and empathizes with Sherman’s retail life. The main cast kind of feels like an American version of Spaced, but a little less kooky with no raves or tank theft so far.

Box Office Poison #1 is more tragedy than comedy, like Woody Allen’s middle period after his early, funny ones. Robinson’s dark crosshatching on Sherman sitting alone with his boxes of his books is pretty pathetic and kind of made me want to give him a hug. Except he switches over to a cleaner art style when Jane comes in and invites him to watch a Laurel and Hardy movie. Sometimes a little human company can get you through those sad, lonely days. Also, kudos to Robinson for keeping Jane and Sherman’s relationship platonic instead of resorting to Manic Pixie Dream Girl stereotypes.

For the most part, the cast of Box Office Poison Color Comics #1 is a pleasant, if slightly self-loathing group. The exception is Ed, who comes across as an obnoxious, sexist man child, who objectifies women and makes snide comments about their weight. In this first issue, he belongs in The Big Bang Theory instead of a well-drawn, passionate independent comic that is still a good read almost two decades after it first came out turning into a 90s period piece along the way.

Story and Art: Alex Robinson Colors: Pat N. Lewis
Story: 7.2 Art: 8.0 Overall: 7.6 Recommendation: Read

IDW Publishing/Top Shelf provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review