Box Office Poison
One of my favorite things about going into a good used bookstore (you know the ones that actually carry comics and graphic novels) is discovering artists/authors I hadn’t heard of before. And last year when exploring one of my favorite stores I came across the book “Too Cool To Be Forgotten” and was entranced by Alex’s art and story. So I eagerly looked to see what else he had done and soon discovered “Box Office Poison,” one of Alex’s best known works. The story explore themes of friendship, life, love…and comic books. How could I not be intrigued by that? But I have to admit when I first picked up the book I was a bit intimidated by it, I mean it is a massive book at just over 600 pages. But I was eager to read the story and dove into the work.
Sherman and Ed are two young friends trying to make it in the larger world. Sherman is just out of college and wants to be a writer, but for now he’s working a dead end job as a clerk in a bookstore. Ed, who is shy and a bit unsure of himself, wants to create comics for a living. He’s already got a few ideas brewing in his head and he’s got an internship lined up with a once great artist, whose know fallen out of favor and is forgotten. Along the way to fulfilling their dreams, Ed and Sherman make and lose new friends and roommates all on the same path as they are. All, even the oldest, are still trying to find their dreams and survive life as best as they can.
This is a long story, probably one of the longest that I’ve read in a long time (well since “Habibi” at the very least.) And dense. Wow is it dense, I had to stop a lot while reading it to ponder what was going on and because at times the storyline felt like it was resonating all too closely with my own life. I must have stopped and started the book a dozen or more times. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed the book, but there was a lot to take in, not only with the story, but the artwork as well. But I kept reading the book, not just because I wanted to finish it, but because I related to the characters as they dealt with whatever life tossed their way (sometimes they dealt with it poorly, but still…) How they dealt and managed relationships and their own insecurities at times hit way too close to home, but enlightening at the same time. Alex did a great job of telling the story of these characters, not just of the troubles they had in life, but those moments of sheer joy and happiness as well. He made the story feel like I was reading a documentary, because nothing was kept out, nothing was scared, it was hopeful and depressing all at the same time.
I think one of my favorite parts of this book is right there at the very end, where there’s the discussion on friendships/catch up of what the characters are up too. There’s just this quote that really resonated with me and in many ways sums up how I viewed the book. The quote is “most friendships, if the end at all, end not by earthquake, but by erosion.” Not only does it tie everything together about the book (or at least it feels that way too me), but it just resonates with me at this juncture in my life as I’m in similar place. People moving, new jobs, doing new and different things and all of us moving along our own path to different parts of our lives. It almost feels like the fireworks and the explosions would be a better way to end it, because then you at least know why it ended and it’s definitive unlike the erosion…where no one did anything in particular to end but no one did anything to save it and you at times make half hearted efforts to restart it, before at some point just giving up. Its the thing that i’m still pondering even days after reading this book.
I have some difficulty with the art in this book, in part because Alex packs a lot and I do mean a lot, of art into the page. It at times makes it a bit difficult to see everything that’s going on and is another reason why I had to keep stopping and starting the book. He adds so many details in and in many ways it reminds me of some other underground comics artists, such as some of the work I’ve seen done by Matt Groening. What I did like though is that Alex isn’t often bound by typical border panels, he often has characters going off the edge or rearranging the panels till they twist and turn around a character’s head or in one instance using a solid black line through a panel bisecting the same scene to give a character the chance to interact with the story in a new way.
Overall I’d give the work 3.5 out of 5 stars (the density takes a bit off for me.) I’d recommend this book to those that like watching documentaries and wouldn’t mind reading one in print.