If the graphic novel Box Office Poison isn’t autobiographical, it certainly feels like it. Mostly twenty-somethings who are either professional or amateur writers, the characters in Box Office come across as real people in real situations having real feelings and conversations.
Sherman Davies, the book store employee who wants to be a writer, seems to be the closest thing to a major character in this ensemble piece. But his friend Ed Velasquez — the would-be comic book artist — slowly takes center stage, and in one of Box Office’s strongest plotlines, Ed becomes an assistant to Irving Flavor. A former comic book artist, Flavor once signed away his rights to a superhero he created for a paltry sum. It’s a fictionalized but accurate account of how artists in the early days of comic books were treated. As has happened often in music as well, there are always guys in suits ready to take advantage of somebody else’s creativity.
One disappointing storyline revolves around one of Sherman’s roommates, Stephen Gaedel. Stephen is against telling his future children about Santa Claus. After being drafted to play Santa for his relatives, he realizes lying to children about Santa isn’t so bad. I don’t think alternative comics should automatically be contrary, but it’s unfortunate that artists often take the sentimental route when dealing with both kids and Christmas. It would be a welcome change if a character — a likeable, sympathetic one — would just say “My kids won’t be subjected to all this Santa crap” and then stick to his or her ideals.
Alex Robinson’s illustrations are serviceable, but his layouts are excellent. He really knows how to break up his panels, sometimes allowing the borders to disappear altogether. When applicable, Robinson will overlap his word balloons. And in one clever sequence, Irving Flavor’s narration contradicts what’s going on in the panels, so that the reader knows he’s lying. Everything Robinson does with his layouts feels natural, never experimental just for the sake of variety.
Box Office Poison is intelligent and mature, but has limited appeal to those, like myself, who aren’t big fans of realistic, relationship-oriented comic books.