I've written Box Brown off many times - all of them unfairly - but I've done it, spiking those instances of thought or conversation with laughter and hot air as I tore away at those round heads and noted tropes. It all seemed so cute. Some sword and beach bum shit. Even his fucking name. Box Brown. Like some reject muppet, unsaleable. But when someone handed me Softcore, I saw something else. A tad bit of scuzz, kind of. But among other things, an interest beyond the gag or aesthetic. The dude seemed to want to tangle with his reader, induce discomfort or go beneath the types, and I could respond to that in other ways than a Reblog. His characters were not round, bouncy heads ready to quirk you to the brink yet instead dented spheres begging to go home and jerk one out right before asking questions of themselves. You know, real pieces of work - surrounded by enough kitsch and iconography to balance the scales and twist a laugh.
More of the same lines the rails in Box's latest - the first of a new one-man anthology titled Number - and it's solid, if not pertinent, but I'm a little lost as to how this is an anthology. There's limited variation, reading more like a one-off stacked atop the others.
The one-man anthology is the litmus test for cartoonists, or so I've seen, but more so it feels like an excuse to produce the work you normally wouldn't. It's where you tackle the sci-fi story about a badger or go fuzzy, abstract and disconnected in a space of 8 panels because no one really cares if you do. Purchasing an anthology is to accept the invitation and know said party will involve its crew of people you'd rather not see, but will anyway - drinking MD 20/20 throughout - all in hopes of knowing something new of the host.
Number could become that, but it isn't yet. It's an anthology pegged on one story, backed by a random two-page insertion at the tail to get us all "meditative." And the story isn't one unfamiliar in the Box cannon. I read the comic wanting those blind shifts, so I could see the stretch marks and hear this cartoonist wince when letting loose material he'd regularly avoid, but I went along - though enjoying the story at face value - knowing all that was absent.
There are quick cuts, in a sense. The story, transpiring over a number of years, flips time and scene with each turn of the page, and it does so without much babysitting of its reader, moving with or without you. There's consistent movement with that, and you feel the need to carefully consider everything Box gives you - whether angle or word - as there must be purpose to slow enough at all to offer. But, again, that's one story.
Maybe I've misunderstood the rules. Maybe the mix is in the issue-to-issue leap, and that's where I'll read about the badger, but fuck, man, there's something enticing about the badger, Virgil and the 3-page thought piece on lamp shades married by the same staples. You could probably see the sharp contradictions, then. You could hear the strings shredding and the muscles twitching.
Don't get me wrong: this is a strong Box comic. It sits so well after reading Marc Spitz's Poseur in the midst of hammering out an identity of your own in this ever-awake, self-aware world. And that final line, "soon it'll all be web" ... take that reference big or small, comics or world, and you'll still find a deep-seated chuckle somewhere in your gut. It's drawn with such precision. Those grids would make Santoro proud. It's well considered, both in light and dark ways. And who doesn't love a character named Diamond Dick? I sure do.
I guess the word "anthology" just built a little something in my mind. Something dangerous, free of handcuffs, yet not such a comic was read right here. It's a strong book mislabeled a bit, quite possibly. But, then again, I still haven't read fucking Eightball.