Minis Monday: The Ragbox Vol. 1

Posted by on May 17th, 2010 at 1:00 PM

Written by Dave Kender, art by Mark Hamilton, Braden D. Lamb and Mathew Reinke; Black Napkin Press; 52 pp; $7; B&W; Softcover; ISBN: 9781615398874

This time around the “minis” designation of “Minis Monday” is more inelegant than usual. Instead we have a book, volume one of Ragbox. It contains the first three chapters of what is announced to be— and convincingly begun as—a far-reaching tale of an urban neighborhood as experienced by two young siblings.

Author Dave Kender is the founder of the Boston Comics Roundtable (the four issues of the group’s anthology Inbound was considered here last month). The self-published Ragbox represents a furthering of Roundtable principles in fostering collaborative and self-reliant comic-making. Each of Kender’s chapters is done by a different artist, all the better, he says, to reflect the “different ethnic and racial communities occupying a single neighborhood” through “diversity and tension in the art.”

The first part introduces Roberto and Ana Estevez in their home, in the dark of night, under foreboding circumstance. Artist Mark Hamilton does a nice job of emphasizing the emptiness of the house and the gulf between brother and sister by using tonal contrasts and a deepening of interior spaces. This segment was originally presented in Inbound’s inaugural issue but here it gets the immediate follow-up that the unsettling first impression fairly demands. Hamilton also designed the book’s vivid and emblematic cover, that of a dynamic figure struggling against a row houses sliding in decline.

After the spare dialogue and stark visuals of the first segment, chapter two is expansive and communal, as social, busied and awkward as a funeral and wake can be. Worrisome portends are fleshed out. Roberto and Ana’s parents have perished. Additionally the local community center, seen aflame in the night of the first chapter, has been destroyed. New cast members appear, fleshing out the children’s immediate circle of family and friends and suggesting the flavor of a larger supporting network. Here, Braden D. Lamb’s art is responsively expansive, outgoing and ambitious in order to render broader sights and a wider life. His varied composition and his play with perspective set off Kender’s livelier dialogue, together suggesting, with concreteness and specificity, how life goes on, narratively as well as philosophically.

The final chapter both collapses and expands. It zeroes in on aspects of the relationship between the siblings and widens further the dimensions of the immediate environment in which they have been orphaned. While the second segment opened up the story through kith and kin, here we have become more acutely aware of the profusion of strangers as only the newly bereft can feel it. This is the most visually far-reaching of the segments, full of rendered detail, as if to dramatize the daunting sense of abundance, animation and emotional onslaught the “outside” world holds in excess. Matthew Reinke admirably captures this feeling with a sketchy, overlaid line that cumulatively gives solidity to unspoken family strains, street-level energy and immaterial embodiments of flashback and reflection.

The use of three artists for each of the sections repays the inherent risk; sure enough each effectively conveys the prevailing mood — and that tension specifically cultivated by Kender — through a distinct and sympathetic graphic approach. As with that excerpted chapter in Inbound, a reader, once engaged, is left wanting more development to the story.

You can judge for yourself: as if to reinforce the cooperative sharing of human resources promoted by the Roundtable, Kender has made this much of the Ragbox saga available on line at www.theragbox.com. See if the neighborhood doesn’t hold some intrigue for you.

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